Abstract and Keywords
This chapter aims to sound a warning about the possible knee jerk return to past theorists in the detritus of the collapse of faith in the neo-liberal ideas that have ruled the globe since the 1970s. All theory is produced in a political and social context, so it is important to trace the context of the production of previous theories which now may be turned to in the midst of crises, once again, even if they ended up the first time around in some kind of ‘post-political’ vacuum. In the early 1990s, it could be written in a book of essays on postmodernism, politics and culture, that after postmodernism, post-fordism, post-marxism, people are now being offered the post-political. The implication is that people are entering an age where the central focus of new thinking and collective activity is moving away from the political party.
In this chapter I want to sound a warning about the possible knee jerk return to past theorists in the detritus of the collapse of faith in the neo-liberal ideas that have ruled the globe since the 1970s. All theory is produced in a political and social context, so it is important to trace the context of the production of previous theories which now may be turned to in the midst of crises, once again, even if they ended up the first time around in some kind of ‘post-political’ vacuum. In the early 1990s it could be written in a book of essays on postmodernism, politics and culture (Perryman 1994: 1) that ‘after postmodernism, post-fordism, post-marxism, we are now being offered the post-political … the implication is that we are entering an age where the central focus of new thinking and collective activity is moving away from the political party’.
It was the Italian Autonomists who became most strongly associated with the vexed notion of the ‘post-political’ (Redhead 1990), or ‘post-politics’, in the 1970s and 1980s. As Sadie Plant has situated it historically, the Italian Autonomists were part of a late twentieth-century development of situationism in one country in ‘a postmodern age’ (Plant 1992). But in the land of that particular brand of left libertarianism, it was ultimately the right-wing magnate Silvio Berlusconi, proprietor of Italy's largest media empire (Anderson 2009: 285–92), who inherited the throne and became a long-term prime mover, and prime minister, in the nation's recent history. As Berlusconi's reign entered what seemed like the end game a supposedly ‘post-fascist party’, the Future and Freedom for Italy movement (FLI), emerged on the ‘post-political’ stage. The Italian Marxist philosopher, Lucio Colletti, who was born in 1924 and died in 2001, became Berlusconi's ally in his flight from Marxism, but delving back into Colletti's life and work can actually be a useful enterprise for an analysis of the ‘crash’ of 2008 and the uneven economic, cultural and political global development that has followed. Colletti developed theories of value, (p.106) aesthetics, law and politics that are still relevant today but have strangely been sidelined, even within contemporary Marxist discourse. In the 1970s he was described as the most important living Italian Marxist philosopher, eclipsing even extremely influential European Marxist figures such as Antonio Gramsci and Galvano Della Volpe. By the 1990s he was in the arms of the right and, in particular, Silvio Berlusconi. Not so much ‘From Rousseau to Lenin’ (Colletti 1972) as one of Colletti's books was entitled, more From Marx to Berlusconi! I want here to put Colletti's life and work into perspective, suggest reasons for his rightward political trajectory and compare and contrast his work with that of another scientific materialist European Marxist, Louis Althusser. Althusser and Colletti had something of a secret dialogue in their lifetimes as I will seek to show, but the legacy of their joint, if conflicting and separate, struggles for Marxism as scientific materialism in the twentieth century lives on in today's accelerated culture of the twenty-first, where some on the left such as Martin Jacques (Jacques 2009a, 2009c), former editor of Marxism Today, see a ‘new depression’ beckoning.
