For Marx

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For Marx
File:For Marx (French edition).jpg
Cover of the first edition
Author Louis Althusser
Original title Pour Marx
Translator Ben Brewster
Country France
Language French
Subject Karl Marx
  • 1965 (François Maspero, in French)
  • 1969 (in English)
Media type Print (hardcover and paperback)
Pages 271 (2005 Verso edition)
ISBN 978-1844670529

For Marx (French: Pour Marx) is a 1965 book by Louis Althusser, a leading theoretician of the French Communist Party. Althusser reinterprets the work of Karl Marx, proposing an epistemological break between the young Hegelian Marx, and the old Marx, the author of Capital. One of Althusser's chief works,[1] For Marx was first published in 1965, with an English translation in 1969.[2] The work has been criticized by many scholars, and also by Althusser himself, who later believed he had neglected the class struggle.


Althusser reinterprets the work of Marx using Freudian and structuralist concepts, supporting the idea of a radical break between the young and the old Marx.[3] He proposes that scientific knowledge is not a matter of grasping realities, but of purely conceptual breakthroughs: each science is formed by a problematic, an implicit set of issues that arises from the confused conceptual situation that preceded it.[4] Althusser rules out of consideration early works of Marx such as the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, asserting an epistemological break between these Hegelian works and Marx's mature scientific works, such as Capital.[5]

The history of Marxist philosophy in France, both academic and communist, is viewed negatively by Althusser. He observes that for most of its existence, the French Communist Party (PCF) relied on the meager theoretical resources provided to it by the Comintern and the Cominform, which resulted in the party first reducing philosophy to science and then reducing science to ideology. Althusser believes the PCF adopted this position because there was no native tradition of French Marxist thought, equivalent to that of Antonio Gramsci in Italy or Rosa Luxemburg in Poland, that might have allowed it to resist Stalinist domination. He further maintains that there had always been structural and historical obstacles to the development of Marxist thought in France. Due to the legacy of the revolution of 1789, most radical intellectuals believed that they could have an effect on the political process by persuading the bourgeoisie to support their opinions. Most consequently felt no need to identify themselves with the working class in order to foment social change.[6]

Those intellectuals who did identify with the working class and joined the PCF were then abused for not being workers and were driven away. The PCF thus either never attracted or was unable to retain the first-rate intellectuals who might have provided it with the theoretical work it needed. Those thinkers it did attract were, like Georges Politzer, "sacrificed to urgent economic tasks", or like Auguste Cornu, were ignored by a party too impatient to pursue its political agenda to spend time considering the philosophical justification of its actions. Althusser argues that the work of academic Marxists was severely compromised by the poverty of the theoretical material they had to work with.[7]

Scholarly reception

Pour Marx made Althusser a sensation in French intellectual circles,[8] and provided one of the most politically important philosophical readings of Capital made during the Marxist revival of the 1960s and 1970s.[9] The work was translated into numerous languages: an Italian version was published in 1967 and an English version in 1969.[10][11] According to Sebastiano Timpanaro, Cesare Luporini, despite his largely favorable view of Althusser, commented in the preface to the Italian translation that Althusser's anti-humanism, "manifests itself in a tendency to make man disappear as much as possible from the framework of the so-called human sciences."[12]

The English translation of Pour Marx helped to shape the development of Marxist thought in the Anglophone world throughout the 1970s.[13] Harry Cleaver, who sees its influence as unfortunate, considers it, together with Reading Capital, as an attempt by Althusser and his colleagues to reinterpret Marx with the "aim of revitalizing dialectical materialism as an ideology to mediate the widely discredited political practices of the French Communist Party." He criticizes Althusser's science of history for being ahistorical and abstract.[14] Conservative philosopher Roger Scruton writes that Pour Marx "reads like a liturgical invocation of the Devil, composed by someone who is lifting uncomprehended phrases from a poor translation of Das Kapital."[15]

Althusser was subsequently critical of Pour Marx, believing that it largely ignored the class struggle, a view expressed in his 1974 work Essays in Self-criticism. However, the only revision he considered necessary was to redefine philosophy, from being a "theory of theoretical practice" to being "the class struggle in theory". Althusser thus retained the basic theoretical structure of Pour Marx.[16]

See also



  1. Scruton 1985. pp. 217-218.
  2. Althusser 2005. p. 4.
  3. McLellan 1995. p. 264.
  4. Merquior 1986. p. 147.
  5. Cleaver 2000. p. 50.
  6. Lewis 2005. pp. 160-161.
  7. Lewis 2005. p. 161.
  8. Levine 1999. p. 23.
  9. Cleaver 2000. p. 47.
  10. Timpanaro 1980. p. 68.
  11. Levine 1999. p. 23.
  12. Timpanaro 1980. p. 68.
  13. Levine 1999. p. 23.
  14. Cleaver 2000. pp. 47, 49-50.
  15. Scruton 2010. p. 182.
  16. Cleaver 2000. p. 51.


  • Althusser, Louis (2005). For Marx. London: Verso. ISBN 1-84467-052-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cleaver, Harry (2000). Reading Capital Politically. Leeds: Ak Press. ISBN 1-902593-29-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Levine, Andrew (1999). Audi, Robert (ed.). The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-63722-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lewis, William S. (2005). Louis Althusser and the Traditions of French Marxism. Lanham: Lexington Books. ISBN 0-7391-1307-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • McLellan, David (1995). The Thought of Karl Marx: An Introduction. London: Papermac. ISBN 0-333-63948-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Merquior, J. G. (1986). Western Marxism. London: Paladin. ISBN 0-586-08454-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Scruton, Roger (1985). Thinkers of the New Left. Harlow: Longman Group Limited. ISBN 0-582-90273-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Scruton, Roger (2010). The Uses of Pessimism. London: Atlantic Books. ISBN 978-1-84887-201-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Timpanaro, Sebastiano (1980). On Materialism. London: Verso Editions. ISBN 0 86091 721 5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>