Marxism is not a Historicism

But this brings us to one last misunderstanding, of the same breed but perhaps even more serious, for it does not only involve our reading of Capital, or Marxist philosophy, but also the relationship between Capital and Marxist philosophy, hence the relationship between historical materialism and dialectical materialism -- i.e., the meaning of Marx's work as a whole -- and, lastly, the relationship between real history and Marxist theory. This misunderstanding stems from the oversight which sees in Marxism a historicism, and the most radical historicism of all, an 'absolute historicism '. This claim presents the relationship Marxist theory has with real history in the form of the relationship between the science of history and Marxist philosophy.

I should like to suggest that, from the theoretical stand-point, Marxism is no more a historicism than it is a humanism (cf. For Marx, pp. 219ff); that in many respects both historicism and humanism depend on the same ideological problematic; and that, theoretically speaking, Marxism is, in a single movement and by virtue of the unique epistemological rupture which established it, an anti-humanism and an anti-historicism. Strictly speaking, I ought to say an a-humanism and an a-historicism. But in order to give these terms all the weight of a declaration of rupture which far from going without saying is, on the contrary, very hard to accept, I have deliberately used this doubly negative formula (anti-humanism, anti-historicism) instead of a simple privative form, for the latter is not sufficiently imperative to repel the humanist and historicist assault which, in some circles, has threatened Marxism continuously for the past forty years.

We know precisely what were the circumstances in which this humanist and historicist interpretation of Marx was born, and what recent circumstances have reinvigorated it. It was born out of a vital reaction against the mechanicism and economicism of the Second International, in the period just preceding and, above all, in the years just following the 1917 Revolution. In this respect it has real historical merits; just as the recent renaissance of this interpretation after the Twentieth Congress's denunciation of the dogmatic errors and crimes of the 'Cult of Personality' has real historical sanction, though in a somewhat different way. This recent reinvigoration is merely a repetition and usually a generous or skilful but 'rightist' misappropriation of a historical reaction which then had the force of a protest that was revolutionary in spirit, although 'leftist'. It cannot therefore provide

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the norm with which we judge the historical significance of its former state. The themes of a revolutionary humanism and historicism emerged from the German Left, initially from Rosa Luxemburg and Mehring, and then, after the 1917 Revolution, from a whole series of theoreticians, some of whom, like Korsch, were lost later, while others, like Lukács, played an important part, or even, like Gramsci, a very important part. We know the terms in which Lenin judged this movement of 'leftist' reaction against the mechanistic conventionality of the Second International: he condemned its theoretical fables and its political tactics (cf. Left-Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder ), while recognizing that it did then contain authentically revolutionary elements, for example in Rosa Luxemburg and in Gramsci. One day we shall have to illuminate this whole past. Such a historical and theoretical study is indispensable if we are to distinguish rightly in our present itself between the real and ghostly characters, and if we are to establish on indisputable bases the results of a critique which was then conducted amidst the confusions of a battle in which the reaction against the mechanicism and fatalism of the Second International necessarily took the form of an appeal to the consciousness and wills of men, to make the revolution at last which history had given them to make. When this has been done, we may perhaps be a little clearer about the paradoxical title of a famous article in which Gramsci celebrated 'The Revolution against Capital ', proclaiming brutally that the anti-capitalist revolution of 1917 had had to be made against Karl Marx's Capital by the voluntary and conscious action of men, of the masses and the Bolsheviks, and not by virtue of a Book in which the Second International read the fatality of the advent of socialism as if in a Bible.[12]

Even without this scientific study of the conditions which produced the first, 'leftist' form of this humanism and historicism, we are equipped to identify in Marx what was used to authorize this interpretation, and obviously cannot but justify its recent form in the eyes of contemporary readers of Marx. We shall not be astonished to discover that the same ambiguities in formulation which fostered a mechanistic and evolutionist reading have also authorized a historicist reading: Lenin has given us enough examples of the common theoretical bases of opportunism and leftism for us not to be disconcerted by such a paradoxical coincidence.

I have referred to ambiguous formulations. Here too we have stumbled on a reality the extent of whose effects we have already registered: Marx did produce in his work the distinction between himself and his predecessors, but -- as is the fate of all inventors -- he did not think the concept of this dis-
12 Gramsci: 'No, the mechanical forces never predominate in history; it is the men, the consciousnesses and the spirit which mould the external appearance and always triumph in the end. . . . The pseudo-scientists' natural law and fatal course of events has been replaced by man's tenacious will' (from a text published in Rinascità, 1957, pp. 149-58, quoted by Mario Tronti in Studi Gramsciani, Editori Riuniti, Rome, 1959, p. 306).

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tinction with all the sharpness that could be desired; he did not think theoretically, or in an adequate and advanced form, either the concept or the theoretical implications of the theoretically revolutionary step he had taken. Sometimes, for want of anything better, he thought it partly in borrowed concepts, particularly Hegelian ones, introducing an effect of dislocation between the semantic field of origin from which he borrowed his concepts, and the field of conceptual objects to which they were applied. At others he did think this difference for itself, but only partially or as an indicative outline, as an obstinate search for equivalents,[13]without succeeding in directly formulating the original and strict sense of what he was producing in the adequacy of a concept. This dislocation, which can only be revealed and reduced by a critical reading, is objectively part of the text of Marx's discourse.[14]

This, rather than any tendentiousness on their part, is the reason why so many of Marx's inheritors and supporters have produced inaccurate estimates of his thought, while claiming, text in hand, that they remain true to the letter of what he wrote.

Here I should like to go into some detail in order to show on which particular texts it is possible to base a historicist reading of Marx. I shall not discuss Marx's Early Works or the texts of the Break (For Marx, p. 34), for it is easy to prove it with them. There is no need to do violence to texts such as the Theses on Feuerbach or The German Ideology which still reverberate profoundly with humanist and historicist echoes, to make them pronounce the words demanded of them: they pronounce them of their own accord. I shall discuss only Capital and the 1857 Introduction.

The texts of Marx's which can be used to support a historicist reading of Marx can be grouped under two heads. The first of these concerns the definition of the conditions in which the object of any historical science is given.

In the 1857 Introduction, Marx writes:

As in general in every historical social science, it must always be borne in mind in the march of economic categories, that the subject, here modern bourgeois society, is given in the mind as well as in reality, and that therefore the categories express forms of existence, conditions of existence and often only single aspects of this determinate society, of this subject (op. cit., p. 26-7).

13 Here we need a full study of his typical metaphors and their proliferation around a centre which it is their mission to focus as they cannot call it by its right name, the name of its concept.
14 The fact and necessity of this dislocation are not peculiar to Marx but common to every scientific founding moment and to all scientific production generally: a study of them is part of a theory of the history of the production of knowledges and a history of the theoretical the necessity for which we feel here also.

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This can be compared with a passage in Capital (T.I., p. 87; Vol. I, p. 75):

Man's reflection on the forms of social life, and consequently, also, his scientific analysis of those forms, takes a course directly opposite to the; real movement. It begins, post festum, with already established givens, with the results of the development.

Not only do these texts suggest that the object of all of the social and historical sciences is an evolved object, a result, but also that the activity of knowledge which is applied to this object, too, is defined by the present of this given, by the current moment of this given. This is what some Italian Marxist interpreters, reverting to a term of Croce's, have called the category of the 'contemporaneity ' of the 'historical present', a category that defines historically and defines as historical the conditions for all knowledge concerning a historical object. As we know, this term contemporaneity can contain an ambiguity.

