The Errors of Classical Economics: Outline of a Concept of Historical Time

I now turn to my second example, in which we shall be able to size up the same problem, but in a different way: by examining the kind of criticism Marx made of the classical economists. He had many detailed criticisms of them, and one fundamental one.

I shall only discuss one of the detailed criticisms, one which concerns a point of terminology. It challenges the apparently insignificant fact that Smith and Ricardo always analyse 'surplus-value' in the form of profit, rent and interest, with the result that it is never called by its name, but always disguised beneath other names, that it is not conceived in its 'generality' as distinct from its 'forms of existence': profit, rent and interest. The style of this accusation is interesting: Marx seems to regard this confusion as a mere inadequacy of language, easy enough to rectify. And, in fact, when he reads Smith and Ricardo, he re-establishes the word absent behind the words that disguise it, he translates them, re-establishing their omission, saying precisely what they are silent about, reading their analyses of rent and profit as so many analyses of general surplus-value, although the latter is never named as the internal essence of rent and profit. But we know that the concept of surplus-value is, on Marx's own admission, one of the two key concepts of his theory, one of the concepts marking the peculiar difference between him and Smith and Ricardo, with respect to problematic and object. In fact, Marx treats the absence of a concept as if it were the mere absence of a word, and this is not the absence of just any concept, but, as we shall see, the absence of a concept that cannot be treated as a concept in the strict sense of the term without raising the question of the problematic which may underly it, i.e., the difference in problematic, the break that divides Marx from Classical Economics. Here again, in articulating his criticism, Marx has not thought what he is doing to the letter -- since he has reduced the absence of an organic concept, which has 'precipitated' (in the chemical sense of the term) the revolution in his problematic, to the omission of a word. If this omission of Marx's is not stressed, he is reduced to the level of his predecessors, and we find ourselves back in the continuity of objects. I shall return to this point.

The fundamental criticism Marx makes of the whole of Classical Economics in texts from The Poverty of Philosophy to Capital is that it had an historical, eternal, fixed and abstract conception of the economic categories of

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capitalism. Marx says in so many words that these categories must be historicized to reveal and understand their nature, their relativity and transitivity. The Classical Economists, he says, have made the conditions of capitalist production the eternal conditions of all production, without seeing that these categories were historically determined, and hence historical and transitory.

Economists express the relations of bourgeois production, the division of labour, credit, money, etc., as fixed, immutable, eternal categories . . . Economists explain how production takes place in the above-mentioned relations, but what they do not explain is how these relations themselves are produced, that is, the historical movement which gave them birth . . . these categories are as little eternal as the relations they express. They are historical and transitory products (Poverty of Philosophy, pp. 104, 110).

As we shall see, this critique is not the last word of Marx's real critique. It remains superficial and ambiguous, whereas his real critique is infinitely more profound. But it is surely no accident that Marx often went only half-way with his real critique in his declared critique, by establishing the only difference between him and the Classical Economists as the non-history of their conception. This judgement has weighed very heavily on the interpretation not only of Capital and of the Marxist theory of political economy, but also of Marxist philosophy. This is one of the strategic points in Marx's thought -- I shall go so far as to say the number one strategic point -- the point at which the theoretical incompleteness of Marx's judgement of himself has produced the most serious misunderstandings, and, as before, not only among his opponents, who have an interest in misunderstanding him, but also and above all among his supporters.

All these misunderstandings can be grouped round one central misunderstanding of the theoretical relationship between Marxism and history, of the so-called radical historicism of Marxism. Let us examine the basis for the different forms taken by this crucial misunderstanding.

In my opinion, this basis directly concerns the relation between Marx and Hegel, and the conception of the dialectic and history. If all that divides Marx from the Classical Economists amounts to the historical character of economic categories, Marx need only historicize these categories, refusing to take them as fixed, absolute or eternal, but, on the contrary, regarding them as relative, provisional and transitory, i.e., as categories subject in the last instance to the moment of their historical existence. In this case, Marx's relation to Smith and Ricardo can be represented as identical with Hegel's relation to classical philosophy. Marx would then be Ricardo set in motion, just as it is possible to describe Hegel as Spinoza set in motion; set in motion, i.e., historicized. In this case, Marx's whole achievement would once again be that he Hegelianized Ricardo, made him dialectical, i.e., that he applied the Hegelian dialectical method to thinking an already constituted content which was only separated from the truth by the thin partition of historical

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relativity. In this case, we should fall once again into schemata consecrated by a whole tradition, schemata that depend on a conception of the dialectic as method in itself, regardless of the content of which it is the law, irrespective of the specificity of the object for which it has to provide both the principles of knowledge and the objective laws. I shall not insist on this point as it has already been elucidated, at least in principle.

But I should like to point out a different confusion which has neither been denounced nor elucidated, and which dominates the interpretation of Marxism now, and probably will for a long time to come; I mean expressly the confusion that surrounds the concept of history.

To claim that classical economics had not a historical, but an eternalist conception of its economic categories -- that, to make these categories adequate to their object, they must be thought as historical -- is to propose the concept of history, or rather one particular concept of history which exists in the ordinary imagination, but without taking care to ask questions about it. In reality, it is to introduce as a solution a concept which itself poses a theoretical problem, for as it is adopted and understood it is an uncriticized concept, a concept which, like all 'obvious' concepts, threatens to have for theoretical content no more than the function that the existing or dominant ideology defines for it. It is to introduce as a theoretical solution a concept whose status has not been examined, and which, far from being a solution, is in reality a theoretical problem. It implies that it is possible to borrow this concept of history from Hegel or from the historian's empiricist practice and import it into Marx without making any difficulties of principle, i.e., without posing the preliminary critical question of the effective content of a concept which has been 'picked up' in this naïve way; as if it went without saying, when, on the contrary, and before all else, it was essential to ask what must be the content of the concept of history imposed by Marx's theoretical problematic.

Without anticipating the paper that follows, I should like to clarify a few points of principle. I shall take as a pertinent counter-example (why it is pertinent we shall soon see) the Hegelian concept of history, the Hegelian concept of historical time, which, for Hegel, reflects the essence of the historical as such.

It is well known that Hegel defined time as 'der daseiende Begriff ', i.e., as the concept in its immediate empirical existence. Since time itself directs us to the concept as its essence, i.e., since Hegel consciously proclaims that historical time is merely the reflection in the continuity of time of the internal essence of the historical totality incarnating a moment of the development of the concept (in this case the Idea), we have Hegel's authority for thinking that historical time merely reflects the essence of the social totality of which it is the existence. That is to say that the essential characteristics of historical time will lead us, as so many indices, to the peculiar structure of that social totality.

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Two essential characteristics of Hegelian historical time can be isolated: its homogeneous continuity and its contemporaneity.

(1) The homogeneous continuity of time. The homogeneous continuity of time is the reflection in existence of the continuity of the dialectical development of the Idea. Time can thus be treated as a continuum in which the dialectical continuity of the process of the development of the Idea is manifest. On this level, then, the whole problem of the science of history would consist of the division of this continuum according to a periodization corresponding to the succession of one dialectical totality after another. The moments of the Idea exist in the number of historical periods into which the time continuum is to be accurately divided. In this Hegel was merely thinking in his own theoretical problematic the number one problem of the historian's practice, the problem Voltaire, for example, expressed when he distinguished between the age of Louis XIV and the age of Louis XV; it is still the major problem of modern historiography.

