Poststructuralism: A Marxist alternative – part two

by Tony Sullivan • Published 20 April 2020

This is the second part of a series on poststructuralism. Read part one here.
Poststructuralism may be out of fashion in Paris, its birthplace,[1] but in Australia it remains strong. In fact its prestige has risen with the collapse of Russian Stalinism.[2] On the campuses especially, it finds a left wing audience. Foucault’s concept of power challenges the idea that we live within a cosy, peaceful social consensus. It highlights the fact that personal, including sexual, relationships are political. It also disputes liberal academia’ s pretensions to possess a value-free, non-partisan social science. Derrida’s “deconstruction” also dissects liberal ideology, while his notion of “margins” has been used to defend oppressed groups. Despite this, poststructuralism is a fundamentally conservative ideology. Part one of this article (in Socialist Review 3) presented a Marxist alternative to poststructuralism; now its own claims are considered, principally in the work of its two greatest figures, Derrida and Foucault.

Where does poststructuralism fit in the more traditional debate between Marxism and liberalism? The latter is a messy mixture of the following ideas: (a) individualism, which looks at people in isolation from society. We are told that real social change must start within; that the interests of each person are counterposed to those of other individuals, or to the “mob”, compulsory trade unionism etc; that if people fail in life they have themselves to blame; (b) a soggy version of humanism which abstracts “humanity” from the class forces that shape and divide it. Everyone, we are told, can unite around common human interests, at least against nuclear war or pollution, which threaten all people; (c) an idealist rationalism which presents human reason as capable by itself of solving all social problems, at least in principle. This exists alongside (d) an historicism which portrays history as a meaningless avalanche of particular wars, coronations, booms, recessions, and other one-off events; and (e) a positivist empiricism which starts from “facts” rather than “dogma”, that is, which takes the superficial facts of Western society, such as democracy and equality under the law, to be the fundamental reality.

Marxism, by contrast, recognises the existence of objective and historical forces, such as class struggle, capitalist competition, and the long term tendency for profit rates to fall. Such forces shape the life of all individuals and narrowly limit the options of ordinary people. They split humanity into warring camps. Neither reason nor humanistic appeals are enough to overcome them, for they have a dynamic of their own beyond the wishes of any individual or social group, including even ruling classes (hence we could still face a nuclear war, despite the collapse of the USSR). But these forces are not, like God, above conscious human intervention. People can remove them. The oppressed and exploited are driven to oppose capitalism, especially during economic or political crises. The working class has a central role to play in this resistance due to its size, organisation in the workplaces, and economic power. Usually workers fight blindly, accepting the world view provided by the bosses. But they can penetrate this deceptive appearance and understand capitalism, by applying reason and social theory to their own bitter experience of class struggle. Marxism’s notorious goal is to destroy capitalism through workers’ revolution. But this would also liberate humanity as a whole. Marxism is a form of humanism.

Like the liberal tradition, poststructuralism is not homogenous, but once again there are some central ideas: (a) irrationalism. Crucial aspects of social reality are beyond the reach of reason and can only be approached through metaphorical or intuitive thinking. Indeed, much of the tyranny in the modern world can be traced to the eighteenth century Enlightenment and its commitment to reason; (b) aggressive anti-materialism. It goes far beyond mainstream liberal-empiricism in questioning the objective material world, and our ability to know true things about such a world. For some poststructuralists the world is effectively limited to the collective “reality” of language. Others adopt a “perspectivism” which says that not just perceptions but reality and truth themselves are different for every person; (c) anti-humanism. It reduces the individual human subject to “an incoherent welter of sub- and trans-individual drives and desires”.[3] Taken to its logical conclusion, this denies any moral value or theoretical meaning to concepts like human freedom and. social liberation. Furthermore, the crucial objective forces at work in society – language for Derrida, the network of power/knowledge for Foucault – cannot, even in principle, be removed or transformed by conscious human intervention. Thus, despite all its criticisms and partial insights, the main political conclusions of poststructuralism are similar to those of liberalism. Both reject attempts to understand the world as a whole, or to use theory to penetrate the surface appearance of society. Both reject the entire project of emancipation through mass action.

Poststructuralism reflects the wider trend of postmodernism. This began within the arts, as a call to use of a variety of historical styles as well as material from mass culture. Whatever the value of its claims regarding art,[4] it has become a world view. Postmodernism once again denies that reality can be understood, depicted, or changed as a whole, or that people can ever create a free world. It is an aesthetic retreat into style and technique as ends in themselves; into appearances; into the local and the fragmentary; above all, into acceptance of the here and now. As one enthusiast, Henry S. Kariel, writes:

There’s no point in complaining, explaining, contradicting, blaming or fretting. There’s nothing to reverse: things can’t be otherwise. In the face of unequivocal experience, one’s language becomes uninflected, matter-of-fact, dry. What is absent in one’s accounts are expressions of indignation. One’s performances leave no room for the possibility that alternatives are available.[5]

The social base of poststructuralism

Big business, i.e. the bourgeoisie, rules partly through a large petty-bourgeois layer of middle-level managers, lawyers and so on. Similarly bourgeois ideology, which justifies capitalism or at least assumes its eternal existence, is usually articulated not by the top bosses themselves but through an army of petty-bourgeois intellectuals in the universities, private think tanks, in control of the media, etc. These people are not robots. From their privileged intermediate position they see many problems, criticise many things, and sometimes demand reforms. But their social position still blinkers them. Typically, they can never envisage a society beyond capitalism: a world without competition, chaos and inequality. postmodernism and poststructuralist philosophy were taken up in the late 1970s and 1980s chiefly by a section of the petty bourgeoisie, within the new middle class of highly paid, professional salaried employees. Alex Callinicos estimates this layer at 12 percent of the British working population, but “because of the social power its members exercise, and because of the cultural influence it exerts on other white collar workers who aspire to promotion into its ranks, the new middle class is a force to be reckoned with in every major Western society.” It is unlike the traditional middle class shopkeeper – “saving becomes much less important when social position comes to depend less on accumulated capital than on skill in negotiating a managerial hierarchy” – and has a different cultural impact.[6] In the late 1970s two influences converged upon this social layer. One was prosperity and easy finance, as ruling classes around the West redistributed income from the poor to the relatively rich. The other was the “political fallout from 1968.” Hopes for a better world had grown amidst the struggles against the Vietnam War, the rejection of Stalinism after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and in a series of protests by workers, students and the urban poor throughout the West. Ten and twenty years on, many of the student radicals of 1968 were in the new middle class, articulating the disillusionment of a much broader layer. Hence the postmodernist theme of comfortable cynicism and political quietude, as Marxism and optimistic liberalism both seem to have been played out. Hence also postmodernist “Aestheticism” which fitted so well with the cultural mood of the 1980s, “a decade obsessed with style” and encouraging “a narcissistic obsession with the body, both male and female, less as an object of desire than…an index of youth energy mobility”.[7]