Marx himself seems to recognize this absolute condition in the Introduction a few lines earlier than the text referred to above:

Historical development so-called generally depends on the fact that the latest form treats the past forms as stages leading up to itself, and, as it is itself only rarely and under very specific circumstances able to criticize itself . . . it always conceives them unilaterally. The Christian religion was only able to help in the objective understanding of earlier mythologies once it had, so to speak, dynamei, developed its own self-criticism to a certain level. And bourgeois economics first arrived at an understanding of the feudal, ancient and oriental economies insofar as bourgeois society had begun its self-criticism (p. 26).

To sum up: every science of a historical object (and political economy in particular) applies to a given, present, historical object, an object that has evolved as a result of past history. Hence every operation of knowledge, starting from the present and applied to an evolved object, is merely the projection of the present onto the past of that object. Marx is here describing the retrospection which Hegel had criticized in 'reflective' history (Introduction to the Philosophy of History ). This inevitable retrospection is only scientific if the present attains the science of itself, criticism of itself, its self-criticism, i.e., if the present is an 'essential section ' which makes the essence visible.

But here the second group of texts come in, and this is the decisive point at which we might speak of a historicism in Marx. This point concerns precisely what Marx calls in the text above, 'the very specific circumstances ' of a present's self-criticism. In other words, in order that the retrospection of the self-consciousness of a present should cease to be subjective, this present must be capable of self-criticism, in order to attain the science of itself. But what do we find if we examine the history of political economy?

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We find thinkers who have merely thought within the limits of their present, unable to run ahead of their times. Aristotle: with all his genius he could only write the equation: 'x objects A = y objects B' as an equation, and declare that the common substance in this equation was unthinkable since it was absurd. What prevented him from going further?

Aristotle could not READ (herauslesen) out of the value form of commodities the fact that all labour is here expressed as indistinct human labour, and consequently as labour of equal quality, because Greek society was founded upon slave-labour, and had, therefore, for its natural basis the inequality of men and of their labour-powers (Capital, T.I., p. 73; Vol. I, pp. 59-60).

The present that enabled Aristotle to make this genial intuitive reading, simultaneously presented him from solving the problem he had posed.[15] The same goes for all the other great inventors of classical political economy. The Mercantilists merely reflected their own present, making their monetary theory out of the monetary policy of their time. The Physiocrats merely reflected their own present, outlining a general theory of surplus-value, but of natural surplus-value, the surplus-value of agricultural labour where the corn could be seen growing, and the surplus unconsumed by a corn-producing agricultural labourer could be seen passing into the farmer's granary: in doing this they were merely formulating the essence of their present, the development of agrarian capitalism in the rich plains of the Paris Basin which Engels lists: Normandy, Picardy and the Ile-de-France (Anti-Dühring, Part II, Ch. X, p. 336). Even they could not run ahead of their times; they only acquired knowledges insofar as their times offered these knowledges to them in a visible form, had produced them for their consciousnesses: in sum, they described what they saw. Did Smith and Ricardo go any further, did they describe what they did not see ? Did they run ahead of their times? No. If they attained a science which was more than the mere consciousness of their present, it was because this consciousness contained a real self-criticism of this present. Why was this self-criticism possible at this point? The logic of this essentially Hegelian interpretation tempts one to answer: they attained science itself in the consciousness of their present because this consciousness was, as a consciousness, its own self-criticism, i.e., a science of itself.

In other words, what distinguished their living and lived present from all the other presents (of the past) was that, for the first time, this present produced in itself its own critique of itself, and that it therefore possessed the historical privilege of producing the science of itself precisely in the form of a self-consciousness. But this present has a name: it is the present of absolute knowledge, in which consciousness and science are one and the
15 This is not untrue, of course, but when this limitation is directly related to 'history' there is once again a risk of merely invoking the ideological concept of history.

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same, in which science exists in the immediate form of consciousness, and truth can be read openly in the phenomena, if not directly, at least with little difficulty, since the abstractions on which the whole historico-social science under consideration depends are really present in the real empirical existence of the phenomena.

Immediately after his discussion of Aristotle, Marx says:

The secret of the expression of value, namely, that all kinds of labour are equal and equivalent because and insofar as they are human labour in general, cannot be deciphered until the notion of human equality has already acquired the fixity of a popular prejudice. This, however, is possible only in a society in which the commodity form has become the general form of the produce of labour, in which, consequently, the dominant social relation has become the relation between men as producers and exchangers of commodities (Capital, T.I, p. 75; Vol. I, p. 60).
It requires a fully developed production of commodities before, from experience alone, the scientific truth springs up, that all the different kinds of private labour, which are carried on independently of each other, and yet intertwine as branches of the spontaneous social system of the division of labour, are continually being reduced to the quantitative proportions in which society requires them (Capital, T.I, p. 87; Vol. I, p. 75).
The recent scientific discovery, that the products of labour, insofar as they are values, are but material expressions of the human labour spent in their production, makes, indeed, an epoch in the history of the development of the human race. (Capital, I, 86; I, 75).

This historical epoch of the foundation of the science of Political Economy does seem here to be brought into relationship with experience itself (Erfahrung ), i.e., with the straightforward reading of the essence in the phenomenon. Or, if you prefer, the sectional reading of the essence in the slice of the present seems to be brought into relationship with the essence of a particular epoch of human history in which the generalization of commodity production and hence of the category commodity appears simultaneously as the absolute condition of possibility and the immediate given of this direct reading from experience. In fact, in the Introduction as well as in Capital, Marx says that the reality of labour in general, of abstract labour, is produced as a phenomenal reality by capitalist production. In some sense, history has reached the point and produced the exceptional, specific present in which scientific abstractions exist in the state of empirical realities, in which science and scientific concepts exist in the form of the visible part of experience as so many directly accessible truths.

See how this is expressed in the Introduction :

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This abstraction of labour in general is not only the result in thought (geistige ) of a concrete totality of labours. The indifference towards determinate labour is the expression of a form of society in which individuals move easily from one kind of labour to another and the determinate kinds of labour they perform are accidental, and hence indifferent to them. Here labour has become a means towards the creation of wealth in general not only as a category but in reality (in der Wirklichkeit ) and, as a determination, it no longer coincides with the individuals only in one particular aspect. Such a situation is most developed in the most modern form of existence of bourgeois society -- the United States of America. There the abstraction of the categories 'labour ', 'labour in general ', labour sans phrase, modern economics' starting-point, is for the first time true in practice (wird praktisch wahr). Hence the simplest abstraction, which modern economics puts before all else and which expresses an ancient relation and one valid for all forms of society, nevertheless only appears in this abstraction as true in practice (praktisch wahr) as a category of the most modern society (op. cit., p. 25 -- italics, L.A.).

If the present of capitalist production has produced scientific truth itself in its visible reality (Wirklichkeit, Erscheinung, Erfahrung ), in its self-consciousness, and if therefore its self-consciousness, its own phenomenon, is therefore its own self-criticism in act (en acte ) -- then it is perfectly dear why the present's retrospection of the past is no longer ideology but true knowledge, and we can appreciate the legitimate epistemological primacy of the present over the past :

Bourgeois society is the most developed and the most varied organization of production. Hence the categories which express its relations, our understanding of its articulation, at the same time guarantee insight into the articulation and production relations of all past forms of society, with debris and elements of which bourgeois society is built, certain unsubdued remnants of which still survive inside it, and certain mere hints of which it develops to their full significance, etc. The anatomy of man is the key to the anatomy of the ape. The pointers to higher species of animals in the lower species can only be understood if the higher species itself is already known. Thus the bourgeois economy provides the key to the economy of antiquity, etc. (op. cit., pp. 25-6).

