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Reports that Labour Plans Regional Immigration controls as Sovereigntist Left Emerges in UK.

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Sovereigntism: a  Dead End for the Left. 

Tom Watson: Labour plans ‘liberal’ immigration policy for London but tougher controls in other parts of UK HATTY COLLIER

The Independent reports,

Labour plans regional immigration system to tighten controls outside London

The system would likely require some kind of work or housing permit to be introduced.

Labour is planning a regionalised immigration policy that would allow higher immigration to London but tighter restrictions on moving to other parts of the country.

Deputy leader Tom Watson said on Sunday morning that Brexit presented the opportunity to fine-tune the UK’s border controls and that the plan was under discussion by the party.

Asked whether he thought immigration should be higher or lower across the UK, Mr Watson said: “I don’t think you can say that. I think you can actually say London requires more liberal immigration policies but there are other parts of the country where immigration may be putting pressure on public services like schools and hospitals.

“That’s why I think when we come out of the EU we can have an immigration policy that maybe addresses both those issues.

“These are nascent ideas, we’re not ready to make them robust in a manifesto yet but they’re certainly the debate that is going on in the Labour party right now and in wider circles.”

The approach could help resolve Labour’s dilemma of keeping both its metropolitan support and its support in former industrial areas happy on the issue.

The idea would likely require some kind of work or housing permit system to be introduced as the UK has no internal border controls to stop people settling where they want.

A policy tailor made for electoral gain?

We sincerely hope that this policy, – requiring perhaps a line to be drawn around ‘open city’ London for ‘foreigners’ who wish to work and live in the UK – is not going further than these news stories.

Indications are however that this could well be part of “a national popular politics”.

Like many countries, notably France, Britain is now seeing the development of a “sovereigntist” left that seeks to base politics on the Nation, or ‘national renewal”. In France it is said that this strategy is needed to answer the Front National’s appeal to, frankly, racist roots of national populism and “the” people, wrapped in moralistic politics.

In words that could come straight from this current, Jonathan Rutherford  wrote in yesterday’s Labour List (Labour can respond to Brexit by leading a popular politics that completes the shift away from Thatcherism)

The first is to define a British sovereignty and restore control of our borders and law making. The nation state, accountable to its population, and working through treaties, partnerships and alliances, remains the best means of managing globalisation in the interests of its own citizens. Britain needs constitutional and political reform of its union and its governance. The Brexit vote was an English vote and so the renovation of self-government in England should be a priority in a more federal UK. The free movement of labour must end and immigration brought under national democratic control. It is a case made by Tom Kibasi  and by Chuka Umunna.

It is hard to find a better definition of sovereigntism than these lines: the position that supreme power should be exercised by  nation state,  that ‘pooled sovereignty’ – that is the European Union – is a weakening of its force, that

The Labour ‘interest’ is apparently redefined,

‘ Labour must recast itself as a party of national renewal and reconstruct a broad national coalition around a sociologically changed labour interest. It is the only means by which it can take on populism, transcend its own cultural divisions, and regain its credibility as an opposition and a government in waiting. A national popular politics speaks for the labour interest within the culture of the nation. It means a Labour Party that represents the diversity of working people in the country defining their own interest and so their own shared common identity.

Since Rutherfod considers that Brexit is a “democratic  moment” those who opposed it are cast into the darkness of   the “minority, metropolitan interest”, not the “real” People.

“Those who voted to leave the EU are a moderate majority of mainstream England “who will respond to “national popular politics.”

The words about globalisation and so on should not fool us into thinking this is any way ‘anti-capitalist’. Who are the first targets of this critique? As can  be seen, a key part of this version of sovereigntism  is the assertion of control of the free movement of labour.

Inside London, freedom of movement, outside, restriction, passes, permits.

Not only would this be unworkable but frankly it is an insult to those who prime responsibility is to defend the cause of labour, the cause of all working people.

Internationalism is not the preserve of ” a tiny revanchist Marxism and the dried-up old bones of the hard left. The vacuum is filled by a small minority” with egalitarian identity politics.”

Once you give priority is given to ‘British’ control, “our” border and “our” law making you have to define who this “our” is.

How exactly this relates to ‘English’ power and the idea – floated and not yet sunk – of ‘federalism’  is left in the air.

A federal’ system would, perhaps, also weaken the Nation’s unifying power generating capacity….And what could be a purer example of ‘identity politics’ than tossing the word England into the political game?

Internationalism, that is not just defending universal rights, an injury to one is an injury to all, is the only practical way of standing up for the labour ‘interest’ when Capital weakens our living conditions, our wages and our ability…..to move freely.

We have common interests beyond the ‘national popular’.

But let that detail pass in the lyrical nationalism that is the hallmark of the sovereigntist left.

Amongst ” free nations and democracies.” Britain has a special place in Rutherford’s heart.

We stand, in fact, at the very point of junction, and here in this Island at the centre of the seaways and perhaps of the airways also, we have the opportunity of joining them all together. If we rise to the occasion in the years that are to come it may be found that once again we hold the key to opening a safe and happy future to humanity, and will gain for ourselves gratitude and fame.

Another is a belief in the special place of the nation, coincidentally the home country of those supporting this vision, in History.

The “special relationship” with the US is a sentimental one. In reality it is transactional and rarely reciprocal. So be it. Britain must use the genuine affection of the American people and find its points of leverage and use them profitably.

The third circle was once empire, then it became the commonwealth, and now Britain must reinvent this sphere of influence as a democratic moral leader, social connector, trader, ideas maker, and culture creator, in order to build relationships with other creative powers who know how to project themselves onto the world stage. It is in this sphere that Britain can play a role contributing to rethinking the global order.

Jonathan Rutherford ‘s national Messianism apart, this is populism, not any form of social democracy or democratic socialism.

On the one side are the ‘real’ people, moral, hard working, whose wishes Rutherford had a talent to divine.

On the other, the “dried up” hard left and identity politics, the “minority, metropolitan interest”.

There are more experienced populists out there who are likely to beat Rutherford at his own game, in the growing nationalist right of the Tory party to begin with.

A pluralist democratic left should not go down the same dead end.

 

 

 

“Brexit is a blessing for the world”, Trump. How will the pro-Brexit Left react?

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Trump and His Blessed Friend.

Before the UK EU Referendum the Editor of New Left Review wrote,

…a vote to remain, whatever its motivation, will function in this context as a vote for a British establishment that has long channelled Washington’s demands into the Brussels negotiating chambers, scotching hopes for a ‘social Europe’ since the Single European Act of 1986. A Leave vote would be a salutary shock to this trans-Atlantic oligopoly. It would not bring about a new golden age of national sovereignty, as Labour, Tory and UKIP Brexiters like to claim; decision-making would remain subordinate to Atlanticist structures. It would certainly involve a dip in GDP—around 3 per cent, on the most plausible estimates, so smaller than the contraction of 2009. But the knock-on effects of a leave vote could be largely positive: disarray, and probably a split, in the Conservative Party; preparations in Scotland for a new independence ballot.

Susan Watkins Oppositions. New Left Review. No 98. March-April 2016.

Immediately after the result Watkins’ partner Tariq Ali, who had campaigned for a Leave vote with an array of groupuscules, stated this to Tele Sur (a multi-state funded  pan–Latin American terrestrial and satellite television sponsored by the governments of Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Bolivia that is headquartered in Caracas Venezuela, about which little needs to be added…)

Tariq Ali ‘Pleased’ Brexit Has Given EU ‘Big Kick’ up ‘Backside’.