So we can’t simply call poststructuralism the philosophy of the new middle class, without certain qualifications: firstly, poststructuralism and postmodernism required a certain historical setting to become popular. Secondly, the appeal of these ideas extends beyond its social base in yuppiedom. Thirdly, the theorists of poststructuralism don’t have to come from the new middle class, or consciously identify with it. Marx made the same point about the ideologists of the old petty bourgeoisie, who were by no means

all shopkeepers or enthusiastic champions of shopkeepers. According to their education and their individual position they may be as far apart as heaven and earth. What makes them representatives of the petty bourgeoisie is the fact that in their minds they do not get beyond the limits which the latter do not get beyond in life, that they are constantly driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions to which the material interest and social position drive the latter in practice. This is, in general, the relationship between the political and literary representatives of a class and the class they represent.[8]

Fourthly, the new middle class did not generate these ideas, which, far from illuminating a new “postmodern” society as is often claimed, go back to the period in which capitalism began to decline. Marxist philosophy rests upon early bourgeois philosophy, which tried to link advances in the natural sciences to the bourgeoisie’s ideological battles against feudal mysticism. But once the working class became the main opponent, bourgeois intellectuals could no longer integrate new discoveries into a systematic world view without crossing the boundary of bourgeois class interest. The bourgeois economist Ricardo’s insight that wealth derives from labour became an embarrassment. The bourgeois philosopher Hegel’s recognition that the world is governed by constant change, by violent contradiction, had obvious dangers. The notion of a world which could be understood from its own material premises, and which offered no hope of deliverance or escape through religion, could only encourage collective action for social change, amongst the lower orders. Ideas of freedom and human dignity could not be allowed to challenge private property, the sale of labour power, or capitalist competition, nor to rail too strongly against poverty and drudgery for the working masses. Consciously or unconsciously, bourgeois theorists veered away from an honest, clear, systematic portrayal of society. Poststructuralism has a place in this tradition.

Bourgeois philosophy has been overwhelmingly idealist, to escape the revolutionary implications of a consistent materialism. There are however many forms of idealism. Traditionally idealism meant philosophies which made ideas, thought, or “spirit” the moving forces of reality, the material world being either illusory or a secondary consequence of ideas. In such schemes, matter (including material social life) usually becomes merely a dependent variable, which does not react back in any serious fashion on ideas. Religion is the classic example: God creates and determines nature and society, without being crucially affected in turn by His creation. However idealism can be loosely extended to describe any system of thought which elevates some special force to a godlike status, ascribing to it the power to shape the world without being seriously influenced by its own products. There is for example the pure subjective idealism of absolute “free choice”, that starts from individual human subjects in abstraction from their material surroundings, and makes personality the world’s one driving force. On the other hand, objective idealism asserts some absolute “Reality”, not only outside the individual subject, but also more fundamental than the material world, or at least determining influence on .events. One type of objective idealism is Platonism. Using mathematical or logical models, Platonist thinkers have, in Sebastiano Timpanaro’s words, “defined science only as anti-empiricism, as pure theory, as the search for another reality truer than phenomenological appearances”.[9] Poststructuralism is a form of idealism.


Nietzsche was a German idealist philosopher writing in the late nineteenth century. His influence today lies mainly in his prophetic ability to capture the feeling of the modern world: the way that both society at large and also one’s inner life seem fragmented, chaotic and ambiguous. He writes of overcoming feelings of personal bewilderment and helplessness through a triumph of the will, contained within a philosophy integrating aesthetics, morality and psychology. He also provides the theoretical foundation for poststructuralism. “I am simply a Nietzschean” said Foucault;[10] Deleuze’s book on Nietzsche is almost entirely uncritical;[11] Derrida too acknowledges his influence.[12]

But whereas Foucault and Derrida have taken liberal stands on issues like prison reform and apartheid, Nietzsche was politically on the far right. Nietzsche says: “Such phantoms as the dignity of man, the dignity of labour are the shabby products of a slave mentality hiding from its own nature… Wretched the seducers who have deprived the slave of his innocence by means of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge!”[13] In 1871, Germany defeated France in war. But during that war the workers and National Guard of Paris rose in revolution, setting up the democratic workers’ republic of the Paris Commune. This terrified Europe’s bosses. The Commune was put down with the slaughter (after their surrender) of 20,000 workers and their families. Nietzsche declares:

Hope is possible again! Our German mission isn’t over yet! I’m in better spirit than ever, for not yet everything has capitulated to Franco-Jewish levelling… Over and above the war between nations that international hydra which suddenly raised its fearsome heads has alarmed us by heralding quite different battles to come.[14]

With its admonitions against rank, acquisitiveness and militarism, Christianity

is no more than the typical teaching of socialists… Behind all this there is the outburst, the explosion of a concentrated loathing of the “masters” – the instinct which discerns the happiness of freedom after such long oppression … (Mostly a symptom of the fact that the inferior classes have been treated too humanely.)[15]

Given the influence of poststructuralism upon some feminists, Nietzsche’s views here deserve special mention:

And finally, woman! One half of mankind is weak, chronically sick, changeable, shifty – woman requires strength in order to cleave to it…she makes the strong weak – she rules when she succeeds in overcoming the strong…

We take pleasure in women as in a perhaps daintier, more delicate, and more ethereal kind of creature. What a treat it is to meet creatures who have only dancing and nonsense and finery in their minds! They have always been the delight of every tense and profound male soul.[16]

Christopher Norris claims “a self-implicating irony” in Nietzsche’s attitude to women, highlighted by Derrida:

If woman is indeed the antithesis of truth, the very principle of unreason, then she can only be counted as an ally in Nietzsche’s crusade against the great system-building male philosophers, from Plato to Kant to Hegel… Thus Derrida can claim – “perversely” one might think, but as the upshot of a close exegesis – that Nietzsche is not only ambivalent in his attitude to woman but can even be read as a crypto-feminist resisting all attempts to bypass or sublimate the question of sexual difference.[17]

Not all feminists would accept such “defences”, even ones who endorse Nietzsche’s general methodology.[18] Nietzsche’s philosophy is designed to serve his political program. He launches an interlinked attack on materialism, reason and humanism, chiefly in order to challenge the moral value and practical possibility of socialism. Thus he denies the existence of any social or natural reality beyond surface appearances of nineteenth century German capitalism. “The ‘apparent’ world is the one and only: the ‘true world’ is only a mendacious gloss.”[19] He ties materialism to Christianity: his concept of the fictitious “Beyond” embraces the kingdom of God, a material world outside human sense-experience, and socialism.[20] Thus we cannot identify trends beneath the surface of society which might show us how to transform society. Social change takes place only within a closed cycle called “eternal recurrence”: there will he a return to barbarism and slavery but never equality[21] (a handy defence of privilege since the time of Aristotle).[22]

Collectivism is another illusion – at best a cynical and unstable by-product of individual competition. For at the heart of reality is an everlasting war of all against all: the “will to power”.

