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Resnick and Wolff

Over one hundred years ago Marx gave us a powerful idea with which to analyze society: class exploitation. From our perspective, that idea is as pressing today as it was then. However, Althusser's philosophical legacy reminds and requires us to recognize at one and the same moment that a theoretical commitment to a Marxian class analysis and a political commitment to a struggle against class exploitation can develop only by constructing theoretically and politically a relationship between class and its "other," namely, all the nonclass aspects of life. In a word, class exploitation overdetermines and is overdetermined by racism, sexism, patriarchy, ownership, control, capital accumulation, technology, modernism ...

The relationships Marxism constructs between the class and nonclass aspects of society define the meaning of class and a fortiori the content of Marxian politics. It is the mutual interaction between the two aspects, this dialectical synthesis, that constitutes and gives concrete meaning to both. Consequently, class exploitation remains both a determining cause (among others) and a determined effect of all the nonclass parts of life. Thus, social history must be thought, in Althusser's powerful words, as a "process without a subject" (i.e., a relationship without either class or nonclass aspects forming its determining essence).

We were and remain saddened by Althusser's death, but we are deeply grateful for his contributions and insight. As we have tried here and elsewhere to indicate, we think that both as a philosopher and as a social theorist he made one of the most profound contributions to the Marxian tradition. In a sense, he was perhaps its greatest liberator from the essentialisms that had constrained and unfortunately still do constrain its development. Thanks to Althusser and his comrades and students all over the world, we now can recognize the horrors that can be unleashed by those essences-humanism, structuralism, empiricism, and rationalism. It is time to take up his work and build a nonessentialist but thoroughly Marxian discourse.

Rethinking MARXISM Volume 4, Number I (Spring 1991)

On Marx and Freud

Louis Althusser

Translated by Warren Montag

It is generally recognized today, despite symptomatic resistances which must be examined, that two previously unheard of and unforseeable discoveries in the order of the "social" or "human" sciences disturbed the universe of the cultural values of the "classical age," the age in which the bourgeoisie rose to power. The discoveries were those of historical materialism---or the theory of the conditions, forms, and effects of the class struggle-'-Marx's oeuvre, and the unconscious, Freud's oeuvre. Before Marx and Freud, culture rested on the diversity of the natural sciences, complemented by the ideologies or philosophies of history, society, and the "human subject." With Marx and Freud, scientific theories suddenly came to occupy "regions" until then reserved for the theoretical formations of bourgeois ideology (political economy, sociology, psychology) or rather occupied surprising and disconcerting positions in the interior; of these "regions. "

It is, however, also generally recognized that the phenomena addressed by Marx and Freud, who sought to grasp the effects of the class struggle and the effects of the un~onscious, were not unknown before them. An entire tradition of political philosophers and above all "practitioners," as Spinoza said of Machiavelli (who directly addressed the class struggle and to whom we owe the thesis of the an~eriority of contradiction in relation to contraries), the most familiar being the philosophers of Natural Law, who spoke of class struggle indirectly in the guise of juridical ideology, recognized well before Marx the existence of classes and the effects of the class struggle. Marx himself recognized the bourgeois historians of the Restoration and the economists of the school of Ricardo, like Hodgskin, as direct



ancestors from whom he demarcated himself through his critique of the bourgeois theory of class struggle: these authors recognized the existence of classes and of class struggle. In the same way, the effects of the unconscious that Freud studied were recognized in some form from the time of high antiquity, in dreams, prophecies, the phenomena of possession and exorcism consecrated by definitive practices and treatments.

In this sense, neither Marx nor Freud invented anything: the objects, the theories that they respectively produced existed before they were discovered. What did they produce? A definition of their object, its limitation and its extension, the characterization of its conditions, its forms of existence and its effects, a formulation of the conditions necessary to a knowledge of the object and to any action upon it, in brief, its theory or the first forms of its theory.

Nothing could be more banal than this observation since it is true that, for materialism, a discovery does no more than produce the form of knowledge of an object that already exists "outside of thought." But things become more interesting when we recognize that the conditions of these disconcerting discoveries completely overturned the conditions previously recognized as normal for any discovery. And it is certainly not by chance that the two discoveries that upset the cultural world within the space of fifty years pertain to what is conveniently called the "human" or "social sciences" and that they break with the traditional protocol of discovery in the natural sciences and in the theoretical formulations of ideology. Nor is it by chance that from the moment Marx and Freud were sufficiently known a number of contemporaries experienced this rupture as the manifestation of a certain affinity between the two theories. From there, given that certain of these contemporaries were prisoners of the ideological prejudice of the "monism" of all objects of science, it is not by chance that they were led to see the nature of this affinity as an identity of objects: Reich, for example, sought to identify the effects of the unconscious isolated by Freud with the effects of the class struggle isolated by Marx.