In the history of cultural and political theory Lucio Colletti has been a relatively obscure, if iconic, figure. But where his work was used creatively its impact has proved to be long lasting. For example Paul Willis, then part of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham (CCCS), used Colletti extensively when he wrote Learning to Labour (Willis 1977), a classic account of ‘how working class kids get working class jobs’, which is justly famous for its first half ‘Ethnography’. The book derives much of its overall theoretical strength from the use of the pioneering and sustained work of Lucio Colletti in the second part, entitled ‘Analysis’. Especially in his analysis of ‘general abstract labour’ Willis skillfully uses Colletti's conceptual apparatus, translated by then into English and widely available through New Left Books and New Left Review. Willis (Willis 1977: 143) has, however, pointed to problems with Colletti's analysis, too:
I take Colletti's case absolutely that abstract labour is much more than a mental category in the analyst's head. It is a central factor of real social organization and the real basis of the exchange of commodities (including labour power) and is recapitulated every time in that exchange. Abstract labour as a social force is also indicated in subjective processes such as the separation of the self from labour … However, Colletti's equation of abstract labour with alienation forecloses too early the fixed nature of man and denies the possibility of a progressive and contradictory edge to the split between concrete and abstract labour which capitalism enforces. I dissent from Colletti as he follows Lukacs in equating the self-consciousness of the (p.107) working class with knowledge of the operative principle of abstract labour as a force for reification, and recognition of its own labour power as the source of value. It is this error which allows him to attribute the simple possibility of a correct political analysis to working class consciousness. This is where both he and Lukacs can be justly accused of empiricism and historicism.
In the specific context of the CCCS it was Louis Althussser as a representative of scientific materialism who was much more influential than Colletti in the Centre's theoretical and ethnographic stance over many years. Colletti's influence in the global academy as a whole waned from about the late 1970s to the early 2000s. But today Lucio Colletti is a growing inspiration to new theorists and scholars, especially in the specific theorisation of the new social and economic forces of neo-liberalism.
Let us look at why Colletti is once again seen to be a model theorist, especially to younger scholars. Lucio Colletti, the former Italian communist and Marxist theorist, was born in Rome on 8 December 1924. He died in Livorno, Italy of a sudden heart attack, at the age of seventy-six, while taking a bath on 4 November 2001. As John Stachel has noted (Stachel 1988) ‘at the time of his death he was a Senator in the Italian parliament, representing the Lombard League, one of the most reactionary parties in Italy’. He had, by his death, ‘long departed from an adherence to any variant of marxism’ as he had himself symbolised in his chosen title of Le Declin du Marxisme (Colletti 1984) for a collection of essays in French translation – ‘the decline of marxism’. Colletti was survived by his second wife Fauzia and daughters from each of his two marriages. His death provoked events in Italy that were described as almost a state funeral but the dearth of recognition of his work subsequently is the really strange story. Lucio Colletti developed theories of value, the state, aesthetics, law and politics that are still relevant today although his own intellectual legacy is not as great as it might have been. The 2007 to 2008 global credit crunch (Smith 2010) and the onset of what some see as a prolonged new depression which may last decades, however, may well see Colletti's renaissance (Mann 2009) as an important analytical theorist of capital, the state and modernity. In the 1970s he was described as the most important living Italian Marxist philosopher, eclipsing even influential twentieth-century figures in his country of birth such as Antonio Gramsci and Galvano Della Volpe, and had been elevated to the pinnacle of a small band of high theorists including Louis Althusser and Jurgen Habermas, who were said at the time to constitute a ‘Western Marxism’ (Anderson 1977). For Perry Anderson, then the editor of New Left Review, Colletti was a major ‘contemporary author’ rapidly producing ‘new texts as the NLR was sending its numbers to press (Anderson 2000: 7). The 1980s, however, saw a global (p.108) demise of the theoretical power of Marxism as scientific materialism, and the influence of Marxist theorists in general. Lucio Colletti in particular went from hero to zero. By the 1990s Lucio Colletti was in the arms of Silvio Berlusconi and served as an elected politician in Berlusconi's party in the Italian parliament for a number of years. Yet this remarkable political trajectory was not opportunist; he self-reflexively was always on ‘the left’, and an avowed anti-fascist, for his entire career.
What was the specificity of this trajectory? Born in the 1920s, in 1950 Colletti became a member of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) following in the footsteps of Italian communism's founding philosopher Antonio Gramsci (Colletti 1971). In Italy, Lucio Colletti was variously remembered in obituaries as an intelligent Marxist, the Galileo of social sciences, a rigorous thinker with a critical spirit, an irreverent, sarcastic but free spirit, and as a formerly dangerous communist. But Colletti was also much criticised by many liberal media commentators for his part in Berlusconi's first elective dictatorship which eventually came to an end in April 2006 before another right-wing term ensued, which has lasted, despite prosecutions, until the present day.
