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Contradiction and Overdetermination


in Occupy Wall Street
Matthew S. May & Daniel Synk
Published online: 26 Sep 2013.

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To cite this article: Matthew S. May & Daniel Synk (2014) Contradiction and Overdetermination
in Occupy Wall Street, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, 11:1, 74-84, DOI:
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Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies
Vol. 11, No. 1, March 2014, pp. 7484

Contradiction and Overdetermination


in Occupy Wall Street
Matthew S. May & Daniel Synk
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Contradiction and overdetermination in the work of Louis Althusser provide conceptual


resources for the theorization of capitalism as a structural totality, and instances of class
struggle, such as Occupy Wall Street, as part of an immanent movement of movements
that is embedded within and against the differential logic of the mode of production. A
reconsideration of Althusser is warranted on the grounds that his early work resonates
theoretically with cutting-edge theoretical formulations of Autonomist Marxism, it
remains useful to any materialist conceptualization of class struggle and history, and it
provides means of assessing the conditions under which instances of class struggle
transform into revolutionary situations.

Keywords: Contradiction; Overdetermination; Althusser; Occupy Wall Street; Autono-


mist Marxism

We join in the reconsideration of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) at a moment in which


thousands of ordinary people engage in weekly occupations of the Legislative
Building of North Carolina, 30,000 inmates stage hunger strikes across California
state prisons, hundreds of thousands of revolutionaries return to Tahrir Square to
demand new elections and constitutional reform in Egypt, and our comrades in
many other places throughout the world, from Texas to Bahrain, from Turkey to
Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, resist the nightmare of hopelessness and the false
promises of neo-liberal capitalism. The ambiguity or multiplicity of demands issued
from within these various forms of resistance, like OWS, obscures an important point

Matthew S. May is an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric in the Department of Communication at North Carolina
State University. Daniel Synk is a PhD Student in Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media at North
Carolina State University. In December of 2011, the Office of Research and Engagement in the College of
Humanities and Social Sciences at North Carolina State University provided the lead author with a grant that
was crucial for the development of the ideas in this essay. Correspondence to: Matthew S. May, Department of
Communication, North Carolina State University, 201 Winston Hall, Campus Box 8104, Raleigh, NC 27695,
USA. E-mail: matthew.may@ncsu.edu.

ISSN 1479-1420 (print)/ISSN 1479-4233 (online) # 2013 National Communication Association


http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14791420.2013.828382
Contradiction and Overdetermination 75