We still feel, or at least many of us do, the same presentiment: too many things connect them, Marx and Freud must have something in common. But what? And if Reich's failure has shown us where and how not to seek their point of encounter (in the identity of their objects), the conviction persists that there exists something in common in this double experience, something unprecedented in the history of culture.

In the first instance it can be argued that Freud offered us, exactly like Marx, an example of a materialist and dialectical thought.

If the most minimal thesis that defines materialism is the existence of reality outside of thought or consciousness, Freud is truly a materialist insofar as he rejects the primacy of consciousness not only in knowledge but in consciousness itself, that is, insofar as he rejects the primacy of consciousness in psychology in order to think the "psychic apparatus" as a whole in which the ego, or "consciousness" is only an instance, a part or an effect. On a more general level, Freud's

Marx and Freud


opposition to all idealism, to spiritualism and religion, even disguised as morality, is well known.

Concerning the dialectic, Freud furnished it with some surprising figures that he never treated as "laws" (that questionable form of a certain Marxist tradition): for example, the categories of displacement, condensation, overdetermination, and so on as well as in the ultimate thesis, a meditation on which would take us a long way, that the "unconscious does not know contradiction" and that the absence of contradiction is the condition of any contradiction. There is in this everything necessary to "explode" the classical model of contradiction, a model too inspired by Hegel to serve the "method" of Marxist analysis.

Do t~ese philosophical affinities suffice to allow us to grasp the theoretical co~m~mt~ between Marx and Freud? Yes and no. We might well stop there and retire In silence; the philosophical balancesheet is already rich and leaves each science to function on its own side, that is, to confront its own object, irreducible as an object, to the philosophical affinities of which we have just spoken. However, another phenomenon, still more astonishing, must engage our attention: it is what I have .called the conflictual character of Marxist theory and Freudian theory.

. It IS ~ fac~ of expenence that Freudian theory is a conflictual theory. From the time of Its birth, and the phenomenon has not ceased to reproduce itself, it has provoked not only strong resistance, not only attacks and criticisms but, what is more in.teresting, ~tt~mpts at annexation and revision. I say that the attempts at annexation and reVISIOn are more interesting than simple attacks and criticisms, for they signify that Freudian theory contains, by the admission of its adversaries, something true and dangerous. Where there is nothing true, there is no reason to annex o~ revise. The~e is therefore something true in Freud that must be appropriated but In order that ItS meaning may be revised,for this truth is dangerous: it must be rev~sed in order to be neutralized. There is a relentless dialectic in this cycle. For what IS remarkable in the dialectic of resistance-critic ism-revision is that the phenomenon that begins outside of Freudian theory (with its adversaries) always ends u~ within ~reudian theory .. It is internally that Freudian theory is obliged to defend Itself a~am~t attempts at annexation and revision: the adversary always ends up by penetratmg It and producing a revisionism that provokes internal counteratta~ks. and, fi~ally, splits (scissions). A conflictual science, Freudian theory is also a scissional science and its history is marked by incessantly recurring splits.

. O~ course the idea that a science could by its very nature be conflictual (and scissional), governed by a dialectic of resistance-attacks-revisions-splits, is a veritable scandal for rationalism, even if this' rationalism calls itself materialist. Rationalism can certainly admit that a completely new science (Copernicus, Galileo) can come into conflict with the established power of the Church and with the prejudices of "an ignorant age" but this happens as if by accident and only for the moment it takes to dissipate ignorance: in principle science, which is reason, always carries the day, for "the truth is all-powerful" (Lenin himself said "Marx's theory is all powerful because it is true"), and more powerful than all the shadows of the world.



For rationalism, the idea that there can exist sciences conflictual by their very nature, haunted or even constituted by contestation and struggle, is pure "nonsense": these are not sciences but simple opinions, contradictory in themselves like all subjective points of view and therefore dubious.

Before Freudian theory, Marxist science offered an example of a necessarily conflictual and scissional science. It is not a matter of an accident, or of the astonishment of ignorance caught short, of the ruling prejudices pushed from their position of comfort and power: it is a question of a necessity organically linked to the very object of the science founded by Marx. The entire history of Marxist theory and of Marxism proves it, above all the history of Marx himself. Beginning in Hegel and Feuerbach in whom he thought to find a critique of Hegel, Marx only came to occupy the philosophical positions from which he could discover his object through a long internal and external political and philosophical struggle. He came to occupy these positions only by breaking with the dominant bourgeois ideology, after ideologically and intellectually experiencing the antagonistic relation between the dominant bourgeois ideology and the political and philosophical positions that permit the discovery of what the immense edifice of bourgeois ideology and its theoretical formulations (philosophy, political economy, etc.) are designed to dissimulate as they perpetuate the exploitation and domination of the bourgeois class. Marx was convinced that the adversary of the "truth" that he discovered was not accidental error or ignorance but the organic system of bourgeois ideology, an essential component of the struggle of the bourgeois class. This particular "error" never had any reason to recognize the "truth" (class exploitation), since on the contrary its organic class function is to mask, in its class struggle, the system of illusions, indispensable to their subordination, to which it subjects the exploited. At the very heart of the "truth," Marx encountered the class struggle, a pitiless irreconcilable struggle. At the same time he discovered that the science he founded was a "partisan science" (Lenin), a science "representing the proletariat" (Capital), and therefore a science that the bourgeoisie is incapable of recognizing but that they nevertheless will combat to the death and by any means necessary.