Lucio Colletti was determined to study philosophy from a young age. His youth was dominated by the fascist background of Italy in the 1930s and he had to wait until 1945, and the age of twenty-one, before he could enrol at the university of Rome. Colletti is perhaps best known for his major theoretical treatise on Marx, the book Marxism and Hegel (Colletti 1973) entitled Il Marxismo e Hegel in the original Italian (Colletti 1969a), though few commentators on Colletti, from whatever political persuasion, seem to have read the whole text. For Colletti the link between Hegelian dialectics and Marxism was much overblown in Marxist philosophy (Smith 1986; Colletti 1975b; Gottfried 1978) and his own book-length work stressed what he regarded as the singular importance of Immanuel Kant as a philosophical ancestor of Marx well before it was fashionable to do so. Colletti (Colletti 1975b: 3) summarised his own arguments on the problem of the difference between Kant's notion of real opposition and Stalinist dialectical contradiction as threefold:
1. The fundamental principle of materialism and of science, as we have seen, is the principle of non-contradiction. Reality cannot contain dialectical contradictions but only real oppositions, conflicts between forces, relations of contrariety … 2. On the other hand, capitalist oppositions are, for Marx, dialectical contradictions and not real oppositions … For Marx, capitalism is contradictory not because it is a reality and all realities are contradictory, but because it is an upside down, inverted reality (alienation, fetishism) … (p.109) 3. All the same … it is nonetheless true that it confirms the existence of two aspects in Marx: that of the scientist and that of philosopher.
For Lucio Colletti's theoretical and political enterprise the goal was to produce a real, scientific basis for Marxism that had no place for Hegelian consciousness and humanism. In this context he developed important sustained critiques of the brands of Marxism espoused by Lukacs and by the Frankfurt School of Adorno and Horkheimer amongst others.
The problematic binary division of scientist and philosopher in Marx (and in Lucio Colletti's work subsequently) was to persist for Colletti long past the crisis of Marxism which he and others identified during the 1970s. In the remainder of the quarter of a century of Lucio Colletti's life it would be the deconstruction of Jacques Derrida that would wrestle with the scientist and philosopher in Marx, and indeed in the play of language between science and philosophy themselves. Such deconstruction, sometimes misleadingly defined as ‘postmodernism’, ironically culminated in a global celebrity culture of the philosopher as public intellectual, with figures including Jacques Derrida himself, as well as Edward Said, Slavoj Žižek and Jacques Lacan, celebrated either on DVD and ‘consumed’ all over the globe (Derrida 2002; Said 2005; Žižek 2007; Lacan 2008a), or marketed in a populist way through the production of (slightly) more accessible popular texts (Lacan 2008b; Žižek 2002a; Badiou and Žižek 2009). It was a celebrity that in his global heyday Lucio Colletti had also experienced to some extent. However, Lucio Colletti and Western Marxism did not make much more progress in this direction of deconstruction of Marx as scientist/Marx as philosopher and Colletti's identification of a real and serious theoretical problem in Marx would find no ultimate solution in his lifetime. Colletti's subsequent collection of essays From Rousseau to Lenin (Colletti 1972), including Ideologia e Societa when it was originally brought out in Italian in 1969 (Colletti 1969b), won the Isaac Deutscher Memorial Prize in 1973 and is probably his most widely read, and cited, work in English. For Colletti, Jean-Jacques Rousseau was the first to develop a fundamental critique of the ‘bourgeois representative state’ and an analysis of the separation of civil society from the state, and the fact that Marx's own development of theories of the state barely moved beyond Rousseau suggested to Colletti that Marxism lacked a true political theory even in the wake of Lenin's writings. Colletti also memorably contributed a fascinating and sustained introduction to an English edition of Karl Marx's Early Writings in the 1970s (Colletti 1975a) and later a preface to an Italian edition of Marx and Engels' most famous statement of intent, The Communist Manifesto (Colletti 1985; Marx and Engels 1998). (p.110) The papers in From Rousseau to Lenin were culled from a decade of writing about themes such as ‘Marxism as Sociology’, ‘Bernstein and the Second International’ and ‘Lenin's State and Revolution’, while he held a professorship in philosophy at the University of Rome in the 1960s. Early on, he taught at the University of Messina and was at the University of Salerno in a faculty which included Italian luminaries such as Gabriel de Rosa and Carl Salinari. In the 1970s he also taught philosophy at the university of Geneva after his intellectual and political activities at the university of Rome became increasingly controversial for the Italian right. Colletti was always what one obituary writer called an extraordinary polemicist but there is surprisingly little written about him in the English language and even less attention given to his fall-out with Marxism from the 1970s onwards (Mann 2009).