My idea is that every specific body strives to become master of all space, and to extend its power (its will to power), and to thrust back everything that resists it. But inasmuch as it is continually meeting the same endeavours on the part of other bodies, it concludes by coming to terms with those (by “combining” with those) which are sufficiently related to it – and thus they conspire together for power.[23]

The “herd” can never even reach a collective understanding of society, far less change it. For everyone is trapped within “perspectivity” (or “perspectivism”): everyone’s perception, and hence their reality and truth, are different. Reason, the Enlightenment’s great weapon for social change, is no good either. Truth and falsehood are indistinguishable. Logic does not allow us to grasp reality, because logic consists of static categories, whereas reality is fluid:

In order to be able to think and draw conclusions, it is necessary to acknowledge that which exists: logic only deals with formulae for things which are constant. That is why this acknowledgement would not in the least prove reality: “that which is” is part of our optics… The character of the world in the process of Becoming is not susceptible of formulation; it is “false” and “contradicts itself”.[24]

But none of this need paralyse the forces of right wing reaction. Indeed Nietzsche often calls for an assault of unbridled savagery against the workers’ movement,[25] and for an imperialist foreign policy.[26] The leaders of reaction do not hold their positions by proven moral authority: by advancing arguments about what to do, which are subject, first, to their followers’ democratic endorsement, and then to the test of practice. They operate by coercion and demagogy. Therefore they do not need the stable, internally consistent model of reality provided by materialism. They need only a pragmatic conception of reality, and that is what Nietzsche offers. Activity, says Nietzsche, does not just reveal, but actually creates truth: “We can only take cognisance of a world we ourselves have made”. One truth prevails over others only by dint of superior force behind it. And a belief may be pragmatically “life-preserving” and “still be false”.[27] Indeed, some false ideas are pragmatically necessary. “Truth is that kind of error without which a certain species of living beings cannot exist.”[28] Myth on the other hand has an operational value and is therefore real. The Goddess Eris “spurs even the inept to work…neighbour competes with neighbour in striving for prosperity… One potter will resent another, one carpenter the other, beggar envies beggar and singer envies singer”.[29] Nietzsche is careful not to clarify the sense in which such personages exist.[30]

For Nietzsche, the notion of the will to power also neatly solves an uncomfortable ambiguity in the concept of bourgeois individualism. For while this cuts against workers’ solidarity, it leads also into notions of personal worth, epitomised in the Protestant concept of conscience as everyone’s direct line to God. Such beliefs can only be a nuisance in the heads of “slaves”. So while the will to power elevates competition to a mystical status, it also denies recognition to individual needs for expression and creativity, of the dignity of individual personality stifled by capitalism. The human subject itself is “a fiction” – an incoherent bundle of drives and forces, “whose interaction and struggle lie at the bottom of our thought and our consciousness in general”.[31] Only a great will – a man of power or an artist,[32] or a nation[33] – can weave these threads together in an act of self-creation (justifying egoism in the privileged classes). Individuals in the “herd” cannot; they must be understood in totally separate terms to the “lords of the earth”.[34] Ditching personality as a general human characteristic, Nietzsche focuses on the body, “the richer, more distinct, and more tangible phenomenon”,[35] a later focus also for Foucault.

Structuralism and the role of language

Before poststructuralism came the structuralist school of the 1960s. Although Nietzsche’s influence on poststructuralism preceded this and was in many ways more fundamental,[36] structuralism established many terms and concepts used later. The key legacy of structuralism was an extreme emphasis on language, or models drawn from linguistics, in explaining society. Structuralism rests upon the theories of Ferdinand de Saussure, who founded structural linguistics early this century. Saussure stresses the difference between language and other aspects of society: “We are convinced”, he said, “that whoever sets foot on the ground of language is bereft of all the analogies of heaven and earth”.[37] Nevertheless, structural linguistics is applied to anthropology by Claude Lévi-Strauss (see below), to psychology by Jacques Lacan,[38] and hybridised with Stalinism by Louis Althusser.[39] Structuralism also prepared the ground for Derrida’s later assertion that “there is no outside-text”, that language is effectively the only reality. However Saussure himself never claims this. He points out that economic value, for instance, “is rooted in things and in their natural relations”.[40] To this extent, non-linguistic structuralism and also poststructuralism are built on shaky ground.

This is not to deny the shaping influence of language on society. We have to reject the traditional, individualist, passive conception of language formulated by John Locke. In this, “meaning is held to consist in the entity outside language to which it refers…ideas are the signs of things and words the signs of ideas…the subject ascribes meanings to words and ensures their correct usage” in a stable framework.[41] Ultimately this depends upon the existence of God, who establishes external meanings and equips the human subject to identify them.[42] Karl Marx has a different conception. Marx recognises, firstly, that the material world is not passively reflected within language; he learnt from thinkers like Herder that language, simply by capturing and housing information from external reality, also influences and alters that information within our minds.[43] Empiricists such as Locke do not recognise this interpenetration of form and content: thought and language for them are nothing but “phantoms of the material world more or less divested of its sensuous form”.[44] Secondly, Marx sees that this role for human beings in the construction of linguistic meaning is essentially social not individual.[45] Language provides a social framework in which individuals come to grips with the world around them. So it plays a political role. It embodies and inculcates the dominant attitudes within society. One obvious example is the wealth of derogatory terms for women who step outside their allotted social role, compared to those for men. But language is also a forum for struggle, hence the battle fought over the last two decades to eliminate sexist terminology. Like Marx, Saussure recognises that language is more than a naming-process, a nomenclature, and that there are no self-evident associations between external things and ideas and words. And Saussure too recognises that meaning is constructed socially. However in opposing empiricist individualism he veers towards an objective Platonist idealism that tends to ascribe to language its own system of meaning utterly separate from the rest of the world, so that language becomes “no longer a means for communicating experiences or volition, but simply a system closed into itself, basking in its own internal coherence, “like a game of chess”.[46]

The anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss was perhaps the most important representative of non-linguistic structuralism in the 1960s. His early work is well known for its hostility to Eurocentric racism, for which the “progress” of a society means its degree of similarity to modern Western capitalism. In Structural Anthropology, he rebuts the crude analogy between cultural development and biological evolution used to support Eurocentrism.[47] But he also argues against the importance of social evolution in any form. Thus he says: “The historical validity of the naturalist’s reconstructions is guaranteed, in the final analysis, by the biological link of reproduction. An ax, on the contrary, does not generate another ax”.[48] And elsewhere:

What is true of material objects…is even more true of institutions, beliefs and customs, whose past history is generally a closed book to us… The concept of social or cultural evolution offers at best a tempting, but suspiciously convenient method of presenting facts.[49]

Timpanaro rightly ridicules this “grotesque” argument, “designed to oppose all historical development”. Since bourgeois society was not sexually engendered by feudalism, “nor was Lenin the son of Marx and Engels in a material sense”, one would have to conclude that there was no derivational relationship between them”.[50] For Marxists, phenomena like the Christian Church, women’s oppression, and German Nazism are irreducibly historical, undergoing qualitative changes over time as part of the wider society. For Lévi-Strauss on the other hand, a “detailed history” of any phenomena is needed precisely to remove those surface phenomena which constitute historical change from the essential, ahistorical truth beneath. “By showing institutions in the process of transformation, history alone makes it possible to abstract the structure which underlies the many manifestations and remains permanent throughout a succession of events.” This structure is a matrix of collective unconscious thought. (“Unconscious” here bears little relationship to Freud’s concept.) It is applied not just to language but to the understanding of “the kinship system, political ideology, mythology, ritual, art, code of etiquette, and – why not? –cooking.”[51] It is valid across times and cultures.

If, as we believe to be the case, the unconscious activity of the mind consists in imposing forms upon content, and if these forms are the same for all minds – ancient and modern, primitive and civilised (as the study of the symbolic function, expressed in language, so strikingly indicates) – it is necessary and sufficient to grasp the unconscious structure underlying each institution and each custom, in order to obtain a principle of interpretation valid for other institutions and other customs, provided of course that the analysis is carried far enough.[52]

Lévi-Strauss seems to identify this mystical collective unconscious with the economic base of society. “Economic history is, by and large, the history of unconscious processes.”[53] Whereas the Marxist concept of economic base is profoundly historical, Lévi-Strauss’ underlying matrix of unconscious thought is, as we have seen, ahistorical. Or is it? At times he describes it itself as an agent of social change:

With surprising rapidity – which shows that one is dealing with an intrinsic property of certain modes of thinking and action – collective thought assimilates what would seem the most daring concepts, such as the priority of mother-right, animism, or, more recently, psychoanalysis, in order to resolve automatically problems which by their nature seem forever to elude action as well as thought.[54]

In doing this he is drawing (although only when convenient) from a later school of structural linguistics.[55] In any case, conscious human intervention in society is ruled out. Thus there can be no collective self-liberation; anyway, liberation from what? Things are as they are because, unconsciously, we (or “society”) want them that way. Women’s fashion, for example

actually is, in the highest degree, a phenomenon that depends on the unconscious activity of the mind…this seemingly arbitrary evolution follows definite laws. These laws cannot be reached by purely empirical observation, or by intuitive consideration of phenomena, but result from measuring some basic relationships between the various elements of costume.[56]

Lévi-Strauss’s theory, then, is a form of objective idealism, proposing an underlying, godlike Reality in society which shapes us and is unaffected by anything humans consciously decide to do. Lévi-Strauss also strays into irrationalism. In one of his books on myth, The Raw and the Cooked, he talks of “the search for a middle way between aesthetic perception and the exercise of logical thought” and tells us that Richard Wagner – the nineteenth century composer and irrationalist ideologue – is “the undeniable originator of the structural analysis of myths”. He praises “Wagner’s discovery that the structure of myths can be revealed through a musical score”.[57] He even says of Raw and Cooked: “‘it would not be wrong to consider this book itself as a myth (in the unlikely event we had not already surmised as much).[58] Dews describes the advent of poststructuralism in the late 1960s as both a reassertion of philosophy over science, and a trend towards the Nietzschean themes of uncertainty and self-questioning of theory.[59] It certainly meant a new emphasis on disorder and fragmentation. Indirectly this reflected the growing social turbulence of the times. The two outstanding figures of poststructuralism[60] are Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.

Michel Foucault

Foucault’s output spanned the structuralist and poststructuralist periods. He was a scholar who left us with a wealth of historical research. Unfortunately, neither his theories nor his methodology match his learning. The Order of Things, which outlines the theory and method of Foucault’s structuralist period, suffered a devastating criticism from the psychologist Jean Piaget.[61] But it is the poststructuralist Foucault who has become such a guru. He replaces structuralism’s “great model of language and signs” with Nietzsche’s theme “of war and battle”.[62] Nietzsche’s will to power becomes “power/knowledge” coupled with the equally timeless, abstract, mystified “resistance”. Again, the fragmentation and chaos of market competition is universalised and eternalised into an absolute Reality underlying all things. Power

is exercised from innumerable points, in the interplay of non-egalitarian and mobile relations. Relations of power are not in a position of exteriority with respect to other types of relationships (economic processes, knowledge relationships, sexual relations) but are immanent in the latter…there is no binary and all-encompassing opposition between rulers and ruled… One must rather suppose that the manifold relationships of force that take shape and come into play in the machinery of production, in families, limited groups and institutions are the basis of wide-ranging effects of cleavage that run through the social body as a whole. These then form a general line of force that traverses the local lines of force and link them together.[63]

Today, “power” is probably the most common term used to explain social relationships. The argument that capitalism causes racial and sexual oppression and pervades personal relationships is often dismissed as doctrinaire, whereas “power” seems able to explain both small and large scale social phenomena. Yet Foucault’s concept of power does not explain society. It cannot explain the total, systematic nature of capitalism, a point covered in part one of this article. And it makes no distinction between the agents and victims of oppression. It implies that the black teenager and white cop in Soweto, a white businessman and child prostitute in the Philippines, are all playing the same game; only the amount of their power differs. Of course, these differences in relative social advantage provide ample reason in themselves to protest against apartheid or special flights to Asian brothels. But under this lies another problem: can we end persecution and inequality as such? If “force relations” are central to human interaction, equality would be at best a rare and unstable situation. Can we at least reform away some current inequalities? Foucault says he does not mean to suggest “an inescapable form of domination or an absolute privilege on the side of the law”. So how can we change things? He has “hypotheses which will need exploring”, none of which outline even in the most general terms, a plan of action.[64] Elsewhere he suggests that we can change society by gaining knowledge: ‘‘power and knowledge directly imply one another”.[65] And “power is tolerable only on condition that it mask a substantial part of itself. Its success is proportional to its ability to hide its own mechanisms.”[66] But while knowing our enemy is valuable, it is difficult to see how knowledge is “constituted”, except in the crudest sense, by the truncheons and guns of police, or by large scale ownership of capital. Perhaps the preeminent role Foucault gives “knowledge” stems from his place in the academic milieu, where he bas been best received.