We need take only one more step in the logic of absolute knowledge, think the development of a history which culminates and is fulfilled in the present of a science identical with consciousness, and reflect this result in a justified retrospection, to be able to conceive all economic (or any other) history as the development, in the Hegelian sense, of a simple, primitive, original form, e.g., value, immediately present in commodities, and to read Capital as a logico-historical deduction of all the economic categories from one

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original category, the category of value, or even the category of labour. Given this, the method of exposition in Capital would coincide with the speculative genesis of the concept. And this speculative genesis of the concept is identical with the genesis of the real concrete itself, i.e., with the process of empirical history. We should thus be dealing with an essentially Hegelian work. That is why the question of the starting-point becomes of such critical value, for everything may depend on an incorrect reading of the first chapter of Volume One. That is also why any critical reading must, as the exposition above has shown, elucidate the status of the concepts and mode of analysis of the first chapter of Volume One, if it is not to fall into this misunderstanding.

This form of historicism may be regarded as a limit-form, insofar as it culminates and destroys itself in the negation of absolute knowledge. As such, it may be regarded as the common matrix of the other, less peremptory and often less visible, though occasionally more 'radical', forms of historicism, because it provided us with a way to understand them.

As proof of this I shall take some contemporary forms of historicism, forms in which the work of certain interpreters of Marxism, particularly in Italy and France, is steeped, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. It is in the Italian Marxist tradition that the interpretation of Marxism as an 'absolute historicism' has the most pronounced features and the most rigorous forms: allow me to dwell on this for a few moments.

This tradition goes back to Gramsci, who inherited it largely from Labriola and Croce. I shall have to discuss Gramsci, therefore. I do not do so without profound misgivings, fearing not only that my necessarily schematic remarks may disfigure the spirit of this enormously delicate and subtle work of genius, but also that the reader may be drawn against my will to extend to Gramsci's fruitful discoveries in the field of historical materialism, the theoretical reservations I want to formulate with respect only to his interpretation of dialectical materialism. I ask therefore that this distinction be kept carefully in mind, for without it this attempt at a critical reflection will trespass beyond its limits.

First of all, I should like to draw attention to one elementary precaution: I shall refuse to take Gramsci immediately at his word on every occasion and on any pretext or text; I shall only consider his words when I have confirmed that they have the function of 'organic ' concepts, concepts which really belong to his most profound philosophical problematic, and not when they simply play the part of a language entrusted either with a polemical role or with a function of 'practical' designation (designation either of an existing problem or object, or of a direction to take, in order best to pose and solve a problem). For example, it would be completely unfair to Gramsci to dub him a 'humanist' and 'absolute' 'historicist' on a first reading of a polemical text such as this famous note on Bukharin (Il materialismo storico e la filosofia di Benedetto Croce, Einaudi, Milan, 1948, p. 159):

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There is no doubt that Hegelianism is (relatively speaking the most important of the philosophical motivations of our author [Marx], also, and in particular, for the reason that it attempted to go beyond the traditional conceptions of idealism and materialism in a new synthesis which undoubtedly had a quite exceptional importance and which represents a world-historical moment of philosophical enquiry. So when the Manual [of Bukharin] says that the term 'immanence' in the philosophy of praxis is used in a metaphorical sense, it is saying nothing. In reality the term immanence has here acquired a special meaning which is not that of the 'pantheists' nor any other metaphysical meaning, but one which is new and needs to be made precise. It has been forgotten that in the case of a certain very common expression [historical materialism ] one should put the accent on the first term -- 'historical' -- and not on the second, which is of metaphysical origin. The philosophy of praxis is absolute 'historicism ', the absolute secularization and earthliness of thought, an absolute humanism of history. It is along this line that one must trace the thread of the new conception of the world.

It is only too clear that these 'absolute' 'humanist' and 'absolute' 'historicist' statements of Gramsci's are primarily critical and polemical in meaning; their functions are, first and foremost: (1) to reject any metaphysical interpretation of Marxist philosophy, and (2) to indicate, as 'practical' concepts,[16] the site on which the Marxist conception should be established and the direction it should take in order to break all ties with the previous metaphysics: the site of 'immanence', of the 'down here' which Marx himself opposed as 'diesseits ' (down-here) to transcendence, the beyond (jenseits ) of classical philosophies. This distinction is featured in so many words in one of the Theses on Feuerbach (the second). However, we can already draw one first conclusion from the 'indicative-practical' nature of these two concepts which Gramsci combines in one and the same function (humanism, historicism); a restricted conclusion, it is true, but a theoretically important one: if these concepts are polemical-indicative, they indicate the direction in which an investigation must be begun, the kind of domain in which the problem of the interpretation of Marxism must be posed, but they do not provide the positive concept of this interpretation. In order to be able to judge Gramsci's interpretation we must first of all bring to light the positive concepts in which it is expressed. What does Gramsci mean by 'absolute historicism'?

If we go beyond the purely critical aims of his formulations, we immediately find a first positive sense. By presenting Marxism as a historicism, Gramsci is stressing an essential determination of Marxist theory: its practical role in real history. One of Gramsci's constant concerns is the practico-historical role of what, adopting Croce's conception of religion,
16 In the sense defined in For Marx, pp. 242ff.

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he calls the great 'conceptions of the world', or 'ideologies': theoretical formations which are capable of penetrating deep into men's practical lives, and hence of inspiring and animating a whole historical epoch, by providing not only the 'intellectuals' but also and above all the 'ordinary' men, with both a general view of the course of events and at the same time rules of practical conduct.[17] In this respect, the historicism of Marxism is no more than the consciousness of a task and a necessity: Marxism cannot claim to be the theory of history unless, even in its theory, it can think the conditions of this penetration into history, into all strata of society, even into men's everyday lives. This perspective enables us to understand a number of Gramsci's expressions; where, for instance, he says that philosophy must be concrete, real, must be history, that the real philosopher is simply the politician, that philosophy, politics and history are absolutely one and the same.[18] This perspective enables us to understand his theory of intellectuals and ideology, his distinction between individual intellectuals, who can produce more or less subjective and arbitrary ideologies, and 'organic' intellectuals or the 'collective intellectual' (the Party), who ensure the 'hegemony' of a ruling class by carrying its 'conception of the world' (or organic ideology) into the everyday life of all men; and to understand his interpretation of Machiavelli's Prince, whose heritage has, in new conditions, fallen to the
17 'Assuming Benedetto Croce's definition of religion as a conception of the world which has become a norm of life, since norm of life is not understood in a bookish sense but as a norm realized in practical life, the majority of men are philosophers insofar as they work practically; a conception of the world, a philosophy is implicit in their working practice' (Gramsci: Il materialismo storico e la filosofia di Benedetto Croce, Milan 1948, p. 21).
'But at this point we reach the fundamental problem facing any conception of the world, any philosophy which has become a cultural movement, a "religion", a "faith", any that has produced a form of practical activity or will in which the philosophy is contained as an implicit theoretical "premiss". One might say "ideology" here, but on condition that the word is used in its highest sense of a conception of the world that is implicitly manifest in art, in law, in economic activity and in all manifestations of individual and collective life. This problem is that of preserving the ideological unity of the entire social bloc which that ideology serves to cement and unify' (ibid., p. 7).
The reader will have noted that the conception of an ideology which is 'implicitly' manifest in art, law, economic activity and 'all the manifestations of individual and collective life' is very close to the Hegelian conception.
18 'All men are philosophers' (ibid., p. 3).
'Since all action is political, can one not say that the real philosophy of each man is contained in its entirety in his political action ?. . . . Hence the reason why philosophy cannot be divorced from politics. And one can show furthermore that the choice and the criticism of a conception of the world is also a political matter' (ibid., p. 6).
'If it is true that every philosophy is the expression of a society, it must react on that society and determine certain positive and negative effects; the precise extent to which it reacts is the measure of its historical scope, of the extent to which it is not an individual "elucubration" but a "historical fact" ' (ibid., pp. 23-4).
'The identity of history and philosophy is immanent in historical materialism. . . . The proposition that the German proletariat is the heir of classical German philosophy contains precisely the identity between history and philosophy . . .' (ibid., p. 217). Cf. pp. 232-4.

