17 Aug 2015

Somers-Hall, (4.6), Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, ‘4.6 Third Example: Are there Social Ideas, in a Marxist Sense? (186/234–5)’, summary

by Corry Shores
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[The following is summary. All boldface, underlining, and bracketed commentary are my own. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my typos and other distracting mistakes. Somers-Hall is abbreviated SH and Difference and Repetition as DR.]

Summary of

Henry Somers-Hall

Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition:
An Edinburgh Philosophical Guide

Part 1
A Guide to the Text

Chapter 4. Ideas and the Synthesis of Difference


4.6 Third Example: Are there Social Ideas, in a Marxist Sense? (186/234–5)



Brief summary: 
For Deleuze, “the Idea” has three critical features: it has 1)  undetermined parts that 2)  are determinable only through and as reciprocal relations for which 3) there can be various spatio-temporal actualizations. The third of Deleuze’s three examples is Marxist social ideas. Under Althusser’s interpretation, Marx is concerned less with visible entities like laborers and means of production and more with deeper, invisible, and non-specifiable political and ideological social relations that are responsible for the generation of the surface structures. There are certain such structural relations at work below the surface, which under some historical circumstances manifest in one way and under others manifest another way. Thus the model fulfills the three requirements for an Idea: 1) the deeper structural elements on their own have no meaningful sense but 2) obtain one when they enter into relations with one another, which 3) can take on many actual instantiations under different economic, social, and political circumstances.




Deleuze’s third example of the Idea is Marxist social ideas. Since in Marx’s philosophy he looks for the way new relations between subjects and objects arise from contradictions in their predecessors, he is thought to be a Marxist, and since he looks for these changes in social and economic relations, he is thought to be a historicist philosopher (146). Deleuze, however, follows Athusser’s reading that especially the later Marx makes a break with Hegel and also is not historicist study. [I am not certain, but somehow the difference is that for Hegel what is important are the terms, but for Marx what is important are the relations between the terms, since Marx is concerned more with modes of production. I do not know how things are this way for Hegel, thus I am not sure how more precisely things are such for Marx. Let me quote a chunk of it first before I try to offer an interpretation.]

Marx is traditionally understood as a historicist philosopher, and a disciple of Hegel. Just as in the Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel tries to show that new relations between subjects and objects would arise from the contradictions in their predecessors, the Marxist project, on this reading, would be to show how different social structures emerged from the internal contradictions of their predecessors. Since what generates a new set of social and economic relations is a prior set of such relations (the inherent contradictions in | Feudalism immanently determining the transition to capitalist economic relations, for instance), Marx’s philosophy is essentially a philosophy of history. Deleuze here takes up Althusser’s claim that, at least for the later Marx, there is a radical break with Hegel, meaning [the following up to citation is Althusser quotation]

that basic structures of the Hegelian dialectic such as negation, the negation of the negation, the identity of opposites, ‘supersession’, the transformation of quantity into quality, contradiction, etc., have for Marx (in so far as he takes them over, and he takes over by no means all of them) a structure different from the structure they have for Hegel. (Althusser 2005: 93–4)

In fact, the division of history into periods, for Althusser, is secondary to Marx’s analysis of productivity in terms of modes and relations of production.

What is central to Marx’s analysis, according to Althusser, is the mode of production, conceived of as a certain combination between the means of production (land, for instance), and the agents of production (itself divided into direct agents, such as workers, and indirect agents, such as managers). Althusser’s claim is that what is fundamental to Marx’s analysis is not man himself (or even man alone, as this would be to exclude the means of production), but rather the relations between these terms themselves [the following up to citation is Althusser and Balibar quotation]:

The true ‘subjects’ (in the sense of constitutive subjects of the process) are therefore not these occupants or functionaries, are not, despite all appearances, the ‘obviousnesses’ of the ‘given’ of naïve anthropology, ‘concrete individuals’, ‘real men’ – but the definition and distribution of these places and functions. The true ‘subjects’ are these definers and distributors: the relations of production (and political and ideological social relations). But since these are ‘relations’, they cannot be thought within the category subject. (Althusser and Balibar 2009: 180)

