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Post-Marxist Modes of Production




According to whoever wrote the editorial ‘notes’

for Radical Philosophy 17, ‘The present upsurge
of fundamental Marxist researches may indicate
an exit route from the circle of philosophy’s –deaths
and re births , via which the problem of the specificity of “the philosophical” might be both subverted
and understood’. And according to Graham
Burchell in Radical Philosoehy 18, two books of
Barry Hindess and Paul’Q. Hirst ‘may give some
support to this hope’.

Are Hindess and Hirst the long-awaited intellectual hegemonogues of the British left? This is
doubtful. Marxis m needs, no doubt, to be transcended; but not, it seems to me, in favour of the
phenomenalist relativis m that pervades the writings
of Hindess and Hirst and their co–thinkers. I want
to discuss certain philosophical positions that have
been advanced by them, especially’in their writings
in Economy and Society from 1974 to 1~76 (including their letter of resignation from its Editorial
Bm rd and Hirst’s ‘Althusser and the Theory of
Ideology’) and Hirst’s widely read Communist
University of Cambridge lecture (‘Problems and
Advances inthe Theory of Ideology’ 1976 20p).

That these sources correspond to the doctrines of
their books -can be confirmed from Graham
Burchell’s precis (RP18), from Andrew Collier’s
article (this issue), from Tim Putnam’s review in
Capital and Class (Spring 1978) and from Rod Aya’s
review in Monthly Review (January 1978)
Hindess and Hirst deny the realist view that
scientific theories are valid to the extent that they
correspond with what is objectively the case.

Rather they urge that theories can only be ‘validated’ within their own terms(- they are all, therefore, no more ‘valid’ or ‘invalid’ than each other).

As this renders the very idea of intellectual
validation redundant, Hindess and Hirst insist on
a practical, political criterion of acceptability
in terms of the capacity to ‘pr,bvide strategic
leadership for political praetice’ (ReSignation

So it is for ‘history’ and for ‘ideology’. Historians
have- no independent object; their practices ‘define
the past’. Ideology is not, on the other hand, a
mis – representation of what science or history
may truly represent: ‘ … we do not have a
truth/falsity, illUSion/reality opposition here.’

(Problems and Advances). Thus, historians’ work
is the activity of ‘social and political ideologie~ ‘;
and ,ideologies can be assessed only in terms of
their political ‘effects’.

I have stressed this common phenomenalist/
pragmatist: thread. But, as the arguments develop
in specific ways according to the specific focus, I
shall separate out four ‘theses’ for discussion
purposes. I shall adopt what may be a tedious
‘quotation’ approach, ,’at ithe risk of the radical and
philistine unfairness that ‘out of context’ quoting
achieves. I do this in order to display the sheer
muddle of the work I am -criticising, a muddle that
brief sum mary, were it possible, could only conceal. I shall comment on four strands of thought:


Tony Skillen

Discourse Phenomenalism
Ideology and Hirst’s steamroller
Historical Fordism (‘history is bunk’)
The Politicization of Analysis

I) Discourse Phenomenalism
Replying to a critical note of Ted Benton’s (in
Economy and SOCiety – see 74-75), Hirst writes:

‘My pOSition is based on an attem1J1 to break out
of the circle -of classical philosophy, to go
beyond the opposition of ide~lism and materialism to break the connection of epistemological
theory with metaphYSiCS. .. ,… it is not
committed to making ontological assumptions
about the status of objects independently of the
discourse in which they are deSignated. ‘

Philosophical materialism, assuming ‘that the
real is ordered and knowable, that it is capable
of giving rise to knowledge •.. necessarily
spiritualises matter or mat~rialises ideas’.