of connection between them. As Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have argued, the
constituents of the cycle of struggles, beginning roughly in 2011, perform the
passage from declaration to constitution through concrete enactments of direct
action and self-organization.1 These dynamic and plural resistances partake in a
common plane of ontological consistency: a becoming driven by rupture and
transformations in the constitutive power of collective subjects in struggle.2 We speak
as members of the occupation and as cultural critics in our observation that so many
of us who participated in OWS, in one way or another, experienced a kind of
subjective transformation. This transformation affected and was affected by a growing
sense of the constitutive power of the collective: the sense that, in New York City or
Oakland or Raleigh, North Carolina, we were beginning to be that which we wished to
become. Our experience and our observations indicate that the resistance*if we may
be so bold*is most terrible and awesome when it precipitates qualitative transfor-
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mations that cut across all the old segmentations of social movement hierarchy,
and all the new segmentations of consensus and prefigurative politics, threatening
even at the seams of the broader social formation. The old Marxist joke still holds:
why, yes we are class reductionists*if by that you mean we are for the abolition of
the classes!
The power of difference and composition to cut across the cultural and political
segmentations of the modern social formation is one of several important lessons of
the mass demonstrations and occupations that have emerged over the past several
years (but that no doubt may trace their roots back much further). It is crucial for
critical cultural and rhetorical movement studies scholars to calibrate our analytic
techniques to approximate these transversal trajectories of resistance-in-becoming so
as to sharpen our understanding of lines of flight embedded within any and every
conjuncture. Theoretical work in the service of affirming the revolutionary potential
of the lines of flight in any conjuncture must also remove obstacles to conceptualizing
the dynamic process through which these lines of flight transform into crises that
precipitate a radical reorganization in the mode of production of a social formation.
An important task before us then, as we begin to reconsider OWS in 2013, involves
taking stock of the theoretical resources we possess for the consideration and creation
of revolution. The purpose of this essay is to begin to take stock of these resources:
how and to what extent can we distinguish between those events that dissolve into the
endless wash of history and those that crystallize, in the words of Louis Althusser,
into a global restructuring of the whole on a qualitatively new basis?3
This question has inspired rich traditions of Marxist scholarship and debate that
should not be forgotten, even as we consider the novel qualities of the passage from
declaration to constitution in the new cycle of struggles, lest we run up against
reactionary obstacles reinforced by old theoretical enemies.4 In view of this concern,
we propose that a reconsideration of Louis Althusser is warranted on several counts.
First, Althussers unprecedented extraction of Hegel from Marx remains vital to
countering idealism and economic determinism in any conceptualization of history
and event. Second, Althusser provides conceptual resources (namely contradiction
and overdetermination) that are useful to understanding the circumstances under
76 M. S. May & D. Synk
which revolutionary situations do or do not spiral out from and across heterogeneous
modes of antagonism operative at different instances of the social formation.
Finally, as our first two points suggest, Althussers most valuable gift for
contemporary cultural theory is not the concept of ideology and the discursive logic
of interpellation (as a snapshot of the archive today might suggest); it consists instead
of his penetrating depth of insight as philosopher of the material ontology of crisis.5
In his analysis of Lenin and the October Revolution, Althusser maps the logic of
differential causality through which ruptures in the mode of production, driven by
independent instances of resistance and subjective transformations of collective
subjects in struggle, fuse in the exacerbation of contradictions in the regime of
Nicolas II. As we will show, Althusser, even in his early work, focuses the critique on
the constitutive dynamics of struggle rather than the technical relations of production
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between the base and the superstructure, foreshadowing the Copernican turn
attributed to Operaismo and Autonomist Marxism: capital is compelled by force to
react to the active capacities of living labor and the manifold forms of resistance it
enacts to work.6 The significance of the theoretical affinity on this basic point of
connection between Althusser and Operaismo Marxism is heavy with consequences:
the entire edifice of Althussers structural causality must be rethought from within
the thematic of class struggle. Rodrigo Nunes explains that from the inversion and
displacement of the dialectic between labor and capital, it follows that
instead of a linear accumulation [of contradictions] toward an inevitable . . .
crisis . . . the struggle between labor and capital is always being pushed to a next
level by periods of intensification of the formers counterpower, which force the
latter into restructuring measures aimed at dispelling the antagonists strength.7
If we are correct, not only have the theoretical tools of Althusser been rusting away
like misunderstood artifacts of a bygone age, they have yet to be deployed properly in
the service of class war.
All of the work of Louis Althusser*in one way or another*grapples with
conceptual obstacles to the revolutionary struggle against capitalism. For Althusser,
Marx could not possibly have become Marx except by founding a theory of history
that resulted in the dissipation of the religious myth of reading.8 Put differently,
one circumstance under which Marx became Marx was the refusal to project
anthropocentric presuppositions onto historical processes*viewing them, for
example, as the origin or fulfillment of the human spirit or as self-evident objects
of human knowledge.9 The later Marx of Capital by contrast:
measures a distance and an internal dislocation (decalage) in the real, inscribed in
its structure, a distance and a dislocation such as to make their own effects
themselves illegible, and the illusion of an immediate reading of them the ultimate
apex of their effects: fetishism.10
This epistemological break, Althusser famously argues, is part and parcel of Marxs
rejection, rather than Marxs inversion, of the conceptualization of the dialectic in the
Hegelian philosophical system. The point is crucial for understanding the sense in
which, for Marx, the Hegelian dialectic stands on its head and must be turned
Contradiction and Overdetermination 77
11
right side up. Though Hegel appears to conceive of any historical moment as a
multiplicity of phenomena arranged in a complex relationship of forces, the
operation of the dialectic ultimately reduces these phenomena to the mere expression
of a philosophical abstraction. Concrete phenomena, in this schema, amount to
nothing more than the alienated development of a simple unity, of a simple
principle, itself a moment of the development of the Idea.12 Thus, for Hegel, the
operation of the dialectic in historical thought takes the whole concrete life of a
people for the externalization-alienation (Entausserung-Entfremdung) of an internal
spiritual principle, which can never definitely be anything but the most abstract form
of the epochs consciousness of itself.13 As a result, Hegels conceptualization of
totality is one in which
all differences are only posed to be negated, that is, they are indifferent, in which
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they never exist for themselves, in which they only have a semblance of an
independent existence, and in which, since they never manifest anything but the
unity of the simple internal principle alienated in them, they are practically equal
among themselves as alienated phenomena of this principle.14
The materialist alternative consists less of an inversion and more of a displacement
and reorganization of the terms of the Hegelian dialectic: difference is posed in order
to be affirmed; and it is affirmed as the specificity of contradictions in any historical
conjuncture.
A literal reading of Marxs apparent inversion of the dialectic would, however,
simply shift the terms such that the Idea or consciousness would consist of a
mechanical reflection of the real material substrate of society. To be clear, we may
begin to approximate the materialist difference of Marxs conception of history with a
simple illustration that inverts but retains the basic structure of the dialectic:
as Marx said twenty times, Hegel explains the material life, the concrete history of
all peoples by a dialectic of consciousness (the peoples consciousness of itself: its
ideology). For Marx, on the other hand, the material life of men explains their
history; their consciousness, their ideologies are then merely the phenomena of
their material life.15
Taken to the point of caricature, the economy would then be the universal truth of
the idea and the principle determination of all peoples and consciousness. Any sort of
social or political transformation would by structural necessity be determined in
advance by a general contradiction in the economic base. And so idealism turned
from its head to its feet would remain, after all, idealism.
The materialist alternative to the mirror-image of the Hegelian dialectic consists
first and foremost of a model of overdetermination that operates according to a
differential logic: instead of a single contradiction (between, for example, the working
class and the owning class), the mode of production affects and is affected by
contradictions distributed throughout the entirety of the social formation. These
contradictions are endemic to the capitalist mode of production by virtue of the
inability of capital to completely subsume labor. Capital never finally triumphs,
Harry Cleaver argues, because it must assure the continued reproduction of a living
78 M. S. May & D. Synk
subject.16 Capital is therefore forced to tolerate the continued existence of an alien
subjectivity which constantly threatens to destroy it.17 This does not mean, however,
that there is one great Spirit of revolt from which epiphenomenal instances of
resistance emanate. A visual representation of the differential logic of class struggle
would replace the vertical model of base-superstructure with, say, an asteroid belt,
with the swerve of collisions functioning as an absent cause immanent in its own field
of effects. In this model, there is no origin and no final destination, but there are also
no chance determinations that are not always already overdetermined by the effects
of the whole upon itself. This is precisely the meaning of the infamous and
unfortunate locution (coined by Engels and endlessly repeated by Althusser),
determination in the last instance.18 However, as Althusser memorably reminds
us, from the first moment to the last, the lonely hour of the last instance never
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comes.19 Superstructural phenomena, such as religion or parliamentary politics, are


