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21 News

NEWS
Althusser. the Party, Marxism
(1) Since the defeat of the left in the recent legis1ative elections, a wi:iesprea:i :iebate has developed
within the French CP, reflecting the dissatisfaction
felt by many militants with the lea:iership’s conduct
of the electoral campaign. Although this debate is
by no means confine:i to the party’s intellectuals,
they provide the most visible evidence of it in the
form of letters an:i articles publishe1 in the
‘bourgeois’ press, chiefly Le Monde. This allows
the leadership, which continues to refuse to open
any forum for :iiscussion within the party’s own
press, to play on the themes of anti-intellectualistr
and the need for party unity in an attempt to circum·
scribe the criticism. Marchais albo attempte1 to
achieve the same effect by characterising the
critics as the same as those who were opposed to
the theses of the 22n:i Congress, thereby suggesting
that they inclu:ied no-one beyon:i the handful of old
stalinists on the one hand, and althusserians on the
other, who criticised the abandonment of the notion
of the ‘:iictatorship of the proletariat’ in 1976. This
particular move, however, is no longer cre:iible
since Jean Ellenstein, historian and principal publicist for the ‘liberal eurocom munist’ line within
the party, published a series of three articles in
Le Monde (April 13-14-15), analysing the defeat
ani the changes that need to be made within the
party largely along the lines that it suffers not
from too much of the 22n:i Congress, but from not
enough of it.

Amongst the intellectuals, the issues. raised go
well beyond questions of recent tactical errors, to
the fundamental strategy and organisation of the
party itself. They express widely divergent political
points of view. Nevertheless, there is a considerable amount of com mon groun1 between the two
principal currents, the ‘revisionist’ Ellenstein
line and the ‘leninist’ althusserian one: both agree
that the party’s present problems stem from the
insufficiency of its analyses of ‘Stalinism’, and its
failure to undertake any real confrontation with its
own stalinist past. Secondly, both agree that a
necessary precondition for any atteIT’pt to develop
a new way forwar::l which avoids the traditional
alternatives is a greatly extended internal democracy; one which would permit i1.eas to circulate
horizontally as well as vertically, and also allow
effective participation by the base in decision
making. Although the Ellenstein current probably
enjoys wi1er support within the party generally,
and certainly does among sections of the hierarchy,
the strongest attack yet on th~ functioning of
‘1emocratic centralis m ‘ was that made in a letter
signe1 by Althusser, Balibar, G. Bois, G. Labica,
J-P. Lefebvre and M. Moissonier. This letter, the
main ideas of which were subsequently reiterated
in an article by two militants published in the
Nouvel Observateur, was originally published in
Le Monde (6 April), after the party’s own
L ‘Humanite ha1 refused to print it:

‘In losing once more the elections to a government
nevertheless worn by its divisions and by the unpopularity of its economic policy, the left has not
only lost a battle. An immense hope, one may fear,
has been destroyed for a long time.’ After invoking
the ‘political weaknesses’ and ‘internal contradictions’ of the left – the division amongst its parties,
46

the inadequacy of its language an1 objectives and
its often too routinely electoralist conception of
politics – and certain problems posed by the PC F’s
own conduct during the pre-electoral period, its
frequent abrupt changes of line, for example, or
its failure to transform itself into the instrument
of a popular movement, thE authors refer to the
discussion which has develope1 sinoe 19 March in
the following terms: ‘Communist militants see
clearly that it is, in the long term, the influence
and even the existence of the party that are in
question, in particular in the working class.’ They
go on to criticise the party leadership’s attitude
to the 1efeat, summed up in its refusal to accept
that the PCF bears any part of the responsibility,
stating that ‘We cannot accept the authoritarian
affirmation by the Political Bureau, before any
real analysis, that the line followed by the party
was correct. We cannot accept a parody of a
discussion on the basis of that affirmation.’

Finally, the authors propose 4 concrete measures
aimed at enlarging the possibilities for democratic
debate within the party; measures which, they
suggest, represent the ‘material and politically
indispensable con:iitions of a real analysis and
discussion’, an1 which also, it might be ad1ed,
may be situated perfectly within the perspective
of Althusser’s comments on ‘democratic centralism’ in his previously published remarks on the
22nd Congress. The proposals are as follows:

‘1 That, in view of the next Central Committee
meeting (scheduled for 26-27 April), members of
the Central and Federal Committees should attend
local section and cellule meetings, to offer any
elements of explanation they might have and to
participate in the discussions and listen to the
militants in order to report their i1eas.