These doctrines are developed further in
Mode of Production and Social Formation,
extensively quoted and summarised by Graham
Burchell in RP18, and, among many other writings,
in Marx’s ‘Capital’ and Capitalism To-day (Hirst,
Hindess, Cutler and Hussain). In general, Hirst
et al argue, it is impossible to speak of objects
existing independently of thought yet corresponding
to thought in such a way that it can be said that the
thought is true (or alternatively false) of such

1 ‘Objects of discourse are constituted in and
through the discourses which refer to them’

(Capitalism To-day, p216)

g ‘What is specified in theoretical discourse
cannot be specified extra-discursively: it
can be conceived only through that discourse
or a;- related, critical, or complementary one’

(Capitalism To-day, p229)

This ‘is not to deny forms of existence outside
discourse but it is to deny that existence
takes the form of objects representable in

(Social Formation, p21)

.4 ‘The rejection of epistemology implies that
the relation between discourse and its objects
cannot be conceived as an epistemological
relation at all’

(Social Formation, p22)
Response (in reverse order):

Epistemology is the enquiry into the kinds of
‘justificattohs’ or lack of them, that there are
f..ox… different kinds, of belief. It begins on the
Elttnple basis that claims are made, beliefs are
held ete, M true. When, for elCUllple, Hirst et al
assert that ‘the relation between discourse and its

object~ cannot be conceived as an epistemological
relation”, the question whether what they say is to
be accepted is an ‘epistemological’ one. Similarly,
if I am accused of misrepresenting their position,
or of being ignorant of its historical background
etc, an epistemic claim is being made. You can’t
bludgeon epistemology away.



1)ELusrONs.1)00. MY PROBLEM IS

If you say ‘the ice won’t break’ and promptly fall

through it, it seems reasonable to say, once your
teeth, stop chattering, that the ice’s ‘form of
existence’ failed to correspond with your beliefs.

And this remark seems to imply both a distinction
between your ‘dis course’ and ‘existence’; and the
‘representability’ of ‘existence’ in ‘discourse’ a correspondence. Hirst et al often speak of
‘discourse’ and ‘existence’ (‘reality’ in scare
quotes) as if one could, albeit to attack the idea,
speak of g, relation between ‘discourse-in-general’

and ‘reality-in-general’. But, apart from anything
else, it needs to be stressed that discourses are
themselves as real as anything else and that,
therefore, Hirst et al.’s ban ought to fall on the
idea that discourses exist ‘in a form representable
in discourse’. Talk about discourses is not
relevantly different in this respect from talk about
ice – or about ‘forms of existence outside
discourse’ for that matter.

It is tautological to say that you cannot “‘specify’

anything save through discourse. (compare: ‘you
cannot- perceive anything save through having
perceptual experiences’, the innocent truis m with
which Berkeley launches his po~ition). But that a
thing cannot be discoursed about save through
words or conceived save through concepts does not
establish its lin~istic or conceptual status.

(Nor does the tautology that a ‘speaker’ is defined
in terms of language establish that speakers are
verbal entities. ) It is a further question whether
language is a condition of knowledge. As I think
that animals know things, and that Hirst et al fail
to recognize the Significance of our ‘animal’

faculties, it will be clear where I stand on that

‘In this passage, Hirst et al speak of ‘related’ or
‘complementary discou,rses’ as referring to ‘a
common discourse-object (“it”)~’ It is difficult to
see how they can conSistently speak in this way
since object ‘A’ -in-discourse D lacks criteria of
identity (same at the level of”l1omonymy) with
object ‘Ai ‘in-discourse Dl'” I am ass’uming here
that discourses can be (objectively) individuated,
an assumption hard to reconcile with the doctrines
in question.

Hirst et ai’s claims here form part of a discourse.

Hence the things .they ‘refer’ to – ~other discourses
(Marxis m etc ):- are ex hypothesi constituted by the
Hirst discourse. Hence they cannot claim to be
telling us anything. They cannot be ‘referring’ at
all. (Even a fiction pretends to be about people etc).

Yet they certainly write as if they have something
to tell us.

It is important to note that the view under
discussion lends as much intellectual legitimacy
to Christian Science, SCientology, or Astrology each of which ‘refers’ to various ‘objects’ and
‘processes !-as to Botany Microbiology or linguistics.

