Isabelle Garo: Marx et I'invention Historique

By Felli, Romain | Capital & Class, February 2013 | Go to article overview

Isabelle Garo: Marx et I'invention Historique


Felli, Romain, Capital & Class


Isabelle Garo

Marx et I'invention historique, Syllepse: Paris, 2012, 188 pp:

9782849503300, 10 (pbk)

The thirst for 'post-' theories with a Parisian twist seems unquenchable, and Anglophone readers are faced by a continuous flow of books by Alain Badiou, Jacques Ranciere and the likes. Meanwhile, less remarked and less translated into English but equally interesting, is a new generation of Marx scholars emerging in the French-speaking world. Amongst them, the works of Isabelle Garo--a philosopher and the editor of the Grande edition Marx-Engels (GEME), a new French translation of Marx and Engels' works--are some of the most important and original.

In her previous works, Garo demonstrated a marked interest in the question of 'representation' and its underappreciated importance in the study of Marx's thought. Marx, une critique de la philosophie (Garo 2000) is probably one of the best book-length introductions to Marx published in French, especially as it touches upon the critique of value. It is located within a broader trend of Marxist scholarship dealing with the question of fetishism (see Collin 1996; Tran Hai Hac 2003; Artous 2006; and, earlier, Vincent 1976). In a later work, Lideologie ou la pensee embarquee, Garo (2009) offered an astute discussion of the notion of ideology and its relevance for understanding forms of representation in contemporary capitalist social relations. In particular, she underlined its importance in articulating political struggles. Her more recent book (2011) Foucault, Deleuze, Althusser et Marx can be read as Garo's critical engagement with 'post-modern' philosophies and their relations to Marx. It is a work of great importance, as it analyses in fine-grained detail the work of three major 'French' theorists, their importance and their limits, in their explicit, implicit or even denied relation to Marx.

The book under review draws on these strands of theoretical and political elaboration. The first chapter of Marx et l'invention historique can be read as a discussion, and refutation, of Cornelius Castoriadis's critique of Marx (on which, more below). But the book is about much more than that. 'Open Marxists' (see, for example, Bonefeld et al., 1992) will not be surprised by its claims that Marx's categories are essentially open, that Marx did not use a teleological philosophy of history, or that he did not adhere to an economic determinism (in that, Gero is close to Derek Sayer's perspective--see Sayer 1987). However, the real strength of Garo's book lies with its analysis (and defence) of the political nature of Marx's perspectives and methods, especially with regard to history. She is most interested in the forms of thought, representations and mediations associated with capitalist social relations. Representations are one moment of the social relations of production, and can be seized by emancipatory movements in a dialectical relation with social transformations.

Her short but powerful assessment of Castoriadis's L'institution imaginaire de la societe (Castoriadis 1975) is a welcome corrective to recent reappraisals of his work. She has no sympathy for Castoriadis's claim that in order to remain a revolutionary, one has to reject Marxism. She argues instead that as Castoriadis refused to ground his analysis of modern society within the social contradictions and conflicts arising out of the capitalist mode of production, his understanding of politics became purely ontological. He was thus led to depoliticise politics and marginally repoliticise philosophy, discursively displacing struggles from politics to philosophy. Furthermore, Garo corrects Castoriadis's account of the notion of the imaginary and of representations in Marx's work.

The second chapter seeks to demonstrate that Marx's understanding of emancipation dialectically relates individual and collective processes and identities. In this account, communism should not be understood as the completion of a 'proletarian identity'. …

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