2 That the report and discussion at the next
Central Committee meeting be immediatell and
integrally published, either in L ‘Humanite or if
‘need by in a special pamphlet.

3 That, on the basis of that publication, a forum
for discussion be immediately set up in the party’s
press, where all com munists might intervene to
contribute to the party’s reflection.

4 That the next party congress be a truly extraordinary congress by the forms of its preparation
and conduct . .. that it must publicly express the
real debates inside the party, up to the final
sessions. That it should organise the election of
delegates in a totally democratic manner, eliminating the filtering of candidates by Candidature
Committees. That it should be truly sovereign,
that is to say, elaborate for itself, after discussion,
the line to be adopted by the whole party, instead of
simply recording a resolution established in
advance. ‘

(2) On a slightly more abstract level of theoretical
determination, it seems that the crisis of the international communist movement has at last become,
for Althusser, a crisis in marxism itself. At a
Colloquium organised by n Manifesto in Venice
during November 1977, on ‘Power and OppOSition
in Post-Revolutionary Societies’, Althusser delivered a long speech in which he said: ‘Let us not be
afraid to say that Marxislu is in crisis. Something
has happened in the working class conscience.·

There is no longer any living ideal.’

This ‘salutory’ crisis, however, which signals
the ‘necessity to transform marxism’, was by no
means the occasion for regret, he went on to say:

‘On the contrary, one can say: At last, the crisis
has exploded in full daylight! For it is not a recent
phenomenon. It began during the 30s and even
before. Marxis m was fixed and blocked in formulas,
in a political line and practices. We cannot settle
this crisis by invoking stalin. The heritage was not
pure at a certain moment in history and then
travestied. Marxism in its purity is a myth. We
find ourselves today before the vital necessity to
revise a certain idea that we have made ourselves
of the masters of marxis m. These were men like
us, who advanced into unknown domains, who were
exposed to com mitting errors and even to saying
silly things.’ (Le Monde, 15 November 1977)
More recently, in a long interview with Rossana
Rossanda published in n Manifesto (4 April 1978),
Althusser went further on the need to reconsider
marxis m, in particular with regard to the fact that
it does not have a theory of the State: ‘Marxist
theory says almost nothing on the State, nor on
ideology and ideologies, nor on politics, nor on the
organisations of class struggle.’ There is a blind
~, s pot at this point ‘as if Marx was paralys ed by the
bourgeois representation of the state and of politics etc, to the extent that this was only reproduced
in a negative form.’ The task before us, Althusser
explained as follows: ‘In the same way that Marx
consciously presented Capital as a critique of
political economy, we must manage to achieve the
aim that he could not: to think a critique of politics as it is adopted by the ideology and practice
of bourgeois politics •.. ‘ ‘ … The communist
party is constructed exactly on the model of the
bourgeois political apparatus, with its parliament
which “discusses” (the militant base) and its
“elected” leadership which, whatevel’ happens, has
the means to maintain itself in place and to assure

Human Rights in West Germany
The Russell Tribunal on the condition of human
rights in West Germany held its first session from
29 March to 6 April. At the end of the hearings the
jury was asked the following four questions:

1 Are citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany
denied the right to pursue a career in public
service because of their political beliefs?

2 Does the operation of the Berufsverbote
represent a serious threat to human righto?

3 Does the operation of the Berufsverbote take
place in such a fashion as to discriminate
against people holding a particular political
opinion?

4 Is the operation of the Berufsverbote related to
discriminatory practises by other institutions,
in particular trade unions, professional
organisations and churches?

The jury unanimously replied ‘Yes’ to the first
three questions in a secret ballot. Seven replied
‘Yes’ to question 4, 1 abstained and eight replied
‘Further evidence necessary’.

The tribunal should be congratulated that it met at
all. The West German establishment attacked it
with an unsavoury mixture of smear and threat,
claiming that the tribunal was part of an international campaign against the Federal Republic, that it
was unconcerned with violations of human rights by
left-wing regimes, that its members were communists or the dupes of communism etc. Germans

the domination of its line by the apparatus of its
functionaries. It is obvious that this profound contamination of the conception of politics by bourgeois
ideology is the point on which will be won or lost
the future of working class organisations. ‘

Althusser is convinced that the party must never
be a part of the State apparatus, since its role is
precisely to destroy and transform the bourgeois
State apparatus, and then to assist the withering
away of the new revolutionary State. If the party
founds itself in the State, the USSR is the result.