Removing epistemological ‘tyranny’ consecrates

real tyranny. Come baCK Lysencko, all is forgotten.

I have been concerned to show the ‘self-stultifying’

character of the Hirst, Hindess, Cutler, Hussain
type of position – to bring out its ‘lnspeakability’.

As a reading even of Graham Burchell’s summary
brings home, their work is replete with claims
about ‘epistemology’s’ hunt for ‘privileged access’,
‘the immediately given’, ‘absolute guarantees’ etc.

But it is a painful achieve ment of ‘bourgeois’

epistemology to have questioned these el dorados
of philosophy and it seems to me a minor scandal
that ancient slogans have been’ wheeled out in the
guise of space-age semiology to condemn most
‘hitherto existing’ thought to the rubbish tip.

My response has been written from a broadly
empiricist and realist standpoint – the standpoint
scoldingly ascribed to much of Marx by Hirst and
his co-thinkers. I do not deny that there are big
difficulties for such -a pOSition. What I do deny
however is that the philosophical work of Hirst,
Hindess et al constitutes a serious challenge to
that standpoint. Its a priori· celebration of the
impossibility of argument or discussion with the
uninitiated functions, moreover, to ghettoise the
leit.,.intelligentsia even as it aims to liberate it
from a fetishised ‘Marxis m’, and to promote within
it an almostRaranoid irrationalism.

11) Ideology and Hirst’s Steamroller
Marx did not invent the idea that people live their
lives more or less befogged by illusion. What he
did was to argue, against-Enlightenment reformers 1
trust in verbal education presented by the educated,
that these illusions were systematically bound up
with people’s ‘real life conditions’, particularly
with their economic conditions. Hirst well
e~resses Marx’s view: ‘Reality generates false
recognitions of itself by subjecting subjects to
circumstances in which their experience is distorted.’ (Althusser and the Theory of Ideology).

What Hindess and Hirst try to do, however, largely
following Althusser, is to refute, in one transcendental argument, both the Marxian orthodoxy and
the mOTe general idea of ideology as illusion or

‘The ~onsequence of- rejecting the concept of
f.Jreprese ntation ” is to destroy the classic Marxist
problem of ideology.’ (A,lthUS$er and the Theory
of Ideology).

I shall address myself to the above article and to
the ‘more detailed’ Problems and Advances
pamphlet, bearing in mind that these -articles
advance their theses in critical co-operation
with Althusserianism. (I thin~ I omit explications
of Althusser that Hirst himself rejects. )
Once again I quote:

1 ‘Ideology is not a distorted representation of
reality.’ (Problems and Advances, p2)
t-• • • signification; the-products of signifying
practices, do not IlIrepresent” anything outside
them, they cannot serve as a means of expression of class interests or of (functional) misrecognition of social relations. ‘ (‘Althusser
and Ideology’)
, . .. the means of representation determine
the represented. This obliterates the classical
problem of “representation “. ‘ (‘Althusser and
Ideology’) .

‘Knowledge is EnotJ formed through the consciousness or experience of humarr subjects’

as is maintained by ‘Classical Empiricism’.

(Proble ms and Advances, p2)
‘Althusser denies tha~ knowledge through
experience is possible and therefore that class
positions automatically generate experienceeffects’ (‘Althusser and Ideology’)
‘You can see here un the “empiricist” view]
that the reality or truth of ideology is outside
it in the prior determination . •. of the syste m
of places: It follows that reductionis m is a
legitimate mode of analysis. ‘ (Problems and
Advances, p4)

2. ‘Ideology is not ideal or spiritual’ (Problems
and Advances, p6)
‘Ideas do not exist as spiritual entities.