(2) The contemporaneity of time, or the category of the historical present. This second category is the condition of possibility of the first one, and in it we find Hegel's central thought. If historical time is the existence of the social totality we must be precise about the structure of this existence. The fact that the relation between the social totality and its historical existence is a relation with an immediate existence implies that this relation is itself immediate. In other words: the structure of historical existence is such that all the elements of the whole always co-exist in one and the same time, one and the same present, and are therefore contemporaneous with one another in one and the same present. This means that the structure of the historical existence of the Hegelian social totality allows what I propose to call an 'essential section ' (coupe d'essence ), i.e., an intellectual operation in which a vertical break is made at any moment in historical time, a break in the present such that all the elements of the whole revealed by this section are in an immediate relationship with one another, a relationship that immediately expresses their internal essence. When I speak of an 'essential section', I shall therefore be referring to the specific structure of the social totality that allows this section, in which all the elements of the whole are given in a co-presence, itself the immediate presence of their essences, which thus become immediately legible in them. It is clear that it is the specific structure of the social totality which allows this essential section: for this section is only possible because of the peculiar nature of the unity of this totality, a 'spiritual' unity, if we can express in this way the type of unity possessed by an expressive totality, i.e., a totality all of whose parts are so many 'total parts ', each expressing the others, and each expressing the social totality that contains them, because each in itself contains in the immediate form of its expression the essence of the totality itself. I am referring to the structure of the Hegelian whole which I have already discussed: the Hegelian whole has a type of unity in which each element of the whole, whether a

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material or economic determination, a political institution or a religious, artistic or philosophical form, is never anything more than the presence of the concept with itself at a historically determined moment. This is the sense in which the co-presence of the elements with one another and the presence of each element with the whole are based on a de jure preliminary presence: the total presence of the concept in all the determinations of its existence. That is how the continuity of time is possible: as the phenomenon of the concept's continuity of presence with its positive determinations. When we speak of a moment of the development of the Idea in Hegel, we must be careful to observe that this term reduces two meanings to one: the moment as a moment of a development (which invokes the continuity of time and gives rise to the theoretical problem of periodization); and the moment as a moment of time, as the present, which is never anything but the phenomenon of the presence of the concept with itself in all its concrete determinations.

It is this absolute and homogeneous presence of the determinations of the whole with the current essence of the concept which allows the 'essential section' I have been discussing. This is what in principle explains the famous Hegelian formula, valid for all the determinations of the whole, up to and including the self-consciousness of this whole in the knowing of this whole which is the historically present philosophy -- the famous formula according to which nothing can run ahead of its time. The present constitutes the absolute horizon of all knowing, since all knowing can never be anything but the existence in knowing of the internal principle of the whole. However far philosophy goes it can never escape the bounds of this absolute horizon: even if it takes wing at dusk, it still belongs to the day, to the today, it is still merely the present reflecting on itself, reflecting on the presence of the concept with itself -- tomorrow is in essence forbidden it.

And that is why the ontological category of the present prevents any anticipation of historical time, any conscious anticipation of the future development of the concept, any knowledge of the future. This explains the theoretical difficulty Hegel experienced in dealing with the existence of 'great men', whose role in his reflection is therefore that of paradoxical witnesses to an impossible conscious historical forecast. Great men neither perceive nor know the future: they divine it as a presentiment. Great men are only clairvoyants who have a presentiment of but can never know the imminence of tomorrow's essence, the 'kernel in the shell', the future in invisible gestation in the present, the coming essence being born in the alienation of the current essence. The fact that there is no knowing the future prevents there being any science of politics, any knowing that deals with the future effects of present phenomena. That is why no Hegelian politics is possible strictly speaking, and in fact there has never been a Hegelian politician.

I have insisted on the nature of historical time and its theoretical conditions to this extent because this conception of history and of its relation to time

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is still alive amongst us, as can be seen from the currently widespread distinction between synchrony and diachrony. This distinction is based on a conception of historical time as continuous and homogeneous and contemporaneous with itself. The synchronic is contemporaneity itself, the co-presence of the essence with its determinations, the present being readable as a structure in an 'essential section' because the present is the very existence of the essential structure. The synchronic therefore presupposes the ideological conception of a continuous-homogeneous time. It follows that the diachronic is merely the development of this present in the sequence of a temporal continuity in which the 'events' to which 'history' in the strict sense can be reduced (cf. Lévi-Strauss) are merely successive contingent presents in the time continuum. Like the synchronic, which is the primary concept, the diachronic therefore presupposes both of the very two characteristics I have isolated in the Hegelian conception of time: an ideological conception of historical time.

Ideological, because it is clear that this conception of historical time is merely a reflection of the conception Hegel had of the type of unity that constitutes the link between all the economic, political, religious, aesthetic, philosophical and other elements of the social whole. Because the Hegelian whole is a 'spiritual whole' in the Leibnizian sense of a whole in which all the parts 'conspire' together, in which each part is a pars totalis, the unity of this double aspect of historical time (homogeneous-continuity/contemporaneity) is possible and necessary.

Now we can see the pertinence of this Hegelian counter-example. What masks from us the relationship that has just been established between the structure of the Hegelian whole and the nature of Hegelian historical time is the fact that the Hegelian idea of time is borrowed from the most vulgar empiricism, the empiricism of the false obviousness of everyday practice[6] which we find in a naïve form in most of the historians themselves, at any rate in all the historians known to Hegel, who did not pose any questions as to the specific structure of historical time. Nowadays, a few historians are beginning to pose these questions, and often in a very remarkable way (Lucien Febvre, Labrousse, Braudel, etc.); but they do not pose them explicitly as a function of the structure of the whole they are studying, they do not pose them in a truly conceptual form: they simply observe that there are different times in history, varieties of time, long times, medium times and short times, and they are content to note their interferences as so many products of their intersection; they do not therefore relate these varieties as so many variations to the structure of the whole although the latter directly governs the production of those variations; rather, they are tempted to relate these varieties, as so many variants measurable by their duration, to ordinary time itself, to the ideological time continuum we have discussed. The
6 Hegelian philosophy has even been called a 'speculative empiricism' (Feuerbach).

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Hegelian counter-example is therefore relevant because it is representative of the crude ideological illusions of everyday practice and of the practice of the historians, not only of those who do not pose any questions, but even of those who do pose some questions, because these questions are generally related not to the fundamental question of the concept of history, but to the ideological conception of time.

However, we can retain from Hegel precisely what masks from us this empiricism which he had only sublimated in his systematic conception of history. We can retain this result produced by our brief critical analysis: the fact that the structure of the social whole must be strictly interrogated in order to find in it the secret of the conception of history in which the 'development' of this social whole is thought; once we know the structure of the social whole we can understand the apparently 'problem-less' relationship between it and the conception of historical time in which this conception is reflected. What we have just done for Hegel is equally valid for Marx: the procedure that has enabled us to isolate the theoretical presuppositions latent in a conception of history which seemed to 'stand by itself', but which is, in fact, organically linked to a precise conception of the social whole, can be applied to Marx, with the object of constructing the Marxist concept of historical time on the basis of the Marxist conception of the social totality.

We know that the Marxist whole cannot possibly be confused with the Hegelian whole: it is a whole whose unity, far from being the expressive or 'spiritual' unity of Leibniz's or Hegel's whole, is constituted by a certain type of complexity, the unity of a structured whole containing what can be called levels or instances which are distinct and 'relatively autonomous', and co-exist within this complex structural unity, articulated with one another according to specific determinations, fixed in the last instance by the level or instance of the economy.[7]

Of course, we still have to define more exactly the structural nature of this whole, but this provisional definition is sufficient for us to be able to forecast that the Hegelian type of co-existence of presence (allowing an 'essential section') is incompatible with the existence of this new type of totality.

This peculiar co-existence was already fully designated by Marx in a passage from the Poverty of Philosophy (pp. 110-11) which deals with the relations of production alone:

The production relations of every society form a whole. M. Proudhon considers economic relations as so many social phases, engendering one another, resulting one from the other like the antithesis from the thesis, and realizing in their logical sequence the impersonal reason of humanity. The only drawback to this method is that when he comes to examine a

7 Cf. 'Contradiction and Overdetermination' and 'On the Materialist Dialectic' in For Marx, op. cit., pp. 87ff, and 161ff.

