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Alex Callinicos's Marxism: Dialectics


and Materialism in Althusser and
Frankfurt School
Vasilis Grollios
Published online: 31 May 2013.

To cite this article: Vasilis Grollios (2013) Alex Callinicos's Marxism: Dialectics and Materialism
in Althusser and Frankfurt School, Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory, 41:1, 55-75, DOI:
10.1080/03017605.2013.776231
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Critique, 2013
Vol. 41, No. 1, 5575, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03017605.2013.776231

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Alex Callinicoss Marxism: Dialectics


and Materialism in Althusser and
Frankfurt School
Vasilis Grollios

This paper will be of interest to all those who have a general interest in Western Marxism
since two traditions within this framework are opposed in this paper and their opposition
is explained: the Althusserian tradition, which is followed by Callinicos, and the
Frankfurt School, which is followed by me. The main purpose of the paper is not to
analyse Callinicoss theory per se but, through a focus on Callinicoss theory, to bring the
Frankfurt School/Open Marxist tradition into contrast with the Althusserian tradition
for the first time. My hope is to show how someone like Callinicos, who appears to be a
Marxist thinker, is really not, and thus to contribute to the discussion about what it
means to be a Marxist in political philosophy. I argue that the integration of a vague
notion of totality and dialectics into Callinicoss theory, as well his references to the role of
class struggle, which remain problematic, give a false impression that he has moved far
from the Althusserian path. Callinicoss political philosophy, like that of Althusser, has
difficulty in connecting both dialectics to materialism and also totality to difference and
contradiction, and thus in disentangling itself from liberal thinking.
Keywords: Dialectics; Materialism; State Theory; Althusser; Identity Thinking; Open
Marxism
Introduction
One of the best-known contemporary Marxist thinkers is Alex Callinicos. In this
paper, I will investigate the philosophical background of his understanding of
Marxism, focusing on his interpretation of materialism and dialectics. I choose to
write about his work not simply because he happens to be more widely known than
many other Marxist scholars, but because through the richness of his work it is
possible to raise and then elaborate on some key issues in Marxist thought. I am
aware of the fact that Callinicoss work does not exhaust all the Althusserian
interpretations that have been given. However, I think that he stays closer to
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V. Grollios

Althussers works than other Althusserians. For obvious reasons, the article does not
have the goal of fully analysing all the wings1 of the Althusserian tradition, but to
discuss a number of key aspects of Callinicoss work in order to further promote
debate on how the two traditions in Western Marxism, the Althusserian and the
Frankfurt Schools, collide over their interpretation of the philosophical background
of Marxs philosophy (that is, his treatment of materialism and dialectics).
Callinicoss work is multidimensional and impressive in its scope. It has the
ambition to analyse in-depth issues not only of political philosophy but also of
political economy and political science. I must stress that it is not the goal of my
article to make an overall assessment of Callinicoss thinking. Considering the
interdisciplinary character of his theory, it is beyond the scope of this paper to refer
to all the subjects that are included in his thinking. I will turn my attention primarily
to those issues that could be considered more philosophical, using the term in its
strict definition. I will then focus my analysis on his understanding of the state in
order to clearly explain my disagreement with how dialectics and materialism work in
his political philosophy. Although issues related to dialectics and materialism are
encountered in all his writings, when compared with his overall number of
publications, his philosophical texts are few and derive mainly from his research in
the 1980s. The biggest problem not only in his interpretation of Marxs philosophy
but also in the whole Althusserian path is the dismissal of dialectics and fetishism. We
shall see that this has significant repercussions for his social theory, especially
regarding the state question.
The paper will be of interest to all those who have a general interest in Western
Marxism since two traditions in this framework are opposed in this paper: the
Althusserian tradition, which is followed by Callinicos, and the critical theory
tradition, which is followed by me. I will attempt to show how Callinicos, a so-called
Marxist thinker, does not follow the Marxist way of thinking, but rather follows the
traditional theory analysed by Horkheimer. However, the goal of the paper is not to
analyse only Callinicoss ideas, but through this analysis to show the possibility that
someone who appears to be a Marxist thinker may really not be. Therefore, the main
purpose of the paper is not only to juxtapose the critical theory/Open Marxist
tradition with the Althusserian tradition,2 but primarily through this debate to
elaborate on what it means to be a Marxist in political philosophy. Since most
research in Marxist philosophy is being conducted by political scientists rather than
philosophers, in the strict sense of the term, the opportunity to debate these topics,
1
However, some references and comments about the postmodern materialism wing of the Althusserian path
need to be made.
2
I know of only one paper (Simon Clarke, Althusserian Marxism, in Simon Clarke, Vicor Jeleniewski
Seidler, Kevin McDonnell, Kevin Robins and Terry Lovell (eds) One-Dimensional Marxism: Althusser and the
Politics of Culture (London: Allison & Busby, 1980), pp. 7102) that has focused on the philosophical
background of this debate so far, beside the articles in The State Debate, of course. Bearing in mind that Clarke
as well as the articles in The State Debate did not elaborate directly on the philosophical background of the
debate, that is, on the meaning of dialectics and materialism, another attempt to expand on this debate might be
interesting even today.

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57

especially in an era when liberal theory has come to almost completely dominate the
discipline of political philosophy, is to be welcomed.

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The Dismissal of Dialectics


After completing a PhD on the logic of Marxs Capital at Oxford University in 1978,
over the next decade Callinicos published four books on Marxs thought and
contemporary Marxist political philosophy. In Is There a Future for Marxism? he is
quite clear that materialism is a thesis in which there exists a reality prior to and
independent of thought which the latter in some way merely reflects.3 Following the
same reasoning in his lecture on the Althusserian legacy, he writes that historical
materialism uses procedures of theoretical inquiry fashioned by the physical sciences
to analyze processes of social transformation.4 He also stresses that materialism is
closely related to realism, the belief that reality is prior to thought.5 It appears from
these passages that he understands Marxian materialism as a theory severed from the
historical formation of the multiple social forms and values that reproduce the
capitalist mode of production.
In Making History, however, he surprises the reader when he notes that he prefers a
passage (which he includes in the book) from the third volume of Capital as a
summary of historical materialism. Here Marx emphasizes that it is the direct
relationship between the owners of the means of production and the direct producers
that reveals the hidden basis of the social structure and with it the political form of
the corresponding form of the state. For Callinicos, Marx is claiming in this passage
that it is exploitation that explains this particular form of political domination.6
My first comment is that Callinicos does not demonstrate the connection between
this passage and his view that materialism is connected to realism. In this passage
Marx does not merely connect exploitation to the form of the state, as Callinicos
contends, but dialectically connects content/essence to form/appearance. In other
words, there is something much more important in this passage that has evaded
Callinicoss attention. This omission on his part has not occurred by chance; rather, it
is explained by the fact that Callinicos does not properly connect materialism to
dialectics. Materialism for Callinicos is not the ad hominem critique that Marx
stressed in his criticism of Hegels state.7
What Marx actually states in this passage is in complete agreement with his eighth
thesis on Feuerbach, which I believe summarizes in the most explicit way the Marxian
view of ad hominem critique, meaning Marxs materialism: Social life is essentially
3