Ideologies are social relations, they are as
real as the economy. ‘ (Problems and Advances,

‘For Althusser, ideas are real and not “ideal”
because they are always inscribed in social
practices and are expressed in objective social
forms (languages, rituals etc.) As such they
have definite effects. ‘ (Problems and Advances,
‘~logy is a set of social practices and social
representations and rituals: it is a structure of
social relationships. ‘ (Problems and Advances,

‘Ideology is not illusory for the reason we’ve
given before; it is not illUSion, it is not falsity,
because how can something which has effects
be false? •… it would be like saying that a
black pudding is false, or a steamroller is
false. ‘ (Problems and Advances, p14)
‘The struggles involved are for the removal
of real ideological obstacles; social practices,
not illusions. ‘ (Problems and Advances, p14)

Response (in reverse order):

Ideology, we are told, is not illUSion, because
ideology has effects (people actually go to work,
to war; “to Wembley etc). Therefore it cannot be
false, any more than a bla~k pudding o~ s~eamroller
can’ . .• Sufferers from delusions, mghtmares,

hallucinations etc will “reJoice at this panacea.

Their errors are, as a matter of logic, harmless
and ineffectual. Not that Hirst even thinks that what
has effects could be true either. steamrollers
cannot be-that. Generally, though, -we could retort,
with the ‘plain man.! of bourgeoiS epistemology, -that
beliefs, outlooks, perspectives, assumptions ,_ perceptions true or false, can and do have (ftl¥.lana
determinate) effects. The argument is ‘Sl1 invalid
steamroller, a fallacious black pudding~ Yet Hirst
accords it a central place. And why anyone should
think that a struggle against illusions is not a
struggle against ‘real obstacles’ eludes me.


There is a tendency in Marxism (mUCh advertised
in the writings of Acton, Plamenatz etc) to set up
a dualism of thought (ideology) and reality (economy); as if the ‘economic base’ could even be
abstractly conceptualised save as involving human
goals, intentions or calculations. But then how can
such things be ‘superstructural’,? And Hirst rightly
notes a bad tendency to equate the ‘economic’ with
the ‘real’ and t:oo ‘ideologic~’ with the ‘unreal’ thus their insistence on the reality of ideology:

religious activity exists as much as does economic
activity. (Whether their de-epistemologist vision
allows them any such ontological claims is another
matter.) But their abandonment of vulgar marxism
immerses them in other vulgarities.

If anything exists as” a- spiritual entity, it nonetheless exists and may have effects. It is a false
antithesis to counterpose (in precisely the style of
vulgar materialism) the mental to the real, albeit
that Hirst’s fallacy is concealed through a punning
use of ‘ideal’ (= ‘unreal’? = ‘mental’?). This vulgar
materialist assumption, I suggest, drives Hirst
into identifying ideologies with their material and
hence ‘objective’ embodiments, expressions or
vehicles. Thus the shuffle between inSisting
(correctly) that ideologies are ‘inscribed’, ‘expressed’, ‘represented’, in rituals etc, and insisting that they are such practices. But a practice is
only ‘ideological’ in virtue of its Significance or
meaning, in so far as it- ‘Signifies ‘. Hence, while
‘ideological struggle’ might consist in the destruction or suppression of monuments or rituals, only
dogmatis m could blind us to the capacity of ideology
to live on in people’s brains. And only a dogmatic
behaviouris m would blind us to the distinction
between the ‘criticism of weapons and the weapons
of criticism ‘: between altered ‘behaviour’ and
altered ‘outlook’.

Human social practice ‘communicates’ a meaning:

a ritual’s movements signify what its words say
about the order of the world, a businessman’s suit
and manner signify his busy, successful, probity.

But that such ‘signification’ is general does not
entail that ‘Signifying practices do not “represent”
anything outside them’. In order to reverse the
rhetorical effect of Hirst’s spiritual/ material
contrast, consider the practices associated with
physicalist ideologies of mental illness. nlnesses,
depreSSions etc may ‘present themselves’ as simply
happening for no good reasorr and doctors may encourage this by prescribing pills etc. Yet, one who
investigates such practice, such a ‘mode of experiencing’, may suggest that this ideology mJ,srepresents what is in fact a_ Significant -process an impotent, despairing protest, a response to
abandonment;or whatever. If this were the case,
as -it might be, it would involve an ‘ideology
representing something outside itself’, even
though what is represented (the illness) may itself

be ‘ideological’. One ‘discourse’ may misrepresent
another; discourses can rely on ‘meta-discourses’

which misrepresent them. (Though they negotiate
through echoes, blind people often speak of a ‘sixth
sense’ or a ‘cheek sensation’ as- guiding them.)
Hirst denies that ideologies ‘represent’ – and hence
‘misrepresent’. Sexist ideologies do not (distortedly) represent women as naturally inferior?

