The Weakest Link

I completely sympathize with what many of you are saying and felt slightly overwhelmed by Althusser’s essay “Contradiction and Overdetermination.” Although some portions of the text stood out to me and made sense, I felt lost while reading others and do not feel like I fully grasped all of the concepts. For one, I know that I would benefit from an explanation of the Marxist inversion of the Hegelian dialectic.

In terms of concepts that did make an impression, I particularly liked Althusser’s reference to Lenin’s theory of the “weakest link”. I think that this passage stood out to me because it was a practical application of the rather dense Marxist concept of contradiction.  Althusser explains, “A chain is as strong as its weakest link. In general, anyone who wants to control a given situation will look out for a weak point, in case it should render the whole system vulnerable. On the other hand, anyone who wants to attack it, even if the odds are apparently against him, need only discover this one weakness to make all its power precarious” (p. 94). Thus, the weakest point in a system is the most important, whether it be from an angle of protection or attack.

Lenin’s application is really hammered home with the example of the possibility for revolution in Russia. In the chain of imperialist nations, Russia was “the most backward country in Europe”, leading to an “objectively revolutionary situation” (p. 95). The fact that Russia was “simultaneously at least a century behind the imperialist world, and at the peak of its development” made revolution imminent (p. 97). The historical contradictions that existed within Russia in the early 20th century led to an unavoidable weakness in the string of imperialist states.

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