Alex Callinicos, Is There A Future for Marxism? (London: Macmillan Press, 1982), p. 115.
Alex Callinicos, What Is Living and What Is Dead in the Philosophy of Althusser, in E. Ann Kaplan and
Michael Sprinker (eds) The Althusserian Legacy (London: Verso, 1993), p. 41.
5
Callinicos, Is There A Future for Marxism?, op. cit., p. 115.
6
Alex Callinicos, Making History: Agency, Structure and Change in Social Theory (Cambridge: Polity Press,
1987), p. 42.
7
Karl Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegels Philosophy of Law, in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels,
Collected Works, Vol. 3 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1975), p. 182.
4

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V. Grollios

practical. All mysteries which mislead theory into mysticism find their rational
solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.8 Here, Marx
means that there is a hidden essence in every social form (such as the state) that is
identifiable in the way that people come into contact with each other in order to
satisfy their basic human needs.
Thus, the hidden essence of the social structure9 that Marx was referring to in this
excerpt from the third volume of Capital, which is met in Callinicoss book, becomes
apparent through the ad hominem critique, which enables us to see the unavoidable
contradiction of interests between the owners of the means of production and the
direct producers that lies behind every form and lies in the essence of the capitalist
mode of production. The dialectic between essence and form, which can be identified
in this excerpt, is ignored in Callinicoss Making History.
It must also be stressed that Callinicos contradicts himself when, on the one hand,
he criticizes Engels for projecting Hegelian categories onto the physical world10 but,
on the other hand, he identifies materialism with the methodology of the physical
sciences.11 Furthermore, he maintains that there is a limited sense in which historical
materialism can be said to be dialectical.12 He believes that the contradictions
analysed by Marx have nothing to do with the Hegelian logical contradictions of form
because, in Marxs work, contradictions are intrinsic to a social structure. For
Callinicos, such a contradiction can take place only when a relationship exists
between social entities or when the entities are mutually interdependent. In order to
clarify his position, he employs the example of the interdependence of the relations of
production and productive forces.13 However, the mere existence of a relation
between two entities, even if it is admittedly an interdependent one, does not make
the relationship dialectical.
Most political thinkers within the liberal tradition would concur with the view that
we live in a world where things, entities, are strongly correlated to each other, to the
degree that there is an interdependence between them. For example, let us consider
how liberal texts perceive the relationship between the economic and the political.
When there exists the possibility that elections might be called, the Financial Times
and The Economist, for example, immediately analyse the possible impact that the
election will have upon the economy. Naturally, Callinicos would not regard this
interconnected analysis as dialectical in nature. Thus, the dialectical, at least as far as
Marx is concerned, must mean something other than mere interdependence, and it is
the notion of mediation that properly lies at the core of dialectical thinking. Entities
are mediated to each other; they exist through each other; they are separate in unity,
8
Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 5 (London:
Lawrence & Wishart, 1976), p. 8.
9
Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 3, in Collected Works, Vol. 37 (New York: International Publishers, 1998), p. 778.
10
Callinicos, Making History, op. cit., p. 53.
11
Callinicos, What Is Living and What Is Dead in the Philosophy of Althusser, op. cit., p. 41.
12
Callinicos, Making History, op. cit., p. 53.
13
Callinicos, What Is Living and What Is Dead in the Philosophy of Althusser, op. cit., p. 41.

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being forms of the same essence, of the most important relationship in society:
namely, the way people connect their doing in order to satisfy their most basic needs.
Another question that should be posed is the following: since Callinicos admits
that contradictions are intrinsic to reality, why is he so reluctant at the same time to
characterize Marxist thinking as dialectical? The answer lies with the fact that
Callinicoss understanding of dialectics is strongly connected to his aim of separating
himself from the Hegelian Marxist tradition, which in his opinion has bequeathed a
teleological structure to Marxist dialectics. He maintains that there is in Marx and
Engels a tendency to conceive of revolutionary consciousness as the inevitable result
of a linear process.14 For Callinicos, this teleology is also shown by Marxs supposed
belief that the forces of production generate changes in the relations of production.
Thus, he interprets Marx as a proponent of technological determinism, basing his
interpretation on the main text that orthodox Marxism uses to support this reading,
Marxs 1859 preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.15 This
should come as no surprise to the reader of this article since, as we have seen,
Callinicos subscribes to the orthodox view of historical materialism as a physical
science methodology that can be applied to the social sciences. He may not admit
that he accepts determinism, but I cannot see how he can distance himself from it
since his understanding of Marx is underpinned by his belief in the relation between
the physical and social sciences.
The important point here is the fact that, although Callinicos has implicitly
accepted determinism, he makes a great effort to retain class struggle as an essential
element of the Marxian account of historical materialism. In The Revolutionary Ideas
of Karl Marx, he maintains that the outcome of Marxs dialectic is not predetermined
and that it is only through the consciousness of the working class that revolutionary
change can come about.16 Moreover, in Marxism and Philosophy, he maintains that
technological determinism occurs in the Marxian corpus only until Capital,
characterizing it as the first version of historical materialism. In Capital, however,
Callinicos believes that Marxs position has changed so that the forces of production
are subordinated to the relations of production, an element that sets class struggle at
the centre of the Marxian account of historical materialism.17 However, I cannot see
how Callinicoss two positions*his implicit determinism and the centrality of class
struggle to his understanding*are compatible. How is it possible for someone to
maintain that historical materialism employs the same methodology as the physical
sciences and, at the same time, have at the core of his understanding of social
transformation the belief that the result of class struggle is uncertain?
For Callinicos, social reality is composed of two separate worlds: that of structure
and that of agency; that of actual reality, which is the capitalist mode of production,
and another world consisting of the underlying mechanisms that are liable to subvert
14
15
16
17

Callinicos, Is There A Future for Marxism?, op. cit., p.140.


Alex Callinicos, Marxism and Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), p.51.
Alex Callinicos, The Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx (London: Bookmarks, 2004 [1983]), p. 80.
Callinicos, Marxism and Philosophy, op. cit., p. 51.