One major contemporary influence on Colletti's work was the Italian Marxist philosopher Galvano Della Volpe who died in 1968. Colletti always remembered first discovering Della Volpe's work in 1951. Della Volpe had been a professor at the university of Messina where Colletti had also taught before going to teach at the university of Rome. Della Volpe's Critique of Taste published in 1960 (Della Volpe 1978) was a treatise on Marxist aesthetics and his most significant book at a time when he was seen as Italy's leading Marxist philosopher. Colletti took over Della Volpe's mantle as Italy's most important living Marxist philosopher in the mid-1960s, and especially as the 1960s gave way to the 1970s. Indeed apart from the challenge of Antonio Gramsci, and later, still current today, Giorgio Agamben (Agamben 2005), it is possible to cite Lucio Colletti as the twentieth century's leading Italian left philosopher overall and the inheritor of Della Volpe's pioneering efforts. Della Volpe was one of the few professors who remained in the PCI (Communist Party of Italy) after the Hungarian revolt in 1956. Colletti remained, too, and witnessed a period of Della Volpean influence inside the PCI especially in the late 1950s when Della Volpe and Colletti were both on the editorial committee of the party's main cultural journal. Like Galvano Della Volpe, much of Lucio Colletti's life and work was dedicated to an ‘absolutely serious’ relationship to the work of Marx, based on direct knowledge and real, sustained study of his original texts (Anderson 1974: 3–28). Furthermore, Colletti insisted on the political importance of these texts, emphasising that in the end all Marx's work is essentially an analysis of modern capitalist society and that all the rest of his writing, though important, is secondary to the Grundrisse and to Capital in all three volumes. In the mid-1970s Colletti gave a fascinating, wide ranging interview to Perry Anderson, at that time the influential editor of the new left journal New Left Review, published (p.111) originally in the July/Autumn issue in 1974 (Anderson 1974: 3–28). This interview, still uncannily resonant today, explored Colletti's creeping disillusionment with Marxist philosophy and politics in the context of his life and work up to that date and was prescient in its rational and incisive break from Marxist theoreticist discourse, citing the pamphleteering tradition of socialism as a lost Marxist politics of the past. Although Colletti acknowledged that both he and Della Volpe had a commitment to study Marxism rigorously, where it is actually to be found in Marx's writings themselves, he felt strongly that the only way in which Marxism could be revived was if no more books like his own Marxism and Hegel were published. To Anderson, in the long penetrating interview he conducted with Colletti, Lucio Colletti expressed a profound dissatisfaction with what he had done in his academic career as a professor and confessed that he felt immensely distant from the things that he had written, emphasising strongly that he was in the process of radically rethinking his previous thought. Anderson's interview was published in Italian in the same year as the original Italian version of Colletti's article ‘Marxism and the Dialectic’ (Colletti 1974) which was translated and published in English a year later (Colletti 1975b). The Anderson conversation with Colletti covered in great detail his own intellectual and political formation and revealed much about the subtleties of his life and work but only hinted at the massive and shocking political move he was to make eventually in the 1990s. However, with hindsight it does lay the theoretical basis for elements of such a move, as can be seen from the detail of doubt in the interview.