British-Pakistani intellectual, writer and journalist, Tariq Ali, told teleSUR on Friday that the majority of British voters gave the EU “a big kick in its backside,” explaining that the majority of working class “leave” voters felt that overall the EU did not benefit them, was undemocratic and an organization for the rich and the banks.

Ali lamented the fact that “right-wing “leave” supporters used xenophobia and racism to attack refugees and migrants.”

His principal suggestion, however, was that there should be ” new elections, because we want a newly-elected government to carry through the negotiations—hopefully a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn and not some wing of the Conservative Party.”

Alas,  there were no new elections and Corbyn did not form a Labour government.

In her analysis of the result Susan Watkins concluded (Casting off ? NLR 100, July August 2016)

For now, though, it is plain that Blairized Britain has taken a hit, as has the Hayekianized eu. Critics of the neoliberal order have no reason to regret these knocks to it, against which the entire global establishment—Obama to Abe, Merkel to Modi, Juncker to Xi—has inveighed. Which will ultimately prove more important, and what the side-effects of each will be, remains to be seen.

Ali at least  appears to be one of those who consider that Trump’s victory was in part a result of opposition to this ‘neo-liberal order’.

This is a transcription of some of Ali’s words in a video talk about Trump.

A very deep cancer at the heart of modern liberalism today that since the 90s since the birth and emergence of this particular form of capitalism under which we live and which is referred to as neo-liberalism to give a new tag, but which is capitalism all the same, and which is concerned with making profits but nowadays concerned with making profits with no regard for people who are less well off… And so they imagine living in an insider bubble, cocooned from reality that they can get away with it endlessly. Well what the Trump triumph unprecedented in the 20th and 21st century reveals is that you can’t get away with it all the time.”

The idea that because people have become unhappy with the results of ‘globalisation’ or ‘neo-liberalism’ that they vote ‘populist’ (heavily inflected by the nationalist defence of the ‘people’ not just against elites but against other nations) is so well-worn that it operates as en excuse for considering anything more than the origins of this discontent. Watkins’ account of the Brexit ballot is a long and contentious essay on this theme.

If there’s any political thrust to this stand it’s as if there’s a healthy push to protest against the market, and the left’s task is to give it an extra shove.

Thinking about where the urge is going to end up once it gets into the political system is ignored.

Watkins and Ali are only some of the apparently left-wing people who failed to think through the consequences of their call for Brexit : what would happen after  leaving the EU “Neo-liberal” framework (a gross simplification that ignores the weight of EU regulation) in a world dominated by large large capitalist powers.

The biggest capitalist power, the USA, is now in the hands of somebody who, whatever the motives of his supporters, who is pretty sure that Brexit is good news for his turn to an America First planet.

We await a response to the new shape of the “trans-Atlantic oligopoly” from the pro-Brexit left’s “insider bubble”.

Donald Trump says ‘Brexit is a blessing for the world’ after meeting with Theresa May, as UK and US vow to deepen the special relationship

Describing Brexit as a “blessing to the world”, the president said the vote to leave the EU was a “tremendous asset, not a liability”.

He vowed to do a free trade deal with Britain, while attacking the European Union – which he described as “the consortium” – for making it hard for companies to do business.

Mr Trump said that the people of Britain voted for Brexit because “people want to know who is coming into their country and have control of trade”.

Then there’s this:

Brexit Good for Terra Firma, Bad for Most People, Hands Says (22nd of January, Bloomberg Markets).

The U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union is going to lead to dramatic changes in the way the country’s economy operates, which could create opportunities for a firm like Terra Firma Capital Partners, Chairman Guy Hands said.

The country will have to get rid of much of its social safety net and may see a 30 percent decline in wages in real terms in the next 20 years to enable it to compete outside of Europe, Hands said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. Debt will command higher interest rates as more risk is ascribed to an independent U.K., and immigrants from Europe will be replaced with workers from the Indian subcontinent and Africa, who may be willing to accept “substantially” lower pay, he said.

Still, ultimately, the exit will be a good thing for the economy, Hands said.

No doubt the pro-Brexit left imagine that this will all melt away with some big demonstrations and other protests culminating in a left ‘populism’.

There are few signs of anything with this degree of coherence or support emerging in the UK in the immediate future.

There is no sign that a force of this nature, based solely in Britain, outside the institutions  in which  the majority of the  European Left operate, the EU, could stand up for a progressive model to oppose to Trump and his Tory friends.

André Gorz. Une Vie. Willy Gianinazzi. Review.

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André Gorz. Une Vie. Willy Gianinazzi. La Découverte. 2016.

Over the last few weeks Socialist Party contender for the Presidential ‘primaries’, Benoît Hamon, has raised the idea of a “revenu universal d’existence’ (Basic Income) paid to all. Hearing this many people would have remembered the name of André Gorz. The Vienna born but France based journalist, social theorist, and green socialist activist, whose influence extended far beyond the francophone world, promoted this idea from the 1990s onwards. That is, “a guarantee of sufficient income, independent of the duration of labour (which can only decrease), and perhaps independent of work itself”. (1)

Hamon’s left-wing rival Arnaud Montebourg dismissed the idea as a social “cataplasme” (sticking plaster). The right-wing Manuel Valls It is an unrealistic recipe for a something-for-nothing society. Editorialists pointed to the costs and the seeming acceptance that France was fated to remain a society of high unemployment (le Monde 17.1.17). But the proposal, whose paternity was not directly acknowledged, illustrates how Gorz exploration into the changing economy, the world of work, and non-work, ecology, and social philosophy, remains a fruitful source of reflection about the development of capitalism.

Willy Gianinanzzi, a researcher in far left and labour movement history, has written the first biography of André Gorz (1923 – 2007). Closely tied to his subject’s concerns the book displays deep affection for its subject and a perceptive guide to his writings and ideas.

André Gorz was Vienna born, as Gerhart Horst, of an authoritarian Jewish father – said to have declared that he “nothing against Hitler except his anti-Semitism” – and a non-Jewish mother. He left for Switzerland in 1939 to avoid conscription in the National Socialist led army. His German validated Baccalaureate passed he studied chemistry at an Engineering school in French speaking Lausanne. Gorz opted, permanently, for the French language – even to the point, Gianinanzzi points out – of refusing to speak German until the last decades of his life.

Existentialism.

Gorz developed an interest in Philosophy and writing, recounting his early experiences in fictional form in Le Traître (1958). Immediately after the War’s end, with a developing attraction to existentialism, in 1946 Gorz attended in Lausanne one of the many talks given by Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre. He became politically engaged in the pacifist and “minimalist” (world government) movement.

From this time on André Gorz, as he came to name himself, would pursue a career in journalism, closely bound to his political commitments. From the late 50 onwards Gorz wrote for a variety of magazine and journals that existed on the burgeoning French independent, ‘third worldist’ and new left. L’Express (opposed at the time to the Algerian war), France Observateur (forerunner of the Nouvel Observatuer), and was on the Editorial Board of Les Temps Modernes. From this point on Gorz mixed with, or at least met with, many of the central personalities in the 1960s radical left, from Marcuse to Cohn-Bendit as well as centre-left media figures like the editor of the Nouvel Obs’, Jean Daniel.

