Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Essays

Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Essays

Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Essays

Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Essays


No figure among the western Marxist theoreticians has loomed larger in the postwar period than Louis Althusser. A rebel against the Catholic tradition in which he was raised, Althusser studied philosophy and later joined both the faculty of the Ecole normal superieure and the French Communist Party in 1948. Viewed as a "structuralist Marxist," Althusser was as much admired for his independence of intellect as he was for his rigorous defense of Marx. The latter was best illustrated in For Marx (1965), and Reading Capital (1968). These works, along with Lenin and Philosophy (1971) had an enormous influence on the New Left of the 1960s and continues to influence modern Marxist scholarship.

This classic work, which to date has sold more than 30,000 copies, covers the range of Louis Althusser's interests and contributions in philosophy, economics, psychology, aesthetics, and political science.

Marx, in Althusser's view, was subject in his earlier writings to the ruling ideology of his day. Thus for Althusser, the interpretation of Marx involves a repudiation of all efforts to draw from Marx's early writings a view of Marx as a "humanist" and "historicist."

Lenin and Philosophy also contains Althusser's essay on Lenin's study of Hegel; a major essay on the state, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses," "Freud and Lacan: A letter on Art in Reply to André Daspre," and "Cremonini, Painter of the Abstract." The book opens with a 1968 interview in which Althusser discusses his personal, political, and intellectual history.


The Althusser we reread today is no longer the center of those heated polemics and ideological battles that characterized the Marxisms of the 1960s and 1970s. Has he now become a Marxist classic? That will partly depend on what Marxism becomes in the new century, and partly on the new post-Cold War situation of globalization and universal commodification which it confronts as a target and a field of action. His work has aroused fierce theoretical opposition, most notably in E.P. Thompson’s Poverty of Theory. Crude ad hominem attacks have attempted to discredit it, as a result of the tragic events which put an end to his career (but not his writing) and which seem to have been the result of the intermittent mental illness to which he was subject. Meanwhile, his life-long membership in the French Communist Party has led many to discount his positions as mere party-line propaganda and even worse, as Stalinism. This is a point of view which systematically overlooks his principled struggles within that party and against its Stalinist orthodoxies. Finally, the rigors of his style have alienated many readers; and this is no mere matter of taste, but, as I shall show later on, a difficulty inherent in his mode of philosophizing. Nonetheless, it seems possible that today we are in a position to return to Althusser’s work (which has been augmented by a series of posthumous publications) in a new way, and make a new assessment of it.

The present collection includes some of Althusser’s most stimulating and provocative essays, which touch on the variety of themes with which his work is associated: epistemology, the materialist interpretation of Marx’s development, social formation and the state, ideology, Lacanian psychoanalysis and art, on each of which he had distinctive things to say. Do these various “interventions” really make up a philosophical system of some kind? the essay on “Lenin . . .

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