not wholly determined by the economic base in a reductive relationship of linear
causality; they are never seen to step respectfully aside when their work is done, or
when the Time comes, as his pure phenomena, to scatter before His Majesty the
Economy as he strides along the royal road of the Dialectic.20
If every determination is overdetermination, the real-phenomena thematic of the
Hegelian dialectic is displaced into one interconnected and self-differentiating
material infrastructure in which
contradiction is inseparable . . . from its formal conditions of existence, and even
from the instances it governs; it is radically affected by them, determining, but also
determined in one and the same movement, and determined by the various levels
and instances of the social formation it animates.21
There is no conceptual space within this theoretical framework for a sovereign
determination, either in the form of the economic base, or for that matter, the
performative power of ideological hailing.22 By virtue of the differential logic of
overdetermination, Althusser could not, by structural necessity, restrict the notion of
interpellation to the action of a voice, attributing a creative power to the voice that
recalls and reconsolidates the figure of the divine voice in its ability to bring about
what it names, as Judith Butler has argued.23 In other words, overdetermination as a
theoretical model of contradiction necessarily displaces the possibility of rigid
structuralism.24 Criticisms of Althusser, in Cultural Studies and elsewhere, on the
grounds of his allegedly bleak structural determinism or his supposed reification of
discourse as the primary site of this structural determination ignore his insistence
both on the contingency and unpredictability of the revolutionary rupture under the
logic of overdetermination and on the necessity of attending to material difference as
the asymmetrical dynamics of contradiction in any conjuncture.25 But we leave it.
More importantly, a materialist ontology of crisis requires the specification of
historical circumstances under which certain contradictions within the infrastructure
transition from points of immobility to become parts of the real movement to
abolish the existing state of things, that is to say, communism. As Marx further
insists, the conditions of this movement result from the premises now in
Contradiction and Overdetermination 79
26
existence. Hence Althusser turns to a historical analysis of the Russian Revolution
to understand how and to what extent the constitutive power of resistance can
transform subjects and exacerbate the contradictions of the premises now in
existence toward a revolutionary rupture. This is a significant departure from the
idea that elements within the capitalist system simply contradict themselves in the
peaceful and unchanging plane of the synchronic, or even from the idea that
contradictions afford objective moments of opportunity that a vanguard can
strategically exploit (an idea to which we will return below).
In the first place, he explains, the First World War made the contradiction between
labor and capital apparent to the entire European continent: the imperialist struggle
that swept the globe revealed capitalism to be a vast machine of imperialism that
subordinated human life and all of the resources of the earth to the pursuit of private
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profit. Yet it was only through specific instances of struggle in Russia that comm-
unism could take hold. The productive powers of living labor refused the constraints
imposed upon them by the feudal regime of Nicholas II. The more the regime
attempted to censor the political speech of radicals or erase the cultural differences
through forced assimilation, Russification, the more obstinate resistance it encoun-
tered. The demoralization of the army and the loss of support for territorial expan-
sion weakened the imperial aspirations of the Empire. These various antagonisms
throughout Russia exasperated contradictions
even within the ruling classes themselves (the great feudal proprietors supporting
autocratic militaristic police Tsarism; the lesser nobility involved in constant
conspiracy; the big bourgeoisie and the liberal bourgeoisie opposed to the Tsar; the
petty bourgeoisie oscillating between conformism and anarchistic leftism).27
Most importantly, the revolutionaries of Russia, having experienced the revolution in
1905 and absorbed fifty years worth of lessons on class struggle in Europe, had
advanced beyond their comrades in other parts of the world. The dress rehearsal of
1905 had produced the novel revolutionary organizational form*the soviet*that
would become the vehicle of collective militancy in 1917. Everywhere, the apparat-
uses of a poorly run government were being quickly outpaced by self-organization
and direct action among the urban proletariat and the peasants of the country. By
late 1916, Rex Wade explains, a sense existed across the entire political and social
spectrum that some kind of upheaval could happen at any time.28
With the October Revolution as a model, Althusser argues that revolution cannot
be merely the expression of a general contradiction in the mode of production but
rather comprises the
accumulation of circumstances and currents . . . that whatever their origin and
sense (and many of them will necessarily be paradoxically foreign to the revolution
in origin and sense, or even its direct opponents), fuse into a ruptural unity . . .
in an assault on a regime which its ruling classes are unable to defend.29
In other words, revolution is determined by a multiplicity of resistances, none of
which can ever be either the originating cause or the last instance, and which may or
may not result from the conscious intention of a revolutionary organ acting through
80 M. S. May & D. Synk
the strategic exploitation of an objective weakness in the system. Weaknesses in
capitalism exist, no doubt, but only as effects of prior struggles over the
transformation of the power of living labor into a commodity. These apparent
weaknesses are, in this respect, actually strengths of the real movement to abolish the
existing state of affairs. The multiplicities of contradictions specified above both
affect and are affected by the revolutionary situation that they manifest and
consummate. They accumulate in a non-linear fashion about which only retro-
spectively we may able to say that they were the start of something. Revolution, too,
functions as an absent cause immanent in its own field of effects.30
Let us turn briefly now to begin a consideration of OWS that will have to be carried
out in more detail and with more depth in a later venture. Through the concrete logic
of its own determinations, OWS enacted the philosophical ontology of crisis that
Althusser articulates through the concept of overdetermination. OWS emerged and
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drew energy from multiple overlapping contradictions: existing reservoirs of concern