The entire history of Marxism has verified and continues to verify every day the necessarily conflictual character of the science founded by Marx. Marxist theory, "true" and therefore dangerous, rapidly became one of the vital objectives of the bourgeois class's struggle. We see the dialectic referred to earlier at work: attackannexation-revision-split; we see the attack directed from the outside pass into the interior of theory which thus finds itself invested with revisionism. In response there is the counterattack and, in certain limited situations, splits (Lenin against the Second International). It is through this implacable and inescapable dialectic of an irreconcilable struggle that Marxist theory advances and is strengthened before encountering grave, always conflictual crises.

These things are well known but their conditions are not always fully understood.

It will be admitted that Marxist theory is necessarily involved in the class struggle and that the conflict that opposes it to bourgeois ideology is irredeemable, but that

Marx and Freud


th~ conflict~ality of Ma_rxist. t~eory is constitutive of its scientificity and objectivity Will be ~dmltted only with difficulty. One will fall back on positivist and economist co.nce~~lOns to distinguish its conflictual conditions as contingent in relation to its scientific results. This is to fail to see that Marxist science and the Marxist res.earcher must take a position in the conflict of which Marxist theory is the object ~nd mu~t. occupy proletaria~ theoretical class positions, antagonistic to any theoretical posmon of the bourgeois class, to constitute and develop their science. What are these theoretical class positions, indispensable to the constitution and devel~pI_Uent of Marxist theory? They are philosophical positions, dialectical and matenahst, that permit one to see what bourgeois ideology necessarily occults: the class s~cture and class exploitation that characterize the social formation. For the~e. philosophical positions are always and necessarily antagonistic to bourgeois positions.

These principles, if not th.is specific formulation (theoretical class positions), are generally accepted by Marxist theoreticians in their general sense. But we cannot avoid the suspicion that they are only superficially recognized without their real mea?ing and all its consequences being understood. Is it necessary to use a less fashionable but more striking expression? The idea is, at bottom, that to see and to understand ~hat happens in class societies, it is indispensable to occupy proletarian class . theoretlc~l positions; th~re is the simple postulate that in a necessarily conflictual re~llty su~h as a society one cannot see everything from everywhere; the essen~e of this conflictual reality can only be discovered on the condition that one occupies certain .p_ositi~ns and not others in the conflict itself. For to passively ?ccupy other posmons IS to allow oneself to participate in the logic of the dominant Ideology. O.f course, this condition flies in the face of the entire positivist tradition through .whlch bourgeois ideology has interpreted the practice of the natural science~, smc~ the co~dition of positivist objectivity is to occupy no position, to remain outside conflict wh~tever it may be (once the theological and metaphysical age has passe~). But there IS another tradition traces of which can be found among the greatest thmkers, for example, Machiavelli who wrote that "it is necessary to be the people to know the Prince." Marx said in substance nothing else in his entire oeuvre '. W~en he write~ in the preface to Capital that the work "represents the prol:tanat, he declares m essence that only on the basis of proletarian positions can Capital ~~ ~nown. If we take Machiavelli's phrase in its strongest sense, we may say that It IS. necessary to ~e proletarian to know Capital." Concretely, this means not only having to .recogmze the existence of the proletariat but also sharing its struggles ~s ~arx did for four years before the Manifesto, having participated in the first orgamz~tlOns o~ t.he proletariat to be in a position to know Capital. To adopt the class ~heoretIca.1 posinons of the proletariat there is no other way in the world than practl.ce, . that IS,. personal participation in the political struggles of proletarian orga~lzatlO~s. It IS through this practice that an intellectual "becomes proletarian," tha~ ~s, begms to move away from bourgeois or petty-bourgeois theoretical class posmons towards revolutionary theoretical positions, that he or she can "know



Capital"-as Machiavelli said, "it is necessary to be the people to know the Princes." For there is no other way for an intellectual to become part of the people than through the practical experience of the people's struggle.