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single one of these phases, M. Proudhon cannot explain it without having recourse to all the other relations of society, which relations, however, he has not yet made his dialectic movement engender. When, after that, M. Proudhon, by means of pure reason, proceeds to give birth to these other phases, he treats them as if they were new-born babes. He forgets that they are of the same age as the first. . . . In constructing the edifice of an ideological system by means of the categories of political economy, the limbs of the social system are dislocated. The different limbs of society are converted into so many separate societies, following one upon the other. How, indeed, could the single logical formula of movement, of sequence, explain the body of society, in which all relations co-exist simultaneously and support one another ? (italics, L.A.).

It is all here: the co-existence, the articulation of the limbs 'of the social system', the mutual support of the relations between them, cannot be thought in the 'logical formula of movement, of sequence, of time'. If we bear in mind the fact that the 'logic' is, as Marx shows in The Poverty of Philosophy, merely the abstraction of 'movement' and 'time', which are here invoked directly, as the origin of Proudhon's mystification, we can see that it is essential to reverse the order of reflection and think first the specific structure of the totality in order to understand both the form in which its limbs and constitutive relations co-exist and the peculiar structure of history.

In the 1857 Introduction, discussing capitalist society, Marx insists once more that the structure of the whole must be conceived before any discussion of temporal sequence:

It is not a matter of the connexion established historically between the economic relations in the succession of different forms of society. Still less of their order of succession 'in the Idea' (Proudhon) . . . but of their articulated-hierarchy (Gliederung) within modern bourgeois society (Grundrisse, p. 28).

This establishes a new point of importance: the structure of the whole is articulated as the structure of an organic hierarchized whole. The co-existence of limbs and their relations in the whole is governed by the order of a dominant structure which introduces a specific order into the articulation (Gliederung ) of the limbs and their relations.

In all forms of society it is a determinate production and its relations which assign every other production and its relations their rank and influence (p. 27).

Note a crucial point here: this dominance of a structure, of which Marx gives an example here (the domination of one form of production, e.g., industrial production over simple commodity production, etc.), cannot be reduced to the primacy of a centre, any more than the relation between the

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elements and the structure can be reduced to the expressive unity of the essence within its phenomena. This hierarchy only represents the hierarchy of effectivity that exists between the different 'levels' or instances of the social whole. Because each of the levels is itself structured, this hierarchy represents the hierarchy, the degree and the index of effectivity existing between the different structured levels present in the whole: it is the hierarchy of effectivity of a structure dominant over subordinate structures and their elements. Elsewhere, I have shown that in order to conceive this 'dominance' of a structure over the other structures in the unity of a conjuncture it is necessary to refer to the principle of the determination 'in the last instance' of the non-economic structures by the economic structure; and that this 'determination in the last instance' is an absolute precondition for the necessity and intelligibility of the displacements of the structures in the hierarchy of effectivity, or of the displacement of 'dominance' between the structured levels of the whole; that only this 'determination in the last instance' makes it possible to escape the arbitrary relativism of observable displacements by giving these displacements the necessity of a function.

If the type of unity peculiar to the Marxist totality really is of this kind, several important theoretical consequences follow.

In the first place, it is impossible to think the existence of this totality in the Hegelian category of the contemporaneity of the present. The co-existence of the different structured levels, the economic, the political, the ideological, etc., and therefore of the economic infrastructure, of the legal and political superstructure, of ideologies and theoretical formations (philosophy, sciences) can no longer be thought in the co-existence of the Hegelian present, of the ideological present in which temporal presence coincides with the presence of the essence with its phenomena. And in consequence, the model of a continuous and homogeneous time which takes the place of immediate existence, which is the place of the immediate existence of this continuing presence, can no longer be regarded as the time of history.

Let us begin with the last point, for it will make us more sensitive to the consequences of these principles. As a first approximation, we can argue from the specific structure of the Marxist whole that it is no longer possible to think the process of the development of the different levels of the whole in the same historical time. Each of these different 'levels' does not have the same type of historical existence. On the contrary, we have to assign to each level a peculiar time, relatively autonomous and hence relatively independent, even in its dependence, of the 'times' of the other levels. We can and must say: for each mode of production there is a peculiar time and history, punctuated in a specific way by the development of the productive forces; the relations of production have their peculiar time and history, punctuated in a specific way; the political superstructure has its own history . . . ; philosophy has its own time and history . . . ; aesthetic productions have their own time and history . . . ; scientific formations have their own time and history, etc.

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Each of these peculiar histories is punctuated with peculiar rhythms and can only be known on condition that we have defined the concept of the specificity of its historical temporality and its punctuations (continuous development, revolutions, breaks, etc.). The fact that each of these times and each of these histories is relatively autonomous does not make them so many domains which are independent of the whole: the specificity of each of these times and of each of these histories -- in other words, their relative autonomy and independence -- is based on a certain type of articulation in the whole, and therefore on a certain type of dependence with respect to the whole. The history of philosophy, for example, is not an independent history by divine right: the right of this history to exist as a specific history is determined by the articulating relations, i.e., relations of relative effectivity, which exist within the whole. The specificity of these times and histories is therefore differential, since it is based on the differential relations between the different levels within the whole: the mode and degree of independence of each time and history is therefore necessarily determined by the mode and degree of dependence of each level within the set of articulations of the whole. The conception of the 'relative' independence of a history and of a level can therefore never be reduced to the positive affirmation of an independence in vacuo, nor even to the mere negation of a dependence in itself; the conception of this 'relative' independence defines its 'relativity', i.e., the type of dependence that produces and establishes this mode of 'relative' independence as its necessary result; at the level of the articulation of component structures in the whole, it defines that type of dependence which produces relative independence and whose effects we can observe in the histories of the different 'levels'.

This is the principle on which is based the possibility and necessity of different histories corresponding respectively to each of the 'levels'. This principle justifies our speaking of an economic history, a political history, a history of religions, a history of ideologies, a history of philosophy, a history of art and a history of the sciences, without thereby evading, but on the contrary, necessarily accepting, the relative independence of each of these histories in the specific dependence which articulates each of the different levels of the social whole with the others. That is why, if we have the right to constitute these different histories, which are merely differential histories, we cannot be satisfied, as the best historians so often are today, by observing the existence of different times and rhythms, without relating them to the concept of their difference, i.e., to the typical dependence which establishes them in the articulation of the levels of the whole. It is not enough, therefore, to say, as modern historians do, that there are different periodizations for different times, that each time has its own rhythms, some short, some long; we must also think these differences in rhythm and punctuation in their foundation, in the type of articulation, displacement and torsion which harmonizes these different times with one another. To go even further, I

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should say that we cannot restrict ourselves to reflecting the existence of visible and measurable times in this way; we must, of absolute necessity, pose the question of the mode of existence of invisible times, of the invisible rhythms and punctuations concealed beneath the surface of each visible time. Merely reading Capital shows that Marx was highly sensitive to this requirement It shows, for example, that the time of economic production is a specific time (differing according to the mode of production), but also that, as a specific time, it is a complex and non-linear time -- a time of times, a complex time that cannot be read in the continuity of the time of life or clocks, but has to be constructed out of the peculiar structures of production. The time of the capitalist economic production that Marx analysed must be constructed in its concept. The concept of this time must be constructed out of the reality of the different rhythms which punctuate the different operations of production, circulation and distribution: out of the concepts of these different operations, e.g., the difference between production time and labour time, the difference between the different cycles of production (the turnover of fixed capital, of circulating capital, of variable capital, monetary turnover, turnover of commercial capital and of finance capital, etc.). In the capitalist mode of production, therefore, the time of economic production has absolutely nothing to do with the obviousness of everyday practice's ideological time: of course, it is rooted in certain determinate sites, in biological time (certain limits in the alternation of labour and rest for human and animal labour power; certain rhythms for agricultural production) but in essence it is not at all identified with this biological time, and in no sense is it a time that can be read immediately in the flow of any given process. It is an invisible time, essentially illegible, as invisible and as opaque as the reality of the total capitalist production process itself. This time, as a complex 'intersection' of the different times, rhythms, turnovers, etc., that we have just discussed, is only accessible in its concept, which, like every concept is never immediately 'given', never legible in visible reality: like every concept this concept must be produced, constructed.