But the most reactionary implication of “power/knowledge” is to attack any challenge to the capitalist system as a whole on the theoretical level. Since knowledge is power, and everyone is always trying to dominate each other, Marxism’s presentation of the world as a totality can only be a grab for totalitarian power, in which we try to control everyone’s thinking within our own “discourse”.[67] In fact the struggle which really excites Foucault is against “the coercion of a theoretical unitary, formal and scientific discourse”. His alternative to Marxism is localism, the motto of the petty-bourgeois intellectual since Proudhon: “a reactivation of local knowledges – of minor knowledges, as Deleuze calls them – in opposition to the scientific hierarchisation of knowledges and the effects intrinsic to their power”.[68]

Foucault denies that resistance to this power can ever be an initiative by human beings, a conscious reaction back on their conditions. Resistance is no more than the operation of an objective law as in physics: “Where there is power, there is resistance”.[69] Workers on strike, women marching against rape, are being moved like chess pieces by power and resistance – which are very like God and devil, in interchangeable roles. This fits with Foucault’s attack on humanism and subjectivity, for which he became famous in his structuralist phase but which continues into his poststructuralist period. “Man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end.” If “the fundamental arrangements of knowledge” were “to crumble, as the ground of classical thought did, at the end of the eighteenth century, then one can certainly wager that man would be erased, like a face drawn in the sand at the edge of the sea”.[70] With this goes a dismissal of human nature, insofar as this involves any desire for freedom. He endorses Nietzsche’s claim that “the concept of liberty is an “invention of ruling classes” and not fundamental to man’s nature”[71] Socialists at the turn of the century “dreamed of an ultimately liberated human nature. What model did they use to conceive, project and eventually realise that human nature? It was in fact the bourgeois model”.[72] Yet in his final works, he retreats from the objectivist notion of power. The attack on subjectivity too goes out the window. “Characteristically, just as he had in the mid-1970s denied that he had ever been concerned with language, Foucault now played down the question of power: ‘I am very far from being a theoretician of power. At the very limit, I would say that power, as an autonomous question, does not interest me’,.”[73] Foucault now investigates

a group of practices which have been of unquestionable importance in our societies…those intentional and voluntary actions by which men not only set themselves rules of conduct, but also seek to transform themselves, to change themselves in their singular being, and to make their life into an oeuvre that carries certain aesthetic values and meets certain stylistic criteria.[74]

It is not hard to recognise yet another rehash of Nietzsche: the Nietzsche who is talking not about the dehumanised “herd” who will always lack inner coherence and subjectivity, but rather select individuals, for whom life is “a craft which must be learned from the ground up”.[75] Foucault’s elitism is not so brash. “Couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art?” he asks.[76] But Foucault is probably thinking of a restricted social layer. “To invite a hospital porter in Birmingham, a car-worker in São Paulo, a social security clerk in Chicago or a street child in Bombay to make a work of art of their lives would be an insult – unless linked to precisely the kind of strategy for global social change which…poststructuralism rejects.”[77]

Foucault’s most famous application of his ideas is to sexuality. Foucault does not accept any underlying, long term aspects of sexuality except the human body and sensations of pleasure.[78] He therefore mocks the Marxist notion of sexual liberation – a religious deliverance.

Something that smacks of revolt, of promised freedom…slips easily into this discourse on sexual oppression. Some of the ancient functions of prophecy are reactivated therein. Tomorrow sex will be good again. Because this repression is affirmed, we can discreetly bring into coexistence concepts which the fear of ridicule or the bitterness of history prevents most of us from putting side by side: revolution and happiness.[79]

Sexuality, as anything more than bodily pleasure, is really a “great surface network” of shifting force relations, created blindly on a social scale as individuals seek power over each other by gaining knowledge of them. Foucault does not entirely discount the role of capitalism in shaping sexuality. He allows, for example, that periods of rapid capital accumulation may create puritanical values. But this is of secondary importance compared to the fact that various sorts of people and institutions have actively cultivated the discussion (or “discourse”) of sexual behaviour to increase their own power. So from the Victorian era onward parents and teachers have interrogated children about masturbation; doctors and psychiatrists invented notions of perversion and female hysteria. In this way power creates personality, i.e. “men’s subjection: their constitution as subjects in both senses of the word”.[80]

In response, it can be argued that sexuality is integral to our human nature.[81] In sexuality there is the same drive to express an inner potential, the same impetus for variety and development, the same need for other human beings, who constitute, as Marx says, our inner wealth.[82] Sexual fulfillment is limited without meaningful all-roundedly human interaction with others. To be sexual is to be human. And to be human is to be sexual. Sexuality is not simply a desire for intercourse between physically mature adults. Freud revealed that sexuality was far more deep and generalised part of the human make-up. People are sexual at the ages of 5 and 85. Thus the Oedipus complex, in which the male child feels a rivalry with the father for the mother’s affection, is sexual. But Freud also came to recognise that the female child’s first sexual attachment is also to the mother and only later is it transferred, in most cases, to males. So sexuality is an extremely vague impulse. We are born sexual, but we are not born heterosexual, monogamous, sadistic, “feminine”, etc; such things are socially constructed.

Alienated society, which is not consciously controlled by the human beings within it, makes our sexuality contradictory, in a way that Foucault’s theory does not allow for. To take the above mentioned example: capitalist societies in the process of rapid industrialisation are characteristically puritanical, for example England of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, Stalinist Russia and Maoist China. The ruling classes of these societies are compelled for economic reasons to preach self-sacrifice and abstention from most pleasures including sex. What the ruling classes preach seems to fit with the harsh life experience of people in these societies (though of course puritanical attitudes to sex are far from absent today). These values are not simply imposed by laws and the Church or bureaucracy: because personality is formed amidst society, people internalise these values. Yet these clash with our natural human needs for variety and sociality; disapproved sexual behaviour like masturbation and promiscuity usually goes with anguish and humiliation and guilt.

Women’s sexual oppression (given remarkably little attention in Foucault’s three-volume work) is another expression of alienation, and so is the oppression of lesbians and gays. It is important to distinguish the concepts of alienation – human beings’ loss of control over the world they have created – and oppression, i.e. the systematic discrimination against and persecution of particular groups. Heterosexual men as such are not oppressed, but are alienated. For women and gays, on the other hand, alienation and oppression tend to converge in terms of their implications: public silence or hostility towards their own sexuality, except in terms of women’s sexual appeal to men. But the alienation of heterosexual men shows that they do not truly benefit as human beings from women’s oppression. If woman is “merely a cook, a maid and a whore for man, their relation only satisfies his dehumanised animal needs”.[83] Marx insisted that the general relationship established between men and women in a society is a yardstick for its whole level of cultural development.