If I may be permitted here a word on a well-known formula: it is Kautsky 's and it is taken up by Lenin in What Is to Be Done. It concerns the fusion of the workers' movement and Marxist theory. According to this formula, Marxist theory is elaborated by intellectuals and is introduced into the workers' movement from the outside. I have always been convinced that this formula is unfortunate. For that Marx and Engels were formed as bourgeois intellectuals outside of the workers' movement is an obvious fact: they were trained like all the intellectuals of their time in the bourgeois universities. But Marxist theory has nothing in common with the bourgeois theories with which the intellectuals' were endowed; on the contrary, it says something totally foreign to the world of bourgeois theory and ideology. How then were highly educated bourgeois intellectuals able to forge or conceive a revolutionary theory which serves the proletariat by telling the truth about Capital? The answer seems simple to me and I have already said it in so many words: Marx and Engels did not forge their theory outside of the proletariat and its positions but from within the positions and revolutionary practice of the proletariat. It is because they became organic intellectuals of the proletariat through their practice in the workers' movement, without ever ceasing to be intellectuals, that they were able to conceive their theory. This theory was not "imported from outside" into the workers' movement; it was conceived through an immense theoretical effort within the workers' movement. The pseudo-importation of which Kautsky spoke was simply the expansion, within the workers' movement, of a theory produced outside of it by the organic intellectuals of the proletariat.

These are not secondary questions or mere curiosities but problems that touch on the very meaning of Marx's entire work. For this "displacement" (as Freud liked to say in relation to his own object) towards revolutionary theoretical class positions not only has political consequences but theoretical consequences as well. Concretely the politico-theoretical or philosophical act of abandoning bourgeois and petty-bourgeois theoretical positions is heavy with theoretical and scientific consequences. It is not by chance that Marx wrote the simple formula "critique of political economy" as the subtitle of Capital. And it is not by chance that the meaning of this critique is often mistaken for Marx's judgement concerning an uncontested and incontestable reality, whether or not, for example, Smith or Ricardo understood the relation of surplus-value to rent, and so on. Matters are considerably more complicated. In the "displacement" that led Marx to occupy proletarian class positions in theory, he discovered that, despite all the merits of his authors, the existing Political Economy was not fundamentally a science, but a theoretical formation of bourgeois ideology, playing its role in the ideological class struggle. He discovered that it was not simply the details of the existing Political Economy that had to be criticized but that the very idea, the project, the existence of Political Economy had to be called into question and rejected: it could only be

Marx and Freud


thought as an autonomous, independent discipline on the condition that the class relations and class struggle that it had as its ideological mission to obscure were themselves distorted. Marx's theoretical revolution thus resulted in the conclusion that there is no Political Economy (except for the bourgeoisie whose interests are only too clear) and even more that there is no Marxist Political Economy. That is not to say that there was nothing there, but that Marx suppressed the supposed object of Political Economy in favor of an entirely different reality that became intelligible on the basis of very different principles, those of historical materialism, for which the class struggle becomes determinant in understanding so-called economic phenomena.

There are many other examples in Marx that show that his theory of class struggle differs utterly from bourgeois theory and that his theory of ideology and of the state was equally disturbing. In any case, the displacement towards class positions in theory, the revolution in the object (that becomes something completely different of which not only the limits but the very nature and identity have changed) and the practical-revolutionary consequences can all be set in relation. It is certain that this overturning of the traditional protocol of knowledge has not made the tasks of Marx's readers any easier. But what they have not failed to notice is the theoretical and scientific fecundity of a conflictual science.

But what of Freud in all of this? It will be found that Freudian theory, in a somewhat different way and on another level, is in a similar situation by virtue of its conflictuality .

By constructing his theory of the unconscious, Freud in effect touched an extraordinarily sensitive point in moral, psychological, and philosophical theory, calling into question through the discovery of the unconscious, a certain "natural," "spontaneous" idea of "man" as "subject." The unity of which is assured or crowned by "consciousness."

For it may also be seen that this bourgeois ideology can only with great difficulty renounce this key conception without also renouncing its very function. It (or its functionaries, as Marx would say) resists, criticizes, attacks, and finally invades Freudian theory, revising it from within after having attacked it from without. We will here recognize the dialectic that we have already analyzed. It is the dialectic on which the necessarily conflictual character of Freudian theory is based.

But, it will be asked, what is the common denominator that allows us to relate the hostility of the bourgeois theory of "man" in the face of the theory of the unconscious to the hostility of bourgeois ideology towards the theory of class struggle? Isn't what is necessarily the case for Marx only accidental for Freud? How can we compare what emerges from the class struggle of a society to the defense mechanism of the ideology of "man"?