Racist ideologies do not conSign non-whites to
perpetual savagery? Religious ideologies do not
represent the world as the creation of gods?

Capitalist ideologies do not represent human freedom and’ welfare as necessitating the private
ownership of the means of production? The
position may have earned its admirers through
the sheer effrontery of its assertion.

so far as to say that Marx did establish the importance of economic conditions in shaping human
experience and human outlooks and that Hirst’s
arguments, despite their assimilation of the genera]
conceptualization of ‘ideology’ to a vulgar economistic reductionism, do not refute this general
view, but trade on the weakness of the specific
vulgar theory which identifies ‘reality’ with the
economy. As a corollary, the insistence on a
pluralistic view of human social life does not
require the abandonment of empiriCism or realism.


That history cannot be a.-science in the sense that
physics or even political economy might be follows
simply from the qualitative complexity of individual
events, processes, things, people. This is not to
rule out that historians can be ‘scientific’ in method
and approach: sifting evidence, comparing different
situations to confirm or shake their hypotheses etc.

But such banalities are swept away by the Hirst
Hindess broom. They attack historical research
(they may except research into the history of their
own thought) as (a) impossible and (b) irrelevant.

(Apart from their books, the Resignation Letter is
pertinent here-.) History, they say, is not ‘a
coherent and possible object of research’ .

Empiricists traditionally present the paradigm of
‘the knowledge relation’ as an object causing (with
the aid of other-conditions) an experience of it
(you see the apple because it affects your senses
etc). Hence, as Hirst says, it focuses on origins
(causes). Such a model, says Hirst, dominates
traditional Marxism: the economy effects one’s
perception of tt, but, depending on one’s class
vantage point, one’s perception may be distorted.

As Hirst mock-quotes ‘If one is a finance capitalist
one will see the world differently than if one is an
artisan’ . Hirst goes on to treat this ‘vulgar
Marxism’ as an application of empiricist assumptions. But if you believe that ideologies ‘represent’

things as the case (illusorily) and that, however
false they are, they nonetheless ‘represent’ (in
another sense of that word – manifest, issue from)
the- ‘actual life conditions’, in which the relevant
experiences have occurred, you are not compelled
to embrace vulgar Marxism. Nor are you
compeUed to embrace ‘reductionism’, for any
view of knowledge as a causal phenomenon would
still need to distinguish causes which ‘produce’

knawledge from causes which don’t. For example,
the bright sunlight might cause you to re cognize it.

But some diseases or drugs might cause the same
experience. Thus, when Marxists say ‘you only
think that because you are a petit-bourgeois’ they
need to show (a) the connection of consequence
between the belief and the class position,and
(b) how this pOSition is epistemically relevant
(‘distorting’). Only by a pre-emptive insistence
that economic conditions alone are real conditions
would vulgar Marxism identify itself with empiricism (see certain passages in The German Ideology).

Thus, as Hirst rightly suggests, the classical view
of ideology involves ‘causal’ and ‘epistemic’

dimensions. And, contrary to Hirst, we might-go

Ill) Historical Fordism:

‘History is Bunk’


‘History is not a given object . .. since (by
definition) it does not exist. ‘

(ReSignation lett~r)


‘These are only practices of writing and constituting definite histories. These practices
define the past and transform artefacts
(documents, ~bones, palaces, kitchen middens
etc. ) into representations of the hitherto
existing •.• ‘

(ReSignation letter)