Jacques Derrida does not share Foucault’s notion of power/knowledge. Derrida remains within the framework of language and signs that characterised structuralism, but emphasises ambiguity and doubt about all knowledge. Derrida says he is a materialist . But this, he says, has nothing to do with “thing, reality, presence in general, sensible presence, for example, substantial plenitude, content, referent etc.” – i.e. matter.[84] To Derrida the “signified” (i.e. the material world) is “transcendental”, or “metaphysical”, just as it was for Nietzsche.

And like Nietzsche he conveniently equates the genuinely materialist notion of a definitely existing world of matter with the crudest version of empiricism, that says we have direct, immediate access to this world through our sensory/mental apparatus.[85] This direct access he refers to as “presence”. Writing breaks down the illusion of presence, because words are marked down separately in physical space and require time to read: the “exteriority of inscriptions to each other means that they can never be recaptured by presence and reduced to its inner unity”. Only in one sense does he accept the term presence, as an alternate pole to “absence”: Derrida reminds us that within structural linguistics, meaning was in a sense both present and absent within a word, that is, meaning was based on the differences between words within the total system of langue.[86] For Saussure this difference “necessarily involves the soldering together of presence and absence”. Meaning consists of the movement or “play”, between these poles: “play must be conceived of before the alternative of presence and absence”. This in turn leads Derrida to his concept of differance (with an “a”). This term

combines the meanings of the two verbs “to differ” and “to defer”. It affirms, first, the priority of play and difference over presence and absence, and secondly, the necessity within difference of a relation to presence, a presence always deferred (into the future or past) but nevertheless constantly invoked.[87]

As Dews says, “Derrida is offering us a philosophy of differance as the absolute”.[88] It is not hard to recognise in Derrida’s work a variant of the objective idealism evident in Nietzsche and Lévi-Strauss. Derrida too is telling us of a Reality truer than reality, consisting of a pattern of very abstract relationships between things. Marxism follows Hegelianism in arguing that matter always interacts reciprocally with other matter. Everything exists in contrast to and interaction with other things.[89] Derrida isolates the interactiveness and reciprocity of matter as if it was something different to and more basic than the material world. For him this system of relationships is centred around writing, or rather Writing, which is independent of human agency. “In the absence of all signifieds, language takes on its own kind of energy and creativity, quite apart from any subjective energy or creativity on the part of individual writers or readers.”[90]

This self-active Reality of writing is radically ambiguous. Now it is of course true that words and texts can be ambiguous. Freud pointed out that the earliest known words contained opposite meanings, which he explained in materialist terms as an expression of unconscious thought;[91] and of course the material context in which something is written or read will alter its meaning. However this is not Derrida’s argument. Derrida has in mind something closer to (but still not the same as) artistic symbolism, which evokes different things to different people. Derrida notes the case of the Greek word “pharmakon”, which means either poison or cure. Plato, in a passage on the topic of writing itself, uses the term “pharmakon” to mean “poison”, but from its alternative meaning Derrida claims to construct a different significance to Plato’s entire text. “According to Derrida, the Greek language is saying through Plato’s text two quite divergent things about writing, simultaneously and undecidably. What’s more, Derrida’s reading of ‘pharmakon’ extends into even more remote and derivative meanings.[92] Meaning, in fact, is as potentially endless as the interconnections of language itself.[93]

Hence Derrida’s notion of “deconstruction”. This according to Christopher Norris is “the dismantling of conceptual oppositions…the vigilant seeking-out of those ‘aporias’, blind spots or moments of self-contradiction where a text involuntarily betrays the tension between rhetoric and logic, between what it manifestly means to say and what it is nonetheless constrained to mean”.[94] Deconstruction can be contrasted to the Hegelian and Marxist concept of “immanent critique”: that is, the examination of a proposition within its own terms, without introducing any beliefs external to the proposition itself, and the attempt to identify internal contradictions and see where these lead the argument.[95] Derrida talks at times of deconstruction in vaguely similar terms.[96] But essentially deconstruction is not about logical contradiction but about the identification of metaphor, such as Plato’s metaphor of writing itself as poison. It is a metaphor such as this – and he says they underlie all writing – that “disrupts the very logic of self-identity, that opens up a play of semantic substitutions beyond all hope of assured conceptual grasp… ‘Metaphoricity is the logic of contamination and the contamination of logic’.”[97]

Writing, the heart of Reality, is not only the written word. In its manifestation as “arche-writing”, it is what Harland calls “a fundamental script or hieroglyphics written upon the matter of the brain”, which Derrida links to Freud’s concept of neurological pathways. But Derrida also links it, for example, to “the path carved out by the Nambikawara Indians. As described by Lévi-Strauss, this is a path cutting through the natural forest of the Nambikawara territory; as discussed by Derrida, it is therefore a trace and a sign.” We are not talking here about “natural signs”, for example the fact that such a path “points to the past passage of a number of people” for this still suggests “some particular positive (i.e. material) presence”. Rather Derrida is equating within “writing” what we usually separate into thought and the external material world – and all of it is radically ambiguous.[98] With Derrida we’ve wandered deep into the woods of irrationalism. Predictably, Writing also replaces the human subject. Consciousness (at least in the ordinary sense) is an illusion, a ghostly presence like the signified.[99] Derrida’s philosophy does not provide a basis for his left-liberal politics: he is unable rationally to ground his political ideas because he “denies himself the means either to analyse those existing social arrangements which he rejects or to justify this rejection by outlining some more desirable state of affairs.”[100] For example, opposition to apartheid should remain silent. Derrida says: “A discourse would compel us to reckon with the present state of force and law. It would draw up contracts, dialecticise itself, let itself be reappropriated”.[101] In other words to articulate your opposition would mean using the “discourse” developed by European racism; anything beyond this presently existing discourse is non-existent or unknowable; it will only emerge from the mysterious inner development of Writing itself, like a revelation from God.


Liberation is the concept that draws the line most clearly between Marxism and poststructuralism. The former says humanity can free itself by reaching a conscious, collective understanding and control of its situation. At best, poststructuralism allows only for localised protests and minor reforms. The social base of poststructuralism in the new middle class, the rise of its popularity precisely at a time of retreat for social protest and workers’ activity, and its philosophical antecedents, all mark it out as an essentially pro-capitalist ideology. In reply, we must defend a revolutionary humanism. This involves defending a certain concept of subjectivity. Human beings are instigators of action, whose conscious acts can, in certain circumstances, transform objective forces and structures in society. And the content of the human personality cannot be reduced to sub- and trans-individual structures. Notions of subjectivity acquired importance with the rise of capitalist commodity production.[102] At the same time, capitalism in a contradictory way suppresses subjectivity, in the sense of either self-activity or personal life. This was a major part of Marx’s moral critique of capitalism, which has “resolved personal worth into exchange value”.[103] Bourgeois ideologists tend to reflect one or other side of this objective contradiction, either exaggerating the role of subjectivity or denying it altogether. In response to both, we must reassert Marx’s vision of communism as “an association, in which the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all”.[104] We must also defend reason as the means by which workers can grasp and transform social reality. For example, the limits of formal logic[105] do not make it absolutely wrong, and do not collapse the distinction between truth and falsity, as Nietzsche claimed. Formal logic, the normal tool we use in conceptualising reality, does allow an approximate grasp of the truth. And as Trotsky says, dialectical logic can take us further.