In fact, the comparison is not as arbitrary as it seems. The ideology of "man" as a subject whose unity is assured and crowned by consciousness is not just any fragmentary ideology; it is quite simply the philosophical form of the bourgeois ideology that has dominated history for five centuries and that, even if it no longer



has the vigor it once had, still reigns in large sections of idealist philosophy and constitutes the implicit philosophy of psychology, morality, and political economy. It is not useful here to recall that the great idealist tradition of bourgeois philosophy was a philosophy of consciousness, whether empirical or transcendental, for everyone knows this, even if this philosophy is now giving way to neopositivism. It is more important to recall that this philosophy of the conscious subject constituted the implicit philosophy of the theory of classical Political Economy and that its "economic" version, which Marx criticized by rejecting any notion of "homo economicus" (according to which "man" is defined as a subject conscious of its needs) and this subject-of-need, is the ultimate and constitutive element of any society. Accordingly, in "man" as subject of "his" needs can be found not only the final explanation of society, but also, and this is crucial, the explanation of "man" as subject, that is, as a unity identical to itself and identifiable through itself, in particular, by the "through itself' that is self-consciousness par excellence. The Golden Rule of materialism: never judge a being by its consciousness of itself! For every being is other than the consciousness it has of itself. But it is perhaps even more important to point out that this philosophical category of the subject conscious of itself is naturally incarnate in the bourgeois conception of morality and psychology. It will be understood that a subject conscious of itself, responsible for its acts, may be obliged to obey norms in good conscience, a method more "economical" than imposing them on the subject by force. And it will be understood according to the simple definition of the moral subject (the subject-of-its-actions) that this subject is merely the necessary complement of the legal subject (subject-de-droit) which must be a subject and be conscious in order to have an identity and to be accountable to laws (ignorance of which is "no excuse"), a subject who must be conscious of the laws that constrain it (Kant) but which it is not obliged to obey "in good conscience." We may surmise that the famous "psychology of subject" that was and remains the object of a "science," psychology, is not a natural, brute given but a strange problematically mixed nature revealed finally in the philosophical destiny of all the subjects that comprise it: the legal subject, the subject of needs, the moral (or religious) subject, the political subject, and so on.

It would be easy if we had the time to show the ideological conspiracy that takes shape under the domination of bourgeois ideology around the notion of the "subject conscious of itself," a "reality" terribly problematic for a possible or impossible human science, but nevertheless a reality terribly necessary to the structure of class society. In the category of the self-conscious subject, bourgeois ideology represents to individuals what they must be in order for them to accept their own submission to bourgeois ideology; it represents them as endowed with the unity and consciousness (which is this unity itself) that they must have in order to unify their different practices and actions under the unity of the dominant ideology.

I have intentionally insisted on the category of the inseparable unity of any consciousness. It is not by chance that the entire bourgeois philosophical tradition presents consciousness as the very faculty of unification, the faculty of synthesis,

Marx and Freud


whether in the framework of the empiricism of a Locke or a Hume, or in the framework of the transcendental philosophy that found its expression in Kant after lying dormant in his precursors. To say that consciousness is a synthesis means that it is the realization in the subject of the unity of the diversity of its sense data (from perception to knowledge), the unity of its moral acts, the unity of its religious aspirations, the unity of its political practices. Consciousness thus appears as the function, delegated to the individual by human nature, of the unification of "his" practices whether they are cognitive, moral, or political. Let us translate this abstract language: consciousness is necessary for the individual who is endowed with it to realize within "himself" the unity required by bourgeois ideology, so that every subject will conform to its own ideological and political requirement, that of unity, in brief, so that the conflictual violence of the class struggle will be lived by its agents as a superior and "spiritual" form of unity. I emphasize this unity, otherwise known as the identity of consciousness, and the function of unity because it was this unity that Marx's critique called most forcefully into question when Marx dismantled the illusory unity of bourgeois ideology and the fantasy of unity that it produced in consciousness as the effect it needed in order to function. I emphasize this unity because, through an encounter fraught with meaning, it is that on which the Freudian critique of consciousness is concentrated.

In fact, if we understand Marx, there is nothing mysterious about this "sensitive point" in the classical philosophical tradition and in the theoretical formations of bourgeois ideology, like psychology, sociology, and political economy, or in the practical formations such as morality or religion that Freud attacked. It is enough to understand that the different "subjects-conscious-of' are unifiers of the social identity of one individual insofar as they are unified as so many examples of an ideology of "man," a being "naturally endowed with consciousness," to grasp the profound unity of this ideology and its theoretical and practical formations. We need only understand this profound unity to grasp the reasons behind the depth of the resistance to Freud. For in discovering the unconscious, a reality whose existence he did not forsee (a fact that confirms his political innocence which itself concealed a great ideological sensitivity), Freud did not touch just any "sensitive point" in the existing philosophical, moral, and psychological ideology; the ideas that he upset were not there by chance, one fact of the development of human knowledge or illusion; thus, he did not touch merely a sensitive but'secondary, localized point. Without knowing it at first (but he found out very quickly), he had touched the most theoretically sensitive point in the entire system of bourgeois ideology. The paradox is that Freud, apart from some schematic and questionable efforts (Totem and Taboo, Civilization and its Discontents, etc.) never really attempted to grasp and think as a whole this bourgeois ideology that he had struck in its most sensitive point. Let us go even further: he was not in any condition to do this for to do so he would have to have been Marx. But he was not Marx: he had an entirely different object. It was enough that he revealed to a stupefied world that this other object existed for the consequences to make themselves felt and to provoke the