V. Grollios

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the actual reality. He himself admits that this is the case: It is only when structure
and agency are treated as ontologically distinct strata each*i.e., agents as well as
structures*having their own emergent powers that the interaction between the
two . . . can be properly understood.18 Furthermore, he supports the view that the
capitalist mode of production pertains to the real and that there are conditions
external to the capitalist mode.19 If by pertains to the real, he means that it belongs
to the real world, is there a non-real one? Where is this world? And if this other world
is indeed non-real or external to the capitalist mode, how can we philosophize about
it? The simplest question to be posed here is: how is it possible for a world to exist
that is external to the capitalist mode of production, and if it exists, how can we have
knowledge of it?
For Callinicos, then, there is the world of the mechanisms of the capitalist mode of
production and another world of conditions external to the capitalist mode. He is
convinced that the underlying mechanisms are separate from and lie away from the
actual reality.20 It becomes clear, therefore, that Callinicos sees the world as
composed of two realities: the actual one and another reality that is not actual. Yet
if it is not actual, what kind of reality is it? An imaginary one? And if so, how can it
possibly be analysed and understood? If this is the case, then Marx is a writer about
the non-real as much as he is about the real. In this interpretation, Marx is more akin
to a writer of literature than a philosopher.
The fact that, for Callinicos, the world is not dialectical in its essence becomes
evident by his comment that Capital involves the construction of levels of analysis,
some of which posit the existence of real contradictions,21 and by his view that the
ordering of contradictions does not require us to conceive every determination as
involving a real contradiction.22
When the above is taken into consideration, it is surprising that Callinicos believes
that he can still conceptualize society as a contradictory totality.23 However, his
notion of totality is doomed to remain vague, with its relation to dialectics
undetermined. The last of the many unanswered questions that I believe derive from
Callinicoss argument concerns the role of class struggle in this contradictory
totality. Where does class struggle belong? Does it belong to the actual or to the nonactual reality, to the world of mechanisms or to the world of conditions external to
the capitalist mode of production?
For Callinicos, then, form and essence are not mediated through each other; they
are not parts of the same relation. Things, social forms, such as the state, money or
representative democracy, are not themselves contradictory in nature since contradiction is not inherent in the thing itself. In Callinicoss thinking, social relations are
18
19
20
21
22
23

Alex Callinicos, The Resources of Critique (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2006), p. 185.
Ibid., p. 203.
Ibid.
Ibid., p. 201.
Ibid., p. 202.
Ibid., p. 203.

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not forms of an underlying essence that is contradictory in its nature, and social
forms are not perverted forms of our doing. Thus, Callinicos cannot uphold Marxs
understanding of our world as a topsy-turvy world. For Callinicos, contradiction lies
outside the social forms. Thus, his theory cannot give voice to the mystery of that
reality.24 According to his interpretation of the contradictory nature of reality, For
Marx the statement that reality is contradictory means that class struggle, social
conflict, and economic crises are endemic to every social formation divided into
classes.25 However, I do not believe that this is what Marx had in mind when he
underlined the contradictory nature of the capitalist mode of production. Social
conflict and class struggle also took place in other societies, even in ancient ones,
before the appearance of the capitalist mode of production. Class conflict and
struggle are not characteristics unique to the capitalist mode of production.
Callinicos misses the point here.
For the Critical Theory tradition, however,26 the capitalist system is contradictory
in its nature because contradiction lies in the essence of every form,27 since forms in
the capitalist mode of production are the appearance of our doing, that is to say, of
the perverted way in which we come into contact with each other and with nature in
order to satisfy our needs. Since the means of production in capitalism are owned by
individuals*by capitalists*the workers cannot control the most basic relation in
society: that is, the way in which they satisfy their elementary needs. The
transformation of our doing into abstract labour, into capital, and into money,
means that, rather than people dominating wealth and using it to fulfil their basic
human needs, wealth (capital) dominates them and transforms them into
personifications of economic categories. This is the gist of the argument on the
existence of contradiction, on the dialectical relation between form (capital) and
content (our doing), meaning on the dialectical nature of our world.
For Althusser it is not politics but economy that is determinant in the last
instance.28 Political struggle is a distinct and specific level . . . the real condensation, . . . in which is reflected the complex whole.29 It becomes clear from
Althussers writings that he cannot maintain the logic of the topsy-turvy world and
the trinity formula is the distorted form that the contradictory nature of the way we
come into contact with each other in order to satisfy our basic human needs takes in
the capitalist mode of production, since we are forced to accumulate wealth instead
24
Max Horkheimer, Traditional and Critical Theory, in Max Horkheimer, Critical Theory: Selected Essays
(New York: Herder & Herder, 1972), p. 217.
25
Callinicos, Marxism and Philosophy, op. cit., p. 55.
26
The Open Marxism tradition has been very successful in showing the dialectic relation between form
(appearance) and content (essence). It is my opinion that Holloway, especially in his most recent text Crack
Capitalism, has successfully shown the contradictory nature of totality.
27
The opposite of Callinicoss conclusion, the fact that we should attempt to identify contradiction inside
the form, is something that Adorno repeats many times, especially in his Lectures on Negative Dialectics.
28
Louis Althusser, For Marx (London: Verso, 2005), 215. See also Louis Althusser, Philosophy of the
Encounter: Later Writings, 19781987. (London: Verso, 2006), p. 59.
29
Althusser, For Marx, op. cit., p. 215.

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of promoting human needs. What the third volume makes explicit is that fetishism is
not a phenomenon that exists alongside other phenomena in the capitalist mode of
production; rather, it forms the core element of the capitalist system. In capitalism,
we live under the dominance of mystified forms, such as the state, bourgeois
democracy30 or value as money, the essence of which must be identified. Thus, the
role of the philosopher is to demystify, to defetishize social forms.
According to Horkheimer, this is precisely why traditional theorists, (one could
include Althusser among them) maintain the bourgeois-liberal notion of structure
becoming thus unable to succeed in bringing to the surface the hidden essence of the
reified forms and thus denaturalizing them. Rather than attempting to penetrate the
fact, inside the form, the traditional-liberal philosopher instead classifies it and
compares it with other similar forms.
This is exactly what Althusser does, since for him the many different contradictions
are not the many different forms of an underlying basic contradiction. Although
Althusser sees the political and the economic as overdetermined by each other, he
understands them as distinct moments. I do not think that the liberal social theory
tradition would seriously object to this view. Both understandings are slightly
different versions of traditional/identity undialectical thinking. For Marxian
dialectics, on the other hand, class processes are not presupposed, separated and
then combined and overdetermined to non-class ones. Rather, all processes in society
are seen as expressions of the essence of the class struggle, or the misfitting of our
doing to the demands of abstract labour.
Clarke aptly stresses the fact that Althusser focuses not on the concept of
production, but on the question of the complexity of the whole which both is and
is not subject to determination by the economic.31 Thus, Althusser is making the
appearance the measure of all things, and so abandoning the law of value . . . to the
last instance which never comes.32
I will add that, instead of attempting a defetishizing of the different forms that the
irrationality of subordinating our doing to the logic of capital, the logic of time is
money, takes, Althusser and his follower Callinicos attempt a classification of these
forms in the framework of traditional theory.
Even newer attempts that elaborate Althussers notion of contradiction and
overdetermination are shackled in the framework of traditional theory. For the most
well-known postmodern materialists, Wolff and Resnick, different theories shape
society differently just as society shapes them. The constant interplay is what we
think Marx meant by dialectics.33 They admit their preference for the word
30
For a reading of Marxs democracy, which is based in the Frankfurt School theory of the form-fetish, see
Vasilis Grollios, Marx and Engelss Critique of Democracy: The Materialist Character of Their Concept of
Autonomy, Critique: A Journal of Socialist Theory, 39:1 (2011).
31
Clarke, Althusserian Marxism, op. cit., p. 32.
32
Ibid., p. 33. For a more detailed analysis on this see especially pp. 1633 and 53.
33
Stephen A. Resnick and Richard Wolff, New Departures in Marxian Theory (New York: Routledge, 2006),
p. 6.