Consciousness splits nature in to fixed categories and in this way enters into contradiction with reality. Dialectics overcomes this contradiction – gradually and piecemeal – bringing consciousness nearer to the world’s reality.[106]

In poststructuralism’s challenge to humanism and reason, the themes of fragmentation and ambiguity continually reappear. Freud takes up these same themes. Now many Marxists dismiss Freud’s work as simply more bourgeois ideology, since it disregards the changing epochs of class society.[107] There are certainly weaknesses in his theories, such as his implicit assumption that the family, and women’s subordination, are eternal. But major parts of his work can be integrated into Marxism. Freud is not an irrationalist. He takes it for granted that although the unconscious mind does not operate logically,[108] its workings may be gradually revealed by use of reason. And his basic model is consistent with materialism.[109] He stresses the use of empirical observation to ground his theories[110] and does not try to depict some absolute, underlying reality beyond matter. Consequently, the Freudian notion of the unconscious is not counterposed to the possibility of collective self-emancipation. It is unlike Lévi-Strauss’s conception of the unconscious: Freud’s theory does not rely on the claim that society is structured by people’s unconscious minds, working in a mysterious, collective manner. For Freud, the unconscious is an inner world within each individual; the conscious mind is the crucial mediator within external reality.[111]

The Marxist tradition can explain one reason why people experience a sense of inner fragmentation: class society alienates people. It cuts them off from the products of their labour, from their own labouring activity, and from other individuals and from society as a whole. This also fragments them: it cuts them off from aspects of themselves, from their human nature. Alienation as a product of class society can be removed with it. Freud, by contrast, describes a quite different “fragmentation” within human beings. Freud divides the mind into the conscious, preconscious and unconscious. The unconscious is itself internally diverse and uncoordinated. Freud later introduced the categories of “id” (uncoordinated instincts), “ego” (the “organised realistic part”) and the moral censoring “ superego.[112] But Freud argues that people may overcome this fragmentation, insofar as it interferes with our conscious control over our lives: impulses which intrude upon our conscious direction of our lives can be brought into conscious awareness, resolved, and allowed to disappear.[113]

The Marxist tradition can also explain the existence of ambiguity in human thinking in a way which does not challenge the central role of reason. At the most general level, ambiguity is a reflection of the contradictory nature of reality itself.[114] In another sense, ambiguity is a product of capitalism. Marx refers to the “everlasting uncertainty and agitation” bred by capitalism, and the “uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions”.[115] He also points out the “fetish character of the commodity”, which invests it with apparent meanings beyond its use and physical properties.[116] All this again reflects the fact that capitalist production is outside the control of workers. In a third sense, however, ambiguity is rooted deeply within unconscious human thinking, and Freud has again offered an explanation of this without recourse to irrationalism. He makes this argument in his study of dreams:

It is in fact never possible to be sure that a dream has been completely interpreted. Even if the solution seems satisfactory and without gaps, the possibility always remains that the dream may have yet another meaning. The alternative “either-or” cannot be expressed in dreams in any way whatever… The way in which dreams treat the category of contraries and contradictories is highly remarkable. It is simply disregarded.[117]

Freud noted the importance of this in artistic production.[118] It is especially emphasised in Modernist art, and has entered into the modern intellectual world view. None of this is a problem for Marxism. But ambiguity is not, as poststructuralism claims, the centre of reality and thought. Such a claim can only work against political progress. A Nazi pamphlet organising a time and place for a pogrom may contain any number of metaphors and “artistic” ambiguities; it still requires a realist response. And while poststructuralism may follow Nietzsche in taking a pragmatic view of reality, a movement to liberate society as a whole needs a firm comprehensive and general understanding of what it seeks to transform.

[1] Kant, Adorno and Heidegger are now said to be in vogue. See Peter Dews, Logics of Disintegration, Verso 1987, pages xii-xiii.

[2] See for example John Hinkson, “Marxism, postmodernism and politics today, in Arena, 94, Autumn 1991.

[3] Alex Callinicos, Against Postmodernism, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1989, p2.

[4] See ibid., pp12-25.

[5] Henry S Kariel, The Desperate Politics of Postmodernism, University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 1989, pp118-9.

[6] Callinicos, Against Postmodernism, p163.

[7] ibid., p168.

[8] Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Peking, 1978, pp46-7.

[9] Sebastiano Timpanaro, On Materialism, New Left Books, 1975, pp186-7.

[10] Quoted in Callinicos, Against Postmodernism, p68.

[11] Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, Columbia, New York, 1983.

[12] Jacques Derrida, “The Ends of Man,” in Margins of Philosophy, University of Chicago Press, 1982.

[13] Quoted in Georg Lukács, The Destruction of Reason, The Merlin Press, London, 1952, p327.

[14] ibid.

[15] Nietzsche, The Will to Power, T.N. Foulis, London, 1910, Volume One, 209. (Since Nietzsche’s book consists of epigrams ordered by numbered points, which remain the same between different editions, these numbers are given rather than page references.)

[16] ibid., 864, 943.

[17] Christopher Norris, Derrida, Fontana, London, 1987, pp202-3.

[18] See for example M.E. Hawksworth, Beyond Oppression, Continuum, New York 1990, p34.

[19] Quoted in Lukács, The Destruction of Reason, p387.

[20] ibid., p385.

[21] ibid., p391.

[22] István Mészáros, Marx’s Theory of Alienation, Merlin, London, 1970, p38.

[23] Nietzsche, The Will to Power, 636.

[24] ibid., 477, 517.

[25] Lukács, The Destruction of Reason, pp337-8, 348-9, 351.

[26] ibid., p340.

[27] Nietzsche, The Will to Power, 483, 495.

[28] ibid., 493, 520.

[29] Quoted in Lukács, The Destruction of Reason, p328.

[30] ibid., p360.

[31] Nietzsche, The Will to Power, 485, 490.

[32] Callinicos, Against Postmodernism, p67.

[33] Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, Cambridge University Press, 1983, p81-3.

[34] Lukács, The Destruction of Reason, pp354-5, 366.