unleashing of an uninterrupted series of attacks against him by all those who for one reason or another, but all united by the conviction of the dominant ideology, sought to silence him. The words of Freud as he drew near to the United States are well known: 'They don't realize that we are bringing them the plague." They remind us of Marx speaking of Capital as "a weapon aimed at the head of the bourgeoisie." These are the words of men who not only know what they are fighting but who also know that they bring to the world sciences that can only exist in and through struggle since the adversary cannot tolerate their existence: conflictual sciences without any possibility of compromise.

We must not remain at the level of these generalities, no matter how correct they are, for this simple reason: Freud's object is not Marx's object. There is in fact in Freud something completely singular that renders a comparison at once meaningless and important.

Freud's object is not Marx's object. Marx attempted to define a social formation,

recognizing the determining role of the class struggle within it, on the basis of which he built his entire theory of the relation between the forces of production and relations of production as well as his theory of the superstructure (law and state, ideologies). The prior theoretical condition that governs this theory in which relations (of production, between classes, etc.) are determinant, a theory that presupposes the idea of a causality through relations and not by elements, is t?e rejection of the theoretical presupposition of classical Political Economy or idealist theories of history, the knowledge of the individuals who are the subjects (ongoing and final causes) of any economic or historical process. For this reason Marx was careful to specify at a number of points in Capital that individuals must be considered as supports (Trager) of functions, these functions being themselves determined and fixed by the relations of the (economic, political, and ideological) class struggle that move the whole social structure even when it is merely reproduced. In the introduction to the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx says it is necessary to begin not with the "concrete but with the abstract." This theory of the primacy of relations over elements (termes), the theory of individuals (capitalist or proletarian) as supports of functions verifies the thesis of the Introduction. Marx never lost sight of concrete individuals but held that they were concrete insofar as they were "the synthesis of many determinations." Capital remains today one of the most important studies of these multiple determinations and it never proposes a means of reconstituting concrete individuals through a "synthesis of multiple determinations," considering them only provisionally, as supports in order to discover the laws of the capitalist society in which concrete individuals exist, live, and struggle. In any case, there is enough in Capital as well as in Marx's historical texts for us to know that Marx could not go beyond a theory of social individuality or the historical forms of individuality. There is nothing in Marx that anticipates Freud's discovery: there is nothing in Marx that could provide the foundations of a theory of the psychic.

But in his unfortunate attempts at generalization, Freud never ceased to repeat under questionable conditions what he had discovered elsewhere. For what he had

Marx and Freud


discovered had no bearing on "society" or "social relations" but only on the very particular phenomena that affected individuals. Although it can be maintained that there is a "transindividual" element in the unconscious, it is in the individual alone that the effects of the unconscious are manifested and it is on the individual that the cure operates, even if it requires the presence of another individual (the analyst) to transform the existing unconscious effects. This difference is sufficient to distinguish Freud from Marx.

It remains that what Freud discovered occurs in the individual. And it is here that we encounter an unexpected form of conflictuality and with it, a new difference between Freud and Marx, and at the same time a principle that enters in part into the effect of subjection exercised by ideology on "subjects." It seems that the massive refusal of psychoanalysis by the philosophers (or the revision to which they submit it for having destroyed their pretensions), including Marxist materialists who too often take refuge in an "ontological" conception of the Leninist thesis of consciousness-reflection, by doctors, psychologists, and others is not only the result of a mass ideological antagonism, although at the level of the masses this antagonism is inevitable. It seems that we must add another specific determination to this antagonism to explain its "allure": the fact that it is "supported" by a characteristic of the unconscious object itself. This supplementary element pertains to the "nature" of the unconscious, which is repression. If it is thus, it is not too much to say that individuals do not resist the idea of the unconscious for exclusively ideological reasons but also because they themselves have an unconscious that automatically represses, in the form of a repetition compulsion (Wiederholungszwang), the idea of the existence of the unconscious. Every individual thus "spontaneously" develops a "defensive" reflex in the face of the unconscious, a reflex that is part of "his" own unconscious, a repression of the possibility of the unconscious that coincides with the unconscious itself. Every individual? This is not absolutely certain: it has not been established that the defenses are always so active, experience showing on the contrary that there exist subjects in whom this resistance is sufficiently overcome (as a result of the disposition of their internal conflicts) to permit them to recognize the reality of the unconscious without this recognition provoking radical defensive or avoidance reactions.