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overdetermination over that of dialectics.34 They dismiss Althussers belief in


determination in the last instance and are of the opinion that even Althusser seems
to have shied away from the consequences of its logic of his own work.35 Thus, for
their theory of society, no process . . . could be conceived to exist as cause without
being itself caused.36
From that they have moved to a new kind of antiessentialist class analysis that
views class only as an entry point that is stressed because, as they admit, we view its
existence in society as an outrage. The strength of this feeling shapes in part our
commitment to class as an entry point.37 Their whole economic analysis is mainly
based in the fact that they are more sensitive to exploitation than are other social
theorists. Since the dialectic between content/essence and form has been rejected,
because for them it cannot be but determinist, facts, forms and objects have nothing
more to reveal than their present form of appearance. This is identity thinking,
the most important characteristic of traditional-liberal theory. Any effort to bring the
view of the tospy-turvy, inverted world back to its feet again by defetishizing the
forms is being rejected. Their thinking attempts another kind of classification that
stays restricted on the plane of appearance. The existence of contradiction(s) for
them is not explained by the perverted way in which we are forced to fulfil our basic
needs living as personifications of economic categories, but is just presupposed.38
On the same wavelength, Callinicos writes in his review of Chris Arthurs The New
Dialectics and Marxs Capital that the persistence and relevance of a dialectical social
theory depends on whether it is scientifically acceptable to ascribe structural
contradictions to social reality.39 However, I contend that dialectics is not something
we attribute or ascribe to reality but something inherent in it. Contradiction is an
inextricable characteristic of capital because capital is the form that our doing takes in
the capitalist system. The identification, then, of men of critical mind with their
society is marked by tension, and the tension characterizes all the concepts of the
critical way of thinking.40 Doing in capitalism encompasses the fact that the workers
interests are unavoidably contrary to those of the capitalist.
In order to better investigate Callinicoss understanding of the dialectical nature of
Marxs political theory, we must also explore his critique of commodity fetishism. I
believe that one of the most important themes in his writings is the effort he makes to
34

Ibid., p. 7.
Stephen A. Resnick and Richard Wolff, Althussers Liberation of Marxian Theory, in E. Ann Kaplan and
Michael Sprinker (eds) The Althusserian Legacy (London: Verso, 1993), p. 61.
36
Ibid., p. 69.
37
Resnick and Wolff, New Departures in Marxian Theory, op. cit., p. 302.
38
I have already attempted to bring into discussion the Althusserian path (its postmodern materialist wing)
and the Frankfurt School theory in another article of mine in which I analyse the repercussions of the
aforementioned presupposition as far as the theorizing of democracy is concerned. See Vasilis Grollios,
Democracy and Commodity Fetishism in Marx: A Response to Antonio Callari and David Ruccio, Rethinking
Marxism (forthcoming in 2013, published in the iFirst section of the journal (2012); doi: 10.1080/
08935696.2012.711535).
39
Alex Callinicos, Against the New Dialectic, Historical Materialism, 13:2 (2005), p. 56.
40
Horkheimer, Traditional and Critical Theory, op. cit., p. 208.
35

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almost completely dismiss the theory of commodity fetishism from his version of
Marxism. I will attempt to demonstrate that this has tremendously important
consequences.
For Callinicos, the theory of commodity fetishism reduces Capital to an
understanding of being, a two-part structure of hidden essence and surface
phenomena, and thus reduces Capital to a theory of ideology, an explanation of
why the agents of production are deceived as to its working, rather than an analysis of
the laws of motion of capitalism. Marx is thus reduced into the theorist of the
unhappy consciousness of man under capitalism.41
He is quite sure that no great damage would be done to Capital by expunging
commodity fetishism since it is an error to believe that the essence/appearance
contrast is the organizing principle of Marxs argument. Rather, Callinicos holds that
the gist of Marxs argument is the proposition that capitalism functions through the
competition of capitals and the circulation of their products.42
At this point it would be useful for the reader to be informed of an attempt, inside
the Althusserian path, to maintain the theory of commodity fetishism. For Amariglio
and Callari,
Marxs discussion of commodity fetishism allows . . . for a nondeterminist depiction
of how the economy itself cannot be . . . understood except by reference to these
noneconomic elements . . . Commodity fetishism is Marxs device to show just
how . . . economic relations are themselves articulated and overdetermined outcomes of the combined effects of these superstructural and other processes.43

I believe indeed that they comprehend fetishism as another attempt to classify the
forms as they appear, as a different attempt, compared with the economism of
the orthodox interpretation, to classify forms, but their effort still remains inside the
traditional theory framework. Fetishism for them is not an effort to penetrate inside
the form itself and bring to the surface its hidden essence, that is, its human content,
and thus to explain the existence of the enchanted, topsy-turvy world, something
that the ad hominem critique of the Frankfurt school theory attempts.
The question that must be posed at this point is this: if we are able to comprehend
capital as a social relationship by sidestepping the essence/appearance relationship, as
Callinicos as well as Amariglio and Callari believe we can, what then is the nature of
social relations in the capitalist mode of production? Are not social relations the form
that the most basic relationship in society, that of capital, takes? What I wish to make
clear is that the way in which people come to terms with each other and with nature
in order to satisfy their most basic needs in the capitalist system takes many forms,
such as representative democracy, the state and money. In order to find out the true
nature of these forms, we must penetrate their appearance and identify their essence.
How is this achieved according to Marxist philosophy? By thinking materialistically
41

Callinicos, Is There A Future for Marxism?, op. cit., p. 122.


