Althusser and value-form theory: Α missed encounter?

Dimitris Papafotiou
  b4uh4us@gmail.com
  
Panagiotis Sotiris
  panagiotis.sotiris@gmail.com
  National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

Abstract

Althusser and value-form theory: a missed encounter?

Dimitris Papafotiou
University of Patras

Panagiotis Sotiris
National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

Starting with his suggestion in 1969 that one should begin reading Marx’s Capital Volume 1 from the Part II, leaving aside Part I, Louis Althusser in the 1970s moved to a more critical approach regarding Marx’s theorization of value and in particular the choices Marx made regarding the order of exposition in Capital. In texts like the Preface to Gerard Dumenil’s Concept de loi économique dans “Le Capital”, ‘Marxism today’ or the unpublished during his lifetime manuscript entitled Marx in his limits, in which he even praises Pierro Sraffa’s demonstrations of Marx’s mistakes regarding the transformation problem, on can see Althusser insisting on a certain tension within Marx’s Capital. On the one hand, he stresses the problems related to a Hegelian conception of science that needed to start from the most abstract notion and gradually, by means of conceptual transformations reach concrete reality. For Althusser, this conception of science along with the anthropological overtones of Marx’s theory of fetishism can account for the idealist elements that are effective within Marx’s mature work, with the exception of Notes on Wagner. On the other hand, Althusser points to another theoretical strategy in Capital that stresses the importance of the concrete history of class struggles, the many singular confrontations, and the everyday violence of exploitation that is at the heart of capital, in the chapters on work time or on primitive accumulation. Consequently, and partly in contrast to his texts in Reading Capital, Althusser seems critical of any potential theory of the value form as articulated in Part 1 of Capital. Although this can be explained, at least partially, as part of a broader tendency within French Marxism of the 1960s to give greater emphasis on class struggles, on the relations of productions as forms of social antagonism and on the role of the State, thus underestimating questions relating to the market and fetishistic representations associated with it, it also bore the mark of Althusser’s attempt to elaborate a highly original conception of a non-teleological, non-idealist, non-foundational relational theorization of social practices based upon the notion of the encounter and the ability of encounters to last in their contingence and singularity. In this sense, although there is indeed a certain ‘missed encounter’ between Althusser and value form theory, the aim of this paper is to argue that it is exactly by means of Althusser’s attempt to renew historical materialism as a materialism of the encounter and to offer a relational theorization of social structures and forms as lasting encounters, along with other important contributions such as Étienne Balibar’s conception of the ‘theoretical short-circuit’ between the economic and the political sphere, that we can rethink in a non Hegelian way the theory of the value form and the many important contributions to it form I.I. Rubin’s seminal work to contemporary theorizations such as M. Heinrich’s.

Althusser - value form analysis