[35] Nietzsche, The Will to Power, 489.

[36] Dews, Logics of Disintegration, p2.

[37] Quoted in Timpanaro, On Materialism, pp157-8.

[38] See for example Dews, chapters 2-3.

[39] For accounts of Althusser see Chris Harman, “Philosophy and Revolution”, International Socialism, 2:21, Autumn 1983; also Timpanaro, On Materialism, pp192-6.

[40] Quoted in Timpanaro, On Materialism, p157.

[41] Alex Callinicos, Is there a Future for Marxism?, McMillan, 1982, p26.

[42] John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Collins and Sons, Glasgow, 1964, p256.

[43] See for example C. Taylor, Hegel, Cambridge University Press, 1975, pp13-27.

[44] Marx, quoted by Peter Binns, International Socialism, 2:17, Autumn 1982, p121, footnote 6.

[45] Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German ldeology, chapter 1, Progress Publishers, Moscow, pp39-40.

[46] Timpanaro, On Materialism, pp145, 147, 151.

[47] Claude Lévi-Strauss, StructuraI Anthropology, Basic Books, New York, 1963, pp3-5.

[48] ibid., p4.

[49] Quoted in Timpanaro, On Materialism, p180.

[50] ibid., p180.

[51] Lévi-Strauss, StructuraI Anthropology, p85.

[52] ibid., p21.

[53] ibid., p23.

[54] ibid., p19. This also explains why kinship, so central a concept for Lévi-Strauss, has so little role in the modern West. “The kinship system is a language; but it is not a universal language, and a society may prefer other modes of expression and action.”, p47. See also p63.

[55] Timpanaro, On Materialism, p177.

[56] Lévi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology, p59.

[57] Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked, Jonathan Cape, London, 1970, pp13-15.

[58] Timpanaro, On Materialism, p173.

[59] Dews, Logics of Disintegration, pp1-2.

[60] Jean Baudrillard is discussed by Callinicos in Against Postmodernism, p144-54. For Jean-Francois Lyotard see Dews, chapter 4 and Callinicos, Against Postmodernism.

[61] Jean Piaget, Structuralism, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1971, pp128-35.

[62] Quoted in Callinicos, Against Postmodernism, p81.

[63] Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, Penguin, 1981, p94.

[64] Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, Harvester, 1980, pp141-2.

[65] Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, Penguin, 1979, p27.

[66] Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, p86.

[67] Mark Poster, Foucault, Marxism and History, Polity Press, 1984, p59.

[68] Foucault, Power/Knowledge, p85.

[69] Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, p95.

[70] Alex Callinicos, ls there a Future for Marxism?, p42.

[71] Quoted in Paul Rabinow (ed.), The Foucault Reader, Pantheon, 1984, pp78-9.

[72] Quoted in F. Elders (ed.), Reflexive Water, Souvenir Press, 1974, p174. See the discussion of human nature in part one of this article, and the section on alienation above.

[73] Quoted in Callinicos, Against Postmodernism, p88.

[74] Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 2: The Uses of Pleasure, Viking (Penguin), 1984, p10-11.

[75] Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, p118.

[76] Quoted in Callinicos, Against Postmodernism, p89.

[77] ibid., p91.

[78] Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, pp145, 157.

[79] ibid., p7.

[80] ibid.,p60.

[81] See part one of this article in Socialist Review, 3, Melbourne, Summer 1990.

[82] Norman Geras, Marx and Human Nature, Verso 1983, p76.

[83] Mészáros, Marx’s Theory of Alienation, p185.

[84] Quoted in Richard Harland, Superstructuralism, Methuen, London, pp146-7.

[85] Callinicos, Is there a Future for Marxism?, p43.

[86] ibid., p29.

[87] ibid., pp44-6.

[88] Dews, Logics of Disintegration, p24.

[89] See Charles Taylor, Hegel, Cambridge University Press, 1975, p235. This notion is also a ground rule of Engels’ Dialectics of Nature.

[90] Harland, Superstructuralism, p135. See also Dews, Logics of Disintegration, p9, on dead languages.

[91] Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, Penguin, 1976, footnote, p430.

[92] Harland, Superstructuralism, p132.

[93] Dews, Logics of Disintegration, p13.

[94] Norris, Derrida, p19.

[95] Taylor, Hegel, p129 and chapter 4.

[96] Norris, Derrida, pp24-5.

[97] ibid., pp38-9.

[98] Harland, Superstructuralism, pp142-3, 149, 152.

[99] ibid., p146.

[100] Callinicos, Against Postmodernism, p79.

[101] ibid., p78.

[102] Eli Zaretsky, Capitalism, the Family, and Personal Life, Pluto Press, London, 1976, p43.

[103] Karl Marx, Manifesto of the Communist Party, Peking, 1970, p34.

[104] Marx, Manifesto, p59.

[105] The three basic laws of formal logic state that a thing is always equal to itself and remains the same thing under all conditions; that a thing cannot contradict itself, i.e. be different to what it is; and a thing must be one of two mutually exclusive categories. These laws apply to many aspects of reality but not all. They cannot, as Nietzsche points out, encapsulate qualitative changes over time in the nature of a thing. A handy summary of this topic is contained in George Novack, An Introduction to the Logic of Marxism, Pathfinder Press, 1971, pp20-26.

[106] Trotsky’s Notebooks 1933-35, Columbia University Press, New York, 1986, pp99-102.

[107] See, however, Andy Wilson’s defence of Freud in Socialist Worker Review, 144, July/August 1991, pp30-31.

[108] Logical relations exist between the elements of the unconscious mind in altered form. The Interpretation of Dreams, pp422-34.

[109] See Trotsky’s Notebooks, p106.

[110] Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Allen and Unwin, 1949, p208.

[111] Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, p777.

[112] ibid., pp22-3, 777.

[113] ibid., p174. See also p734, and Callinicos, Against Postmodernism, p149.

[114] See George Novack , Polemics in Marxist Philosophy, Pathfinder Press, New York, 1978, pp63-6.

[115] Marx, Manifesto, pp34-5.

[116] Marx, Capital, Volume 1, Progress Publishers, Moscow, pp76-87. See also Callinicos, Against Postmodernism, p149.

[117] Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, pp113, 383, 427, 429.

[118] ibid., p177.

Post-structuralism: A marxist alternative

In part one of a two-part series, Tony Sullivan draws on Hegel and Lukacs to defend the crucial concepts of historical materialism, labour and truth against the post-structuralists.

Engels after Marx: A (critical) defence

Darren Roso enters the debate on Engels’ contribution to the Second International after the death of Marx.

Daniel Bensaïd and “the last generation of October”

Darren Roso on the political activity and theoretical concerns of an important figure on the French far left from the mid-1960s until his death in January 2010.