n French Studies in Southern Africa - Sous les pavés : Althusser

Volume 2018 Number 48
  • ISSN : 0259-0247


This article offers an overview of the relation between the Paris student uprisings of May 1968 and the French Marxist philosopher, Louis Althusser. Not unlike other French theorists, Althusser played no part in the uprisings themselves but, paradoxically, given his reputation at the time as the primary Marxist revolutionary theorist, took a long time to recognize the uprisings for their revolutionary potential. The first part of the article reviews aspects of Althusser’s ideas that would have had an effect on the students’ actions, notably his “antihistorical” and “antihumanist” conception of Marxism as a “science of the revolution” and of the class struggle and freedom, and goes on to note that this influence extended to both Marxist-Leninists and Maoists. The second part of the article focuses on Althusser’s subsequent political re-evaluation of the significance of May 1968, as presented in his criticism of the French Communist Party in 1978 and the autobiography L’avenir dure longtemps, published after his death. The article finally reflects on the metaphorical link between the most famous of the May 1968 slogans Sous les pavés: la plage! and Althusser’s expressed desire, following the death of his wife Hélène Rytmann by his own hand and the non-lieu (legal decision to exempt from trial) that resulted from it, to “lift up the tombstone” (relever la pierre tombale) that the non-lieu had “imposed” on him.

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