Social Scientist. v 24, no. 280-81 (Sept-Oct 1996) p. 77.

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On the Absence of 'Power' in Marxist Theory

Aditya Nigam ('Marxism And Power', Social Scientist, 275-77. p. 3-22) has raised certain interesting questions regarding the so-called 'absence' of the category 'power' in Marxism. Since he invokes Althusser in the opening section of the essay, I would like to register a fundamental disagreement with his position, albeit from an avowedly Althusserian position.

To begin with, Nigam draws an analogy between the 'absence' of the category 'labour-power' in the discourse-object unity (i.e., problematic) of classical political economy, and the absence of the category 'power' in Marxist theory. In so far as the category 'labour' is replaced with the concept 'labour power', the whole problematic of classical political economy is transformed. For Althusser this transformation is precisely one of the moments of the epistemological break with which Marx institutes a 'science', breaking with its 'ideological' past (i.e., the problematic of classical political economy). Thus it is not a question of 'reading' the absences and restoring them to a fullness of science but a whole change of terrain.

Althusser, on the other hand, does not change the problematic of Marxist science by a reading of Capital^ but restores its 'silences', not its 'absences' That which is 'absent' in Marxist theory is not a 'silence' but a forbidding of concepts; a necessity inscribed in its very functioning as a science. In so far as Nigam is claiming that 'power' as a category is 'silent' condition for the existence of Marxist theory, one has no quarrel. On the other hand, if it is a positive 'absence' that he is referring to, then he is definitely committed to a 'break' with Marxism. I must hasten to add that in principle there is nothing illegitimate about this procedure. But the question is, is the 'introduction' of the category 'power' a necessary advance for Marxism as a science, or is it the effective intrusion of (bourgeois) ideology into the problematic of a science: something that Althusser repeatedly warns us about? Nigam's

Research Scholar, Deptt. of History, Delhi University, Delhi.

Social Scientist, Vol. 24, Nos. 9-10 September-October 1996

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