Hence a, CP must never consider itself a party of
government, even if, in certain circumstances, it
can participate in government. Althusser believes
that without ‘autonomy of the party (and not of
politics) in relation to the State’, we shall never
go beyond the bourgeois State, however reformed.

Without this autonomy, the alternative is either
class collaboration or the Party-State with all its
consequences. (Le Monde, 7 April)
(3) Finally, for serious Capital scholars, a new
book has appeared in Althusser’s ‘Theorie’ series:

Le Concept de Loi Economigue dans Le Capital, by
Gerard Dumenil. Dumenil reworks much of the
ground central to the original althusserian ‘reading’

of Capital, from a different perspective and with
different results. He rejects the notion that Marx’s
text proceeds by ‘theoretical production’ in favour
of the view that it proceeds by posing concepts,
exploring the theoretical space both opened up and
limited by that ‘positioning’, then posing new concepts which enlarge the theoretical field, and so on.

The real object of his careful research, then, is
nothing other than the logic of Marx’s thought, the
‘analysis of the cognitive process’ which he is not
averse to calling a theory of knowledge. The book
contains a long introduction by Althusser..

Paul Patton
thinking of supporting the tribunal were crudely
reminded that loyalty to the state did-not mean cooperating with those involved in ‘defaming’ it. The
campaign against the tribunal had the unintended
effect of giving its members first hand experience
of the atmosphere of political paranoia within which
the Berufsverbote are operated.

All opposition is perceived as part of a systematic
conspiracy and the fact that the conspirators should
appeal to principles of human rights is no evidence
of common ground between West GElrmany’s selfunderstanding as a democratic state and its critics.

It only makes the conspirators’ attack the more
insidious for being ‘subtle’. Activities are judged
not by the legitimacy of their aims but by the
desirability of their effects. Thus the claim that
West Germany violates human rights is not
seriously conSidered, but the effect that this might
have on West Germany’s international reputation is.

Remembering the reactions to the Bertrand Russell
Peace Foundation’s efforts on behalf of Soviet
dissidents one is inclined to laugh. When they were
supporting Soviet dissidents they were attacked as
anti-communists, when they support leftists in
West Germany they suddenly become communists.

They must be doing something right!

The lowest depths of calumny were reached by the
‘liberal Der Spiegel which included, as illustration
to a highly derogatory article on the tribunal, a
photograph of a letter sent by the director of the
foundation, Christopher Farley, to the East German
47

President, Willi stoph, in which Farley asks stoph
to use his good offices to enable the imprisoned
East German dissident Rudolf Bahro to participate
as a jury member in the tribunal. The Spiegel
caption read ‘Wooing Communists’ (Werbung fUr
Kommunisten). Der Spiegel’s article was exemplary
for West German political practice; background
information was produced on this or that me mber
of the tribunal who had worked together with
corn munists in some way – participated in congresses
or written for CP-supported publications. No
mention was made of their records as activists
against repression in Eastern Europe, nor was
there any attempt to justify the implicit assumption
that anyone who goes so far as to treat communists
as legitimate political agents at all cannot be
neutral but must be ‘obj~ctively’ a supporter.

However absurd the smears on the Tribunal, once
they have been publicly endorsed by Government
and Le age of Trade Unions the state employee or
trade unionist ignores them at his or her peril.

Just as the. Berufsverbote require the civil
servant to acknowledge that it is not his/her but
the executive’s right to decide which (legal) parties
or political activities are inherently ‘hostile to the
constitution’, so, too, support of the Russell
Tribunal becomes an act of insubordination.

The tribunal, then, touched a very raw nerve in
the West German establishment, and it is not hard
to see why; at the centre of the Berufsverbote stands
the question of the employee’s loyalty to the ‘Free
and Democratic Basic Order’ (FDGO). Not only
must the employee not work agaInst this established
order, he / she is required to affirm that it is; in
fact, free and democratic. As well as being questioned directly on their political attitudes candidates
find themselves facing questions such as ‘Do you
consider that the judgement that the DKP is hostile
to the constitution is constitutional?’ and partiCipation in activities against the Berufsverbote has been
sufficient reason for candidates to receive Benifsverbote themselves. As one victim of the doublebind logic of the Berufsverbote put it to the
tribunal:

“1 may, or, to be precise, must acknowledge
these constitutional principles, but when 1 call
upon them and hence put their real content to the
test they no longer have any validity for me. ”
Whoever defends the right of communists to be
heard puts themselves ‘on their side’ and, hence,
outside the range of those. whose opinions need to
be taken into account.

