Althusser:The Detour of Theory

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In the international renaissance of Marxist theory during the 1960s and early 1970s few projects generated as much excitement or controversy as Louis Althusser's 'return to Marx'. One of the most ambitious enterprises in the post-war history of Marxism, Althusser's reconstruction of Marx's doctrine was heralded as a new start in some quarters, dismissed as a refurbished Stalinism in others.

Today, more than twenty years after the appearance of his major works and amidst the profound contemporary crisis of Marxism, Althusser is the victim, rather than the beneficiary, of philosophical fashion. Paradoxically, the oblivion into which he has now fallen affords the opportunity fora return to Althusser: a reassessment that advances beyond the unconsidered responses that Marxist commentators have often given to his work.

In this first full-scale study in English of Althusser's career, Gregory Elliott draws on a wide range of untranslated material, surveying the political and intellectual context of Althusser's initiative in For Marx and Reading Capital. He analyses the nature of the Marxism developed in these works and charts their author's subsequent evolution, concluding with a balance-sheet of the French Marxist's contribution to historical materialism.

At once sympathetic and critical Althusser: The Detour of Theory will establish itself as the standard introduction to its subject.


  • Engaged but judicious, this beautifully written and scrupulously argued book examines Althusser's contribution to Marxism in its full political context and as a theoretical enterprise from whose strengths and weaknesses we can learn.

    Steven Lukes
  • With great insight and skill, Elliott reconstructs the context of Althusser's 'return to Marx' in the aftermath of Khrushchev's Secret Speech and the 'de-Stalinization' it initiated in international Communism. Althusser: The Detour of Theory both illuminates the significance of the philosopher's intervention and aids a just appreciation of its many strengths and its limitations...

    Maurice Godelier