Much of Colletti's background is conflated as Gramscian in the existing literature but this is a serious misunderstanding of the milieu of Lucio Colletti. Born in 1924 Colletti grew up in an Italy where the prison writings of Antonio Gramsci (Colletti 1971) were utilised to present Marxism as the fulfilment and conclusion of the tradition of Italian Hegelian idealism, in particular that of Croce (Anderson 2009). Colletti's bachelor degree thesis entitled La Logica di Benedetto Croce was written in 1949 on neo-idealistic philosophical logic and Benedetto Croce, and was eventually published as a book in Italian (Colletti 1992). But it was Lenin's materialism that was soon a much more formative influence. Colletti regarded his own intellectual origins as similar to nearly all of the Italian intellectuals of his generation, reacting strongly to Italian fascism but (perhaps) less critical of Stalinism. Colletti always cited Lenin's writings as the main reason for his decision to join the PCI in 1950, and later, in 1958, wrote an introduction to an Italian edition of Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks as well as, in the 1960s, a sustained critical essay on Lenin's seminal State and Revolution pamphlet. Colletti had been a PCI dissenter after the (p.112) Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, and consistently held an aversion to Stalinism in general (Colletti 1970) to such an extent that he was regarded as a Trotskyist in Italy, hence, partly, his celebration in Trotskyist influenced journals such as New Left Review in Britain. ‘Hang Colletti’ was the student graffito in the 1970s when anti-Trotskyism was at its height on Italian university campuses. In the 1950s he was one of the 101 signatories to a notorious letter from dissident communist intellectuals deriding the party line on Eastern Europe and lambasting Soviet repression. He told Perry Anderson of New Left Review how he experienced Stalin's death in 1953 as an emancipation and Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin at the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Twentieth Congress in 1956 as an authentic liberation (Anderson 1974: 3–28). For Colletti the extreme period of Stalinism comprised ceaseless trials, suspicion, and purges inside the Soviet Party and all other communist parties (Colletti 1971). Colletti thought Stalin himself was a cold and despotic man (Colletti 1970). In contrast he praised Leon Trotsky's sober caution and dissection of Stalinism. However Colletti did not immediately leave the Communist Party in 1956, waiting in fact until 1964 to exit the Italian party and end any love affair he might have once had with the Soviet system. He had joined the Communist Party in his youth as a militant and philosopher and had no regrets as he told Perry Anderson (Anderson 1974: 5):
My membership of the party was an extremely important and positive experience for me. I can say that if I were to relive my life again, I would repeat the experience of both my entry and my exit. I regret neither the decision to join nor the decision to leave the party. Both were critical for my development. The first importance of militancy in the PCI lay essentially in this: the party was the site in which a man like myself, of completely intellectual background, made real contact for the first time with people from other social groups, whom I could otherwise never have encountered except in trams or buses. Second, political activity in the party allowed me to overcome some forms of intellectualism and thereby to understand somewhat better the problems of the relationship between theory and practice in a political movement. My own role was that of a simple rank and file militant. From 1955 onwards, however, I became involved in the internal struggles over cultural policy in the PCI.
Colletti was, almost inevitably, firmly against the May '68 movement in Europe, a reaction as much generational as political. By 1974, when he was interviewed by Perry Anderson, Lucio Colletti had started to turn his back on Marxism. He had staunchly regarded dialectical materialism as an evening-class philosophical pastiche but more seriously for Colletti, at (p.113) least in the West, by the mid-1970s it seemed that for too long Marxism had lived on merely as an academic current in the universities, producing works of purely theoretical scope or cultural reflection. He predicted to Perry Anderson in the 1970s that Marxism would survive merely as the ‘foible of a few university professors’ (Anderson 1974: 28) and stressed that he did not want any part of it if indeed that was the future of Marxism, separated from the people it was meant to politically engage. When Anderson (Anderson 1974: 25) asked him about his initial intellectual origins and entry into political life, Colletti explained how influential Lenin on the one hand and the international political context on the other had been:
It was my reading of certain of Lenin's texts that was determinant for my adhesion to the PCI: in particular and despite all the reservations which it may inspire and which I share towards it today, his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. At the same time, my entry into the Communist Party was precipitated by the outbreak of the Korean War, although this was accompanied by the firm conviction that it was North Korea which had launched an attack against the South. I say this, not in order to furbish myself with an a posteriori political virginity, but because it is the truth. My attitudes even then were of profound aversion towards Stalinism: but at that moment the world was rent into two, and it was necessary to choose one side or the other. So, although it meant doing violence to myself, I opted for membership of the PCI – with all the deep resistances of formation and culture that a petty-bourgeois intellectual of that epoch in Italy could feel towards Stalinism.