.Q ‘It can be argued that, as the conditions of
existence of social relations must be constantly
re-produced in order for them to exist, no
analysis of hitherto exi-sting social relations
has any relevance or epistemological privilege’

(ReSignation letter)

‘Only teleology can ascribe an effectivity to
the hitherto existing’

(Resignation letter)


‘Marxism is anti-historical because it is
com mitted to history in another sense of the
word, to the crucial struggles of our age. ‘

(Resignation letter)
~lthusser struggl-es laudably tOJ ‘reconstitute
a Marxis m … capable . ~. of providing
strategic leadership for political practice. ‘

(Resignation letter)

History Workshop
a journal of socialist historians
Highlights of issue 5 (May 1978):

Anna Davin: Imperialism and Motherhood
Mike Newman: Labour’s Struggle against British Fascism. 1933-6
Tony Wailey: The Seamen’s Strike, Liverpool 1966
Hannah Mitchell: Art and the French Revolution
William Rosenherg: Workers’Control in the Russian Revolution
Martha Madntyre: Women’s History in Australia
Nicholas Jacobs: The German SPD School in Berlin, 1906-14
plus Workers’ Theatre Movement, Local History, Archives and
Sources, Lihraries, Music …

Suhscription £5 a year (2 issues), SI2 overseas from


Response (again to take these claims backwards):


If Hindess and Hirst deny tffi ‘effectivity’ of the
past on the present (4) this can only be, I take it,
because the past precedes the present (has already
gone out of ‘exi-stence’ in their mortal phraseology).

aut, alas, the present precedes the future. Hence
by their own argument ‘strategic’ theory is as
‘absurd’ as poring over old documents to establish
how things came to be as they are. For the present
can have no ‘effectivity’ in the future. Plans,

campai~ etc (however short term!) are absurd doomed to go out of existence before their goals
~e about!

Aristotle thought that efficient causes were coexistent with their etfects. And, while Hume
defined causes as antecedent to their effects,
studentS’ of philosophy know-that causality is a
hellish problem. But those prone to accept
Hindess and Hirst’s a priori doctrine of impotence
of antecedents should at least be concerned that it
rules out the striking of a match as causally relevant to the later boiling of the kettle. That we are
dealing here with a short-term sequence is irrelevant to the point of principle (10 minutes is a long
time in l>hilosophy). A hard doctrine! Hindess and
Hirst speak here of ‘teleology’. This seems mere

The ‘need’ for ‘constant’ ‘reproduction’ of ‘conditions of existence’ amounts, as far as I can see,
simply to the ‘need’ for conditions to hold for the
occurrence of whatever occurs – whether that be
persistence or obliteration. How much this involves
‘re-production’in the sense of the bringing about of
new instances of things or processes, is a further
question. But that re-production occurs over time
and is dependent on historically ‘provided’

materials and forms (which mayor may not themselves be exhaustible) is obvious. And that hi-storical research might assist enquiry into the capacity
or likelihood of ‘things’ such as an amenable workforce being ‘reproduced’ in certain conditions is
obvious too. The necessity of continual re-produc~
tion has no tendency to render history irrelevant.

If there ~ ‘definite’ practices of writing history
then these practices (‘discourses’?) are themselves
historical events. But ex hypothesi H & H -cannot
consistently-speak of such things. (It is typical of
theoreticaj. phenomenalism to adopt a realist
position towards theoretical endeavours just as
‘phenomenology’ thinks it. can at once ‘bracket
reality’ and quote people’s – real- accounts of
‘reality’.) That historians can ‘define’ the past
by ‘constituting’ the meaning of artefacts (bones?)
in accordance with their own ‘ideology’ is a crass
mockery of diSCiplined historical enquiry.

I do not know of anyone, e. In among those who
believe there are ‘given objects’ at all, who think
‘history is a given object’. Knowledge of the past
(like knowledge of the future) necessarily involves
having ‘presently available evidence’. Hindess and
Hirst for example claim to have ‘conSistently
opposed’ empiricism, including that of the
(Economy and SoCiety) editorial. The remaining
editors reply that H & H helped write the editorial.