Callinicos, Marxism and Philosophy, op. cit., p. 132.
43
Jack Amariglio and Antonio Callari, Marxian Value Theory and the Problem of the Subject: The Role of
Commodity Fetishism, Rethinking Marxism, 2:3 (1989), pp. 3160, at p. 35.
42

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and using the ad hominem critique, materialism is basically the attempt to


understand society in terms of human doing, which means by focusing on the way
in which people come to terms with each other and with nature in order to satisfy
their most basic needs. Therefore, we should endeavour to find the essence of these
forms in their social constitution by focusing on the conditions of social life
endangered by societys current form. This is the only way in which materialism can
be connected to Marxs social theory, a connection that Callinicos, as well as
postmodern materialists like Amariglio and Callari, do not make. I believe that the
question of how materialism can enable us to better understand social reality is
doomed to remain unanswered in Callinicoss theory and in the Althusserian path in
general because this theory does not, and cannot, connect materialism to dialectics.
If, by investigating the historical formation of social forms, materialism can enable
us to connect these forms to the dynamic character of social practice, then the
conclusion must be reached that essence is also part of the form. Essence always
appears in the form in an inverted, perverted and mystified manner. In order to
decipher a social relation, to defetishize the form and understand its essence, we must
clarify its historical dimension and identify its human content. Essence and
appearance, form and content are mediated to each other; they are separate in
unity. Social forms have a common origin since they are moments of the same social
relation, that of our doing,44 our effort to satisfy the conditions for societys
reproduction.
According to Callinicos, in the essence/phenomenon tradition, which he rightly
identifies as Hegelian Marxism or the capital-logic school of thought, non-economic
relations are treated as the passive effects of the economy.45 Callinicos accuses the
capital-logic school of analysing all aspects of social life as phenomenal expressions of
the contradiction between capital and labour.46 He becomes more specific in his
disagreement when he attributes to the capital-logic school the belief that the
relations of production are a mere deceptive surface appearance. He, by contrast,
believes that they assume a self-regulating autonomy47 to which explanatory primacy
must be given.48 In Making History, he argues that social relations are sets of empty
places49 because their nature does not depend on the identity of the particular agents
involved in them.
Additionally, he stresses that social life involves processes that go on behind the
backs of human agents.50 I argue, on the contrary, that the existence of processes that
44

I initially used the word labour here, but after reading Holloways Crack Capitalism, I believe that doing
is more suitable.
45
Callinicos, Is There A Future for Marxism?, op. cit, p. 193. Not only Callinicos but also most members of
the postmodern materialist wing of the Althusserian path follow this understanding of essence, including
Amariglio and Callari.
46
Ibid., p. 165.
47
Ibid.
48
Ibid, p. 167.
49
Callinicos, Making History, op. cit., p. 39.
50
Ibid.

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go on behind the backs of human agents can only be explained by the phenomenon
of fetishism that Callinicos dismisses. This means that, by succumbing to the logic of
time is money, to the logic of capital, people themselves produce an enchanted,
perverted, topsy-turvy world51 in which processes appear in a fetishized, naturalized,
transhistorical form.
I have attempted to show thus far that the economic and the political are moments
of the same social relationship: that of the form that our doing takes in the capitalist
system, which is to say, capital. Thus, they are mediated to each other; they exist
through each other. I also think that, because of the non-elaborated, and I would dare
to say distorted, view that Callinicos has on dialectics, the relationship between the
economic and the political remains undetermined in his version of Marxism. If they
are not mediated with each other, if they are not understood as moments of the same
relation, what possible dialectical connection could they have to each other? What
would make their interdependence any different from the perception of interdependence noted by liberalism?
Considering the above, it can be concluded that Callinicos follows the orthodox
Marxist tradition52 in separating structure from agency. While he may believe that
they are interdependent in some unspecified way, he nevertheless still conceives them
as two separate entities.53 Indeed, in addition to his separation of agency and
structure, he goes on to write that the social exists independently of the discursive
and more broadly of the mental.54 If the mental (human agency) is independent of
the social (structure), then how can humans change history, and what is the role of
dialectics in our understanding of reality? In order to answer these questions, the
Althusserian roots of Callinicoss political philosophy should be investigated in more
detail.
Callinicoss Althusserianism
The need to even more closely investigate the link between Callinicoss theory and
Althussers Marxism should come as no surprise to the reader. Despite Callinicos
never having openly admitted to being an Althusserian, the affinities between his
thought and Althussers are readily apparent.
Upon reading Callinicoss conviction that the social exists independently of the
mental, Althussers argument that history is a process without a subject immediately
sprang to my mind. Indeed, Callinicoss admits that he accepts this position:

51

Marx, Capital, Vol. 3, op. cit., 817.


This comment is also made by Bonefeld about Callinicos in a footnote of a very stimulating article of his,
although he does not expand it, like I do. See Werner Bonefeld, Negative Dialectics in Miserable Times: Notes
on Adorno and Social Praxis, Journal of Classical Sociology, 12:1 (2012), p. 132.
53
Callinicos, The Resources of Critique, op. cit., p. 183.
54
Ibid.
52

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Althusser is completely justified in arguing that Marxism must criticise and reject
the teleological structure of the Hegelian dialectic and replace it with that of a
process without a subject.55

However, 11 years on from this assertion, Callinicos appears to have abandoned his
former position: Althussers rejection of Hegel leads him . . . to the opposite extreme
of conceiving history as a process without a subject, rendering individual or
collective agency mysterious.56 This self-contradiction can be explained in terms of
an unsuccessful attempt by Callinicos to hide the Althusserian roots of his thinking.
An interesting attempt to defend Althussers idea of a process without a subject
has been made by Amariglio and Ruccio. This idea is at the core of their
understanding of postmodern economics because it enables them to displace subjects
and agents from serving as [the] initial motive and structuring device of economic
discourse.57 Their alternative explanation is based on the decentred subject with a
dispersed, depthless corporeality (the postmodern body).58 For them, the idea of
the postmodern body allows specificity in that it never forgets the particular
capacities and incapacities and the peculiar and innumerable palpable differences.59
They attribute this idea to Marx who, in their view, presents the human body as
overdetermined as a register of class and other capitalist processes.60 Thus, the
working class is being overdetermined by other aspects such as race and gender.
A possible criticism from those who hold to non-identity thinking could be that we
do not fight as working class in order not to be working class, separating ourselves
from other groups in society. If the major pressure upon us is to transform our
everyday activity into money, to accumulate, to live as personifications of economic
categories, then I do think that the theory of the cracks analysed by Holloway can
include all the aforementioned differences.
The story of the cracks in capitalism is the story of our
assertion of the difference of our doings, an attempt to . . . emancipate our doings
from the abstraction imposed through money. Heterogeneity is . . . our struggle
against the abstraction of labour.61

Holloway becomes very clear in the third section of the thesis 28 of Crack
Capitalism when he asks if the fact that many people revolt against gender and racism
means that we should understand capitalist society as structured by a range of
class but also of non-class conflicts? For those who stay at the superficial level of the

55

Callinicos, Is There A Future for Marxism?, op. cit., p. 141.