about the failure of representative electoral processes to counter the increasing
economic injustice of finance capitalism; an increasingly extensive, connected, and
experienced, network of decentralized anti-authoritarian activists (stretching back at
least as far as the 1999 protest that shut down the World Trade Organization meeting
in Seattle); internal contradictions within the organized Left in New York City; and a
new global cycle of struggles that included mass demonstrations against austerity
across Greece (from the 2010 occupation of Syntagma Square in Athens to the 2011
sit-ins at White Tower Square in Thessaloniki), the encampments and pitched battles
that led to unprecedented revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the Movimiento 15-M in
Spain, and in the United States, the 2011 occupations in Wisconsins Capitol
rotunda.31
As a singular instance of resistance within a movement of movements that
determine and are determined by multiple contradictions embedded at various levels
in the capitalist mode of production, OWS is logically prior to Althusser in the sense
that the latter makes explicit in theory the concrete determinations expressed
implicitly in the practice of the former. It is not with OWS, but with Althusser that
we glimpse the conceptual logic of the world we inhabit in the twenty-first century: a
totality, ruptured with struggle, expanding in every direction*from the exploitation
of life in its minute bio-political fabric to the continued mass exploitation of workers
throughout the world, the effort to expropriate the world-making powers of living
labor and transform them into private profit encompasses the globe, sweeping us all
along in one momentous class struggle or another.
Yet isnt the situation in the United States a farcical repetition of the situation that
gave rise to the revolution in Russia? Isnt the US closer to France in 1851, as
described by Marx in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, than Russian in
1917, as described so eloquently by Lenin and Althusser?32 The US government is a
bumbling and confused regime that has turned the exception into the rule:
permanent suspension of civil liberties, endless and constant proliferation of crises,
omniscient surveillance and the extension of policing apparatuses throughout the
social body (for example, through the state-mandated crowdsourcing of observation
Contradiction and Overdetermination 81