The same could be said of political time and ideological time, of the time of the theoretical (philosophy) and of the time of the scientific, let alone the time of art. Let us take an example. The time of the history of philosophy is not immediately legible either: of course, in historical chronology we do see philosophers following one another, and it would be possible to take this sequence for the history itself. Here, too, we must renounce the ideological pre-judgement of visible succession, and undertake to construct the concept of the time of the history of philosophy, and, in order to understand this concept, it is absolutely essential to define the specific difference of the philosophical as one of the existing cultural formations (the ideological and scientific formations); to define the philosophical as belonging to the level of the Theoretical as such; and to establish the differential relation of the Theoretical as such firstly to the different existing practices, secondly to

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ideology and finally to the scientific. To define these differential relations is to define the peculiar type of articulation of the Theoretical (philosophical) with these other realities, and therefore to define the peculiar articulation of the history of philosophy with the histories of the different practices, with the history of ideologies and the history of the sciences. But this is not enough: in order to construct the concept of the history of philosophy, it is essential to define in philosophy itself the specific reality which constitutes philosophical formations as such, and to which one must refer in order to think the mere possibility of philosophical events. This is one of the essential tasks of any theoretical attempt to produce the concept of history: to give a rigorous definition of the historical fact as such. Without anticipating this investigation, I should like to point out that, in its generality, the historical fact, as opposed to all the other phenomena that occur in historical existence, can be defined as a fact which causes a mutation in the existing structural relations. In the history of philosophy it is also essential, if we are to be able to discuss it as a history, to admit that philosophical facts, philosophical events of historical scope, occur in it, i.e., precisely philosophical facts which cause real mutations in the existing philosophical structural relations, in this case the existing theoretical problematic. Obviously, these facts are not always visible, rather, they are sometimes the object of a real repression, a real and more or less lasting historical denegation. For example, the mutation of the dogmatic classical problematic by Locke's empiricism is a philosophical event with historical scope, one which still dominates idealist critical philosophy today, just as it dominated the whole of the eighteenth century, Kant, Fichte and even Hegel. This historical fact and above all the length of its range (and in particular its importance for the understanding of German idealism from Kant to Hegel) is often suspected; its real profundity is rarely appreciated. Its role in the interpretation of Marxist philosophy has been absolutely decisive, and we are still largely held prisoner by it. For another example, Spinoza's philosophy introduced an unprecedented theoretical revolution in the history of philosophy, probably the greatest philosophical revolution of all time, insofar as we can regard Spinoza as Marx's only direct ancestor, from the philosophical standpoint. However, this radical revolution was the object of a massive historical repression, and Spinozist philosophy suffered much the same fate as Marxist philosophy used to and still does suffer in some countries: it served as damning evidence for a charge of 'atheism'. The insistence of the seventeenth and eighteenth century establishment's hounding of Spinoza's memory, and the distance every writer had ineluctably to take with respect to Spinoza in order to obtain the right to speak (cf. Montesquieu) are evidence both of the repulsion and the extraordinary attraction of his thought. The history of philosophy's repressed Spinozism thus unfolded as a subterranean history acting at other sites (autres lieux ), in political and religious ideology (deism) and in the sciences, but not on the illuminated stage of visible philosophy. And when Spinoza re-appeared

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on this stage in German idealism's 'Atheismusstreit ', and then in academic interpretations, it was more or less under the aegis of a misunderstanding. I think I have said enough to suggest what direction the construction of the concept of history in its different domains must take; and to show that the construction of this concept incontestably produces a reality which has nothing to do with the visible sequence of events recorded by the chronicler.

We have known, since Freud, that the time of the unconscious cannot be confused with the time of biography. On the contrary, the concept of the time of the unconscious must be constructed in order to obtain an understanding of certain biographical traits. In exactly the same way, it is essential to construct the concepts of the different historical times which are never given in the ideological obviousness of the continuity of time (which need only be suitably divided into a good periodization to obtain the time of history), but must be constructed out of the differential nature and differential articulation of their objects in the structure of the whole. Are more examples necessary to convince us of this? Read Michel Foucault's remarkable studies in the 'history of madness', or the 'birth of clinical medicine', and you will see the distance between the elegant sequences of the official chronicle, in which a discipline or a society merely reflect its good conscience, i.e., the mask of its bad conscience -- and the absolutely unexpected temporality that constitutes the essence of the process of constitution and development of those cultural formations: there is nothing in true history which allows it to be read in the ideological continuum of a linear time that need only be punctuated and divided; on the contrary, it has its extremely complex and peculiar temporality which is, of course, utterly paradoxical in comparison with the disarming simplicity of ideological pre-judgement. An understanding of the history of cultural formations such as those of 'madness' and of the origins of the 'clinical gaze' (regard clinique ) in medicine, presupposes a vast effort not of abstraction but in abstraction, in order to construct and identify the object itself, and in order to construct from this the concept of its history. This is antipodal to the empirically visible history in which the time of all histories is the simple time of continuity and in which the 'content' is the vacuity of events that occur in it which one later tries to determine with dividing procedures in order to 'periodize' that continuity. Instead of these categories, continuity and discontinuity, which summarize the banal mystery of all history, we are dealing with infinitely more complex categories specific to each type of history, categories in which new logics come into play, in which, naturally, the Hegelian schemata, which are merely the sublimation of the categories of the 'logic of movement and time', no longer have more than a highly approximate value, and even this only on condition that they are used approximately (indicatively ) in accordance with their approximate nature -- for if we had to take these Hegelian categories for adequate categories, their use would become theoretically absurd, and practically either vain or disastrous.

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This specific reality of the complex historical time of the levels of the whole can, paradoxically, be tested experimentally by trying to take an 'essential section' through this specific and complex time, the crucial experiment of the contemporaneity structure. A historical break of this kind, even if it is applied to a break in a periodization sanctioned by the phenomena of a major mutation either in the economic or the political order, never produces a 'present' with a structure of so-called 'contemporaneity', a presence that corresponds to the expressive or spiritual type of unity of the whole. The co-existence which can be observed in the 'essential section' does not reveal any omnipresent essence which is also the present of each of these 'levels'. The break 'valid' for a determinate level, political or economic, the break that would correspond to an 'essential section' in politics, for example, does not correspond to anything of the kind in the other levels, the economic, the ideological, the aesthetic, the philosophical or the scientific -- which live in different times and know other breaks, other rhythms and other punctuations. The present of one level is, so to speak, the absence of another, and this co-existence of a 'presence' and absences is simply the effect of the structure of the whole in its articulated decentricity. What is thus grasped as absences in a localized presence is precisely the non-localization of the structure of the whole, or more accurately, the type of effectivity peculiar to the structure of the whole on its 'levels' (which are themselves structured) and on the 'elements' of those levels. What the impossibility of this essential section reveals, even in the absences it shows up negatively, is the form of historical existence peculiar to a social formation arising from a determinate mode of production, the peculiar type of what Marx calls the development process of the determinate mode of production. And this process, too, is what Marx, discussing the capitalist mode of production in Capital, calls the type of intertwining of the different times (and here he only mentions the economic level), i.e., the type of 'dislocation' (décalage ) and torsion of the different temporalities produced by the different levels of the structure, the complex combination of which constitutes the peculiar time of the process's development.

To avoid any misunderstanding of what I have just said, I think it is necessary to add the following comments.