Callinicos, What Is Living and What Is Dead in the Philosophy of Althusser, op. cit., p. 44.
57
David Ruccio and Jack Amariglio, Beyond the Highs and Lows: Economics as a Process without a
Subject, Review of Social Economy, 65:2 (2007), p. 224.
58
Ibid., p. 225.
59
Ibid., p. 229.
60
Jack Amariglio and David F. Ruccio, Modern Economics: The Case of the Disappearing Body?,
Cambridge Journal of Economics, 26:1 (2002), p. 98.
61
John Holloway, Crack Capitalism (London: Pluto Press, 2010), p. 220.
56

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form-fetish, of appearance, and thus retain the bourgeois notion of structure, like
Ruccio and Amariglio, the answer would be a positive one.
However, for a non-identity critical theorist like Holloway, who has defetishized
the forms, the different masks, There is, however, always the prior question of what
generates the character masks, what produces the different identities.62 The
formation of the different identities is the result of the tremendous pressure upon
us to live according to the logic of time is money and of Accumulation for
accumulations sake, production for productions sake.63 We should then start not
with a dialectic understood as interaction but rather as the negative restlessness of
misfitting, of insufficiency.64 Adorno also stresses that, when the concept of the role
is made into a social standard, the non-identity element of humanity is being
eliminated.65
However, let us return to Callinicos. He accuses Althusser of ascribing autonomy
to theory,66 of subsuming the base into the superstructure,67 and of understanding
social structures as self-reproducing systems that constitute individual agents.68 This
criticism does not mean that he considers Althusserian philosophy without merit. He
admits that The general consignment of Althusser to the dustbin of history is a
powerful temptation to emphasize his merits, a temptation to which I succumb.69
However, I believe that Callinicos does not succeed in properly analysing either the
relationship between structure and agency or that between the forces and relations of
production. The result is a failure to sever his ties with Althusserian Marxism.
In the effort he makes to expound his ideas, he contradicts himself. At the start of
Making History, he maintains that structure and agency are so closely interwoven
that to separate either and give it primacy over the other is a fundamental error.70 A
few pages later, however, he confesses that, while he has attempted to undermine the
orthodox idea that social structures undeniably have explanatory autonomy, he still
believes it to be true.71 Although on the one hand he believes that structures have
explanatory autonomy, at the same time, he thinks that agents powers are partly
dependent on their position in the relations of production. I cannot see how these
two ideas can coexist. However, in his much more recent book, The Resources of
Critique, he writes that structure and agency must be treated as ontologically distinct
strata, each having their own emergent powers.72 In his own distinctive words,
structures and individuals are irreducible components.73 Like Althusser, then, he
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73

Ibid., p. 222.
Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, in Collected Works, Vol. 35 (New York: International Publishers, 1996), p. 591.
Holloway, Crack Capitalism, op. cit., p. 85.
Theodor Adorno and Hellmut Becker, Education for Autonomy, Telos, 56 (1983), p. 107.
Callinicos, Is There A Future for Marxism?, op. cit., p. 59.
Ibid., p. 76.
Callinicos, The Resources of Critique, op. cit., p. 182.
Alex Callinicos, What is Living and What is Dead in the Philosophy of Althusser, op.cit., p.39.
Callinicos, Making History, op. cit., p. 67.
Ibid., p. 36.
Callinicos, The Resources of Critique, op. cit., p. 185.
Callinicos, Making History, op. cit., p. 84.

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accepts the separation of structure and agency, the economy and the political, but
how they correlate to each other, I think, remains unspecified in his work. Is this
relation understood by him as a determination in the last instance maybe? The
sidestepping of dialectics, the role and importance of which remain undetermined, is
certainly a common characteristic of Callinicoss and Althussers theories. Although
Callinicos criticizes Althussers dialectics as defective,74 he does not manage to set out
his own version satisfactorily.
Nevertheless, he acknowledges a number of positive contributions in Althussers
work. He maintains that Althussers insistence on putting relations before subjects
seems to me basically right, even if he got subjects badly wrong.75 As I have
attempted to emphasize, however, it is not a matter of prioritizing relations or
subjects but rather one of mediation. Relations and subjects exist through each other,
being part of the same reality. Taking into consideration my analysis in the previous
section of the paper, I feel that I have to underline that relations and subjects are parts
of the one and only reality.
In Callinicoss opinion, another lasting contribution of Althusserian philosophy is
the conceptual clarification of historical materialism.76 However, Callinicoss
explication of Althussers contribution in this area is surprisingly brief. The only
thing I understood him to be clear about is that Althusser stressed that we should
understand social formations simultaneously as concrete wholes and as multiplicities
of determinations. In this way, Callinicos believes it is possible to retain the concept
of totality within Marxian theory without being accused of eradicating differences.77
Although he distances himself from viewing social forms as expressions of the same
relationship, just like all Althusserians do, he retains the notion of totality in his
political philosophy. He maintains that there is a larger totality of capitalism that
integrates into itself the irreducible other determinations,78 a single, articulated,
social totality that is formed by distinctive determinations.79
However, the problem with a belief in the existence of many determinations and
contradictions is that there is no one centre in social reality, one relation, one
determination, one contradiction that gives capitalism its distinctive character. How
can exploitation and injustice be explained if the contradiction of interests between
the capitalist and the worker is not positioned at the centre of our political
philosophy? Callari and Ruccio are certainly right in having called Althusserian
Marxism postmodern materialism.80 The difference between them and Callinicos is
74

Callinicos, Is There A Future for Marxism?, op. cit., p. 141.


Alex Callinicos, Imperialism and Global Political Economy (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009), p. 14.
76
Callinicos, What Is Living and What Is Dead in the Philosophy of Althusser, op. cit., p. 47.
77
Ibid., p. 44.
78
Alex Callinicos, How to Solve the Many-State Problem: A Reply to the Debate, Cambridge Review of
International Affairs, 22:1 (2009), p. 91.
79
Ibid., p. 103.
80
Antonio Callari and David Ruccio (eds), Postmodern Materialism and the Future of Marxist Theory: Essays
in the Althusserian Tradition (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1996).
75

