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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?
were an answer to an existing political conjuncture: the political and ideological ﬂuctuations which followed in the wake of the Twentieth Congress. They relied for their answer to this conjuncture on the experience of a previous political conjuncture, represented by Zhdanovism and proletarian science. The theoreticist problematic turned on how to apply the lessons drawn from the politico-ideological conjuncture of the Zhdanovian period to the politico-ideological conjuncture of
present as it was unfolding there and the future as it was being projected here. And that is exactly what the apparatus of the PCF rejects. According to it, what happens there has nothing to do with what happens here. Czechoslovakia? We condemn the invasion, but there is nothing to fear here: our political freedom and national independence are guaranteed. Solzhenitsyn? It’s unfortunate. But look at the common 96 A LESSON IN HISTORY programme: everybody is free to publish whatever they want,
the stated intentions of this very group, the substitutive discourse of revisionism. This mechanism is not the product of ignorance or of the arrogance of petitbourgeois ‘spontaneity’, but of the Marxism learned in the classrooms of universities and ‘working class organizations’. A discourse that allows one to speak for others, that cancels out the place and subject of its own speech: such is the mechanism that has found its paradigmatic form in Althusserian discourse, founded as it is on the
efﬁciency of the structure becomes a perfectly undetermined concept – or one determined as the substitute for a ﬁgure from traditional metaphysics: the evil genius or the cunning of reason.12 The distinction between levels of ideological dissimulation is thus highly problematic. It clearly functions by analogy with the Marxist analysis of the double nature of every process of production (the labour process in general, and the socially determined process of production). But the analogy is also
centred on artistic, literary and intellectual matters. – Trans. The PCF’s decision to endorse Mitterrand’s presidential bid in December 1965 was the beginning of the breakup of the UEC. The Letters chapter openly opposed this decision, provoking a secession that eventually led to the formation of the JCR. The Cercle d’Ulm, for its part, tried to keep this issue from ﬁssuring the UEC by rehashing the old argument of reserve and circumspection: the UEC is a student organization and should not take