The Key Conceptions Of Post Marxism Philosophy Essay

It is generally conceptualized in a way that theory of Laclau&Mouffe is built around three basic concepts: discourse, hegemony and social antagonisms. In order to elaborate and provide theoretical base for them, ‘articulation’, ‘contingency’, ‘impossibility of society’ and etc. are also significant terms of post-Marxism. Their initial aim is to explore a theoretical project capable to give alternative to the classical Marxism in crisis.(Yeğen, 2002: 28). [*] Additionally, the project of Radical Democracy is regarded as a political alternative for socialism in crisisi the same way.

Laclau and Mouffe diagnose the problem by following: "What is now in crisis is a whole conception of socialism which rest upon the ontological centrality of the working class, upon the role of Revolution, with a capital ‘r’, as the founding moment in the transition from one type of society to another, and upon the illusory project of a perfectly unitary and homogenous collective will that will render pointless the moment of politics.". (Laclau&Mouffe,1985:2) They state their aim as"to focus on certain discursive categories which, at first sight, appeared to be privileged condensation-points for many aspects of the crisis..."(Ibid.)

The main premises of Marxism which they deny can be summarized in a way that Marxism, for Laclau&Mouffe, presupposes the social as totality organized around predetermined and necessary/inevitable rules or principles.* [*] Laclau claims that Marxism is built on a notion of universal class, i.e. universal proletariat. (Yeğen,2002:28) Towards universalized proletariat, it is necessary that in civil society the social formation must be homogenized. To put it differently, it means that all differences should be terminated. Subsequently, the state which is an instrument of dominant class-basic distinction from Hegel- will be diminished. Laclau, basically rejects this point due to that current problematic of the world is not to homogenize the social but, rather, articulation of differences. The heterogenic character of the contemporary societies is the main problem that Marxism is incapable to solve.

Laclau&Mouffe continue to analyse and criticise Marxism in following way: Classical Marxist discourse has two objects: relations of production and productive forces. In this regard, the notion of history in Marx is "an entirely objective process dominated by the contradiction between the development of productive forces and the successive systems of relations of production of constitutive of social organisation" that is to say, it is, at the same time, created by the contradiction between productive forces and relations of production.(Laclau, 2006:103)(Laclau,6) On the other hand, Marx regards history as a history of class struggle. Laclau asserts these two points as paradox which is impossible to bring into together. Laclau called it ’crisis of Marxism’.

Additionally, according to Laclau, "the key prediction of an increasing simplification of the social structure under capitalism was entirely disproved; and the complexity of social and political identities in a globalised world challenged any narrow, ‘class based’ perspective."(Laclau, 2006:104) It became clear that Laclaudian conception discarded an analysis based on class. He declares this key stage as starting point of post-Marxism, which it is necessary to explore the character of antagonistic relations not having any underlying principle or essence and also not subordinated by any objectivist premise. In my opinion, it is crucial question whether this radical critique of Marxism should be regarded as anti-Marxist or post-Marxist as accepted generally.

The ambiguities in Marxism, which were rooted in Hegelian philosophy, on the concept of dialectics has to firstly be dissolved, for Laclau and Mouffe. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to renounce regarding society as founding totality. They certainly state their basic ground of analysis as following: "The incomplete character of every totality leads us to abandon, as a terrain of analysis, the premise of ‘society’ as sutured and self-defined totality. Society is not a valid object of discourse. There is no single underlying principle fixing-and hence constituting- the whole field of differences." (Laclau and Mouffe, 1985:111) It is clear that Laclau and Mouffe rejects society as a totality which can be graspable and theoretically definable around predetermined laws unlike classical Marxism. In opposition to fixing society as a totality, post-Marxism considers the social as discursive formations which articulate and re-articulate. For Laclau, "the social only exists as vain attempt to institute… impossible object: society."(Laclau,1990: 92) That is because if there is not closure of it and if there is not fixation of meaning, instead if there is openness of society, the social is impossible. The openness of the social implies limitation of the structured system and excess of meanings; consequently it is impossible of society to be a single unity. They definitely oppose the notion of the social having essence (essentialist conception) and they postulate that articulation of elements become possible thanks to abandonment of this conception.