One of the most interesting sections of Une Vie (L’automation et la nouvelle classe ouvrière Chapter 7) is devoted to the early sixties debate over “neo-capitalism” and the “new working class”, terms associated with the sociologist Alain Touraine, and Serge Mallet. Gorz became a supporter of the idea that automation has transformed ‘Taylorism’ and ‘Fordism’. A new group of qualified workers, technicians, existed who were competent to take over running enterprises. With this social base, classical forms of trade unionism could be extended to demands for ‘autogestion” self-management. In this vein, a vision of realisable set of measures to create “economic sovereignty” as the foundation of democratic socialism, Gorz collaborated with the new left Parti Socialiste Unifié, and wrote Stratégie ouvrière et néocapitalism (1964) and Le Socialisme difficile (1967). Both of these books had an impact beyond the borders of the Hexagone.

Gorz became equally known in the English-speaking world, as translations appeared including sympathetic articles on Sartre. To Gorz the Critique de la Raison Dialectique made history intelligible and offered a picture of the “only true model of ‘voluntary co-operation’ …the fused group”. If this might be considered a paradigm of self-management Gorz was also engaged with the social barriers to such change set out Marx’s theory of ‘alienation. The view that capitalist “heteronomy” – the domination of technical reason external to people’s needs – remained an important part of Gorz’s writing throughout his life.

In the midst of the 68 events Gorz remained committed to “revolutionary transformation of the present society by means of a range of intermediary objectives. In 1972 he discovered ecology, and what Gianinazzi, calls “matérialisme naturaliste.” Gorz published in the French green journal, Le Sauvage and produced Écologie et liberté (1977). Scarcity, as Sartre indicated in his Critique was a natural limit to development. Concerns about the danger of upsetting natural conditions led Gorz to back the green campaign against nuclear power. Pursuing his support for self-management he, like Cornelius Castoriadis extended the principle to wider social autonomy. He became interested in the writings of Ivan Illich, not just on “de-schooling society” but on the ‘abolition of work’. Gianinazzi suggests that the reason for the failure for the two to meet and make common causes lay in an angry exchange in the left press (“la polémique oiseuse” Page 211). One doubts if the founder of Socialisme ou Barbarie would have accepted a debate on the foot of equality with a professional journalist, least of all one advocating “intermediary objectives”.

Farewell to the Working Class.

Gorz’s best-known book is Farewell to the Working Class (1981). A Facebook friend suggests that most people never get beyond the title of this interesting, if contentious, study. It did indeed attack the “cult” of the Worker. But its analysis of the evolution of work is perhaps best seen not in relation to Marx’s theory of the revolutionary potential of the proletariat but to the earlier hopes placed in the self-management capacities of the “new working class”. The end of the traditional socialist project of emancipating the working class, that is its positive capacity to challenge ‘heteronomy’, had, according to Gorz,  foundered in this class’s inability to master complex networked “post-industrial” production.

Next to the shirking privileged layer of skilled employees was a growing mass of unemployed and marginalised workers. “This non-class of ‘non-workers’ “has no transcendent mission, no unity beyond the experiences of those who compose it, no prophetic aura, no promise or capacity to reconcile the individual with the social, self and society. It is ‘the possible social subject of the struggle for work-sharing, generalized reduction of work time, gradual abolition of waged work’. In Critique of Economic Reason (1998) Gorz defined the autonomous sphere as the realm of non-commodity activities. (2)

Socialism became part of a wider movement against capitalist rationality. It was entwined with ecology as “Ecosocialism.” He joined with the “décroissance” movement to question the whole basis of economic growth. Yet his social concerns did not fade was. As  Gianinazzi illustrates Gorz dropped the hostility he showed to Basic Income in Farewell. In the 1980s he co-operated with Maurice Pagat, the ebullient and – some considered – eccentric founder of the Syndicat des chômeurs (union of the unemployed). He became part of the Basic Income European Network (BIEN). His last work concerned the impact of information technology, and his L’Immatérial. Conassiance, valeur et capital (2003). It was said to be close to the Italian ‘post-autonomist’ theorists Paulo Virno and Tony Negri’s reflections on the Grundrisse and the ‘general intellect.” (Pages 311 – 312).

Lettre à D.

Une Vie closes with a portrait of Gorz’s final days. The writer’s wife, Dorine, had suffered for many years from great pain. She would never recover her health. Writing in the sublime Lettre à D Gorz described their profound love (Love letter that sealed a death pact). They could not bear to live separated, still less would he wish to follow her hearse to the Crematorium. Faced with this suffering, they had decided to “depart” together.

In September 2007 the couple jointly left the world.

On the final pages  Gianinazzi asks us not to cover Gorz with adulation but to consider his works as materials to help create “une civilisation désirable de l’après capitalisme et l’après croissance” (post growth). That is the best testimony to the value of André Gorz that one could give.

André Gorz. Une Vie is highly recommended and will without doubt be translated swiftly.

*******

(1) The New Agenda. André Gorz. New Left Review. 1990.1/81.
(2) Misreading Gorz. Finn Bowring. New Left Review 1/27/ 1996.

Cornelius Castoriadis and the Politics of Autonomy.

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Note: this is long, but because the developing interest in Castoriadis concerns more than small academic circles I am posting it regardless. 

Cornelius Castoriadis and the Politics of Autonomy.

History does nothing, it ‘possesses no immense wealth’, it ‘wages no battles’. It is man, real, living man who does all that, who possesses and fights; ‘history’ is not, as it were, a person apart, using man as a means to achieve its own aims; history is nothing but the activity of man pursuing his aims.”

Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx. The Holy Family. 1844. (1)

 

A critical look at the politics of Cornelius Castoriadis, around, and beyond these recent publications:

Castoriadis. Une Vie. François Dosse. La Découverte. 2014. Looking for the Proletariat Socialisme ou Barbarie and the Problem of Worker Writing. Stephen Hastings-King. Brill 2014 Castoriadis. L’Imaginaire, Le Rationnel, et le Réel. Arnaud Tomès. Demapolis. 2015. Cornelius Castoriadis ou l’autonomie radicale. Segre Latouche. Le Passager Clandestin. 2014 Cornelius Castoriadis et Claude Lefort: L’expérience démocratique. Editor. Nicolas Poirier. Le Bord de l’eau. 2015. A Socialisme ou Barbarie Anthology. Autonomy, Critique, Revolution in the Age of Bureaucratic Capitalism.  Beta Version. Anonymous. 2016.  Autonomie ou barbarie. Edited Manuel Cervera-Marzal and Éric Fabri.  Le Passager Clandestin. 2015.

Cornelius Castoriadis (1922 – 1997) was a landmark figure on the French political and intellectual left. A philosopher, a political theorist, a professional economist at the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), Castoriadis was a psychoanalyst (initially linked with the Lacanian school) to boot. He was also one of the founders, with Claude Lefort (1924 – 2010), of the group and publication, Socialisme ou Barbarie (SouB, 1949 – 1965, the group dissolved in 1967) whose legacy continues to be debated on the left. As Dosse’s biography, Stephen-Hasting King’s study of SouB, the essays published by Poirier, and by Cervera-Marzal and Éric Fabri, Latouche’s pamphlet, and the philosophical study by Arnaud Tomes demonstrate, Castoriadis remains a preoccupation for radical left thinkers.