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modern Communist Party, etc. In all these cases Gramsci is merely expressing a necessity which is inherent in Marxism, not only practically, but consciously and theoretically. Hence the historicism of Marxism is no more than one of the aspects and effects of its own theory, correctly conceived, no more than its own internally consistent theory. A theory of real history, too, must, as other 'conceptions of the world' have already done, pass into real history. What was true of the great religions must a fortiori be true of Marxism itself, not despite but because of the difference between it and those ideologies, because of what is philosophically new in it, since this novelty is that it includes in its theory itself the practical meaning of that theory.[19]

However, as the reader will have realized, this last sense of 'historicism', which refers us to a theme within Marxist theory, is still very largely a critical indication, designed to condemn all 'bookish' Marxists, all those who hope to reduce it to one of the 'individual philosophies', destined never to achieve any hold on history -- and even all those ideologists who, like Croce, return to the unfortunate tradition of the intellectuals of the Renaissance, wishing to educate the human race 'from above', without engaging in political action and real history. The historicism Gramsci affirms means a vigorous protest against this aristocratism of theory and of its 'thinkers'.[20] The old protest against the bookish phariseeism of the Second International ('The Revolution against Capital ') is still echoing here; this is a direct appeal to 'practice', to political action, to 'changing the world', without which Marxism would be no more than the prey of bookworms and passive political functionaries.

Does this protest necessarily contain a new theoretical interpretation of Marxist theory? Not necessarily ; it may simply develop one of the essential themes of Marx's theory in the practical form of an absolute reminder: the theme of the new relationship between 'theory' and 'practice' which Marx installed within his theory itself. We find this theme in Marx in two places : in historical materialism (in the theory of the role of ideologies and the role of scientific theory in the transformation of existing ideologies) on the one hand, and, on the other, in dialectical materialism with respect to the Marxist theory of theory and practice and their relationship, in what is commonly called 'the materialist theory of knowledge'. In both these cases what Marx vigorously affirms and what is at stake in our problem is Marxist materialism. Hence the stress Gramsci lays on the 'historicism' of Marxism, in the very precise sense we have just defined, is in reality an allusion to the resolutely materialist character of Marx's conception (both in historical and dialectical materialism). But this reality leads on to a disconcerting comment
19 What corresponds here to the concept of 'historicism', in this interpretation, has a precise name in Marxism: it is the problem of the union of theory and practice, more particularly the problem of the union of Marxist theory and the workers' movement.
20 Gramsci, op. cit., pp. 8-9.

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which contains three aspects, each of which is as disturbing as the next. (1) Whereas it is precisely materialism which is at stake, Gramsci declares that in the expression 'historical materialism' 'one should put the accent on the first term -- "historical " -- and not the second which,' he says, 'is of metaphysical origin '. (2) Whereas the materialist stress involves not only historical materialism but also dialectical materialism, Gramsci hardly ever speaks of anything but historical materialism -- indeed, he suggests that the term 'materialism' inevitably sounds 'metaphysical', or perhaps more than sounds. (3) It is clear that Gramsci makes the expression 'historical materialism', which designates only the scientific theory of history, bear a double sense: it means simultaneously both historical materialism and Marxist philosophy; hence Gramsci tends to make the theory of history and dialectical materialism coincide within historical materialism alone, although they form two distinct disciplines. Obviously I am not basing these remarks or drawing this last conclusion on the authority of the single sentence I am analysing, but on that of a very large number of Gramsci's other arguments,[21] which confirm it unambiguously and so give it a conceptual meaning. I believe that here we have a new sense of Gramsci's 'historicism', one that can no longer be reduced to the legitimate use of a polemical or critical indicative concept -- but one which must be regarded as a theoretical interpretation affecting the very content of Marx's thought, and one to which our criticisms and reservations must therefore apply.

Finally, as well as his polemical and practical use of the concept, Gramsci also has a truly 'historicist' conception of Marx: a 'historicist' conception of the theory of the relationship between Marx's theory and real history. It is not completely accidental that Gramsci is constantly haunted by Croce's theory of religion; that he accepts its terms, and extends it from actual religions to the new 'conception of the world', Marxism; that he ranges these religions and Marxism under the same concept as 'conceptions of the world' and 'ideologies'; that he so easily identifies religion, ideology, philosophy
21 Cf e.g.: 'The philosophy of praxis derives certainly from the immanentist conception of reality, but it derives from it insofar as it is purified of any speculative aroma and reduced to pure history or historicity or to pure humanism. . . . Not only is the philosophy of praxis connected to immanentism. It is also connected to the subjective conception of reality, to the extent precisely that it turns it on its head, explaining it as a historical fact, as the "historical subjectivity of a social group [class]", as a real fact, which presents itself as a phenomenon of philosophical "speculation" and is simply a practical act, the form of a concrete social content and the means of leading the ensemble of society to shape for itself a moral unity' (ibid., p. 191).
Or again: 'If it is necessary, in the perennial flux of events, to fix concepts without which reality cannot be understood, one must also, and it is indeed quite indispensable, fix and recall that reality in movement and concept of reality, though logically they may be distinct, historically must be conceived as an inseparable unity' (ibid., p. 216).
Echoes of Bogdanov's empiricism are obvious in the first text; the second features the empiricist-speculative thesis of all historicism: the identity of the concept and the real (historical) object.

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and Marxist theory, without calling attention to the fact that what dis tinguishes Marxism from these ideological 'conceptions of the world' is less the (important) formal difference that Marxism puts an end to any supra-terrestrial 'beyond', than the distinctive form of this absolute immanence (its 'earthliness'): the form of scientifcity. This 'break' between the old religions or ideologies, even the 'organic' ones, and Marxism, which is a science, and which must become the 'organic' ideology of human history by producing a new form of ideology in the masses (an ideology which will depend on a science this time -- which has never been the case before ) -- this break was not really reflected by Gramsci, and, absorbed as he was by the necessity and the practical conditions for the penetration of the 'philosophy of praxis' into real history, he neglected the theoretical significance of this break and its theoretical and practical consequences. Hence he often tends to unite under the same head the scientific theory of history (historical materialism) and Marxist philosophy (dialectical materialism), and to think this unity as a 'conception of the world' or as an 'ideology' basically comparable with the old religions. Similarly, he tends to think the relationship between Marxist science and real history according to the model of the relationship between an 'organic' (historically dominant and active) ideology and real history; and ultimately to think this relationship between Marxist scientific theory and real history according to the model of a relationship of direct expression, which does give a fair account of the relationship between an organic ideology and its age. It is here, it seems to me, that the disputable principles of Gramsci's historicism lie. It is here that he spontaneously rediscovers the language and theoretical problematic indispensable to every 'historicism'.