What are these relations? Althusser argues that it would be a mistake to see them as ones of domination and servitude, for instance, although such structures may result from these relations. Rather than dealing with visible relations, such as exploitation, he is concerned with the structural relations that underlie these surface phenomena [the following up to citation is Althusser and Balibar quotation]:

The relations of production are structures – and the ordinary economist may scrutinize economic ‘facts’: prices, exchanges, wages, profits, rents, etc., all those ‘measurable’ facts, as much as he likes; he will no more ‘see’ any structure at | Althusser’s account, therefore, is that surface phenomena, such as ‘juridical, political, ideological’ (DR 186/234) structures emerge in order to support the underlying structures of relation between roles of workers and means of production.
(SH 146-148)

[So perhaps we can put aside what exactly makes Marx’s ideas unlike Hegel’s, since that does not seem to be what is most important in this analysis. The Althusser quotations seem vital to this presentation, but I have a lot of trouble following the ideas here. We first need to grasp what is meant by mode of production for Althusser. One example would perhaps be the productive combination of farmland and farmers. What is important then is neither the land nor the laborer alone but rather the way that their conjunction can produce a flow of goods under certain economic conditions or systems. If we were to assign the role of subjects, it would be more the political and ideological social relations. Perhaps there is a way to further exemplify this. So we might imagine perhaps that the profit motive is the “agent” or “subject” under a capitalist system which compels certain labor arrangements to take place in order to extract wealth from the farmland, while instead under a socialist system, the motive to increase the commonwealth’s material goods is the agent responsible for what organizes labor arrangements in the particular way they do under that system. I am guessing. Next we specify more what these political and ideological social relations are. We need to distinguish visible relations, which are surface phenomena, from structural relations that underlie the surface ones. Surface relations are like domination, servitude, and exploitation. Also among these surface structures it seems are: prices, wages, profits, and rents, as well as certain juridical, political, and ideological structures. But from this further elaboration on the concept, we do not seem to have any clear examples or illustrations of what the deeper structures in fact are. We seem only to be able to say about them that they are not visible and they are not humans or these other listed things, but still that they are fundamentally responsible for these other elements and conditions of the economic and social systems. Perhaps it must be left at that, since this non-specificity of the relations is maybe what will make it interesting with regard to Deleuze’s notion of the Idea. For 1) the elements have no conceptual significance outside their relations, 2) but they in fact do gain such significance when they enter into relations, and 3) the relations can be actualized in many spatio-temporal instantiations (since we see so many different economic, political, and social systems each with their own ways of making the conjunctions between elements). Let me quote:]

In what sense does Althusser’s reading of Marx relate to Deleuze’s conception of the Idea? First, we can note that the elements of his analysis have no conceptual significance outside of their relations. What Althusser is discussing is the way in which roles relate to the means of production. If we separate these from one another, they cease to have any significance: ‘Whatever the social form of production, labourers and means of production always remain factors of it. But in a state of separation from each other either of these factors can be such only potentially’ (Marx, quoted in Althusser and Balibar 2009: 175). Second, these potential elements become significant by being related to one another. Land only becomes a means of production by being related to a worker, who becomes determined as a worker precisely through this relation. Finally, this structure can be actualised in diverse spatio-temporal relations. Depending on how the elements are related, different actual structures and relations, and hence different forms of society, will of necessity come into existence to sustain the underlying mode of production. Thus [the following up to citation is Althusser and Balibar quotation],

to obtain the different modes of production these different elements do have to be combined, but by using specific modes of combination or ‘Verbindungen’ which are only meaningful in the peculiar nature of the result of the combinatory (this result being real production) – and which are: property, possession, disposition, enjoyment, community, etc. (Althusser and Balibar 2009: 176)

The Idea, in the Marxist sense, thus allows us to get away from the anthropomorphic and historicist study of surface structures, and hence to develop a science of society.
(SH 148)


Citations from:

Somers-Hall, Henry. Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition. An Edinburgh Philosophical Guide. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University, 2013.

Or if otherwise noted:

Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994/London: Continuum, 2004.




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