To his admirers Castoriadis was the major radical left thinker of the 20th century. After his death Alex Honneth, of the Frankfurt Institut für Sozialforschung, and a student of Jürgen Habermas, compared his stature to that of Herbert Marcuse and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He was, Honneth considered, a significant figure within the tradition of ‘Western Marxism’ that “tired to save the practical-political intuitions of Marx’s work through a resolute abandonment of its dogmatic kernel.” Edgar Morin, co-founder of the ‘heterodox’ left wing journal, Arguments (1956 – 1962), and for decades a respected figure on the French centre-left, wrote a vibrant tribute in le Monde in 1997. For Morin, Castoriadis’ path-breaking contribution to the left stemmed from his belief that “the continuation of Marx requires the destruction of Marxism, which had become, through its triumph, a reactionary ideology”. As Castoriadis put in 1962, to remain revolutionary one had to ditch Marxism. After the collapse of ‘Eastern’ state Marxism and Marxism, both geographically and theoretically ‘Marxism’ Western or otherwise, has further fragmented, geographically, theoretically, academically and politically. Where does it now stand? (2)

Castoriadis remarked in 1992 that, “the wholesale collapse of Marxism has been obvious to me for more than thirty years.” There was nothing worth salvaging in it. “We reject the Marxian insistence on “grounding” it in the “laws of history,” or attributing it to the workers’ movement if only, simply, because this movement is no more than one of the many interest groups that are fighting within rich capitalist societies”. Today 90% of the people could be expected to support the “project of autonomy”. Leftism can pass by not only Marxism, but also the concentration of this special constituency as a historical lever within democratic socialist movements. (3)

On the left Castoriadis is unimaginable without Socialisme ou Barbarie, although it was far from the mouthpiece of one individual. SouB offered an analysis of changes in the post-war Western capitalist society, the structures of ‘bureaucratic capitalism’ in the Eastern bloc. It tried to develop, with limited means, an emancipatory practice within the working class. Jacques Julliard in his influential history of the French lefts has described SouB as “remarkable”(Les Gauches Françaises. 2012) Amongst its achievements it offered a pioneering analysis of “Stalinist bureaucratic degeneration” and, breaking from its Trotskyist origins, “put into question the leading role of the Party in the revolutionary process”. It was, he goes onto declare, one of the “inspirations” of May 68. (4)

Other assessments have been no less unwilling to describe SouB as a significant current within key developments of the second half of the 20th century.  Boltanski and Eve Chiappelo’s The New Spirit of Capitalism (1999) placed Castoriadis and the review within the challenge to authority that arose in the late ‘60’s. They identified it as part of the ‘artistic critique’ of capitalist alienation, the market society’s deformation of people’s wills and creative abilities, in SouB’s view reflected in the division between those who give commands and those who carry them out. Demands for “autonomy, spontaneity, authenticity self-fulfillment, creativity, life” took precedence over older attacks on capitalist exploitation and demands for state measures to remedy their effects. In Mai 68, l’héritage impossible (2002) Jean Pierre Le Goff describes the enduring insights offered by Castoriadis and his comrade Claude Lefort, from SouB to their later work. Their critique of Marxism and totalitarianism and the affirmation of the democratic potential of new forms of political struggle had a completely different statue to that of the “simplistic” anti-Marxist  ‘nouvelle philosophie’ of the late 1970s   (5)

First Biography.

Nearly two decades after the Greek-French philosopher passed away Castoriadis: Une Vie (2014) (CUV), is his first biography. Une Vie opens with Castoriadis’ birth in Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1922. His family were amongst the Greeks forced out of Atatürk’s Turkey and obliged to re-establish their lives in Athens. In 1937 Castoriadis joined the Youth Wing of the Greek Communists, and the party itself, the KKE, in 1941. He was swiftly a dissident, and part of a Trotskyist grouping around one of its competing leaders, Agis Stinas (1900 – 1997). After studies at the University of Athens – where he displayed an interest in Max Weber as well as being attracted to Marxism – he obtained a grant to study in Paris. In December 1945 Castoriadis left for France.

Castoriadis would later say that the experience of the authoritarian side of Greek official communism, combined with reading of dissident Marxist works by authors such as Victor Serge, left him prepared to defy any orthodoxy. Thus armoured he had no intention of dropping out of left activism. After finishing his academic studies he was employed as an economist for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Out of a very dissident current within French Trotskyist politics, led, with Claude Lefort, he formed SouB in 1949. Leftist political activity was abandoned in the 1960s, with the final dissolution of the group in 1967. He continued his engagement through prolific writing. Castoriadis had joined the École freudienne de Paris in 1964. Opposing the psychoanalytic views of its founder Jacques Lacan in 1969 Castoriadis left and participated in a different body, the Quatrième groupe. Retiring from OECD in 1970, he became a psychoanalytical analyst in 1973. During that decade, marked by the publication of L’institution imaginaire de la société (1975) and the collection and reprinting of SouB texts, his writings reached a wider audience, including academic circles. Castoriadis began to lecture and teach, eventually becoming part of the École de Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS).

François Dosse is a historian of ideas. He has written a study of the hermeneutic philosopher Paul Ricœur, who at Nanterre University was both supportive and at the receiving end of May 68 protests. Ricœur was a thinker with whom Castoriadis, he notes, enjoyed a relationship of “mutual esteem”. Dosse made a mark with the study of two other difficult thinkers in Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari. Biographie Croisée (2007), theorists whom Castoriadis did not hold in equally high regard. The professional philosopher and the radical psychiatrist’s joint writings, most notably L’Anti-Œdipe (1972) are celebrated for the theory of ‘desiring machines’, and critique of psychiatric approaches to schizophrenia. In their philosophical-political works such as Mille Plateaux  (1980) they advocated the “creation of concepts” a  “box of tools” (boîte à utiles). One of their most famous was the rhizome, a metaphor for the way ideas giving off stalks and shoots.

The pair had very distinct lives. Guattari’s was studded by engagements which brought him into contact with the ‘alternative’ French and European left, while Deleuze stayed largely within the Academy. The chapters covering their intellectual odyssey are held together by themes rather than time-lines, the creations of their “agencement” (their collaboration). One critic suggested that the Biographie Croisée resembled a “Polar”, a whodunit that ends up with the investigator uncovering Deleuze and Guattari’s conceptual apparatus. (6)

With this background Dosse is well-equipped to tackle another difficult subject in which the development of theory looms large, politics stand centre-stage, and psychoanalytical theories play a significant part. Castoriadis Une Vie is not a detective story nor is it arranged by concepts and arguments. The biography has a largely linear framework, within which the intellectual content often develops its own momentum. There is nothing resembling the Deleuze-Guattari tandem: Castoriadis’ important political and intellectual relationship with Claude Lefort was not a fusion of minds. To Dosse there was both “dialogue and confrontation” between the group’s top figures. Their work, political and theoretical, in the early 1950s ran a close parallel course, with Castoriadis the acknowledged chief in the Review, There was a split (1958) in SouB, renewed co-operation in the late 60s to the mid-1970s, followed by further falling outs. By the 1980s their political and theoretical approaches had diverged considerably. Yet it is, when we consider the nature and limits of democratic politics in the project of autonomy, hard to come to terms with the one thinker without the other.

Labyrinth.

To cover the different aspects of Castoriadis’ life, in which this was only one, but significant element, is not an easy task. Dosse uses the metaphor of a “labyrinth” (taken from the title of some of his collected writings, Les Carrefours du labyrinthe 1978 – 1999) to describe the intricate passages of his thought. Nevertheless, for the author, if Castoriadis never created a ‘system’ his ideas are “roborative” (tonic) and still form part of a “coherent bloc” resting on the theme of autonomy.