This road, like others, leads us into Freud's discovery. What did Freud discover?

I am not to be expected to provide a general account of Freudian theory but only some remarks that will situate it theoretically.

It would be wrong to believe that Freud proposed the idea of a psychology without consciousness, in the manner of the behaviorists whose efforts he ridiculed. On the contrary, he accorded "the fundamental fact of consciousness" its place in the psychic apparatus; he attributed to it a special "system" ("perceptionconsciousness") at the limits of the external world and a privileged role in the cure. Further, he affirmed that the unconscious is only possible in a conscious being. When it came to the ideological primacy of consciousness, Freud was ruthless: "We must learn tofree ourselves from the importance attributed to the symptom of 'being



conscious' ." Why? Because consciousness is incapable by itself of furnishing a "distinction between systems."

Freud in effect did not simply discover the existence of the unconscious; he rejected the notion of the psychic as a structured unity centered on consciousness: instead he conceived it as an "apparatus" composed of "different systems" irreducible to a single principle. In the first topic (spatial figuration), the apparatus includes the unconscious, the preconscious, and the conscious with the additional instance of a "censor" that represses representations of drives in the unconscious unacceptable to the preconscious and the conscious. In the second topic, this apparatus includes the id, the ego, and the superego, repression being carried out by a part of the ego and the superego.

This apparatus is not a centered unity but a complex of instances constituted by the play of unconscious repression. The splitting of the subject, the decentering of the psychic apparatus in relation to consciousness and to the ego, is accompanied by a revolutionary theory of the ego; the ego, no longer considered the seat of consciousness, becomes itself to a great extent unconscious. It is for this reason that consciousness is blind to the "difference between systems" for it is only one system among others, the ensemble of which is governed by the conflictual dynamic of repression.

At this point, if from a distance, we cannot help but think of the revolution introduced by Marx when he renounced the ideological bourgeois myth that thought the nature of society as a unified and centered whole and began to think any social formation as a system of instances without a center. Freud, who did not know Marx, thought his object (which had nothing in common with that of Marx) in the spatial figure of a "topic" (we are reminded of the 1859 Preface to the Contribution) and a topic without a center, the diverse instances of which have no other unity than the unity of their conflictual functioning in what Freud called the "psychic apparatus," a term (apparatus) that cannot but make us think, if discretely, of Marx.

I mention these theoretical affinities between Marx and Freud to show at what point the overturning of the traditional forms of thought and the introduction of revolutionary forms of thought (topic, apparatus, conflictual instances without any center, possessing only the unity of their conflictual functioning, the necessary illusion of the identity of the ego, etc.) can either signal the presence of a disconcerting object or run up against the ideology that prohibits it and the repression that it awakens. From this we can attempt negatively to define the Freudian unconscious.

The Freudian unconscious is psychic, a fact that prohibits any identification of it with the nonpsychic, as every mechanistic materialist current would have the tendency to do, or to an effect derived from the nonpsychic. The Freudian unconscious is thus neither a material reality (the body, the brain, the "biological" or "psychobiological") nor a social reality (the social relations defined by Marx as determining individuals independently of their consciousness), different from "consciousness" and thus even from the psychic, but producing or determining

Marx and Freud


consciousness without its knowing it. It is not that Freud ever denied the existence of a relation between, on one hand, the unconscious and, on the other, the biological and the social. All psychic life is "supported" by the biological by means of the drives (Trieben) that Freud conceived as "representative," sent by the somatic into the psychic. Through the concept of "representation" Freud registered his objective recognition of the biological anchorage of the drive (which is always finally sexual) while at the same time liberating the drive of unconscious desire from any essential determination by the biological; the drive is a concept that marks the limit between the somatic and the psychic. And this concept that is at the limit is at the same time the concept of this limit, that is, of the difference between the somatic and the psychic. It is not that Freud ever denied the existence of a relation between the system of the instances of the ego and objective or social reality, traces of which may be found not only in the "reality principle," but also in the perceptionconsciousness system and in the superego. But in his insistence on speaking of the "ex~ernal ~urface" of the psychic apparatus, Freud is once again thinking a limit: by basing this apparatus on the external, social world, he designates a difference internal to reality that is thus recognized and identified.

There is no doubt that for Freud the phenomena produced by the psychic apparatus, and above all the effects of the unconscious, do not constitute the true reality but rather a reality sui generis. "Must unconscious desires be granted a reality? It is difficult to say . . . When one is faced with unconscious desires understood in their ultimate truth, one is forced to say that psychic reality is a particular form of existence that is not to be confused with material reality" (Freud 1900, 620). Or again: "the experience of objective material reality carries no weight for unconscious processes; the reality of thought is equivalent to the reality of the external world, desire is equivalent to action. We must never convert the value of reality into repressed psychic formations . . . One must always pay with the currency of the country that one is exploring" (ibid).