Colletti had no sympathy with the Eurocommunist turn in the 1970s and saw instead the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) as the vehicle for a market socialist solution, initially under the leadership of Bettino Craxi, to the problems of Italian capitalism in the 1980s. After the late 1980s collapse of Eastern European socialism, Colletti eventually settled for backing Berlusconi, whose Forza Italia party began in December 1993. Colletti won a safe seat for Forza Italia in the 1996 elections which Berlusconi lost. In 2001, when Colletti died, Silvio Berlusconi in tribute praised him in an embarrassing obituary saying he had had courage in rejecting communism and had been a critical spirit of Forza Italia.
Lucio Colletti's distinctive contribution to Marxist theory in the 1960s was to claim a modern scientific basis for Marxism as well as to develop a theorised, anti-Stalinist culture within a Western Communist Party. In France in the 1960s and 1970s another Communist Party intellectual, this time in the Communist Party of France (PCF), namely Louis Althusser, (p.114) held sway. Ultimately, for Althusser, the condition or state we are in is one condemned to anxiety in the lonely hour of the last instance (which never seems to arrive). It is now twenty years after his death, and international capitalism is (once again, always already) in crisis, a cultural state ripe for a return of the work of Louis Althusser to the international stage, it might have been thought. A living Althusser in the present era would have been a tantalising prospect but, to an extent, his ideas lived on after his death in a more sustained fashion than Lucio Colletti's. As others, including his former students, have argued at various junctures over the last twenty years (Badiou 2009: 54–89; Balibar 2009; Althusser 2001: vii-xiv; Kaplan and Sprinker 1993), it could very well now be an appropriate time to look again at Louis Althusser's specific legacy – his contribution to the project of an anti-humanist, scientific Marxism alongside other partially discredited left public intellectuals of the twentieth century, like his onetime protagonist and colleague on the left, Lucio Colletti (Althusser 2003, 2006).
Louis Pierre Althusser was born in Birmandreis near Algiers on 16 October 1918 and died in Paris from a heart attack, aged seventy-two, on 22 October 1990. The initial twenty-seven years of his life, up until the end of the Second World War, have been recorded in the first volume of a biography in French by his friend Yann Moulier Boutang (Boutang 1992). He was the eldest son of a schoolteacher, Lucienne Berger, and a bank manager, Charles Althusser. He was brought up a Roman Catholic, a faith which pervaded and underscored many of his writings. His Masters thesis, supervised by Gaston Bachelard, was awarded at the Paris Ecole Normale Superieure in 1948. He joined the French Communist Party in 1948 and never left the PCF, although at times it might have seemed that it left him. In late 1945 he met the woman who was to be his lifelong companion and eventually, in 1976, his wife, namely Helene Legotien (nee Rytman). Althusser taught as a university academic for the subsequent forty years at the Ecole in Paris, rising to international celebrity as a Marxist theorist and left philosopher and global intellectual extraordinaire. Many contemporary theorists can claim, like Alain Badiou (Feltham 2008: 1–31) to have had ‘Althusserian years’, such was his influence internationally.
To the accelerated culture of twenty-first century celebrity, Althusser has become a forgotten icon of an earlier era and is regarded in posterity as a fatally flawed individual, meriting only two references in a long contemporary appreciation of France and its intellectual culture (Anderson 2009: 137–213). He strangled his wife in 1980 (Althusser 1994: 15–17) and suffered from mental illness (what today would be, professionally, referred to as bipolar disorder) for many years, following his incarceration as a prisoner (p.115) of war in the Second World War. Luke Ferretter (Ferretter 2006: 2) has noted that Althusser in 1939:
passed the entrance examination to the prestigious Ecole normale super-ieure in Paris in which university teachers are trained, but he was called up before he could begin his studies. He became a prisoner of war in June 1940. Transported to a prison camp in northern Germany, he was initially assigned to hard labour, but after falling ill, worked as a nurse in the camp infirmary. This gave him time to read widely in philosophy and literature.