Are we then to accept Hindess and Hirst’s
(historical) claim? We have now to investigate
the evidence. Do Hindess and Hirst licence us
regarding such things to think what accords with
()ur ‘ideological and political’ practices? Are
these ‘the given’?

Hindess and Hirst are attacking what they argue
to be an ‘academicist’ wallowing in the past that
they see as characteristic of many ‘Marxists’. In
this attack they ‘Produce dangerous and selfdestructive weapons – yet they go on-writing as if
they believe the world will go on ‘reproducing’ at
least rearlers.

IV) The Politicization of Analysis
Hindess and. Hirst abandon ~pistemic questions
(questions of truth, evidence, probability etc) in
favour of a frankly ‘political’ criterion (continuing
the ‘theory in the interest of politics’ line of their
Resignation Letter). This view is developed, for
example, in Hirst’s ‘Althusser and thelTheory of’

Ideology’ •

1. ‘Class analysis we may retain, not in the sense
of SOCiological reduction but of political evaluation. Not a’reference to origin but a consideration of effect. (‘ .•• to recognize ideological
forms as “bourgeois” involves taking a political
stand on what is and is not bourgeois ‘).

(‘Althusser and the,_Theory of Ideology’)

.2 ‘… calculation of political consequences … ‘

(‘Althusser and the Theory of Ideology’)

.a. ‘ ••• what the calculation of effect is depends
upon one’s political pOSition. .. Consequences
can be deduced from a definite political
position … ‘

(‘Althusser and the Theory of Ideology’)
(Women’s struggles) ‘may be important in
creating the basis on which an important
section of the population is prepared to take
socialist agitation seriously’

(Problems and Advances, p14)


‘The struggles involved are for the removal
of real ideological obstacles, social practices,
not illusions. ‘

(Problems and Advances, p14)

(Compare the concluding section of Graham
Burcheil’s review article.)
Response (in reverse order):


I have pointed out already the fallacy of counterposing illusions to real forces. lllusions occur and
have effects. struggle against them is real strugl5le
which consists in more than words. To counterpose
politics to education (or to dis-illusionment) is
fallacious as well as dangerous.

In place of the dogmatic schoolteacher lecturing to
the ignorant, Hindess and Hirst offer us the manipulator backing movements on purely socialistutilitarian lines. That the women’s movement might
have as much to teach as to learn from illusionfree male leftists is not on Hirst’s cards. Rather
it is seen as a useful force to be backed, theoretically legitimated arid riot to be arguedwith or criticised
(though its theories will no doubt be criticised for
empiricism, ‘humanism’ etc). Followers of the
left ‘will recognize the antiquity of this opportunist
approach – and the shifts and reversals of
, that it entails.



If I believed in the imminent collapse of capitalism

from forces internal to the economy (falling rate of
profit etc), then my evaluation of movements would
be affected by this. But Hindess and Hirst, while
pointing this out, insist that my calculation of
consequences; is itself a function of my political
position (evafuation). So we are in a messy circle.

Contrary to them, it ,might be thought vital for
political activity that predictions be minimally
contaminated by wishes (‘pessimism of the
intellect’: Gramsci). Here again Hindess and
Hirst’s contempt for empirical reason lands them
in gross subjectivism – a politics of wish-fulfilment

Hindess and Hirst are right to stress the distinction
between the ORIGIN and the political tendency of
ideas and ideologies, and right to highlight the
double talk that has tried to conceal this distinction
in the name of preserving dogmatic versions of
‘class analysis’. But they offer a pragmatist
reductionism in place of a class-origin reductionism. Thus, for example, in denying that
‘bourgeois ideology’ is ‘bourgeois’ in virtue of its

origins they rure oUt of account the possibility that
some aspects of the bour.geoisie’s class outlook
might be progressive even true. Or rather they..

insist on their own doubletalk which would denY’its
bourgeois statU8; in virtue of its supposed serviceability to socialist revolution.