Given these premisses it is possible to give a theoretically historicist sense to the formulae I referred to at the beginning -- for, given the whole underlying context I have just indicated, they also take on this sense in Gramsci -- and if I now go on and try to draw out their implications as rigorously as I can in a short space, I do not do so as an attack on Gramsci (who had too fine a historical and theoretical sensitivity not to keep every distance when necessary) so much as to make visible a latent logic, knowledge of which can help us to understand certain of their theoretical effects, whose occurrence would otherwise remain a riddle, whether in Gramsci's own work, or in the works of certain of those inspired by him or comparable with him. So I shall be expounding a limit-situation here, too, just as I did with respect to the 'historicist' reading of certain passages from Capital, and I shall be defining not so much any particular interpretation (Gramsci, Della Volpe, Colletti, Sartre) as the field of the theoretical problematic which haunts their reflections and which emerges from time to time in certain of their concepts, problems or solutions.

To this end, and with these reservations, which are not merely stylistic, I shall now take the statement that Marxism must be conceived as an 'absolute

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historicism ', as a symptomatic thesis which will enable us to bring a whole latent problematic to light. How are we to understand this statement in our present perspective? If Marxism is an absolute historicism, it is because it historicizes even what was peculiarly the theoretical and practical negation of history for Hegelian historicism: the end of history, the unsurpassable present of Absolute Knowledge. In absolute historicism there is no longer any Absolute Knowledge, and hence no end for history.

There is no longer any privileged present in which the totality becomes visible and legible in an 'essential section', in which consciousness and science coincide. The fact that there is no Absolute Knowledge -- which is what makes the historicism absolute -- means that Absolute Knowledge itself is historicized. If there is no longer any privileged present, all presents are privileged to the same degree. It follows that historical time possesses in each of its presents a structure which allows each present the 'essential section' of contemporaneity. Nevertheless, the Marxist does not have the same structure as the Hegelian totality, and in particular it contains different levels or instances which do not directly express one another. Therefore in order to make it susceptible to the 'essential section' these levels must be linked together in such a way that the present of each of them coincides with the presents of all the others: i.e., they must all be 'contemporaneous'. Thus re-organized, their relationship will exclude the effects of distortion and dislocation, which, in the authentic Marxist conception, contradict this ideological reading of a contemporaneity. Hence the project of thinking Marxism as an (absolute) historicism automatically unleashes a logically necessary chain reaction which tends to reduce and flatten out the Marxist totality into a variation of the Hegelian totality, and which, even allowing for more or less rhetorical distinctions, ultimately tones down, reduces, or omits the real differences separating the levels.

The symptomatic point at which this reduction of the levels shows its face -- i.e., hides behind the cover provided by an 'obviousness' which betrays it (in both senses of the word) -- can be defined precisely: in the status of scientific and philosophical knowledge. We have seen that Gramsci was so insistent on the practical unity of the conception of the world and history that he neglected to retain what distinguishes Marxist theory from every previous organic ideology: its character as scientific knowledge. Marxist philosophy, which he does not clearly distinguish from the theory of history, suffers the same fate: Gramsci relates it to present history as its direct expression; philosophy is then, as Hegel intended (in a conception readopted by Croce) 'the history of philosophy', and, in short, history. As all science and all philosophy are at bottom real history, real history itself can be called philosophy and science.

But how can one think this double radical affirmation in Marxist theory and create the theoretical conditions which will permit its formulation? By a whole series of conceptual slides (glissements ), whose effect is precisely

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to reduce the distance between the levels which Marx had distinguished. Each of these slides is the less perceptible the less attention has been paid to the theoretical distinctions registered in the precision of Marx's concepts.

In this way, Gramsci constantly declares that a scientific theory, or such and such a category of a science, is a 'superstructure'[22]or a 'historical category' which he assimilates to a 'human relation'.[23] In fact, this is to attribute to the concept 'superstructure' a breadth Marx never allowed, for he only ranged within it: (1) the politico-legal superstructure, and (2) the ideological superstructure (the corresponding 'forms of social consciousness'): except in his Early Works (especially the 1844 Manuscripts ), Marx never included scientific knowledge in it. Science can no more be ranged within the category 'superstructure' than can language, which as Stalin showed escapes it. To make science a superstructure is to think of it as one of those 'organic' ideologies which form such a close 'bloc' with the structure that they have the same 'history' as it does! But even in Marxist theory we read that ideologies may survive the structure that gave them birth (this is true for the majority of them: e.g., religion, ethics, or ideological philosophy), as may certain elements of the politico-legal superstructure in the same way (Roman law!). As for science, it may well arise from an ideology, detach itself from its field in order to constitute itself as a science, but precisely this detachment, this 'break', inaugurates a new form of historical existence and temporality which together save science (at least in certain historical conditions that ensure the real continuity of its own history -- conditions that have not always existed) from the common fate of a single history: that of the 'historical bloc' unifying structure and superstructure. Idealism is an ideological reflection of the temporality peculiar to science, the rhythm of its development, the kind of continuity and punctuation which seem to save it from the vicissitudes of political and economic history in the form of a histonicity and temporality; in this way it hypostasizes a real phenomenon which needs quite different categories if it is to be thought, but which must be thought by distinguishing between the relatively autonomous and peculiar history of scientific knowledge and the other modalities of historical existence (those of the ideological and politico-legal superstructures, and that of the economic structure).

The reduction and identification of the peculiar history of science to the history of organic ideology and politico-economic history ultimately reduces science to history as its 'essence'. The collapse of science into history here is no more than the index of a theoretical collapse: a collapse that precipitates the theory of history into real history; reduces the (theoretical) object of the science of history to real history; and therefore confuses the object of knowledge with the real object. This collapse is nothing but a collapse into
22 Cf. Gramsci's astonishing pages on science in Il materialismo storico, pp. 54-7.
23 ibid., p. 160.

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empiricist ideology, with the roles in this presentation played by philosophy and real history. Despite his enormous historical and political genius, Gramsci did not avoid this empiricist temptation in his attempt to think the status of science and above all that of philosophy (for he is little concerned with science). He is constantly tempted to think the relation between real history and philosophy as a relation of expressive unity, whatever mediations may be responsible for the maintenance of this relation.[24] As we have seen, for him, a philosopher is, in the last instance, a 'politician'; for him, philosophy is the direct product (assuming all the 'necessary mediations') of the activity and experience of the masses, of politico-economic praxis: professional philosophers merely lend their voices and the forms of their discourse to this 'common-sense' philosophy, which is already complete without them and speaks in historical praxis -- they cannot change it substantially. Gramsci spontaneously rediscovers, as an opposition indispensable to the expression of his thought, the very formulations which Feuerbach used in a famous text of 1839 which opposed the philosophy produced by real history to the philosophy produced by philosophers -- the formulations opposing praxis to speculation. And Gramsci's intention to retain what was valuable in Croce's historicism is expressed in the very terms of Feuerbach's 'inversion' of speculation into 'concrete' philosophy: he proposes to 'invert' Croce's speculative historicism, to set it back on to its feet, in order to make it into Marx's historicism -- in order to rediscover real history and 'concrete' philosophy. If it is true that the 'inversion' of a problematic retains the same structure as that problematic, it is not surprising that the relationship of direct expression (given all the necessary 'mediations') between real history and philosophy conceived by Hegel and Croce recurs in the inverted theory: precisely the relationship of direct expression Gramsci is tempted to set up between politics (real history) and philosophy.

But it is not enough to reduce to a minimum the distance within the social structure between the specific site of theoretical, philosophical and scientific formations on the one hand and political practice on the other; that is, the site of theoretical practice and the site of political practice -- it is also essential to provide a conception of theoretical practice which illustrates and consecrates the proclaimed identity of philosophy and politics. This latent requirement explains some new conceptual slides, whose effect is once again to reduce the distinction between the levels.