The theory of historical time which I have just outlined allows us to establish the possibility of a history of the different levels considered in their 'relative' autonomy. But we should not deduce from this that history is made up of the juxtaposition of different 'relatively' autonomous histories, different historical temporalities, living the same historical time, some in a short-term mode, others in a long-term mode. In other words, once we have rejected the ideological model of a continuous time subject to essential sections into presents, we must avoid substituting for this idea another which, although different in style, in fact surreptitiously restores the same ideology of time. There can therefore be no question of relating the diversity

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of the different temporalities to a single ideological base time, or of measuring their dislocation against the line of a single continuous reference time, remaining content, therefore, to think these dislocations as backwardnesses or forwardnesses in time, i.e., in the ideological reference time. If we try to make an 'essential section' in our new conception, we find that it is impossible. But this does not mean that we are dealing with an uneven section, a stepped or multiply toothed section in which the forwardness or backwardness of one time with respect to another is illustrated in temporal space in the way that the lateness or earliness of trains are illustrated in the SNCF's notice-boards by a spatial forwardness or backwardness. If we were to accept this, we should relapse, as even the best of our historians usually do, into the trap of the ideology of history in which forwardness and backwardness are merely variants of the reference continuity and not the effects of the structure of the whole. We must break with all the forms of this ideology if we are to be able to relate the phenomena observed by the historians themselves correctly to their concepts, to the concept of the history of the mode of production considered -- and not to any homogeneous and continuous ideological time.

This conclusion is absolutely crucial if we are to establish the status of a whole series of notions which have a major strategic role in the language of this century's economic and political thought, e.g., the notions of unevenness of development, of survivals, of backwardness (in consciousness) in Marxism itself, or the notion of 'under-development ' in contemporary economic and political practice. Where these notions are concerned, therefore, we must be thoroughly precise as to the meaning we can give this concept of differential temporality, for they have far-reaching consequences in practice.


In order to respond to this point we must once again purify our concept of the theory of history, and purify it radically, of any contamination by the obviousness of empirical history, since we know that this 'empirical history' is merely the bare face of the empiricist ideology of history. This empiricist temptation is enormous, but it is as lightly borne by the ordinary man and even the historian as the inhabitants of this planet bear the weight of the enormous layer of air that crushes them. In view of this, we must clearly and unequivocally see and understand that the concept of history can no longer be empirical, i.e., historical in the ordinary sense, that, as Spinoza has already put it, the concept dog cannot bark. We must grasp in all its rigour the absolute necessity of liberating the theory of history from any compromise with 'empirical' temporality, with the ideological concept of time which underlies and overlies it, or with the ideological idea that the theory of history, as history, could be subject to the 'concrete' determinations of

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'historical time' on the pretext that this 'historical time' might constitute its object.

We must have no illusions as to the incredible power of this prejudice, which still dominates us all, which is the basis for contemporary historicism and which would have us confuse the object of knowledge with the real object by attributing to the object of knowledge the same 'qualities' as the real object of which it is the knowledge. The knowledge of history is no more historical than the knowledge of sugar is sweet. But before this simple principle can 'finally assert itself' in our consciousnesses, we shall no doubt need a whole 'history'. We must therefore be content for the moment to clarify a few points. We should indeed be relapsing into the ideology of a homogeneous-continuous/self-contemporaneous time if we related the different temporalities I have just discussed to this single, identical time, as so many discontinuities in its continuity; these temporalities would then be thought as the backwardnesses, forwardnesses, survivals or unevennesses of development that can be assigned to this time. In fact, despite any denegations, this would be to institute a reference time in the continuity of which we should measure these unevennesses. On the contrary, we must regard these differences in temporal structure as and only as, so many objective indices of the mode of articulation of the different elements or structures in the general structure of the whole. This amounts to saying that if we cannot make an 'essential section' in history, it is only in the specific unity of the complex structure of the whole that we can think the concept of these so-called backwardnesses, forwardnesses, survivals and unevennesses of development which co-exist in the structure of the real historical present: the present of the conjuncture. To speak of differential types of historicity therefore has no meaning in reference to a base time in which these backwardnesses and forwardnesses might be measured.

This amounts to saying that, on the contrary, the ultimate meaning of the metaphorical language of backwardness, forwardness, etc., must be sought in the structure of the whole, in the site peculiar to such and such an element of such and such a structural level in the complexity of the whole. To speak of differential historical temporality therefore absolutely obliges us to situate this site and to think, in its peculiar articulation, the function of such an element or such a level in the current configuration of the whole; it is to determine the relation of articulation of this element as a function of other elements, of this structure as a function of other structures, it obliges us to define what has been called its overdetermination or underdetermination as a function of the structure of the determination of the whole, it obliges us to define what might be called, in another language, the index of determination, the index of effectivity currently attributable to the element or structure in question in the general structure of the whole. By index of effectivity we may understand the character of more or less dominant or subordinate and therefore more or less 'paradoxical' determination of a given element or

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structure in the current mechanism of the whole. And this is nothing but the theory of the conjuncture indispensable to the theory of history.

I do not want to go any further with this analysis, although it has still hardly been elaborated at all. I shall restrict myself to drawing two conclusions from these principles, one of which concerns the concepts of synchrony and diachrony, the other the concept of history.

(1) If what I have just said has any objective meaning, it is clear that the synchrony/diachrony opposition is the site of a misconception, since to take it for a knowledge would be to remain in an epistemological vacuum, i.e. -- ideology abhorring a vacuum -- in an ideological fullness, precisely in the fullness of the ideological conception of a history whose time is continuous-homogeneous/self-contemporaneous. If this ideological conception of history falls, this opposition falls with it. However, something of it remains: the aim of the epistemological operation of which this opposition is an unconscious reflection, precisely this epistemological operation itself, once it has been stripped of its ideological reference. What the synchrony aims at has nothing to do with the temporal presence of the object as a real object, but on the contrary, concerns a different type of presence, and the presence of a different object : not the temporal presence of the concrete object, not the historical time of the historical presence of the historical object, but the presence (or the 'time') of the object of knowledge of the theoretical analysis itself, the presence of knowledge. The synchronic is then nothing but the conception of the specific relations that exist between the different elements and the different structures of the structure of the whole, it is the knowledge of the relations of dependence and articulation which make it an organic whole, a system. The synchronic is eternity in Spinoza's sense, or the adequate knowledge of a complex object by the adequate knowledge of its complexity. This is exactly what Marx is distinguishing from the concrete-real historical sequence in the words:

How, indeed, could the single logical formula of movement, of sequence, of time, explain the body of society, in which all economic relations co-exist simultaneously and support one another? (Poverty of Philosophy, pp. 110-11).

If this is really what synchrony is, it has nothing to do with simple concrete temporal presence, it concerns the knowledge of the complex articulation that makes the whole a whole. It is not that concrete co-presence, but the knowledge of the complexity of the object of knowledge, which gives the knowledge of the real object.

If this is the case for synchrony, similar conclusions must be drawn where diachrony is concerned, since it is on the ideological conception of synchrony (of the contemporaneity of the essence with itself) that the ideological conception of diachrony is built. There is hardly any need to show how diachrony admits its destitution in those thinkers who assign to it the role of history.