If it designates this reality sui generis, unique in its kind, the Freudian unconscious obviously has nothing in common with the unconscious of the philosophical tradition: Platonic forgetting, the Leibnizian indiscernable, and even the "dos" of Hegelian self-consciousness. For in these cases the unconscious is always an accident or a modality of consciousness-the consciousness of the true "recovered" through a forgetting of the body, but subsisting in itself in this forgottenness (Plato); the infinitesimal of a consciousness too "small" to be "perceived" (Leibniz); or consciousness in itself in the in-itself, the for-itself of self-consciousness, before being discovered in the new for-itself of self-consciousness (Hegel)--for the truth of its unconscious forms grasps the unconscious as misrecognized (meconnue) consciousness. The destiny of philosophy is to "lift" this misunderstanding, so that the truth may be "unveiled." To take things in this symptomatically oblique and limited way, it may be said that for Freud, consciousness is never the truth of its unconscious forms, because the relationship of consciousness to unconscious forms is not a relation of property ("its" forms), which can be put another way: conscious-



ness is not the subject of the unconscious, a thesis that can be verified in the cure where it is not a question of consciousness reappropriating itself, or its truth in the form of its unconscious, but rather of contributing to a recasting of the apparatus (dispositif) of fantasies in an unconscious submitted to the work (Durcharbeit) of analysis.

And I would like to end by insisting on one final point. The Freudian unconscious is not the non conscious (psychic) structure that psychology would reconstitute out of typical individual behaviors as their so-called unconscious preproduction. We have seen in France an interpretation of this nature from Merleau-Ponty who "read" Freud in the light of Husserl's philosophy of the concrete transcendental. Merleau-Ponty tended to think this "structure of behavior" as an antepredicative a priori, determining the meaning and form of behaviors in the interiority of their thetic consciousness. On the basis of this synthesis or antepredicative structure, he sought a means of rejoining the Freudian unconscious. Theories of the same type can be developed without explicit recourse to Husserl, passing through behaviorism or, in the more subtle manner of Pierre Janet, even based on the foundation of the "materialist" genesis of the stereotypes of the structure of behavior.

I believe that from the Freudian view two criticisms can be directed at this attempt. The first is that this theory of the unconscious as structure (montage) of behaviors does not question what we have seen to be at the heart of psychological ideology: the notion of the unity of the subject considered as the subject of its behavior and its actions (from which we can draw the conclusion that consciousness is not necessary to the principle of unity). The second is that this attempt does not "change terrain" in relation to that of psychology: it simply expands the structure of behavior whether conscious or not by means of a form of "reality" that it calls the unconscious. It matters little whether this expansion is transcendental or empirical (and genetic) for it resembles the nonconscious of which we have spoken rather than the Freudian unconscious. We must not be mistaken about the unconscious. As Freud said: "One must pay with the currency of the country that one is exploring" and no other.

Rethinking MARXISM Volume 4, Number 1 (Spring 1991)

The Emptiness of a Distance Taken:

Freud, Althusser, Lacan

Warren Montag

By the end of the 1970s, Lacan' s importance for marxism seemed obvious. The work of the group of writers around the journal Screen, Coward and Ellis's Language and Materialism, Fredric Jameson's The Political Unconscious were some of the more well-known attempts to supplement marxist theory, especially the theory of ideology, with notions appropriated from Lacanian psychoanalysis. Now, ten years later, this project (if it can be called a project) has gradually faded and its leading lights have either moved "beyond" marxism or have simply retreated into silence. What are we to make of the quiet disappearance of this project: did the theoreticians involved simply lack the fortitude to persevere under the adverse conditions of the eighties, a time when marxism itself was so constantly in question (a hypothesis that would indicate that the project remains valid) or did the project founder against its own impossibility (which would mean that we ought better to seek other ways forward)?

To begin to answer this question we must examine the theoretical conditions of possibility of what was called an encounter or an alliance between marxism and psychoanalysis but that seemed at certain points more like a fusion of the two. What made this encounter possible was in fact another encounter, both historically prior to and distinct from what transpired in the realms of Anglo-American marxism: the encounter between Althusser and Laclm. Althusser's essay "Freud and Lacan" (1971) which first appeared in January 1964 in La Nouvelle Critique, the theoretical journal of the French Communist party, is so well known and so often cited that it requires no summary here. What is less known is the subsequent history of this encounter, parts of which have only recently been made public, Through 1970, Althusser's references, direct and indirect, to Lacan were overwhelmingly positive,