In this interpretation, theoretical practice tends to lose all specificity and to be reduced to historical practice in general, a category which is made to include forms of production as different as economic practice, political practice, ideological practice and scientific practice. Nevertheless, this assimilation poses critical problems: Gramsci himself recognized that absolute historicism threatens to run aground on the rock of the theory of
24 On the concept of 'mediation' see Part I, section 18.

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ideologies. But he himself provided the arguments for a solution when he compared the Theses on Feuerbach with a phrase of Engels's (history as 'industry and experiment '), by proposing as his model a practice which is capable of uniting all these different practices within its concept. The problematic of absolute historicism required that this problem be solved: it is no accident that it has usually given this empiricist problem a solution which is empiricist in spirit. The model may, for example, be that of experimental practice, borrowed not so much from the reality of modern science as from a certain ideology of modern science. Colletti has taken up this hint of Gramsci's and maintains that history, and even reality itself, have an 'experimental structure ', and therefore that in essence they are structured like an experiment. If real history on the one hand is declared to be 'industry and experiment' in this way -- and if all scientific practice on the other is defined as experimental practice, it follows that historical practice and theoretical practice have one and the same structure. Colletti pushes this comparison to its extremes, and suggests that history includes in its being, just like science, the moment of hypothesis which is indispensable to a presentation of the experimental structure, in Claude Bernard's schemata. As history is constantly anticipating itself in living political action (in the predictions of the future indispensable to any action) it is thus hypothesis and verification in action, just like the practice of experimental science. This identity of essential structures makes it possible to assimilate theoretical practice directly, immediately and adequately to historical practice -- and the reduction of the site of theoretical practice to that of political or social practice can then be based on the reduction of these practices to a single structure.

I have taken Gramsci and Colletti as my examples. This is not because they are the only possible examples of theoretical variations on a single theoretical invariant: the problematic of historicism. In no sense does a problematic impose absolutely identical variations on the thoughts that cross its field: a field can be crossed by quite different paths, since it can be approached from many different directions. But to come upon it means to submit to its law, which produces as many different effects as there are different thoughts which come upon it: however, all these effects have certain identical features in common: the features of the problematic they have come upon. To give a paradoxical example, we all know that Sartre's thought in no sense derives from Gramsci's interpretation of Marxism: it has quite different origins. However, when he came upon Marxism, for his own peculiar reasons Sartre immediately gave a historicist interpretation of it (although he would undoubtedly refuse to call it that), declaring that the great philosophies (he cites Marx's philosophy after those of Locke and Kant-Hegel) are 'insurpassable until the historical moment whose expression they are has been surpassed ' (Critique de la raison dialectique, Paris 1960, p. 17; English translation: The Problem of Method, London 1965, p. 7). Here once

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again we find, in a form peculiar to Sartre, the structures of contemporaneity, expression and the insurpassable (Hegel's 'no one can run ahead of his time'), which for him represent specifications of his major concept: totalization -- but which nevertheless realize the necessary conceptual effects of his encounter with the structure of the historicist problematic, in the form of specifications of this concept which is peculiar to him. These are not the only effects: we are not surprised to see Sartre using his own means to rediscover a theory of 'ideologists' (ibid., pp. 17-18; trans. pp. 7-8) (who cash and comment on a great philosophy, transferring it into men's practical lives) in many respects very close to Gramsci's theory of organic intellectuals;[25]nor are we surprised to see Sartre make the same necessary reduction of the different practices (the different levels distinguished by Marx) to a single practice: for him, for reasons related precisely to his peculiar philosophical origins, it is not the concept of experimental practice, but the concept of 'praxis' as such, which is responsible for the unity of practices as different as scientific practice and economic or political practice, at the price of innumerable mediations (Sartre is the philosopher of mediations par excellence : their function is precisely to ensure unity in the negation of differences).

I cannot develop these very schematic comments. But they will serve to give some idea of the implications necessarily contained in any historicist interpretation of Marxism, and of the particular concepts this interpretation has to produce in order to solve the problems it poses for itself -- at least when it aims, as is the case with Gramsci, Colletti or Sartre, to be theoretically demanding and rigorous. This interpretation can itself only be thought on condition of a whole series of reductions which are the effect of the empiricist character of its project on the order of the production of concepts. For example, only on condition that it reduces all practice to experimental practice, or to 'praxis' in general, and then assimilates this mother-practice to political practice, can all practices be thought as arising from 'real' historical practice, can philosophy, even science, and hence Marxism, too, be thought as the 'expression' of real history. The result is to flatten even scientific knowledge or philosophy, and at any rate Marxist theory, down to the unity of politico-economic practice, to the heart of 'historical' practice, to 'real ' history. In this way one reaches the result required by all historicist interpretations of Marxism as their theoretical precondition: the transformation of the Marxist totality into a variant of the Hegelian totality.

The historicist interpretation of Marxism may lead to one last effect: the practical negation of the distinction between the science of history (historical materialism) and Marxist philosophy (dialectical materialism). In this final reduction, Marxist philosophy loses in practice its raison d'être, to the
25 Gramsci even gives Sartre's distinction between philosophy and history in so many words (Il materialismo storico, op. cit., p. 197).

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advantage of the theory of history: dialectical materialism disappears into historical materialism.[26] This is clearly visible in Gramsci, and in most of; his followers: not only do they have serious reservations about the word dialectical materialism, but also about the concept of a Marxist philosophy defined by a peculiar object. They think that the mere idea of a theoretically autonomous philosophy (autonomous in its object, theory and method), i.e., one which is distinct from the science of history, tips Marxism back into metaphysics, into the restoration of the Philosophy of Nature, for which Engels made himself responsible.[27] Since all philosophy is history, the 'philosophy of praxis' can, as a philosophy, only be the philosophy of the philosophy-history identity, or of the science-history identity. Deprived of any object of its own, Marxist philosophy loses the status of an autonomous discipline and is reduced, according to Gramsci, quoting Croce, to a mere 'historical methodology', i.e., to the mere self-consciousness of the historicity of history, to a reflection on the presence of real history in all its manifestations:

Separated from the theory of history and politics, philosophy cannot be other than metaphysics, whereas the great conquest in the history of modern thought, represented by the philosophy of praxis, is precisely the concrete historicization of philosophy and its identification with history (Gramsci: Il materialismo storico, p. 133).

This historicization of philosophy reduces it then to the status of a historical methodology:

To think of a philosophical affirmation as true in a particular historical period (that is, as the necessary and inseparable expression of a particular historical action, of a particular praxis) but as superseded and rendered 'vain' in a succeeding period, without however falling into scepticism and moral and ideological relativism, in other words to see philosophy as historicity, is quite an arduous and difficult mental operation . . . [Bukharin] does not succeed in elaborating the concept of the philosophy of praxis as 'historical methodology ' and of that in turn as 'philosophy', as the only concrete philosophy. That is to say he does not succeed in posing and resolving, from the point of view of the real dialectic, the problem which Croce has posed and has attempted to resolve from the speculative point of view.

These last words bring us full circle: we have returned to Hegelian historicism 'radicalized' by Croce, which only needs to be 'inverted' to change from speculative philosophy into 'concrete' philosophy, from the speculative dialectic into the real dialectic, etc. The theoretical undertaking 26 The same structural causes can give rise to the opposite effect: with Sartre, we can say just as easily that the Marxist science of history becomes philosophy.
27 Cf. Gramsci's critique of Bukharin, and Colletti's introduction to Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks, now in Il Marxismo e Hegel, Bari 1969.