Five long years in the camp in Schleswig Holstein took their toll. As renowned Althusser scholar Gregory Elliott recalled (Kaplan and Sprinkler 1993: 234) these were ‘years attended by a loss of faith and the onset of a long history of depressive illness’, a condition which was to last for the rest of his life, another forty-five years.
Louis Althusser, like Colletti an opponent of Eurocommunism, came to the fore in the 1960s, theorising a scientific basis for Marxism in the contemporary capitalist world, as well as creating an anti-Stalinist theoretical cluster within the PCF. In ground-breaking books like For Marx (Althusser 1969) and, with Etienne Balibar, Reading Capital (Althusser and Balibar 1970), which have been reprinted endlessly, Louis Althusser was to propose a different, but related, scientific basis for Marxist theory from that offered by Lucio Colletti. Pour Marx was Althusser's French language title for his most challenging book, first published in 1965, a year when at the height of his powers he also co-wrote Reading Capital (Althusser and Balibar 1970). For the English translation of Pour Marx, Althusser specifically addressed a message to his ‘English Readers’, written in October 1967 (Althusser 1969: 9–15). In the event it was Althusser who became far more influential in Western Marxist circles. There was no Collettiism to rival Althusserianism. Colletti was largely forgotten for decades, and remains in Althusser's trail even today. On Google Scholar internet hits Althusser wins hands down, with Colletti registering only a couple of hundred. However, by 1980 when Colletti published his last major book Tramonto Dell'Ideologia (Colletti 1980), Althusser, who died in 1990, was himself becoming a forgotten man, thrown onto the theoretical pyre of Marxist history as his own personal life slid into tragedy, mental illness and confinement (Althusser 1994, 2006). Della Volpe's Italian school predated Althusser and his pupils in its Marxist anti-Hegelianism and Colletti's view of Althusser was coloured by this precession. Lucio Colletti told Perry Anderson (Anderson 1974: 23) in interview conversation of a fascinating, previously unknown, history of dialogue between the two men: (p.116)
I knew Althusser personally and for some years corresponded with him. Then I would fail to reply to him, or he to me, and gradually the letters between us ceased. When we first met in Italy, Althusser showed me some of the articles he later collected in For Marx. My initial impression on reading them was that there was a considerable convergence of positions between ourselves and Althusser. My main reservation about this convergence was that Althusser did not appear to have mastered the canons of philosophical tradition adequately. Della Volpe's discourse on Hegel was always based on a very close knowledge and analytical examination of his texts, not to speak of those of Kant, Aristotle or Plato. This dimension was much less visible in Althusser. On the contrary, it was substituted by the intromission of simplifications of a political type. For example, in these essays there would be a series of references to Mao, which appeared to be an intrusion of another sort of political discourse into the philosophical text itself. Politically, it should be added, none of the Della Volpeans had any weakness towards Maoism. At any rate, with these reservations, the articles which later made up For Marx seemed to show a pronounced convergence with the classical theses of the Della Volpean current in Italian marxism. Then Althusser sent me Reading Capital. I started to read it, and found – I say this without any irony – that I could not understand the presuppositions and purpose of the work … I did not find it particularly interesting as such, and did not pursue it any further.