An international tribunal is in a unique position
to be able to challenge the self-reinforcing premises
of West German practice without itself becoming
its victim, and this, it seems to me, is sufficient
justification for the existence of a Russell Tribunal
on West Germany. But the situation is clearly
different from that of previous tribunals on the war
in south-east Asia and on repression in Latin
A rrl:e rica. The president of the jury, Vladimir
Dedijer, said in his opening address~:

”It is not a matter of condemning an illegitimate
regime (Un:rechtsregime). Our task is to bring
once again and more into the open dangers which
threaten the unrestricted validity of human rights.

But basic human rights aTe embodied in the
constitution of the Federal Republic itself. For
this reason the tribunal acts and judges on
principle within the framework of legality and
legitimacy of. the Federal Republic of-Germany
itself. The Federal Republic will be assessed
according to the standard of its own constitution.”
48

This statement seems to suggest that the difference
is a matter of a transcendental division of political
‘regimes into the ‘illegitimate ‘and the ‘constitutional’

(rechtsstaatlich). But however is this division
supposed to express itself in practice? stalin’s
regime – surely as barbarous and arbitrary as any operated under a constitution so free and demoeratic as to bring tears to the eyes. Was the Soviet
Union under stalin ‘essentially’ constitutional? If
not, what is the mark of those countries with
constitutions which are ‘constitutional’ distinguishing them from those which are not? Not that one
should deny the differences between West Germany
and Vietnam – or East Germany or the Soviet Union
for that matter. But to do it by dividing up regimes
.into the ‘constitutional’ and the rest seems to me a
(typically Teutonic) piece of pointless sophistry. It
is dangerous, too, for Dedijer commits the
tribunal in advance to the pOSition that the constitution, ‘properly interpreted’, fails to support the
operation of the Berufsverbote. In fact the legal
situation (as an e~cellent report to the tribunal by
Prof. Ulrich Preuss showed) is by no means so
simple that one can dismiss the court decisions
-endorsing the Berufsverbote as merely arbitrary.

The question of the legality and legitimacy of the
Berufsverbote highlights what is to me the major
difference between this and previous Russell
tribunals; what is at issue here is not facts but
interpretations. Where previous tribunals offered
a forum for allegations about events such as
murder and torture which were strenuously denied
by the authorities, – the facts in this case (although
the Government hardly goes out of its way to
attract publicity) are not seriously in dispute.

The German Supre me Court itself set out to
define the ‘political loyalty obligation’ for state
employ-ees so question 1 (whether political beliefs
are a criterion for citizen’s exclusion from public
service) is hardly likely to be very controversial.

The West Ge’rman government doesn’t claim that
political selection doesn’t take place. What it
claims is that this is legitimate practt-ce, supported
by the constitution. Unless the-tribunal is able to
confront this claim· holding hearings of particular
cases does no no re than bring to the notice of jury
members what those who have followed the progress
of the -Berufsverbote already know; that tens of
thousands of men and women are subjected to investigation and interrogation in a way which is
humiliating and psychically-emasculating. Notknowing what action, however-private, trivial or
long-forgotten will ‘count’ against them, they are
denied even the minimal respect of having their
views treated as s.J)mething more than ‘symptoms’

of political disease.

It would be unfair, before the tribunal has produced its final report, to predict that it will fail to
go beyond this and deal with the political and
juridical roots of the matter. Nevertheless the
membership of the jury – the lack of members
with speCialist legal knowledge and/ or knowledge
of West Germany – and the quality-of some of
their interventions leads me to fear-that the
tribunal will fail to take full advantage of a very
important opportunity.

Mike Rosen
NB The proceedings of the first session of the
Tribunal have been published in Germany:

3. Internationales Russell-Tribunalzur Situation
der Menschenrechte in der BRD. Band 1′, RotbuchVerlag, Berlin, 1978.

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RP20 – SUMMER 1978
Tony Skillen: Post-Marxist Modes of Production
Andrew’ Collier: In Defence of Epistemology
Roger Waterhouse: A Critique of Authenticity
Kate Soper: The Scientificity of Freud’s
Interpretation of Dreams
Noel Parker: Regis Debray ort his Class and his
CO’:l1mitment
Reviews – Dilthey, ~ing, Morris, Lenin
49

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