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which interprets Marxism as a historicism does not escape the absolute limits within which this 'inversion' of speculation into praxis and of abstraction into the concrete has been performed since Feuerbach: these limits are defined by the empiricist problematic, sublimated in Hegelian speculation, and no 'inversion' can deliver us from them.[28]

In the different theoretical reductions indispensable to the historicist interpretation, and in their effects, we can therefore clearly see the basic structure of all historicism: the contemporaneity which makes possible a reading in essential section. And of theoretical necessity we can also see this structure imposed willy-nilly on the structure of the Marxist totality, transforming it and reducing the real distance between its different levels. Marxist history 'relapses' into the ideological concept of history, the category of temporal presence and continuity; into the politico-economic practice of real history, by flattening the sciences, philosophy and ideologies into the unity of the relations and forces of production, i.e., in fact, into the infra-structure. Paradoxical as this conclusion may seem -- and I shall doubtless be attacked for expressing it -- it must be drawn: from the standpoint of its theoretical problematic, and not of its political style and aims, this humanist and historicist materialism has rediscovered the basic theoretical principles of the Second International's economistic and mechanistic interpretation. If this single theoretical problematic can underly policies of different inspiration, one fatalist, the other voluntarist, one passive, the other conscious and active -- it is because of the scope for theoretical 'play ' contained in this ideological theoretical problematic as in every ideology. In this case, this kind of historicism can be opposed politically to the theses of the Second International by conferring on the infrastructure the most active qualities of the political and ideological superstructure, in a compensating crossed connexion. This transfer of qualities can be conceived in different ways: e.g., by endowing political practice with the qualities of philosophy and theory (spontaneism); by attributing to economic practice all the active and even explosive virtues of politics (anarcho-syndicalism); or by entrusting to political consciousness and determination the determinism of the economic (voluntarism). In other words, if there really are two distinct ways of identifying the superstructure with the infrastructure, or consciousness with the economy -- one which sees in consciousness and politics only
28 A moment ago I spoke of the peculiar origins of Sartre's philosophy. Sartre thinks with Descartes, Kant, Husserl and Hegel: but his most profound thought undoubtedly comes from Politzer and (paradoxical as this juxtaposition might appear) secondarily from Bergson. But Politzer is the Feuerbach of our time: his Critique des fondements de la psychologie is a critique of speculative Psychology in the name of a concrete Psychology. Sartre may have treated Politzer's themes as 'philosophemes': he has not abandoned his inspiration; when Sartre's historicism inverts the 'totality', the abstractions of dogmatic Marxism, he is also 'repeating' in a different place and with respect to different objects an 'inversion' which, from Feuerbach to the Young Marx and Politzer, has merely conserved the same problematic behind an apparent critique.

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the economy, while the other imbues the economy with politics and consciousness, there is never more than one structure of identification at work -- the structure of the problematic which, by reducing one to the other, theoretically identifies the levels present. It is this common structure of the problematic which is made visible when, rather than analysing the theoretical or political intentions of mechanicism-economism on the one hand and humanism-historicism on the other, we examine the internal logic of their conceptual mechanisms.

Allow me one more comment on the relation between humanism and historicism. It is only too clear that a non-historicist humanism is perfectly conceivable, as is a non-humanist historicism. Of course, here I always mean a theoretical humanism and historicism, considered in their function as theoretical foundations for Marxist science and philosophy. To live by ethics or religion, or by that politico-ethical ideology known as social-democracy is enough to erect a humanist but non-historicist interpretation of Marx: all that is required is to read Marx in the 'light' of a theory of 'human nature', be it religious, ethical or anthropological (cf. Fathers Calvez and Bigo, and Monsieur Rubel, as well as the Social Democrats Landshut and Mayer, the first editors of Marx's Early Works). It is child's play to reduce Capital to an ethical inspiration, whether or no one relies on the radical anthropology of the 1844 Manuscripts. But, inversely, it is just as easy to imagine a historicist but non-humanist reading of Marx: if I understand him correctly, Colletti's best efforts tend in this direction. To justify this historicist non-humanist reading of Marx it is necessary to refuse, as Colletti does, to reduce the Forces of Production/Relations of Production unity, which constitutes the essence of history, to the mere phenomenon of a human nature, even a historicized one. But let us leave these two possibilities at this point.

It must be said that the union of humanism and historicism represents the gravest temptation, for it procures the greatest theoretical advantages, at least in appearance. In the reduction of all knowledge to the historical social relations a second underhand reduction can be introduced, by treating the relations of production as mere human relations.[29] This second reduction depends on something 'obvious': is not history a 'human' phenomenon through and through, and did not Marx, quoting Vico, declare that men can, know it since they have 'made ' all of it? But this 'obviousness' depends on a remarkable presupposition: that the 'actors' of history are the authors of its text, the subjects of its production. But this presupposition too has all the force of the 'obvious', since, as opposed to what the theatre suggests, concrete men are, in history, the actors of roles of which they are the authors, too. Once the stage-director has been spirited away, the actor-author becomes the twin-brother of Aristotle's old dream: the doctor-who-cures-himself; and
29 This surreptitious practice is common to all the humanist interpretations of Marxism.

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the relations of production, although they are the real stage-directors of history, are reduced to mere human relations. Is not The German Ideology stuffed with formulations about the 'real men', the 'concrete individuals', who, 'with their feet firmly on the ground', are the real subjects of history? Do not the Theses on Feuerbach declare that objectivity itself is the completely human result of the 'practico-sensuous' activity of these subjects? Once this human nature has been endowed with the qualities of 'concrete' historicity, it becomes possible to avoid the abstraction and fixity of theoogical or ethical anthropologies and to join Marx in the very heart of his lair: historical materialism. This human nature will therefore be conceived as something produced by history, and changing with it, while man changes, as even the Philosophers of the Enlightenment intended, with the revolutions of his own history, and is affected by the social products of his objective history even in his most intimate faculties (seeing, hearing, memory, reason, etc. Even Helvetius claimed this, and Rousseau too, in opposition to Diderot; Feuerbach made it one of the main articles of his philosophy -- and in our own day, a horde of cultural anthropologists have adopted it). History then becomes the transformation of a human nature, which remains the real subject of the history which transforms it. As a result, history has been introduced into human nature, making men the contemporaries of the historical effects whose subjects they are, but -- and this is absolutely decisive -- the relations of production, political and ideological social relations, have been reduced to historicized 'human relations ', i.e., to inter-human, inter-subjective relations. This is the favourite terrain of historicist humanism. And what is its great advantage? The fact that Marx is restored to the stream of an ideology much older than himself, an ideology born in the eighteenth century; credit for the originality of a revolutionary theoretical rupture is taken from him, he is often even made acceptable to modern forms of 'cultural' anthropology, and so on. Is there anyone today who does not invoke this historicist humanism, in the genuine belief that he is appealing to Marx, whereas such an ideology takes us away from Marx?