in the See Something, Say Something Campaign), gridlock on all public policy
making, failure of all forms of representative government, trivialization of the global
violence of Empire, dizzying spectacles of secret government conspiracies and the
love affairs of one celebrity Adonis or another, and the state-sanctioned murder of
innocent black youth.33 The list continues.34 These obvious failures of the current
regime serve in a paradoxical way to make the very idea of resistance difficult to
imagine: resistance to what? The occupation, we recall, was not actually of Wall Street,
but of a privately owned public space that served as a metonymic stand-in for all of
the overdetermined contradictions of late capitalism.
We do not propose to develop our observations into an analysis here. When asked
about OWS, we are of the same opinion of the first Premier of the Peoples Republic
of China Zhou Enlai when he was asked by Henry Kissinger for his assessment of the
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1789 French Revolution: It is too early to say.35 Furthermore, it is one step beyond
our temerity to say that Louis Althusser is the philosopher of class struggle that OWS
has been waiting for. Nevertheless, he is second to none in the formulation of struggle
in theoretical terms that are adequate to the rupture and potential of struggle-in-
becoming that has transformed the multitudes of the occupation. Furthermore, we
are inclined to believe that there would be no this Althusser, Althusser the
philosopher of the material ontology of crisis that is hinted at by Negri, without
reading his work in the aftermath of OWS. As we have suggested, this is due in no
small part to the striking conjunctural particularities of Althussers own work and the
terms of his caricature and canonization in American Cultural Studies. Indeed, the
refrain that his work is overdetermined by his own political conjuncture and relation
to the French Communist Party is true, but it is only half of the truth: it needs to
speak, in an important sense, beyond its situated context and to an audience yet to
come. Perhaps that audience has begun to arrive.
In the mean time, we are content to begin to take stock of the conceptual resources
that we have in our possession, or that need to be unearthed, as we begin to speculate
on the extent to which contemporary events, such as OWS, may transform into
unprecedented revolutionary situations. We hope to have contributed to this task and
would like to note in conclusion only that it is not enough to observe the existence
of the machinery in its effects, as Althusser was fond of reminding us.36 On the one
hand, the complex particularities of class struggle and the continued uneven
development of capitalism in the twenty-first century require that we prioritize our
battles and make decisions based upon an exacting analysis of the actually existing
weaknesses within the articulations of the infrastructure. We must not lose sight,
however, of Althussers ironclad assertion that from the first moment to the last,
the lonely hour of the last instance never comes.37 On the other hand, then, in the
moment in which the exception becomes the rule, we are invited to cause trouble
everywhere. Our reading of Althusser suggests, paradoxically, that we should
concentrate our energies where it will have been said that they mattered most, that
is to say, that place that cannot be determined in advance, that place where the
revolution creates its own conditions of possibility.
82 M. S. May & D. Synk