For Louis Althusser's part, at the time he wrote For Marx in 1965, the works of Lucio Colletti and Galvano Della Volpe were of the ‘greatest importance, because in our time they are the only scholars who have made an irreconciliable theoretical distinction between Marx and Hegel and a definition of the specificity of marxist philosophy the conscious centre of their investigations’ (Althusser 1969: 37–8). A few years later when writing ‘The Object of Capital’ section of Reading Capital Althusser discussed Colletti and Della Volpe at various points but made the clear mistake of conflating Gramsci and Colletti. Essentially, Colletti's own attention to alienation and fetishism in Marx's writings, and his contention that the themes of alienation and fetishism were present in the whole of the later Marx (Anderson 1974: 3–28) in contrast to Althusser's idea of an epistemological break between the early and late (or young and old) Marx, radically separated the two scientistic Western Marxists, even if they both agreed on the pivotal importance of Capital and the Grundrisse. Lucio Colletti's insistence on his insight that the problems of alienated labour and commodity fetishism are central to the whole architecture of Marx's later work underlies the whole of his own theoretical edifice, and make his work on Marx's theory of value still pertinent in the economic meltdown of global capitalism today. Colletti, at a time when Althusser's (p.117) star was still on the rise and well before Althusser's tragic decline in mental health at the end of the 1970s, viewed the celebrated French theorist as certainly a highly intelligent person but displaying an organic sympathy with Stalinism – Colletti clearly regarded Althusser's thought as having become increasingly impoverished and arid with the passage of time (Anderson 1974: 3–28).
During the 1990s in the last decade of his own life Lucio Colletti achieved political notoriety of a quite different kind, walking into the arms of the Italian right as his own, earlier contributions to forging a scientific basis (Bongiorno and Ricci 2004) for Marxist philosophy were systematically overlooked by newer theorists and their followers. One Italian language work on Lucio Colletti appeared in 2004 (Bongiorno and Ricci 2004) which has yet to be translated into English but rather surprisingly there has been no biography of Colletti's life and work as such. Such dearth of work on Colletti's biography and legacy leaves major questions about his own personal great moving right show in the 1980s and 1990s. I have suggested here that Colletti was more prescient than his fellow scholars in his rational exit from 1970s theoreticist Marxism even as he was being feted as one of the leaders of Western Marxism. But why did Colletti, a principled leftist, swing right politically as he got older? One clue to this emphatic rightward shift is his fierce anti-Catholicism which he shared with many other European Marxists of his generation (Gottfried 2005) although significantly perhaps not Louis Althusser whose own Catholic background is interwoven with his Marxism and structuralism. The disillusionment with Marxism that Colletti experienced in the 1970s never included a rapprochement with Catholicism in Italian society and his staunch anti-clerical stance persisted to the end. He had chosen Berlusconi over the Christian Democrats because of their mixing of Church and state, and had always fought against the legacy of Mussolini and the fascists in Italy, even though Berlusconi's party was widely seen as containing neo-fascist fellow travellers. There is, for those willing to be sympathetic to Colletti, evidence that before he died there had been considerable falling out with Berlusconi's party.
In the speeded up modernity and accelerated celebrity academic culture (Redhead 2004b) of the early twenty-first century, not too long after the actual death of Lucio Colletti, a Centro Lucio Colletti opened its doors. A fitting tribute to the legacy of Lucio Colletti, collecting together Colletti's books and papers and sponsoring philosophical and political events, Centro Studi Lucio Colletti is housed in a former residence of Lucio Colletti in Rome. The centre is run by Colletti's widow Dotessa Fauzia Gavioli. An exhibition on Colletti's life and work entitled ‘Lucio (p.118) Colletti: Journey of a Contemporary Philosopher’ (in English translation) has travelled to various European cities including Rome, Florence and Oxford. The doubts that had crept into Colletti's work in the mid–1970s as Marxism in the West became, in his own words, a ‘purely cultural and academic phenomenon’ and the ‘foible of a few university professors’ (Anderson 1974: 28), still resound amidst the attempt of today's international public intellectuals like Slavoj Žižek (Žižek 2002a, 2002b, 2008a, 2008b, 2009, 2010) to re-energise and re-examine Lenin and his theories of revolutionary violence. However, Lucio Colletti's turn away from Lenin and the choice of his own idiosyncratic personal parliamentary road ensured, unfortunately, that Colletti would not necessarily, initially, be first on the lips of the ‘new’ New Left in the remainder of the early decades of the twenty-first century. The credit crunch and global crash of 2008 and after, and the ‘new depression’ confidently predicted by some commentators to be on the global horizon (Jacques 2009a, 2009c) may, ironically, reverse this trend and revive a sustained interest in the life and work of Lucio Colletti.