But this has not always been the case, at least not politically speaking. I have said why and how the historicist-humanist interpretation of Marxism came to birth in the portents and in the wake of the 1917 Revolution. Its significance then was that of a violent protest against the mechanicism and opportunism of the Second International. It appealed directly to the consciousness and will of men to reject the War, overthrow capitalism and make the revolution. It rejected absolutely anything, even in theory, which might defer or stifle this urgent appeal to the historical responsibility of the real men hurled into the revolution. In the same movement, it demanded the theory of its will. That is why it proclaimed a radical return to Hegel (the young Lukács and Korsch) and worked out a theory which put Marx's doctrine into a directly expressive relationship with the working class. From this period, too, dates the famous opposition between 'bourgeois science'

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and 'proletarian science', in which triumphed an idealist and voluntarist interpretation of Marxism as the exclusive product and expression of proletarian practice. This 'left-wing' humanism designated the proletariat as the site and missionary of the human essence. The historical role of freeing man from his 'alienation' was its destiny, through the negation of the human essence whose absolute victim it was. The alliance between the proletariat and philosophy announced in Marx's early texts was no longer seen as an alliance between two mutually exclusive components, The proletariat, the human essence in revolt against its radical negation, because the revolutionary affirmation of the human essence: the proletariat was thus philosophy in deed and its political practice philosophy itself. Marx's role was then reduced to having conferred on this philosophy which was acted and lived in its birth-place, the mere form of self-consciousness. That is why Marxism was proclaimed 'proletarian' 'science' or 'philosophy', the direct expression, the direct production of the human essence by its sole historical author: the proletariat. Kautsky's and Lenin's thesis that Marxist theory is produced by a specific theoretical practice, outside the proletariat, and that Marxist theory must be 'imported ' into the proletariat, was absolutely rejected -- and all the themes of spontaneism rushed into Marxism through this open breach: the humanist universalism of the proletariat. Theoretically, this revolutionary 'humanism' and 'historicism' together laid claim to Hegel and to those of Marx's early texts then available. As for its political effects, some of Rosa Luxemburg's theses on imperialism and the disappearance of the laws of 'political economy' in the socialist regime; the Proletkult; the conceptions of the 'Workers' Opposition', etc.; and in a general way the 'voluntarism' which deeply marked the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the USSR, even in the paradoxical forms of Stalinist dogmatism. Even today, this 'humanism' and 'historicism' find genuinely revolutionary echoes in the political struggles waged by the people of the Third World to conquer and defend their political independence and set out on the socialist road. But these ideological and political advantages themselves, as Lenin admirably discerned, are offset by certain effects of the logic that they set in motion, which eventually and inevitably produce idealist and empiricist temptations in economic and political conceptions and practice -- if they do not, given a favourable conjuncture, induce, by a paradoxical but still necessary inversion, conceptions which are tainted with reformism and opportunism, or quite simply revisionist.

Indeed, it is a peculiarity of every ideological conception, especially if it had conquered a scientific conception by diverting it from its true meaning, that it is governed by 'interests' beyond the necessity of knowledge alone. In this sense, i.e., on condition that it is given the object of which it speaks without knowing it, historicism is not without theoretical value, since it gives an adequate description of an essential aspect of all ideology, which takes its meaning from the current interests in whose service it is subjected. If the

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ideology does not express the total objective essence of its time (the essence of the historical present), it can at least express the current changes in the historical situation reasonably well by the effect of slight internal displacements of accent: unlike a science, an ideology is both theoretically closed; and politically supple and adaptable. It bends to the interests of the times, but without any apparent movement, being content to reflect the historical changes which it is its mission to assimilate and master by some imperceptible modification of its peculiar internal relations. The ambiguous example of the Vatican II 'aggiornamento ' is a sufficiently striking proof: the effect and sign of an indisputable evolution, but at the same time a skilful adjustment to history, thanks to an intelligently handled conjuncture. Ideology changes therefore, but imperceptibly, conserving its ideological form; it moves, but with an immobile motion which maintains it where it is, in its place and its ideological role. It is the immobile motion which, as Hegel said of philosophy itself, reflects and expresses what happens in history without ever running ahead of its own time, since it is merely that time caught in the trap of a mirror reflection, precisely so that men will be caught in it too. That is the essential reason why the revolutionary humanism of the echoes of the 1917 Revolution can serve today as an ideological reflection for various political or theoretical preoccupations, some still related to this origin, others more or less foreign to it.

This historicist humanism may, for example, serve as a theoretical warning to intellectuals of bourgeois or petty-bourgeois origin, who ask themselves, sometimes in genuinely tragic terms, whether they really have a right to be members of a history which is made, as they know or fear, outside them Perhaps this is Sartre's profoundest problem. It is fully present in his double thesis that Marxism is the 'unsurpassable philosophy of our time', and yet that no literary or philosophical work is worth an hour's effort in comparison with the sufferings of a poor wretch reduced by imperialist exploitation to hunger and agony. Caught in this double declaration of faith, on the one hand in an idea of Marxism, on the other in the cause of all the exploited, Sartre reassures himself of the fact that he really does have a role to play, beyond the 'Words' he produces and regards with derision, in the inhuman history of our times, with a theory of 'dialectical reason' which assigns to all (theoretical) rationality, and to every (revolutionary) dialectic, the unique transcendental origin of the human 'project'. Thus in Sartre historicist humanism takes the form of an exaltation of human freedom, in which by freely committing himself to their fight, he can commune with the freedom of all the oppressed, who have always been struggling for a little human light since the long and forgotten night of the slave revolts.

The same humanism, with some shift in accent, can serve other causes, according to conjuncture and needs: e.g., the protest against the errors and crimes of the period of the 'cult of personality', the impatience to see them dealt with, the hope for a real socialist democracy, etc. When these political

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sentiments want a theoretical basis, they always look for it in the same texts and concepts: in one of the theoreticians who emerged in the great post-1917 period (that is the reason for all these editions of the young Lukács and Korsch, and the passion for certain ambiguous formulations of Gramsci), or in Marx's humanist texts: his Early Works; in 'real humanism', in 'alienation', in the 'concrete', in 'concrete' history, philosophy and psychology.[30]

Only a critical reading of Marx's Early Works and a thorough study of Capital can enlighten us as to the significance and risks involved in a theoretical humanism and historicism, for they are foreign to Marx's problematic.


The reader will probably remember the point from which we set out on this analysis of a misunderstanding of history. I pointed out that the way Marx thought of himself might emerge from the judgements in which he weighs the merits and faults of his predecessors. At the same time, I suggested that we had to submit Marx's text not to an immediate reading, but to a 'symptomatic ' reading, in order to discern in the apparent continuity of the discourse the lacunae, blanks and failures of rigour, the places where Marx's discourse is merely the unsaid of his silence, arising in his discourse itself. I uncovered one of these theoretical symptoms in the judgement Marx himself gave of the absence of a concept in his predecessors, the absence of the concept of surplus-value, which (as Engels puts it) Marx 'disdained' to treat as more than a matter of the absence of a word. We have just seen what happens when another word, the word 'history ', arises in the critical discourse Marx addressed to his predecessors. This apparently full word is in fact theoretically an empty word, in the immediacy of its obviousness -- or rather, it is the ideology-fulfilment (plein-de-l'idéologie )[31] which surfaces in this lapse of rigour. Anyone who reads Capital without posing the critical question of its object sees no malice in this word that 'speaks' to him: he happily continues the discourse whose first word this word may be, the ideological discourse of history, and then the historicist discourse. As we have seen and as we understand, the theoretical and practical consequences are not so innocent. In an epistemological and critical reading, on the contrary, we cannot but hear behind the proferred word the silence it conceals, see the blank of suspended rigour, scarcely the time of a lightning-flash in the darkness of the text: correlatively, we cannot but hear behind this discourse which seems continuous but is really interrupted and governed by the threatened irruption of a repressive discourse, the silent voice
30 Cf. La Nouvelle Critique, nos. 164, 165, etc.
31 This example can, by analogy, be compared with that of the symptom, the slip of the tongue and the dream -- which is, for Freud, a 'wish-fulfilment' (plein du désir ). [Cf. Louis Althusser: 'Freud and Lacan', New Left Review No. 55, May-June 1969, p: 61, n. 6].

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of the real discourse, we cannot but restore its text, in order to re-establish its profound continuity. It is here that the identification of the precise points of weakness in Marx's rigour is the same thing as the recognition of that rigour: it is his rigour that shows us its weaknesses; and in the brief moment of his temporary silence we are simply returning to him the speech that is his own.

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