This suggests that we should follow his guiding thread through the different routes that his writings developed. Dosse also manages to convey a sense of the day-to-day detail of an intellectual’s existence – a hard feat – without losing attention of the important issues at stake. In view of his interest in relations of authority, one would have wished for more information about the Economist’s career as a high official in charge of scores of subordinates in the OECD. By contrast, there is a welcome wealth of detail on Castoriadis’ life in SouB and on the left. Castoriadis’ role as a theoretician and a potential political leader, as a dominant force within SouB, was, electric. Dosse cites member and contributor Sébastian de Diesbach, who said that this “extraordinary “ (hors du commun) individual was “Plato, Socrates, power did not interest him” (7)

Une Vie also notes Castoriadis’ polemical excesses during disputes, inside, or outside SouB. André Gorz talked of a drive to stand out as the only really critical thinker in the French left-wing intellectual village. A ‘force of Nature’, the biography ends with warmer tributes from the ranks of those affected by Castoriadis’ efforts to rouse his contemporaries and assume the full depth of the political dimension of human existence.  (8)

Castoriadis Une Vie is more than a life history. François Dosse considers that Castoriadis’ writings were milestones on the way to emancipatory politics. Beginning with an implacable critique of official Communism Castoriadis first sketched an alternative, socialist self-management, a realm of possibility from the creative roots of a society at present warped by bureaucratic capitalism. Often neglected in academic circles, a “marginal” an “outsider”, Castoriadis, for Dosse, is an enduring source of inspiration, both theoretical and political. From a critique of  “heteronomy” – the rule of alienated institutions – the groundwork for much broader liberating social arrangements emerged. As an often-employed explanation begins, autonomy, that is, ‘auto’, self, ‘nomos’, law, is the pursuit of a world where we make our own rules and order our own lives. Dosse considers that with this goal Castoriadis’ historical and psychoanalytical gaze helped open up the social imagination to the possibilities of a more convivial life beyond a  “foreclosed” future dominated by profit. From SouB onwards, there was a consistent democratic drive, outlining the contours of “radicalised” self-determination through the “socialisation” of all decision-making.

Not everybody was, or is, convinced of this picture. Claude Lefort came to doubt the possibility of such a sweeping re-ordering of society. In the 1970s he posited the way it conceived the lifting of restraints on autonomy. With the introduction of self-management “the idea of being together, producing together, deciding and obeying together, communicating fully, satisfying the same needs, both here and there and everywhere simultaneously, became possible as soon as the alienation which ties the dominated to the dominator is removed; it is as if only some evil and complicit servitude had for centuries or millennia concealed from people the quite simple truth that they were the authors of their own institutions and, what is more, of their choice of society. If this is believed, there is no need to confront the problems posed on the frontiers of the history that we are living through.”

Jürgen Habermas trenchantly stated that Castoriadis entrusted “the rational content of socialism (that is, a form of life that is supposed to make autonomy and self-realisation in solidarity possible) to a demiurge creative of meaning, which brushes aside the difference between meaning and validity, and no longer relies on the profane and no longer relies on the profane verification of its creations.” He was unable to “provide us with a figure for the mediation between individual and society”. For Alex Callinicos this “voluntarist social theory” ended in what he considered, “wilfully obscure” writings, that began with L’insitution imaginaire de la société (1975). This book was “merely one example of a general trend in contemporary social theory, which was to detach Marx’s philosophical anthropology from historical materialism and transform it into a general theory of action positing a transhistorical human capacity to overturn social structures.” Perry Anderson dismissed Castoriadis’ political and theoretical ambitions as a “pious cult of creativity.”(9)

Approaches to Castoriadis’ Ideas.

Castoriadis’ relationship with the organisation and publication, Socialisme ou Barbarie should be the starting point of grasping his politics. SouB was a wider project that extended beyond his own imprint. No discussion of the philosophy and politics of autonomy can ignore the group, whose participants and activity extended beyond him in was engaged in efforts to intervene in the working class. Stephen Hasting King’s invaluable Looking for the Proletariat draws attention to SouB’s political projects and to other figures than Castoriadis. In Lefort’s writing and the activity of Daniel Mothé, the plan developed of recording “worker experience”. Lefort found his bearings in the work of his teacher, the existentialist-phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty. But the project of revolutionaries as “phenomenological observers” and the activity of a militant and his allies in the famous Billancourt car plant next to Paris was more than an attempt to register life in the factory.

SouB, King argues, went beyond, outsider’s plunges into working class life, represented by say Simone Weil’s 1930s plunge into the world of work (published posthumously in 1951 as La Condition Ouvrière). It was inspired by the first-hand account of class struggle in the car-industry The American Worker (1947:  Paul Romano and Ria Stone – Phil Singer and Grace Lee Boggs – of the Johnson-Forest tendency, associated with C.L.R.James), which SouB translated and published. Mothé, who was to publish his own Journal recording his life at work (Journal d’un Ouvrier. 1959), was to develop reflections on the changing role of activists and how they might politicise everyday worker experience. Mothé came not only to outline how being such a “militant”, contesting both employers and unions, was a metier. He observed that their concerns were increasingly detached from non-factory political issues. One of the few members of SouB to consider the pre-Communist-led CGT ‘syndicalist’ trade unionism, he noted the erosion of their demands for control over the workplaces.

These and other SouB interventions were linked to practical political-class demands centred on activism, and not the product of industrial relations studies, ethnography or cultural studies. Tribune Ouvrière, a worker-activist paper was one result of their approach; intended to be a feedback loop co-ordinating and developing autonomous struggles. The basis lay in new types of informal organisation of “elementary groups” of workers, the co-operation needed to sustain production in the post-war phase of automation, and the unintended reaction against Fordist plans and Taylorist norms. King makes the point that for Lefort and the group, ‘autonomy’, initially referred to “strike actions that workers carried out beyond the control of, and in opposition to, the bureaucratic trade unions and political parties” It developed into “direct-democratic forms of self-organisation” Whether their strategic conclusions went far beyond opposition to all forms of authority, from bosses to unions, remains an open issue. Nevertheless many consider this not only a creative response to the post-war changes in work (in contrast to the traditional bread-and-butter demands of union activists) but perhaps one of the first efforts to develop a left-wing industrial politics that was not reduced to efforts to capture trade unions from the ‘reformist’ leadership and mobilise workers behind (their) party-led vanguards. (10)

In this view, the fundamental contradiction of capitalism was that it both needed workers’ creativity and yet sought to regiment it to order. Workers would always react to this, from the most modest refusal to obey or to dodge round rules, to outright rebellion. Taylorism and other forms of managerial rationalisation, the post-war processes – the hey-day of  “Fordism” – could never be imposed without day-to-day efforts by workers to maintain and improve their conditions as they saw fit. At some point these conflicts would condense into more global confrontations that would take a political edge. Francis-King draws these into their objectives, “A defining characteristic of this new form of political action was the reappropriation of direct-democratic worker councils. Workers’ councils formed within a sequence that moved from wildcat to an unlimited general strike. For Socialisme ou Barbarie, this sequence was a plausible trajectory for moving from worker control over production to that of society as a whole. The demands formulated by the councils linked the actions back to conflicts that unfolded in everyday life at the point of production.”Self-management became defined as the “content of socialism”, based on workers’ councils (‘soviets’) and not on planning and nationalisation, in one of Castoriadis’ best-known articles of the 1950s.  (11)

And the Broader Independent French Left…

In accounts of SouB there is a tendency, which for all his merits King tends to reflect, to ignore other left independent currents that developed during the same period. Nevertheless the activist left of the period ended by forming a material embodiment of the New Left way beyond the review’s ambit. Bolstered by not just Suez, Hungary but in the developing struggle for Algerian national liberation, and the crises that culminated in a potential military take over in 1958, ended the Fourth Republic and brought de Gaulle back to power with the Fifth Republic, finally succeeded in creating an organised expression of their ideas, and a place where they hoped to be effective as a political force, the Parti Socialiste Unifié (PSU). This was the party that left a lasting trace in French politics, its anti-colonialism, support for autogestion, early championing of green issues and feminism, making it a magnet for a thick forest of leftist, radical reformist, democratic socialist ideas and individuals.