As for contingency, it is "that being whose essence doesn’t entail its existence. …To assert that something is radically contingent , amounts to saying that the condition of existence of an entity are exterior to it."(Laclau,1990:19)Basically contingency implies impossibility of any precision about the relations between identities or on their own. It is also connected with character of identities whether they are relational or non-relational. By discussing that, Laclau reaches a conception of ‘simply relational identities’ "which never manage to constitute themselves fully, since relations do not form a closed system."(Laclau,1990:20-21) The role of antagonising forces is also important with respect to their blockage the total constitution of the identity which demonstrates its contingent character. Yet, one of the essential part of conditions of that identity’s existence is the antagonising force. While blocking its full constitution, antagonising force, at the same time simultaneously affirms existence of that identity. At this point Laclau defines what they call contingency is this link between the blocking and affirmation of an identity. The significant result of this assertion is that contingency shows the undecidability of the objectivity. In this regard, the social is a terrain of infinite play of differences rather than complete and closed system.

The notion of contingency also bears on constitutive outside characteristic of antagonism. It also implies contingency of all objectivity. By the accidental feature of it, there is no a determinate and knowable part of the first instance of being. One another output of contingency is the impossibility of the closure. Hence, any attempt to a closure is inevitably dislocated. Consequently, undecidability of the social implies primacy and effective role of the politics.


In order to understand concept of discourse in post-Marxist sense and relate it with politics, firstly I need to apply Saussurean linguistic. Although classical approaches to theory of discourse have mainly focused on its transcendental role, contemporary tendencies firstly try to study on their temporal variations historically.(Laclau, 1993:431)

One of the main feature of contemporary approaches is to be affected by Saussurean linguistic. Two points in Saussure are important for post-Marxism. "The first is that in language there are no positive terms, only difference."(Ibid., 432) This implies relational and differential character of language so that it constitutes a system which all elements can be definable in relations with other. For instance the term of bird is meaningful with respect to not be cat or etc. The other feature in Saussure is that language is just a form which means that it is a system of differences and lack of any predetermined essence. As a result, "the totality of language is involved in each single act of signification."(Laclau, 1996:37) The possibility of signification to the extent that the differences constitute a ‘totality’. It implies its limits. Otherwise, it would become an endless process which results as chaos. In other words the possibility of signifying system is impossibility of its existence i.e. blockage of the continuous expansion. In this context, Laclau applies the term of ‘empty signifier’ which is "constitutively unreachable, it will exist as result of the unstable compromise between equivalence and difference."(Ibid., 39) It is nothing other that a constitutive lack. At the end, Laclau concludes his discussion as following: "there can be empty signifiers within the field of signification because any system of signification is structured around an empty place resulting from the impossibility of producing an object which, none the less, is required by the systematicity of the system."(Ibid., 40) This point is also important for the subject of Hegemony.

In brief, second characteristic point of post-Marxist interpretation of discourse is Foucault’s impact. As we mentioned above, the regularity in dispersion, to Foucault, is a rejection of "reference to the same object, a common style in the production of statements, constancy of the concepts, and reference to a common theme."(Laclau&Mouffe,1985: 105) He, rather, conceives of dispersion that is the principle of unity. The importance of this statement, for Laclau and Mouffe, is the possibility of temporal unity in a certain conditions of exteriority. In this sense, contingency and articulation bears on which discursive formation is a sutured totality and which transformation from elements to moment will be never complete.(Ibid. 106-107)

On contrary to Foucault, Laclau and Mouffe rejects the distinction between discursive and non-discursive practices. Because every objects is necessarily articulated as a discursive practices That is to say there is no distance between linguistic and behavioural practices of the social, given that all practices are discursive. In consequence, they mainly oppose any a priori underlying existence out of discursive formation.

The character of discursive formation is not spontaneously linguistic but certainly material. At this point, they refers to Wittgeinstein’s "language game" in which both linguistic and behavioural actions join. Hence discourse is a ‘totality’ which involves both linguistic and non-linguistic processes so that it is a material phenomenon. The fact that articulation as a system of differences is not only linguistic system, but also institutions, rituals, practices in which discursive formation is based on occur in this materiality of totality. It also implies the material character ideologies that they are more that belief systems. [*] Lastly, one should note that the material character of discourse is not constituted in the conscious of subject but the subject positions take place in the discursive formation.

By the way, I have to explain the terms of articulation, discourse, moments, element in the post-Marxist sense due to that they are the main categories Laclau&Mouffe’s discourse analysis.(Laclau&Mouffe,1985:105) Articulation means "any practice establishing a relation among elements such that their identity is modified as a result of the articulatory practice." In this regard, Laclau and Mouffe call discourse "the structured totality resulting from the articulatory practice" while moments are the differential positions. Lastly, elements responses any difference but not discursively articulated. In this context, it is necessary to add that Laclau and Mouffe are affected by Foucault’s conception ‘regularity in dispersion’ which characterises the coherence of discursive formation. Briefly, the point in question is the contingent character of the social.