Notes
[1] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Take up the Baton, Jacobin, http://jacobinmag.com/
2012/05/take-up-the-baton/ (accessed 10 July 2013).
[2] The historical conditions of possibility for class composition through self-organization and
direct action is dealt with in some detail in Matthew S. May, Soapbox Rebellion: Hobo Orator
Union and the Free Speech Fights of the Industrial Workers of the World, 19091916
(Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2013). See also, Jack Bratich, Amassing the
Multitude, Communication Theory 15, no. 3 (2005): 24265; Ronald W. Greene, Orator-
Communist, Philosophy and Rhetoric 39, no. 1 (2006): 8595; Matthew S. May, Orator-
Machine: Autonomist Marxism and William D. Big Bill Haywoods Cooper Union
Address, Philosophy and Rhetoric 45, no. 4 (2012): 43051. Matthew S. May, Spinoza
and Class Struggle, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 6, no. 2 (2009): 2048.
[3] Louis Althusser, On the Materialist Dialectic, in For Marx, trans. Ben Brewster (New York:
Verso, 2005), 216.
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[4] Hardt and Negri, Take up the Baton.


[5] Antonio Negri, Notes on the Evolution of the Thought of the Later Althusser, in
Postmodern Materialism and the Future of Marxist Theory, Eds. Antonio Callari and David F.
Ruccio (London: Wesleyan University Press, 1996), 5168.
[6] Rodrigo Nunes, Forward How? Forward Where? I: (Post-)Operaismo Beyond the
Immaterial Labor Thesis, Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organizations 7, no. 1 (2007):
178202. For more on the historical development of Operaismo, see Steve Wright, Storming
Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism (Sterling, VA: Pluto
Press, 2002).
[7] Nunes, Beyond the Immaterial Labor Thesis, 18081.
[8] Louis Althusser and Etienne Balibar, Reading Capital, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Verso,
2009), 17.
[9] Drawing explicitly on Spinoza, Althusser defines ideology in part as idealist anthropology.
Althusser, Contradiction and Overdetermination, in For Marx, trans. Ben Brewster (New
York: Verso, 2005), 89; Althusser and Balibar, Reading Capital, 1375.
[10] Althusser makes the important point that

the first man ever to have posed the problem of reading, and in consequence, of writing, was
Spinoza, and he was also the first man in the world to have proposed both a theory of history
and a philosophy of the opacity of the immediate. With him, for the first time ever, a man
linked together in this way the essence of reading and the essence of history in a theory of the
difference between the imaginary and the true.

Althusser argues in at least a dozen other places that Spinoza, inventor of the unconscious, is
of singular importance to the history of Marxism. Althusser and Balibar, Reading Capital, 17.
[11] Althusser, Contradiction and Overdetermination, 89.
[12] Althusser, On the Materialist Dialectic, 203.
[13] Althusser, Contradiction and Overdetermination, 103.
[14] Althusser, On the Materialist Dialectic, 2034.
[15] Althusser, Contradiction and Overdetermination, 107.
[16] Harry Cleaver, Introduction, in Marx Beyond Marx, Antonio Negri (New York:
Autonomedia, 1991), xxiii.
[17] Ibid. For a concise statement of this formulation in the work of Althusser, see Etienne
Balibar, Structural Causality, Overdetermination, and Antagonism, in Postmodern Marxism
and the Future of Marxist Theory, Eds. Antonio Callari and David Ruccio (London: Wesleyen
University Press, 1996), 10919.
[18] Althusser, Contradiction and Overdetermination, 113.
Contradiction and Overdetermination 83