SouB was hostile to the founding tendencies of the PSU. It loathed the centre-left politician Pierre Mendès France who became associated with the party on the basis of its fight in defence of Algerian independence. It was, from its own creation in the 1940s, hostile to Yugoslavia, a model with some attractions to PSU members, SouB saw ‘Titoism’ as a variant of bureaucratic capitalism, despite its adoption of self-management in the 1950s. SouB’s dislike went beyond particular political stands, to the criticism that its founding currents stood candidates in Parliamentary and other contests. The fusion of a group of anti-parliamentarian ‘Bordgists’ with the organisation in the early 1950s, which may help explain how this attitude developed. If SouB was alone, that is, stood aside from this central part – intellectual and activist – of the developing new lefts, this was its own choice.

In the recent and valuable history of the PSU Quand la Gauche se réinventait (2016) Bernard Ravenel outlines the role of their key strategist Gilles Martinet, in promoting self-management in the context of a national – democratic and participative  – “counter-plan”. Ideas, which influenced the PSU about autogestion, developed in relation to the theory of the “nouvelle class ouvrière” the new working class, devoted to research, and the preparation and organisation of production. This layer, to Serge Mallet, and other theorists such as André Gorz who placed its productive role within the terms of Marx’s concept of alienation, had a degree of “professional autonomy” (comparable to pre-mass production skilled workers). It could be the social base for wider autogestion. Castoriadis and SouB were resolutely hostile to the industrial sociology underpinning this approach, and its emphasis on the leading role of technicians and qualified workers. They pointed, as we have already cited, to another potential in informal but essential ‘elementary groups’ of workers at all levels of production. Castoriadis considered this a potential challenge to management’s existence. It is not surprising, collecting these views together, with their harsh stand against electoral interventions on the left, that SouB would not participate in the career of this central actor in the 1960s and 1970s French New Left.  (12)

If SouB offered a series of important reflections on the evolution of bureaucratic capitalism, workers’ struggles, and self-management, its politics were sterile. They would appear to belong to the category of leftist groups known for permanent opposition. The range of their targets, within the left itself, was immense. To cite a typical statement by Castoriadis, “For a century the proletariat of all countries has been setting up organisations to help them in their struggle, and all these organisations, whether trade unions or political parties, ultimately have degenerated and become integrated into the system of exploitation. In this respect it matters little whether they have become purely and simply instruments of the State and of capitalist society (like the reformist organisations), or whether (like the Stalinist organisations) they aim to bring about a transformation of this society, concentrating economic and political power in the hands of a bureaucratic stratum while leaving unaltered the exploitation of the workers. The main point is that such organisations have become the strongest opponents of their original aim: the emancipation of the proletariat.” As “cogs in the machine” of exploitation and capitalist command they had to be constantly fought. Whether all at the same time, or only in the shape of their individual representatives, this is a hefty task. (13)

Castoriadis: from SouB onwards.

Internal clashes, and eventual scissions, began soon after SouB began publication, in 1951-2, reached one climax with Lefort’s departure in the late 1950s and resumed, in the wake of Castoriadis’ 1961 announcement that he has surpassed Marxism. In all these disputes one theme was to the fore: how can we organise to create this new society ? Was it a matter of linking together workers’ protests into one big surge that would challenge bureauratic capitalism, or was a party or a more closely knit form of organisation required ? Amongst the many issues that preoccupied Catrodis himself was the nuts and bolts of running an egalitarian society that could emergence from a succesful revolution in Le Contenu du socialisme (1979, from 1950s SouB originals). This was an effort he was to abandon to the decisions of the autonomous associated individuals in L’insitution imaginaire de la société (1975).

The approach to the ‘reforms’ offered by these associations also has the attractive characteristic of never being provably wrong. Nobody was able to offer the prospect of self-management. Nobody has found as way of abolishing the distinction between directors and executants. Nobody has solved the problem of bureaucracy. Nobody has abolished ‘heteronomy ’ and instituted personal and social autonomy.

Castoriadis himself moved on. Modern capitalism, he began to claim in the early 1960s had thwarted any attempt to constitute an independent class working movement. The emancipation of the proletariat was not on the cards.  He was to announce, in lines that Dose, but not all of his admirers, take account of, that the whole world was becoming ‘totalitarian’. In Modern Capitalism and Revolution (1961) he reached his apogee. “Thus modern societies, whether “democratic” or “dictatorial,” are in fact totalitarian, for in order to maintain their domination, the exploiters have to invade all fields of human activity and try to bring them to submission. It makes no difference that totalitarianism today no longer takes the extreme forms it once took under Hitler or Stalin or that it no longer utilizes terror as its sole and special means. Terror is only one of the means by which power can break down the resilience of all opposition, and it is neither universally applicable nor necessarily the most profitable way of achieving its ends. “Peaceful” manipulation of the masses and the gradual assimilation of any organised opposition can be more effective.” (14)

Modern Capitalism and Revolution was the beginning of more pessimistic balance-sheet of the labour movement, which ended with Castoriadis placing ‘Marxism’ as a whole in the camp opposed to autonomy and self-management. This critique, originally published in SouB as Marxisme et théorie révolutionnaire (1064) formed the first section of the book eventually published as the L’institution imaginaire de la société (1975). Castoriadis’ criticism of determinism, technological and ontological, which is far from original, can be discussed. That is the claim that Marxism makes the development of technology the motor of history, “attributes to it an autonomous evolution and a closed and definite meaning. “attempts to submit all of history to categories that have a sense only for capitalist society in developed countries, whilst the application of these categories to previous forms of social life poses more problems than it solves” “is based on the hidden postulate of a human nature considered essentially unalterable, whose predominant motivation would be an economic motivation. (15)

It is far harder to discuses the remainder of the book. Instead of a workers’ movement channeling the distinction between those giving orders and those carrying them out, we have a vast, transhistorical perspective. This ‘projet de autonomie’ is embedded within economic and historical explorations, interlarded with set theory, psychoanalysis, Castoriadis’ opinions on linguistics, and explored in the depths of social and individual being. The work was the foundation statement of Castoriadis’ mature theory. It offered a theory  of social and subjective ontology – further puncutated by neologisms, and displays of his knowledge of clasical Greek, which no doubt would impress graduates of the École Normale Superière but leave most people cold, as Callinicos and many others, have found. Unless one considers that the Greek language of the ancient world  has a special quality of truth-showing, they are less than helpful. The study claimed to unearth the self-creation of society, from the  psyche  to the ‘ social imaginary’. It laid the ground for a strategy of complete social transformation, without any extra-social ‘guarantee’ or final truth, or indeed, mundane detail.