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Diachrony is reduced to the sequence of events (à l'événementiel ), and to the effects of this sequence of events on the structure of the synchronic: the historical then becomes the unexpected, the accidental, the factually unique, arising or falling in the empty continuum of time, for purely contingent reasons. In this context, therefore, the project of a 'structural history' poses serious problems, and a laborious reflection of this can be found in the passages devoted to it by Lévi-Strauss in Structural Anthropology. Indeed, by what miracle could an empty time and momentary events induce de- and re-structurations of the synchronic? Once synchrony has been correctly located, diachrony loses its 'concrete' sense and nothing is left of it either but its epistemological use, on condition that it undergoes a theoretical conversion and is considered in its true sense as a category not of the concrete but of knowing. Diachrony is then merely the false name for the process, or for what Marx called the development of forms.[8]But here too we are within knowledge, in the process of knowledge, not in the development of the real-concrete.[9]

(2) I now come to the concept of historical time. To define it strictly, one must accept the following condition. As this concept can only be based on the complex and differentially articulated structure in dominance of the social totality that constitutes the social formation arising from a determinate mode of production, it can only be assigned a content as a function of the structure of that totality, considered either as a whole, or in its different 'levels'. In particular, it is only possible to give a content to the concept of historical time by defining historical time as the specific form of existence of the social totality under consideration, an existence in which different structural levels of temporality interfere, because of the peculiar relations of correspondence, non-correspondence, articulation, dislocation and torsion which obtain, between the different 'levels' of the whole in accordance with its general structure. It needs to be said that, just as there is no production in general, there is no history in general, but only specific structures of historicity, based in the last resort on the specific structures of the different modes of production, specific structures of historicity which, since they are merely the existence of determinate social formations (arising from
8 Cf. Part I, section 13.
9 To avoid any misunderstanding, I should add that this critique of the latent empiricism which haunts the common use of the bastard concept of 'diachrony' today obviously does not apply to the reality of historical transformations, e.g., the transition from one mode of production to another. If the aim is to designate this reality (the fact of the real transformation of structures) as 'the diachrony', this is merely to apply the term to the historical itself (which is never purely static) or, by making a distinction within the historical, to what is visibly transformed. But once the aim is to think the concept of these transformations, we are no longer in the real (the 'diachronic') but in knowledge, in which -- insofar as the real 'diachronic' itself is concerned -- the epistemological dialectic that has just been set out comes into play: the concept and the 'development of its forms'. On this point cf. Balibar's essay below.

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specific modes of production), articulated as social wholes, have no meaning except as a function of the essence of those totalities, i.e., of the essence of their peculiar complexity.

This definition of historical time by its theoretical concept is aimed directly at historians and their practice. For it should draw their attention to the empiricist ideology which, with a few exceptions, overwhelmingly dominates every variety of history (whether it be history in the wide sense or specialized economic, social or political history, the history of art, literature, philosophy, the sciences, etc.). To put it crudely, history lives in the illusion that it can do without theory in the strong sense, without a theory of its object and therefore without a definition of its theoretical object. What acts as its theory, what it sees as taking the place of this theory is its methodology, i.e., the rules that govern its effective practices, practices centred around the scrutiny of documents and the establishment of facts. What it sees as taking the place of its theoretical object is its 'concrete' object. History therefore takes its methodology for the theory it lacks, and it takes the 'concrete' of the concrete obviousnesses of ideological time for its theoretical object. This dual confusion is typical of an empiricist ideology. What history lacks is a conscious and courageous confrontation of one of the essential problems of any science whatsoever: the problem of the nature and constitution of its theory, by which I mean the theory within the science itself, the system of theoretical concepts on which is based every method, and every practice, even the experimental method and practice, and which simultaneously defines its theoretical object. But with a few exceptions historians have not posed history's vital and urgent problem, the problem of its theory. And, as inevitably happens, the place left empty by scientific theory has been occupied by an ideological theory whose harmful influence can be shown in detail precisely at the level of the historian's methodology.

The object of history as a science therefore has the same kind of theoretical existence and occupies the same theoretical level as the object of Marx's political economy. The only difference that can be established between the theory of political economy, of which Capital is an example, and the theory of history as a science, lies in the fact that the theory of political economy only considers one relatively autonomous component of the social totality, whereas the theory of history in principle takes the complex totality as such for its object. Other than this difference, there can be no distinction between the science of political economy and the science of history, from a theoretical view-point.

The opposition often suggested between the 'abstract' character of Capital and the supposedly 'concrete' character of history as a science is purely and simply a misunderstanding, but one which is worth discussing, for it has a special place in the realm of the prejudices which govern us. It is true that the theory of political economy is worked out and developed by the investigation of a raw material provided in the last resort by the practices

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of real concrete history; it is true that it can and must be realized in what are called 'concrete' economic analyses, relating to some given conjuncture or given period of a given social formation; and these truths are exactly mirrored in the fact that the theory of history, too, is worked out and developed by the investigation of a raw material provided by real concrete history, and that it, too, is realized in the 'concrete analysis' of 'concrete situations'. The misunderstanding lies entirely in the fact that history hardly exists other than in this second form, as the 'application' of a theory . . . which does not exist in any real sense, and that therefore the 'applications' of the theory of history somehow occur behind this absent theory's back and are naturally mistaken for it . . . if they do not depend (for they do need a minimum of theory to exist) on more or less ideological outlines of theories. We must take seriously the fact that the theory of history, in the strong sense, does not exist, or hardly exists as far as historians are concerned, that the concepts of existing history are therefore nearly always 'empirical' concepts, more or less in search of their theoretical basis -- 'empirical', i.e., cross-bred with a powerful strain of an ideology concealed behind its 'obviousnesses'. This is the case with the best historians, who can be distinguished from the rest precisely by their concern for theory, but who seek this theory at a level on which it cannot be found, at the level of historical methodology, which cannot be defined without the theory on which it is based.

On the day that history also exists as theory in the sense defined, its dual existence as theoretical science and empirical science will pose no more problems than does the dual existence of the Marxist theory of political economy as theoretical science and empirical science. On that day, the theoretical imbalance between the banal opposition of the abstract science of political economy and the supposedly 'concrete' science of history will disappear, and along with it all the religious dreams and rituals of the resurrection of the dead and the communion of saints which, one hundred years after Michelet, some historians still spend their time celebrating, not in the catacombs but in today's public places.

I have one more word to say on this subject. The present confusion between history as theory of history and history as supposed 'science of the concrete', history trapped in the empiricism of its object -- and the confrontation of this 'concrete' empirical history with the 'abstract' theory of political economy, give rise to a significant number of conceptual confusions and false problems. It could even be said that this misunderstanding itself produces ideological concepts, whose function it is to fill in the gap, i.e., the vacuum, between the theoretical part of existing history on the one hand and empirical history on the other (which is existing history only too often). I do not want to discuss each of these concepts one by one, another book would be necessary to do so. I shall point out three of them as examples: the classical oppositions: essence/phenomena, necessity/contingency, and the 'problem' of the action of the individual in history.

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According to the economistic or mechanistic hypothesis, the role of the essence/phenomena opposition is to explain the non-economic as a phenomenon of the economic, which is its essence. In this operation, the theoretical (and the 'abstract') is surreptitiously substituted for the economy (since we have its theory in Capital ) and the empirical or 'concrete' for the non-economic, i.e., for politics, ideology, etc. The essence/phenomena opposition performs this role well enough so long as we regard the 'phenomena' as the empirical and concrete, and the essence as the non-empirical, as the abstract, as the truth of the phenomenon. The result is to set up an absurd relationship between the theoretical (the economic) and the empirical (the non-economic) by a change in partners which compares the knowledge of one object with the existence of another -- which is to commit us to a fallacy. The necessity/contingency or necessity/accident oppositions are of the same kind and have the same function: to fill in the gap between the theoretical part of one object (e.g., the economy) and the non-theoretical part, the empirical part of another (the non-economic, in which the economy 'asserts itself': the 'circumstances', 'individuality', etc.). To say, for example, that necessity 'asserts itself' amid the contingent givens and diverse circumstances, etc., is to set up an astonishing mechanism in which two realities with no direct relationship are compared. 'Necessity', in this case, designates a knowledge (e.g., the law of determination in the last instance by the economy), and the 'circumstances' what is not known. But instead of comparing a knowledge with a non-knowledge, the non-knowledge is put into parenthesis and the empirical existence of the unknown object (called the 'circumstances' or contingent givens, etc.) is substituted for it -- which allows the terms to be crossed, achieving a fallacious short-circuit in which the knowledge of a determinate object (economic necessity) is compared with the empirical existence of a different object (the 'circumstances', political or otherwise, amid which this 'necessity' is said to 'assert itself'). The most famous form of this fallacy is found in the 'problem' of the 'role of the individual in history' . . . a tragic argument which consists of a comparison between the theoretical part or knowledge of a determinate object (e.g., the economy) which represents the essence of which the other objects (the political, the ideological, etc.) are regarded as the phenomena -- and that fiendishly important (politically!) empirical reality, individual action. Here again we are dealing with a short-circuit between crossed terms which it is illegitimate to compare: for to do so is to compare the knowledge of one definite object with the empirical existence of another! I do not want to insist on the difficulties which these concepts put in the way of their users, who cannot escape them in practice except by questioning critically the Hegelian (and more generally classical) philosophical concepts which are fish in the water of this fallacy. But I should like to signal that this false problem of the 'role of the individual in history' is nevertheless an index to a true problem, one which arises by right in the theory of history: the problem