[19] Ibid.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid., 101.
[22] Cultural Studies scholars in the United States often take one or several section of Ideology
and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes Towards in Investigation for the whole of
Althussers oeuvre, displacing his other, more important, conceptual innovations. The
reasons for this displacement are manifold. Stuart Hall persuasively argues that a division in
the essay between Althussers thesis that ideology is a material practice and his account of the
discursive logic of interpellation foreclosed further critical development of a materialist
theory of subjectivity. Hall explains that, as a result of treating those two aspects in two
separate compartments, a fatal dislocation occurred. What was originally conceived as one
critical element in a general theory of ideology*the theory of the subject*came to be
substituted, metonymically, for the whole of the theory itself. Stuart Hall, Signification,
Representation, and Ideology: Althusser and the Post-Structuralist Debates, Critical Studies
in Mass Communication 2, no. 2 (1985): 102.
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[23] Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (New York: Routledge, 1997), 32.
[24] For a concise statement of this critique and the best misreading of Althussers concept of
overdetermination see, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy:
Towards a Radical Democratic Politics (New York: Verso, 2001), 97105.
[25] Furthermore, Warren Montag reminds us that Althusser never claimed to author a fully
developed theory of ideology in Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses but only
offered notes toward an investigation. In arguing for a symptomatic reading of that essay,
Montag argues that we must admit that ideological interpellation necessarily produces
heterogeneous effects. We can say that the very apparatuses that have as their strategic
objective the freeing of individuals from the multitude*to keep the people from uniting,
as Hobbes puts it*are themselves caught in the aleatory destiny of the struggles in which
they participate. In the course of these struggles, they produce effects other than those that
correspond to their objective. The apparatuses that normally function to recruit individual
subjects also produce effects of community and solidarity. See Warren Montag, Beyond
Force and Consent: Althusser, Spinoza, Hobbes, in Postmodern Materialism and the Future
of Marxist Theory, Eds. Antonio Callari and David F. Ruccio (London: Wesleyan University
Press, 1996), 91106.
[26] Karl Marx, The German Ideology, Marxist Internet Archive, http://www.marxists.org/archive/
marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01a.htm (accessed 19 July 2013).
[27] Althusser, Contradiction and Overdetermination, 96.
[28] Rex A. Wade, The Russian Revolution, 1917 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 1.
[29] Althusser, Contradiction and Overdetermination, 99.
[30] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, May 68 Did Not Take Place, in Hatred of Capitalism,
eds. Chris Kraus and Sylvere Lotringer (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2001): 209.
[31] On the origins of OWS, see David Graeber, What did we Actually do Right? On the
Unexpected Success and Spread of Occupy Wall Street, AlterNet, October 19, 2011, http://
www.alternet.org/story/152789/%E2%80%9Cwhat_did_we_actually_do_right%E2%80%9D_
on_the_unexpected_success_and_spread_of_occupy_wall_street (accessed 24 June 2013). See
also, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, The Fight for Real Democracy at the Heart of
Occupy Wall Street, Foreign Affairs, October 11, 2011, http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/
136399/michael-hardt-and-antonio-negri/the-fight-for-real-democracy-at-the-heart-of-occupy-
wall-street (accessed 24 June 2013).
[32] Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (New York: International Publishers,
2004).
[33] Joshua Reeves, If You See Something, Say Something: Surveillance, Communication, and
Citizenship in American Life, PhD dissertation, North Carolina State University, 2013.
[34] Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (New York: Verso, 2011).
84 M. S. May & D. Synk
[35] Inside Chinas Ruling Party, BBC, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/asia_pac/02/
china_party_congress/china_ruling_party/key_people_events/html/zhou_enlai.stm (accessed
25 June 2013).
[36] Althusser and Balibar, Reading Capital, 213.
[37] Althusser, Contradiction and Overdetermination, 113.
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