To get to grips with the full range of problems this book raises is not easy. In his study of Castoriadis’ philosophy, Castoriadis, l’Imaginaire, le Rationnel et le Réel, Arnaud Tomès displays the full repertoire of this “obscure” terminology. For Castoriadis the clay of society is moulded by the “social imaginary”, the constitutive element of human societies. This arises from the original ‘chaos’ of Being. Social representations paper over its Abyss, Chaos. To use Castoriadis’ own words, the  ‘magma’ of human existence, “a non-ensemblist diversity”, becomes replaced by ‘imaginary’. The imaginary is not the ‘false’ representation of the world, but the human capacity to create meaning, to picture, to conceive,  “to the extent that the imaginary ultimately stems from the original faculty of positing or presenting oneself with things and relations that do not exist, in the form of representation (things and relations that are not or have never been given in perception), we shall speak of a final or radical imaginary as the common root of the actual imaginary and of the symbolic. This is, finally, the elementary and irreducible capacity of evoking images.” The core of Castoriadis’ critique of ‘heteronomous’ societies, forms of social imaginary in which human projections depend on rules formed around an external object, god, nature, and the market.  In these the processes he called “ensidique” (ensembliste-identitaire), the combinations that make up social institutions, stand over people, outside their control (I have omitted many, many, other neologisms covering the process and the psychological and linguistic aspects of the picture). Autonomy, as a social relation, is both a drive to combat this alienation of human powers and the will to establish self-given norms that will replace these forms….(16)

Castoriadis categorised the shape of these rules, the basis of external norms, in historical terms. They began with the eternity glimpsed in the name of a god, an “outside” force ruling society, the first stirrings of the ‘autonomous’ society in ancient Athens where law-making was brought unto human agency, and ending with present-day ‘technocratic’ capitalist rationality where it escapes us. In his latter writings he filled out this approach, which some might compare to efforts to trace communist aspiration throughout the whole of human history. Castoriadis asserted, the word is perhaps not strong enough, that autonomy – self-made norms – began, imperfectly but gloriously, in ancient Athens, was eclipsed by Macedonian hegemony, was renewed in medieval city states, and has since popped up in workers’ struggles, enjoyed some display in May 68 before suffering another eclipse.

Tomès manages the difficult task of making Castoriadis’ ontology of the Real, his concept of Rationality, and the social role of the imaginary more obscure. Castoriadis, l’Imaginaire, le Rationnel et le Réel repeats, with due reverence, the ontological ground of Castoriadis’ view that limitless, causally free, social creation, politics included, can be the activity of liberated people, working through the “l’imaginaire instituant”, pursuing their “own aims”.

Democracy and Autonomy.

To some the portrait of a democracy as part of a deeper anthological and social project is attractive. But Tomès cannot disguise a whole series of historical difficulties that even a browser would have noticed. To cite just one: the idea that slave-owning and colonising Athens saw the first ‘germes’ (shoots) of autonomy, opens up a vast field of empirical historical enquiry. The special place of democratic creation in Periclean Athens, however bolstered by the authority of Moses Finley’s books and the encouragement of the Hellenist Pierre Vidal-Naquet, above all, lacks comparative depth. To convince readers that this was the first genuine move to self-rule needs a wide range of evidence about ‘primitive’ societies and the non-Greek and Roman ancient world. In their absence Castoriadis’ generalisations about societies and cultures include claims that Imperial China and India had power politics, without an ‘agora’ and therefore no real mechanisms in the “political” sphere to ponder and create their own norms. Only the Greeks began to break free from “external” (heteronomous) projections of authority, tradition, and reliance on the orders of Deities. But this – uniqueness – thesis would involve contesting, for example, John Keane’s contention that in epochs long preceding and long following Athens, there were many examples of popular government, “self-government of equals”, from the Middle East, the Phoenician Empire to the Indian Subcontinent, with written constitutions and other ‘Greek’ features (The Life and Death of Democracy. 2009).  Few, unsurprisingly, have cared to explore in depth these aspects of Castoriadis’ vision of the birth of democracy and the contrasting ‘heteronomous’ traditional world, through this demanding angle. (17)

Castoriadis would have one last attempt at linking with contemporary events. In 1968 he would claim (in a book co-authored with Morin and Lefort) he announced, “The urgent task of the hour is the constitution of a new revolutionary movement out of these recent struggles, based upon their total experience. The formation of such a movement can only be accomplished through the regrouping of young students, workers, and others who have united in these struggles, on ideological and organizational bases that they themselves will have to define.”  But Castoriadis showed no sign of helping to build such a movement. (18)

Castoriadis Today

Yet Castoriadis’ ideas continue to have an impact. Serge Latouche’s pamphlet Cornelius Castoriadis ou l’autonomie radicale (2014) is only one of many attempts to place the abstract theme of autonomy within more immediate political and social terms. Latouche is a leading theorist of ‘décroissance’, de-growth, an ecological current that seeks to end endless accumulation and create a balanced relation between Humanity and Nature. The present text raises some of the themes raised in a debate that Latouche participated in with Castoriadis organised by the group MAUSS  (Mouvement Anti-Utilitariste dans les Sciences Sociales) back in 1994. This touched on problems at the heart of Castoriadis’ portrait of the Progress of Autonomy raised above. The ‘universalism’ of the Greco-Western movement towards self-rule, Latouche suggested, co-exists with the instrumentalisation of Nature, which in turn permits the instrumentalisation (that is, use of them as tools) of human beings.

In this short text he brings to the present Castoriadis “concrete utopia’ of direct democracy. He links this to “décroissance” and using some of the Franco-Greek theorist’s criticisms of the idea of neutral   technology-driven expansion. A sustainable world will be based on the principle of a society’s “self-creation” (‘auto-institution’). Latouche rejects the idea that there is a class revolutionary subject. There is no privileged Marxist or Hegelian “subject of History”. Echoing Castoriadis’ view cited above, he claims that it is the – vast – majority, not just the proletariat, which will lead and participate in this historic transformation. No longer chained to obedience to technical specialists and Capital we will find a proper relationship with Nature in a society of “frugal abundance”. His answer to the democratic problems just cited is simple: autonomy will, through radical and local democracy let everybody decide…..

It is not hard to see that efforts to bring society under self-rule, to have a new beginning with such sweeping ambitions – to replace the workings of technical-rationality in bureaucratic capitalist forms of society – with self-created laws, ‘autonomy’, not to mention a reconciliation with Nature, run up against difficulties. For the moment we signal one: procedural forms of democracy. How can people create their own rules, that is decide on, and vote on, everything to do with ‘society’, whose causal springs exist across the globe. What exactly did Castoriadis mean when he talked of the “auto-limitation” of the processes of autonomy? Does this imply that in a future society, that those who wish to resist the project in the name of transcendent truths will have no effective voice? Does this imply bringing every psyche to self-rule, implies that the fear of freedom will vanish? That opponents of autonomy will not exist?