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V. Grollios

that they are aware81 of the fact that the notion of totality cannot be maintained if we
follow Althussers notion of contradiction and dialectic, a problem with which
Callinicos should be familiar. Moreover, he makes no attempt to develop or more
precisely elucidate the coexistence of totality and difference in his version of historical
materialism. Perhaps if, like Callari and Ruccio, he acknowledged the Althusserian
underpinnings of his theory, then he could avoid the undeveloped points in his
works, which ultimately confuse the reader.
In Callinicoss view, Althussers third valuable contribution is the elaboration of a
realist philosophy of science.82 The defence of realism*the thesis that reality is prior
to but knowable by thought*is for Callinicos a worthwhile task.83 However, the
following question should be asked: do we really need to read Althusser to
understand that Marx posits himself in the tradition of materialist philosophy? In
The Holy Family he is clear on this, although, in my opinion, materialism in Marx
relates to the ad hominem character of the critique, not only to realism. In this text,
Marx says nothing about any priority of reality. Rather, he stresses the need for antitheological, anti-metaphysical doctrines84 and the fact that The primary forces of
matter are the living, individualising forces of being inherent in it.85 Furthermore, in
underlining the importance of Locke, he notes that there cannot be any philosophy
at variance with the healthy human senses and reason based on them.86 By so doing,
Marx wished to stress that philosophy should be based on the dynamic character of
our doing. Thus, I am unable to see why Althussers defence of realism is a
worthwhile task.
In contrast to Callinicoss line of reasoning and in keeping with critical theorys
understanding of dialectics, I believe that structure and agency have a dialectical
relationship. Structure and agency are mediated to each other. The mental is not
something separated from reality, existing in a world of its own in another reality, as
Callinicos clearly implies, but rather is an inextricable part of the one and only
reality.87 Reality, just like class relations, should be understood as consisting of
multidimensional power relations. The economic, political and ideological are
different forms of expression of the relations of class exploitation, the most essential
of them being the relation of capital, the essence of the one and only reality.
If, as Callinicos maintains, the cause of the partially obscured nature of appearance
(rather than the deceptive character of appearance) is not the existence of capital,
81
This awareness is more clearly evident in a recent article of theirs. See Antonio Callari and David Ruccio,
Rethinking Socialism: Community, Democracy, and Social Agency, Rethinking Marxism, 22:3, pp. 403419
(2010).
82
Callinicos, What Is Living and What Is Dead in the Philosophy of Althusser, op. cit., p. 47.
83
Ibid., p. 48.
84
Karl Marx, The Holy Family, in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 4 (London:
Lawrence &Wishart, 1975), p. 126.
85
Ibid., p. 128.
86
Ibid., p. 129.
87
Richard Gunns excellent 1987 article reveals the dialectical relationship between theory and practice in
Marx. See Richard Gunn, Practical Reflexivity in Marx, Common Sense, 1, pp. 3951 (1987).

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then how can the non-transparent/opaque nature of society be explained? How can
he explain the fact that essence is not outwardly evident at first sight? To put it
another way, if the appearance/essence relation can be dismissed, as he and other
Althusserians think it can, what is the point of philosophizing? Why is such an
intellectual effort required in order to elaborate a normative democratic political
theory? Marx makes the philosophical importance of the appearance/essence relation
clear in the third volume of Capital, where it is clearly stressed that all science would
be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly
coincided.88
The State in Callinicoss Theory
Callinicoss Althusserianism and non-dialectical materialism become even more
evident when our attention turns to his understanding of the state. He accuses John
Holloway and the capital-logic school of applying the theory of fetishism to the
state.89 Additionally, he accuses Simon Clarke of reducing the social totality to
capital in general. All aspects of social life are treated as phenomenal expressions of
the contradiction between capital and labour.90 He attributes to them the idea that
the form that the mode of production takes is a mere deceptive surface appearance.91
In accordance with his dismissal of dialectics, Callinicos confesses that he dismisses
fetishism, as I have stressed before. He is clear that no great damage would be done
to Capital by the excision of commodity fetishism and that the essence/appearance
distinction does not lie at the core of Marxs philosophy.92 Fetishism, in his view,
reveals the persistence of Hegelian categories in Capital.93
Remaining close to his Althusserian roots, he writes that the decisive characteristic
of the capitalist mode of production is that the relations of production assume the
form of an autonomous, self-regulating economy.94 In correlation to economy, the
state apparatus in this theory is an autonomous entity, a distinct instance. For
Callinicos, if one follows the logic of the essence/appearance distinction, the state
must be understood as an inessential form.95
I do not need to reiterate here the main points of Holloways and Clarkes
arguments. However, a number of points that originate from the Open Marxism
tradition, which expands on the Frankfurt School theory, should be emphasized.
According to the essencecontent/appearanceform distinction, forms are neither
inessential nor deceptive. Formsprocesses are inextricable parts of reality, are 100
per cent real, just as the essence is. Forms are not separated from the essence in the
88
89
90
91
92
93
94
95

Marx, Capital, Vol. 3, op. cit., p. 804.


Callinicos, Is There A Future for Marxism?, op. cit., p. 152.
Ibid., p. 165.
Ibid.
Callinicos, Marxism and Philosophy, op. cit., p. 132.
Ibid., p. 133.
Callinicos, Is There A Future for Marxism?, op. cit., p. 165.
Ibid., p. 166.

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way Callinicos believes, but are mediated to it and exist through it. Reality in
capitalism is constituted by a dialectical relation between form and content, essence
and appearance. Here, the dialectical relation means that they are separate in unity.
Appearance is part of the essence, just as essence is part of the appearance. The state,
then, is a formprocess that our doing, our effort to satisfy our needs, takes. Thus,
neither the state form nor the economy are autonomous but rather are mediated to
the other dimensions of reality. Reality is thus seen as the multidimensional power
relation that class struggle takes.
Thinking materialistically means following the ad hominem critique to penetrate
the different fetishes and social formsprocesses so as to reveal the human relations
from which they emerge: that is, the class struggle that lies in their essence. Thus,
Holloway astutely regards and analyses fetishes as forms of class struggle. If ones
analysis remains at the level of forms and does not reveal the essence of those forms,
then ones understanding of reality is partial, not deceptive. Fetishism is real. Rooted
in traditional theory, which adopts identity thinking, Callinicos is unable to see
fetishism as a process, as a real phenomenon that must be analysed dialectically. A
dialectical analysis of fetishism would result in defetishizing and denaturalizing the
forms by revealing the human doing that made their existence possible.
According to such an (Open Marxist) analysis, the state is one of the forms that
our deformed doing takes. Since our doing in capitalism is transformed into abstract
labour, into money, into the relationship that is called capital,96 the state is a
perverted form of our doing; it is not an entity different from capital but a form of it.
State and capital are mediated to each other.
However, for Callinicos, the state system is a determination distinct from the
others that comprise the capitalist mode of production, where
a determination is best understood as a social phenomenon constituted by the
causal powers that it has different from those constitutive of other social
phenomena.97

Callinicos sees in Capital different levels that are non-deductive to each other. The
new determinations that are introduced are not contained in those that already exist
at the start of the book, since each possesses specific properties.98
The Althusserian origins of his theory come to the fore once more. Callinicos
himself makes reference to Althusser in order to support his interpretation of the way
new determinations are introduced.99 I fail to see how such a position can coexist
with the notion of totality. How can the many differences reveal the logic of capital?
96

John Holloway convincingly demonstrates this in Crack Capitalism.


