Reading Capital. Louis Althusser, Étienne Balibar 1968

Foreword to the Italian Edition

1. This edition of Reading Capital differs from the first edition (Lire le Capital, Vols. I and II, Maspero, Paris 1965) in several respects.

On the one hand, it is an abridged edition, since we have omitted a number of important contributions (the papers of Rancière, Macherey and Establet) in order to allow the book to be published in a smaller format.

On the other, it is a revised and corrected edition, and therefore in part a new edition: several pages, notably in Balibar’s text, were published in French for the first time in this edition.

However, the corrections (cuts and additions) we have made to the original text concern neither the terminology nor the categories and concepts used, nor their internal relations, nor in consequence the general interpretation of Marx’s work that we have given.

This edition of Reading Capital, although different from the first, and abridged and improved, therefore strictly reproduces and represents the theoretical positions of the original text.

2. This last comment was a necessary one. Indeed, out of respect to the reader and simple honesty, we have maintained an integral respect for the terminology and the philosophical positions of the first edition, although we should now find it indispensable to correct them at two particular points. Despite the precautions we took to distinguish ourselves from the ‘structuralist’ ideology (we said very clearly that the ‘combination’ to be found in Marx ‘has nothing to do with a combinatory’), despite the decisive intervention of categories foreign to ‘structuralism’ (determination in the last instance, domination, overdetermination, production process, etc.), the terminology we employed was too close in many respects to the ‘structuralist’ terminology not to give rise to an ambiguity. With a very few exceptions (some very perceptive critics have made the distinction), our interpretation of Marx has generally been recognized and judged, in homage to the current fashion, as ‘structuralist’.

We believe that despite the terminological ambiguity, the profound tendency of our texts was not attached to the ‘structuralist’ ideology. It is our hope that the reader will be able to bear this claim in mind, to verify it and to subscribe to it.

On the other hand, we now have every reason to think that, despite all the sharpening it received, one of the theses I advanced as to the nature of philosophy did express a certain ‘theoreticist’ tendency. More precisely, the definition of philosophy as a theory of theoretical practice (given in For Marx and again in Part One of Reading Capital) is unilateral and therefore inaccurate. In this case, it is not merely a question of terminological ambiguity, but one of an error in the conception itself. To define philosophy in a unilateral way as the Theory of theoretical practices (and in consequence as a Theory of the differences between the practices) is a formulation that could not help but induce either ‘speculative’ or ‘positivist’ theoretical effects and echoes.

The consequences of this error in the definition of philosophy can be recognized and delimited at a few particular points in Part One of Reading Capital. But with the exception of a few minor details, these consequences do not affect the analysis that we have made of Capital (‘The Object of Capital’ and Balibar’s paper).

In a forthcoming series of studies, we shall have the opportunity of rectifying the terminology and correcting the definition of philosophy.

Louis Althusser