Generally spealdng, a pragmatist reduction fails
to avoid the epistemic issue. For the question
always arises: will this line have these (desirable
or ,undesirable) effects? (See my reply to Peter
Binns RP3; and see Andrew Collier’s ‘Truth and
Practice’ RP5). Moreover, a politics, which not
only downgrades questions of truth (Machiavellianism) but systematically seeks to extrude such
issues from its frame of reference, must, I
suggest, be a politics of contempt – a practical
anti-humanism. The extrusion can never be
achieved. Always it wiil be a matter of hiding uncomfortable truths or promulgating useful fictions.

It is handy, however, to think that, outside one’s
system, no justification need be sought for one’s
beliefs and one’s practices.

Andrew Collier
My aim in this paper is to criticise a postAlthusserian tendency which urges us to ditch the
whole project of epistemology; I shall also say
something about the conditions for an epistemology
which will not lay itself open to the objections
raised against epistemology by this tendency insofar
as those objections are valid. And I shall make
some brief comments about some of the outstanding problems for an epistemology which is to cope
with the human sciences – problems which are not
made to disappear, but merely evaded, by the
rejection of epistemology.

My task is therefore a polemical one – the defence
of what I regard as already established pOSitions of
materialist epistemology, against new versions of
idealis m, albeit shamefaced (or as they say in the
trade, ‘de-negated’) versions. (1)

1) Epistemology after Althusser
‘The identiffcation ofwhich ‘I spoke in introducing
(the Hegelian Marxists ‘) work – of the problem of
the unity of theory and practice and the problem
qf the relation between science and its object is
an invalid and illicit conflation of questions of
quite a different order. The first problem is the
fundamental problem of Marxist politics: how to
give ideas a material force. • .. The second
problem is an epistemolOgical one: how to guaran-I
i I admit to fee’ling that iUs somewhat Shameful to be re-iterating this
position at a time when we need to break new groundtn scientific epistemology, and when philosophers such as Roy Bhaskar are doing so. But it
is a shameful necessity, for while idea).1sm enjoys a revival unparallelled
since Edwardian times – and precisely among self-styled radicals … really
new knowledge will be prevented from having the political effects that it

What is most disconcerting is that modern idealists are not only unaware
that their sopbtsms have long since been refuted; they are even unaware
that th8y are idealists. Who can’doubt that, if Bishop Serkeley had been
alive today, he would have re-titled h1s major work ‘Towards a
Mater1alis~ _Theory of Perception r?

tee that a theory does in fact provide a knowledge
of the reality it claims to explain. ‘

(Alex Callinicos, Althusser’s Marxism, pp22-23)
Part of the value of Althusser’s work in epistemology is that he has cleared up this ‘historical’

confusion. Theoretical production is itself a practice with its own criteria of success, not a mere
effect of other – economic, political or ideological practices. The political question is then, not the
relation of theory-in-general to practice-in-generaI”
but rather the problem: how to secure the transformation of the ‘political’ practice of class struggle
from an economistic and reformist one (which it
will spontaneously tend to be) into one which raises
the issue of state power, through the intervention
of Marxist theory into that practice. In this context,
for Althusser as for Lenin, the unity of theory and
practice is not a theoretical given but a practical
task. The Marxist theory which must be united with
the class struggle is not itself a mere epiphemomenon of that struggle; its relation to the struggle is
that it yields knowledge of the society that generates it; and because it does so it enables the
workers’ movement to fight clearsightedly, without
the blinkers of bourgeois ideology.

Yet, surprisingly enough, Callinicos goes on to
criticise Althusser for not realising that he has
provided the basis for abolishing epistemology
-altogether. if he ‘has done so~ what comes of his
anti-historicist work which1:ook place within
epistemology ?

There seem to be three points of departure for the
anti-epistemologists in Althusser’s thought. Firstly!

there is his contention – through all phases of his
work – that the criteria of validity of a theoretical
practice are internal to it. This is said to rule out
any general criterion; and epistemology is said to
)e precisely the pursuit of general criteria. Here

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