Alex Callinicos, Does Capitalism Need the State System?, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 20:4
(2007), p. 542. I would like to thank Peter Thomas for bringing to my attention the debate on the state that took
place in the Cambridge Review of International Affairs, in which Callinicos participated.
98
Ibid.
99
Alex Callinicos, Periodizing Capitalism and Analyzing Imperialism: Classical Marxism and Capitalist
Evolution, in Robert Albritton, Makoto Itoh, Richard Westra and Alan Zuege (eds) Phases of Capitalist
Development (New York: Palgrave, 2001), p. 240.
97

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Unfortunately, Callinicos does not develop this argument or adequately present the
reasoning behind it. If a social theorist rejects the notion of essence, of the one centre
that provides capitalism with its main characteristics, as Callinicos and other
Althusserians do, then he will not be able to provide a coherent and clear view of the
logic of the capitalist mode of production that appears as many forms, as many
different determinations.
Another problem with the Althusserian conception of determinations is his
understanding of potential. Where does new content and where do new determinations come from? If their existence is not implicit, if they do not exist in an
undeveloped manner in previous determinations as a potential, how can their
emergence be explained? The only point in Callinicoss texts where his clear
appreciation of dialectics is to be found is his support for the view that a dialectical
understanding of reality is able to detect within the existing state of affairs
possibilities of change.100 A very simple question might be posed to Callinicos
here: what is the relationship between the potential and the essence of reality? Is the
potential part of the essence, or not? If it is not, where does it come from? If we are
able to safely ignore the appearance/essence differentiation of reality, and consequently the dialectical relationship between these two levels of analysis, how then can
the dialectical understanding of reality take place? How can it enable us to precisely
identify the potential? What is the relationship between totality, differences (in their
Althusserian version, which Callinicos accepts) and potential in his theory? Callinicos
remains silent on this as well. The fact that Callinicos does not expand on these
crucial questions strikes a serious blow to the viability of his version of historical
materialism.
For Althussers aleatory materialism, the coming of the new is explained by the
pure effect of contingency. Philosophy is thus no longer a statement of the Reason
and Origin of things, but a theory of their contingency.101 Since Callinicos, along
with other Althusserians, supports Althusser in rejecting the idea of a common origin
of social forms, of things, I cannot see how he can maintain in his political
philosophy that class struggle is the crucial driver of historical change.
In concluding this section, I wish to underline that Callinicos regards the state and
capital as two different entities that are somehow connected to each other but in an
unspecified way. They are not contradictory in their essence since they are not forms
of a perverted relationship, namely, that of our doing in capitalism. For Callinicos,
the contradiction lies outside the form, the thing, not inside of it as in the Frankfurt
School/Open Marxism theory.102 Similarly, the dialectic lies not inside the form, in
the fetish, in the essence, in the nature of this capitalist organized world. Dialectics, in
100

Callinicos, The Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx, op. cit., p. 77.


Althusser, Philosophy of the Encounter: Later Writings, 19781987, op. cit., p. 169170.
102
For a reading of Crack Capitalism from the standpoint of Negative Dialectics see Vasilis Grollios, Review
of John Holloway, Crack Capitalism, Pluto Press, 2010, Critique: A Journal of Socialist Theory, 40:2, pp. 289288
(2012). A very stimulating article that I believe succeeds in showing the foundation of the Open Marxism in the
Frankfurt School theory is Bonefeld, Negative Dialectics in Miserable Times, op. cit.
101

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V. Grollios

Callinicoss philosophy, is not the method by which the genesis of the form can be
gleaned by revealing its human content. The state, in his social theory, is not a form
of capital relation; its nature does not consist in the inverted form that our doing
takes.
Callinicos proves again his Althusserian origins when he twice praises Poulantzas,103 the most famous Althusserian state theorist, for understanding the state as the
specific condensation of a relationship of forces between classes and class fractions. It
should not be forgotten, however, that Poulantzas regards the political as having
relative autonomy from the economic; the state lies outside the structure, retaining its
relative autonomy from it and thus also from class struggle. The state is not a social
form taken by class struggle; it is not mediated to the economic; it is not
contradictory in its nature. The state for Poulantzas, as for Callinicos, is an
autonomous entity, a distinct instance, having a relative autonomy from other
entities, other determinations. The state is not a form-fetish that we create, not a
mode of appearance of the irrationality of time is money as non-identity critical
theory informs us.104
Conclusion
In contrast to Callinicos and the Althusserian path and in keeping with the Open
Marxist school, I maintain that appearance is not something deceptive but is part of
reality*it is 100 per cent real. Essence and appearance, content and form have a
dialectical relation with each other; they are mediated to each other; they are separate
in unity. Social forms such as the representative form of democracy, value as money,
the capitalist state and all the forms that our doing takes in the capitalist mode of
production are all real, and people live under their dominance. For Callinicos, the
dialectical elaboration of a social form, such as those previously mentioned, does not
aim to go beyond its immediate manifestation in order to understand its essence. For
him and for the other Althusserians as well, contradiction does not lie in the thing,
the entity itself. The fact that he follows the main lines of the Althusserian
interpretation of dialectics and materialism traps his thought in the framework of
traditional theory and prevents him from successfully integrating class struggle in his
philosophy of history and from posing perhaps the most important question that a
critical theorist could pose: why do relations between people take the alienated form
of relations between things? Or to put it another way, why does content take this
particular form? However, if we set this question at the centre of our analysis, as I
think we should, then commodity fetishism becomes perhaps the most valuable part
of Marxs political philosophy.
103
Callinicos, Is There A Future for Marxism?, op. cit., p. 214215. Callinicos, Imperialism and Global
Political Economy, op. cit., p. 244.
104
The best article that shows how Poulantzas follows the traditional identity thinking is, in my opinion,
from Simon Clarke. See Simon Clarke, Marxism, Sociology and Poulantzass Theory of the State in The State
Debate (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1991).

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Critique

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I am sure that much more could be said on the practical implications of my


criticism of the Althusserians and of Callinicoss social theory: namely, the impact
that my analysis could have on their understanding of imperialism, international
relationships and class-based movements worldwide today.105 Also, much more could
be said about the economic theory of the Althusserian wing of the postmodern
materialist members of the Rethinking Marxism collective. However, for obvious
reasons, this was impossible to achieve within the scope of this article. In addition,
my research background lies in philosophy and not in politics or economics.
Nevertheless, I hope that by showing the differences between the Althusserian and the
Frankfurt School theory I have set a philosophical background that political scientists
and economists may consider helpful in promoting their research goals.
Acknowledgements
I would like to thank Professor Werner Bonefeld for his strong encouragement and
valuable comments.

105
For a criticism of Callinicos ideas on the alternative to austerity from an Open Marxism standpoint see
Werner Bonefeld, From Humanity to Nationality to Bestiality: A Polemic on Alternatives without Conclusion,
Ephemera, 12:4, pp. 445453 (2012).