Discourse is a attempt to constitute a centre which prevents the flow of differences in order to hold discursive formation. To achieve this, it tries to transform elements into moments. But in the last instance it can not happen. Nevertheless, it means that elements are potential moments. The main reason of this impossibility is that elements have excess of meaning. To put it briefly, discourse tries to fix the meaning of element which is actually of excess of meaning, by transforming them into moments.


Briefly, Laclau and Mouffe regard the term of hegemony as alternative to crisis of teleological notion of history in classical Marxism, due to its contingent character. In their theory, hegemony bears on articulatory practices rather than struggle among classes. Hegemony emerges in the field of articulatory practices where elements can not be transformed into moments. (Laclau&Mouffe, 1985: 134) It presupposes the openness and impossibility of the social. Thus, hegemony is articulatory practices which partially fixes the meaning in the system of differences. Hence there is no possibility of hegemony in the fully successful system of differences.

Hegemonic practices suppose a field which is dominated fully by antagonisms. It is not sufficient to speak of articulatory practices. It determines antagonistic articulatory practices. Besides, hegemony requires equivalence and instability of frontier effect. In consequence hegemonic practices, through antagonistic struggles, is an attempt to dislocation and rearticulation of the social.

One important point, in hegemony, is "what the articulating subject is?"(Laclau&Mouffe, 1985:134) For Laclau and Mouffe, it is not the one of two fundamental classes which is postulated by from Lenin to Gramsci. Instead, they state that "the subject of any articulatory practices must be partially exterior to what it articulates." (Laclau&Mouffe, 1985: 135) But this exteriority does not mean that two antagonistic formations confronts to each other. Because if it was so, it would mean the impossibility of exteriority.


Antagonism is caused by the fact that hegemony fails to achieve closure of the social and excess of meaning which makes articulatory practices instable. Antagonism has function as revelatory which shows that all identities are ultimately contingent. It has no any objectivity, therefore it is the frontier of all objectivity. Thus it reveals ultimate contingent nature of all objectivity.

Social antagonism constitutes the limits of discursive formation. At the same time, it prevents the social to form itself as totality which is graspable objectively and rationally. To Laclau and Mouffe, social antagonisms are not internal to the society but external to it. It prevents society to constitute itself fully. Antagonism is the "experience of the limits of all objectivity" (Laclau&Mouffe, 1985:122) It is the condition of both possibility and impossibility of the society. Social antagonism requires the constitutive outside. Antagonism, along with dislocation, has central place in the process of identity formation.

The radical contingency of the social which means limits of the society and impossibility of objective existence shows itself through antagonism. In this sense, antagonism is not a simple conflict or contradiction between social agents. On contrary, it is caused by the incomplete character of their identities. It constitutes by not contradictory forces but enemies. In the case of antagonism, "the presence of ‘Other’ prevents me from being totally myself. The relation arises not from full totalities, but from the impossibility of their constitution." (Laclau&Mouffe, 1985:125) However, antagonisms show the limits of society and impossibility of fully constituting identity, it is crucial in the process of formation of identity.


Laclau states that there is two major approaches in Marxist theory, the theory of ideology. The first one regards problem as a level of social totality; the other conceives of ideology as false consciousness. (Laclau, 1990:89) For Laclau, both of them have been dislocated by the crisis of Marxism, which two tendencies are based on essentialist conception. The former failed, to Laclau, due to having the notion of society as a intelligible totality. The latter "presupposed a conception of human agency-a subject having an ultimate essential homogeneity whose misrecognition was postulated as the source of ideology. "(Laclau, 1990:89)

In the first approach, Laclau claims that "the crisis of the concept of social totality" is caused by the attempt "to fix the any element or social processes outside itself." (Laclau,1990:90) To Laclau, the more important point is that this approach presupposes structural totality which represents itself as fully constituting objectivity. On contrary to this, Laclau postulates the notion of infinitude of the social which means that any system is limited and surruonded by excess of meaning. In brief, he rejects any fixation of identity and suggests the notion of impossibility of fully constituting identity. In this sense, the social is ‘a system of differences’ so that the term of discourse is very sufficient to define this reality.

In the second approach, the problem is caused by the fixation of identity of social agent as a coherent totality. This conception presupposes the homogeneity of subjectivity which has imputed by false consciousness. However developments in the late capitalism demonstrate the identity and subjectivity is not fixed rather, it is decentred and unstable articulation of changes. (Laclau, 1990:92) As a consequence, Laclau declared the death of concept ideology in those senses.