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of the concept of the historical forms of existence of individuality. Capital gives us the principles necessary for the posing of this problem. It defines for the capitalist mode of production the different forms of individuality required and produced by that mode according to functions, of which the individuals are 'supports' (Träger ), in the division of labour, in the different 'levels' of the structure. Of course, even here, the mode of historical existence of individuality in a given mode of production is not legible to the naked eye in 'history'; its concept, too, must therefore be constructed, and like every concept it contains a number of surprises, the most striking of which is the fact that it is nothing like the false obviousnesses of the 'given' -- which is merely the mask of the current ideology. The concept of the variations in the mode of historical existence of individuality opens the way to what is really left of the 'problem ' of 'the role of the individual in history ', which, posed in its familiar form, is a false problem, false because unbalanced, theoretically 'hybrid', since it compares the theory of one object with the empirical existence of another. So long as the real theoretical problem has not been posed (the problem of the forms of historical existence of individuality), we shall be beating about in the dark -- like Plekhanov, who ransacked Louis XV's bed to prove that the secrets of the fall of the Ancien Régime were not hidden there. As a general rule, concepts are not hidden in beds.

Once we have, at least in principle, elucidated the specificity of the Marxist concept of historical time -- once we have criticized as ideologies the commonsense notions that encumber the word 'history ', we can better understand the different effects that this misunderstanding about history has had on the interpretation of Marx. An understanding of the main confusions ipso facto reveals to us the pertinence of certain essential distinctions which have often been misconceived, despite the fact that they appear in so many words in Capital.

In the first place, it is clear why the mere project of 'historicizing' classical political economy leads to the theoretical impasse of a fallacy in which the classical economic categories, far from being thought within the theoretical concept of history, are merely projected onto the ideological concept of history. This procedure restores to us the classical schema, once again linked with the misconception of Marx's specificity: all that Marx did was to seal the union of classical political economy on the one hand, and the Hegelian dialectical method (a theoretical concentrate of the Hegelian concept of history) on the other. But this leads directly to the foisting of a pre-existing and exoteric method onto a pre-determined object, i.e., to the theoretically dubious union of a method defined independently of its object, whose agreement with its object can only be sealed against the common ideological background of a misunderstanding which marks Hegelian historicism as much as economic eternalism. And it follows that the two terms of the eternity/history opposition derive from a common problematic, Hegelian 'historicism' being only the historicized counter-connotation of economistic 'eternalism'.

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But, in the second place, we also see the meaning of the still unclosed debates about the relation between economic theory and history in Capital itself. These debates have lasted until today largely under the influence of a confusion between the status of economic theory itself and that of history. When, in Anti-Dühring (London 1959, p. 204), Engels writes that 'Political economy is . . . essentially a historical science,' because 'it deals with material which is historical, that is, constantly changing,' he touches the exact spot of the ambiguity: the word 'historical ' may either fall towards the Marxist concept or towards the ideological concept of history, according to whether this word designates the object of knowledge of a theory of history, or, on the contrary, the real object of which this theory gives the knowledge. We have every right to say that the theory of Marxist political economy derives from the Marxist theory of history, as one of its regions; but we might also think that the theory of political economy is affected even in its concepts by the peculiar quality of real history (its 'material' which is 'changing '). Engels rushes us into this latter interpretation in a number of astonishing texts which introduce history (in the empiricist-ideological sense) even into Marx's theoretical categories. I am referring particularly to his insistence that Marx could not produce real scientific definitions in his theory because of the properties of his real object, because of the moving, changing nature of a historical reality which in essence rebels against any treatment by definitions, whose fixed and 'eternal ' forms can only betray the perpetual mobility of historical development.

In his Preface to Volume Three of Capital, Engels, quoting Fireman's criticisms, writes:

They rest upon the misunderstanding that Marx wishes to define where he only develops, and that in general one might expect fixed, cut-to-measure once and for all applicable definitions in Marx's works. It is self-evident that where things and their inter-relations are conceived, not as fixed, but as changing, their mental reflections, the concepts, are likewise subject to change and transformation ; and they are not encapsulated in rigid definitions, but are developed in their historical or logical process of formation. This makes clear, of course, why in the beginning of Volume One Marx proceeds from simple commodity production as the historical premise, ultimately arriving from this basis at capital . . . (Capital, Vol. III, pp. 13-14 -- modified).

The same theme recurs in the preparatory notes for Anti-Dühring (p. 470):

To science definitions are worthless because always inadequate. The only real definition is the development of the thing itself, but this is no longer a definition. To know and show what life is we must examine all forms of life and present them in their inter-connexion. On the other hand, for ordinary purposes, a brief exposition of the commonest and at the same time

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most significant features of a so-called definition is often useful and even necessary, and can do no harm if no more is expected of it than it can convey (italics, L.A.).

Unfortunately, these texts leave no room for ambiguity, since they go so far as to designate quite precisely the site of the 'misunderstanding ' and to formulate its terms. All the characters in this misunderstanding are on stage here, each playing the part ascribed to it by the effect expected of this theatre. We only have to change their places for them to admit the role that has been assigned to them, abandon it and begin to speak to a quite different text. The whole misunderstanding in this reasoning lies in fact in the fallacy which confuses the theoretical development of concepts with the genesis of real history. But Marx carefully distinguished between these two orders, when, in the 1857 Introduction, he showed that it was impossible to institute any one-to-one correlation between the terms which feature in the order of succession of concepts in the discourse of scientific proof on the one hand, and those which feature in the genetic order of real history on the other. Here Engels postulates precisely such an impossible correlation, unhesitatingly identifying 'logical' development and 'historical' development. And with extraordinary honesty he points out the theoretical precondition for this identification: the affirmation that these two developments are identical in order depends on the fact that the necessary concepts of any theory of history are affected in their conceptual substance, by the properties of the real object. 'Where things . . . are conceived . . . as changing, their mental reflections, the concepts, are likewise subject to change and transformation.' In order to be able to identify the development of the concepts and the development of real history, he therefore had to identify the object of knowledge with the real object, and to subject the concepts to the real deter mination of real history. In this way, Engels applies to the concepts of the theory of history a coefficient of mobility borrowed directly from the concrete empirical sequence (from the ideology of history), transposing the 'real-concrete' into the 'thought-concrete' and the historical as real change into the concept itself. Given these premisses, the argument is bound to conclude that every definition is unscientific: 'to science, definitions are worthless ', since 'the only real definition is the development of the thing itself, but this is no longer a definition '. Once again the real thing has been substituted for the concept and the development of the real thing (i.e., the real history of concrete genesis) has been substituted for the 'development of forms ', which was explicitly described, in the Introduction as well as in Capital, as occurring exclusively in knowledge and concerning exclusively the necessary order of appearance and disappearance of concepts in the discourse of the scientific proof. Need I demonstrate that Engels's interpretation contains a theme we have already encountered in his answer to Conrad Schmidt: the theme of the original weakness of the concept? If 'to science, definitions are worthless',

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it is because they are 'always inadequate '; in other words, the concept is in essence at fault, and this fault is inscribed in its very conceptual nature: his awareness of this original sin forces him to relinquish any claim to define the real, which 'defines' itself in the historical production of the forms of its genesis. If the question of the status of the definition, i.e., of the concept, is posed from this starting point, there is no alternative but to confer on it a role which is quite different from the role it claims theoretically: a 'practical' role, good enough for 'ordinary purposes', a role of general designation without any theoretical function. Paradoxically, it is not without interest to note that Engels, after beginning by crossing the terms implied in his question, is led to conclude with a definition whose meaning is crossed, too, i.e., dislocated (décalé ) with respect to the object it is aimed at, since in this purely practical (ordinary) definition of the role of the scientific concept he also gives us the starting-point for a theory of one of the functions of the ideological concept: its function as a practical allusion and index.

