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Jacques Rancière's first major work, Althusser's Lesson appeared in 1974, just as the energies of May 68 were losing ground to the calls for a return to order. Rancière's analysis of Althusserian Marxism unfolds against this background: what is the relationship between the return to order and the enthusiasm which greeted the publication of Althusser's Reply to John Lewis in 1973? How to explain the rehabilitation of a philosophy that had been declared 'dead and buried on the barricades of May 68'? What had changed? The answer to this question takes the form of a genealogy of Althusserianism that is, simultaneously, an account of the emergence of militant student movements in the '60s, of the arrival of Maoism in France, and of how May 68 rearranged all the pieces anew. Encompassing the book's distinctive combination of theoretical analysis and historical description is a question that has guided Rancière's thought ever since: how do theories of subversion become the rationale for order?
theory of ‘images’ and ‘schemes of action’ as a response to Kautsky’s thesis about bringing consciousness to the working class, a thesis that a mass of militant workers saw as an exploitation and a derailing of their struggle by a fraction of the bourgeoisie.8 What is really at play behind the recourse to the bourgeois ideology of the ‘crises of the sciences’ is the relationship between the science of Marxist intellectuals and the autonomy of the working class. The Bogdanov affair, in other
against that, of course, the sciences needed philosophical weapons. The sciences need philosophy because of the idealists who exploit them by making them believe that they are in crisis when they are doing just ﬁne. The sciences are not protected against that. Why not? Because Element 1 (materialist) is necessarily subordinate to Element 2 (idealist).12 Repetition is the only proof the text offers for this thesis. Why is it, really, that scientists cannot critique their spontaneous philosophy
normally innocent of class struggle, and there is the irresistible wind that brings this struggle in from outside: residual elements (words) carry it into the paradise of classless society. There is the inability of the victims of this aggression to defend themselves on their own, and the need of a helping hand to push this intruder back out. A story remarkably similar to that of a Soviet, classless paradise that had to be outﬁtted with a good police force and better prosecutors to prevent a
ALTHUSSER’S LESSON methods and slogans to be introduced to the practice of young communists. There is space for a philosophy of recuperation.10 This was not possible in 1969, when PCF leaders feared for their hegemony, but it is possible today. By the time Althusser’s book appeared in France, their fears had been appeased, and those who had once vituperated against the provocateurs were now calmly and serenely commenting on the ‘death of leftism’. Maoists had abandoned their dream of being the
aimed at entirely reforming the French educational system. The Plan is named after Paul Langevin and Henri Wallon, both of whom presided, at different times, over the committee drafting the plan, and both of whom had ties to the PCF. – Trans. 169 NOTES 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 170 We should perhaps correct the ambiguity of the words. The ruse was not a purposeful act of dissimulation carried out by camouﬂaged opponents, nor was the provisional moral code the result of a carefully