This is where we are led by ignoring the basic distinction Marx was careful to draw between the object of knowledge and the real object, between the 'development of forms' of the concept in knowledge and the development of the real categories in concrete history: to an empiricist ideology of knowledge, and to the identification of the logical and the historical in Capital itself. It should hardly surprise us that so many interpreters go round in circles in the question that hangs on this definition, if it is true that all problems concerned with the relation between the logical and the historical in Capital presuppose a non-existent relation. Whether this relation is imagined as one which brings the terms featured in the two orders of development (the development of the concept; the development of real history) into direct one-to-one correspondence; or whether the same relation is imagined as one which brings the terms of the two orders of development into inverse correspondence (the basis for the theses of Della Volpe and Pietranera analysed by Rancière),[10] there remains the hypothesis of a relation where no relation exists. Two conclusions can be drawn from this error. The first is simply practical: the difficulties encountered in the solution of this problem are serious ones, indeed insurmountable ones: if it is not always possible to solve a problem that does exist, we can rest assured that it is never possible to solve a problem that does not exist.[11] The second is
10 See Lire le Capital, first edition, Paris 1965, Vol. I, pp. 170ff.
11 We are indebted to Kant for the suspicion that problems which do not exist may give rise to massive theoretical efforts, and the more or less rigorous production of solutions as fantastic as their object, for his philosophy may be broadly conceived as a theory of the possibility of the existence of 'sciences ' without objects (rational metaphysics, cosmology and psychology). If it so happens that the reader does not have the heart to tackle Kant, he can consult directly the producers of 'sciences' without objects: e.g., theologians, most social psychologists, some 'psychologists', etc. I should also add that in certain circumstances, the theoretical and ideological conjuncture may make these 'sciences without objects' produce or contain, during the elaboration of the theory of their supposed 'objects', the theoretical [cont. onto p. 116. -- DJR] forms of existing rationality: e.g., in the Middle Ages, theology undoubtedly contained and elaborated the forms of the theoretical then in existence.

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theoretical: an imaginary solution is required for an imaginary problem, and not just any imaginary solution but the imaginary solution required by the (imaginary) posing of this imaginary problem. Every imaginary (ideological) posing of a problem (which may be imaginary, too) in fact carries it in a determinate problematic, which defines both the possibility and the form of the posing of this problem. This problematic recurs as its mirror-image in the solution given to this problem by virtue of the mirror action peculiar to the ideological imagination (cf. Part One); if it is not in fact found directly as such in the aforesaid solution, it will emerge elsewhere, openly, when it is explicitly in question, in the latent 'theory of knowledge' which underlies the identification of the historical and the logical: an empiricist ideology of knowledge. It is no accident therefore that we see Engels literally precipitated by his question into this empiricist temptation, nor that, in a different way, Della Volpe and his pupils support their thesis of the inverse identification of the historical and logical orders in Capital by arguing a theory of 'historical abstraction', which is a higher form of historicist empiricism.

To return to Capital, the effect of the mistake I have just pointed out, which postulates the imaginary existence of a non-existent relation, is to make a different relation invisible, a relation which is legitimate because it exists and is established by right between the theory of the economy and the theory of history. If the first relation (theory of the economy and concrete history) was imaginary, the second relation (theory of the economy and theory of history) is a true theoretical relation. Why has it remained until now, if not invisible, at least opaque to us? Because the first relation had the advantage of 'obviousness', i.e., of the empiricist temptations of the historians who, reading pages of 'concrete' history in Capital (the struggle for the reduction of the working day, the transition from manufacture to modern industry, primitive accumulation, etc.), felt in some sense 'at home' in it and therefore posed the problem of economic theory as a function of the existence of this 'concrete' history, without feeling any need to pose the question of its status. They gave an empiricist interpretation of analyses of Marx's which, far from being historical analyses in the strict sense, i.e., analyses sustained by the development of the concept of history, are more the half-finished materials for a history (cf. Balibar's paper) than a real historical treatment of those materials. They used the presence of these half-elaborated materials as an argument for an ideological concept of history, and therefore posed the question of this ideology of 'concrete' history for the 'abstract' theory of political economy: hence both the fascination of Capital for them, and their unease before a discourse which seemed to them to be 'speculative' in many places. The economists had much the same reaction, torn between (concrete) economic history and (abstract) economic

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theory. Both hoped to find in Capital what they sought, but they also found something else which they had not 'sought' and which they therefore tried to reduce, by posing the imaginary problem of the relation, one-to-one or otherwise, between the abstract order of concepts and the concrete order of history. They did not see that what they had found did not answer their question but a quite different question, which, of course, should have given the lie to the ideological illusion of the concept of history which they had brought with them and projected into their reading of Capital. They did not see that the 'abstract' theory of political economy is the theory of region which, as a region (level or instance) is an organic component of the object of the theory of history itself. They did not see that history features in Capital as an object of theory, not as a real object, as an 'abstract' (conceptual) object and not as a real-concrete object; and that the chapters in which Marx applies the first stages of a historical treatment either to the struggles to shorten the working day, or to primitive capitalist accumulation refer to the theory of history as their principle, to the construction of the concept of history and of its 'developed forms', of which the economic theory of the capitalist mode of production constitutes one determinate 'region'.

One word more on one of the current effects of this misunderstanding. In it we have one of the origins of the interpretation of Capital as a 'theoretical model', a formula whose use can, a priori, always be seen as a symptom, in the precise clinical sense of the word, of the empiricist misunderstanding about the object of a given knowledge. This conception of theory as a 'model' is in fact only possible on peculiarly ideological conditions; firstly that the distance separating theory from the empirical concrete is included within theory itself; and secondly, equally ideologically, that this distance is itself conceived as an empirical distance, and hence as belonging to the concrete itself, which one then has the privilege (i.e., the banality) of defining as what is 'always-richer-and-more-living-than-theory'. No doubt this proclamation of the exalted status of the superabundance of 'life' and 'concreteness', of the superiority of the world's imagination and the green leaves of action over the poverty of grey theory, contains a serious lesson in intellectual modesty, healthy for the right (presumptuous and dogmatic) ears. But we are also aware of the fact that the concrete and life may be the pretext for facile chatter which serves to mask either apologetic ends (a god, whatever his plumage, is always lining his nest with the feathers of the superabundance, i.e. 'transcendence' of the 'concrete' and 'life') or mere intellectual laziness. What matters is precisely the use made of this kind of endlessly repeated commonplace about the concrete's surplus of transcendence. But in the conception of knowledge as a 'model', we find the real and the concrete intervening to enable us to think the relation, i.e., the distance, between the 'concrete' and theory as both within theory itself and within the real itself, not as in a real outside this real object, knowledge of which is produced precisely by theory, but as within this real object itself, as a relation of the

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part to the whole, of a 'partial' part to a superabundant whole (cf. Part One, section 10). The inevitable result of this operation is to make theory seem one empirical instrument among others, in other words, to reduce any theory |of knowledge as a model directly to what it is: a form of theoretical pragmatism.

We have therefore obtained, with the last effect of this mistake, a precise principle of understanding and criticism: it is this establishment of a relation of one-to-one correspondence in the real of the object between a theoretical ensemble (the theory of political economy) and the real empirical ensemble (concrete history) of which the first ensemble is the knowledge, which has given rise to misconstructions where the question of the 'relations' between 'Logic' and 'history' in Capital is concerned. The most serious of these misconstructions is the blinding effect of the question: it has sometimes prevented any perception that Capital really does contain a theory of history which is indispensable for any understanding of the theory of the economy.

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