Cornelius Castoriadis et Claude Lefort: l’expérience démocratique (2015) (CCCL) is a collection of papers presented at a 2013 Paris-Ouest Nanterre-La Défense University Conference of the same title. Many of them tackle such issues. The democratic revolution of modernity, sovereignty, of power, of totalitarian societies, and the two thinkers different approaches are covered in sharp and well-presented essays. They range from studies of the thinkers’ place in French intellectual life, their critique of totalitarianism and the legacy of the “anti-totalitarianism of the left’. Perhaps the most valuable are contrasts between Castoriadis’ optimistic, all-embracing, theory of autonomy and Lefort’s focus in the specifics of politics and the pitfalls of democracy. There are explorations of Lefort’s defence of political competition, indeterminacy, the incompleteness of the ‘social’. The idea that sovereign power should be a “lieu-vide”(absent place) that rivals can occupy stands out. He also recognised the importance of, “the historical mutation in which power is assigned limits and right is fully recognized as existing outside power”. In this there are dividing lines, which became clearer over the years, with Castoriadis. The last thing one can find in Lefort’s writing, from the Le Travail de l’œuvre Machiavel (1972) to his reflections on the La Terreur Révolutionnaire, in Essais sur le Politique (1986) – a warning about the Jacobins’ use of violence on the social body to make it whole – is a defence of an easy passage to autonomy and a society without divisions.

In La Question de la Politique dans la pensée de Claude Lefort, Hugues Poltier describes as Lefort’s late 1970s recourse to the  ‘Machiavellian’ belief that all human societies are divided into the Great and the People (Grand/peuple). The shapes of inevitable conflict within the domain that makes up ‘le’ politique, that is the overarching moment of governing the ‘social’, could lead to the rejection of the goal of a classless society. From early hostility to bureaucratisation he appeared to suggest that power ends in the constitution of a dominant layer, which is in turn the object for new clashes. Lefort, he notes, not only abandoned any reference to Marxism as a critique of political economy but also recoiled from the radical wing of the labour movement. In this respect he was publicly hostile to the 1996 mass trade union movement against reforms to the French health service, preferring supporters of the rationality of the Juppé plan from within the moderate ‘deuxième gauche”, CFDT and centre-left intellectuals. The discussion of Lefort’s developing political theory, reminds us of the contrasts between his cautious, or hostile, stand on ‘revolution’- the darkest interpretation of his reservations about social “transparency” in a self-governed world – and his own complex democratic alternative.

The editor of Cornelius Castoriadis et Claude Lefort, Nicolas Poirier has written on Castoriadis’ ‘political ontology’, giving centre place to the contention that he offered a revolutionary democratic project open to the creative chaos. In an essay he contends that the two thinkers, in their different and often conflicting ways, were propelled by a parallel inspiration, to make sense of the experience of democracy, above all, of its connection to efforts to transform society. It was in this domain that emancipation could be found – without any foundation but a “desire for liberty”. The exercise of that freedom, was, nevertheless, for Lefort, for the People, implicated in contesting the Law – indispensably knotted into democratic forms  – while Castoriadis focused on the project of popular Law making. To put it more clearly, Lefort put the right to protest and disagree with legislation at the heart of democracy; Castoriadis believed in the prime importance of the autonomous creation of laws and left disagreement to be worked out in the process of decision-making.

A contribution by Manuel Cerveza-Marzal offers an angle on the revolutionary democratic impulse in Castoriadis’ later writings. Castoriadis did not retract his political radicalism. In 1990 he put the 19the century French liberal thinker Alex de Tocqueville right on a few points of American history and dismissed his often cited warning about the conformist dangers of democracy, Castoriadis argued that far from potential tyranny democratic autonomy means that, “no one can reasonably want autonomy for himself without wanting it for all.”. Pursuing the original critique of representative democracy, the “trap” of the “separation of powers” Castoriadis attacked all existing political parties in accents that could have been taken from the pages of SouB. (What democracy?) These reflections stand against Lefort’s worries about the totalitarian potential of direct democracy and revolutionary movements, that – Stalinism always in mind – culminated in the effort to impose the People-as-One. Castoriadis did not share this emphasis on the necessary role of organised opposition, in the ‘indeterminate’ body politic. He retained undiluted faith in radical, total, change, whose only mediators would be self-appointed.

Are there political thinkers preoccupied with the common themes that once drew Castoriadis and Lefort close? In his contribution Cerveza-Marzal brings out “convergences” and differences between Castoriadis and the present-day writings of Miguel Abensour. An attentive reader, he has stated, of SouB in his youth Abensour continues to write on “insurgent” (perhaps what Lefort called ‘sauvage’) democracy beyond the State. There is both a common preoccupation between the thinkers with how emancipatory movements are thwarted and turned from their aims. There is a shared wish to think of democracy in a wider fashion than liberal institutions and constitutions, and in terms of undoing the ‘state form.’ Abensour, nevertheless, has not rejected Marxism en bloc. He has continued to draw ideas from Marx as a source of philosophical, democratic and libertarian, inspiration. In reflections on the “invention” of democracy, such as Le Démocratie Contre l’Etat (2004) Abensour, in equal contrast to Lefort, has opposed to the logic of the totalitarian State not the quest for spaces of partisanship and conflict, but the right to experiment with new democratic forms. In reflections on constitutional liberalism, neo-Machiavellian republicanism and human rights he continues to promote the possibility of non-institutional democracy, fuelled by a spirit of utopianism. Democracy, he writes, cannot be reduced to any fixed synthesis; it refuses order, goes beyond any state, the result of a permanent conflict between politics and the State’s efforts to impose Order. (19)

 Council Communism.

Contributions to Autonomie ou barbarie bring to the fore some of the problems at the origins of distinctive approach. The shapes of socialism and revolution were intimately linked to the types of self-organisation developed before the revolution SouB took this emphasis on self-organised activity from a left tradition, Councillism. In Le Conseillisme by Yoahan Dubigeon outlines how the councillists considered that workers’ awareness, directly lived, was to be the basis for socialism, rather than the ‘external theorising’ of the Party. There was a template, which however modified in contemporary conditions, would be able to put an end to the fundamental division between “dirigeants” and “executants” – those who give orders and those who carry them out.  We can see, from Stephen Hasting King’s study that projects, such as ‘worker experience’, and the publication of self-organised papers by workers, were intended to form the knowledge that was the basis of that challenge. By producing their own narratives they were part of an effort to avoid “substitutionalist” politics, the take over of struggles by self-appointed groups that claim to ‘lead’. Castoriadis, the author, observes, refused to believe that there was an inevitable tendency towards organisations being caught up in these mechanisms. Yet, Dubigeon observes, this continues to be attested. One of the largest anti-system self-managed protest movements of recent times, the Spanish Indignados, is now “institutionalised” in the form of a political party, Podemos.

The political trend known as Councillism, the left wing of 1920s communism, opposed to all forms of vanguard, and the state embodiment of workers’ power, was another source for SouB’s thinking. Lenin’s Left-wing Communism an Infantile Disorder (1920) is the most famous response to this current. The Bolshevik leader attacked the German, Dutch, and the Silvia Pankhurst left of the British Communist movement, for their rejection of participation in Parliamentary elections and ‘reactionary’ trade unions.

The left-wing communist stand is known, if it known at all, through the writings of figures such as Anton Pannekoek, Herman Gorter, and Amanedo Bordiga, the later a significant early leader in the Italian Communist Party. The left communists were not only theorists of a distinct ‘Western’ communist strategy based on a new beginning, apart from unions and all reformist parties, but aspired, as activists, to take part in new forms of workers’ power. Their version of the ‘council’ model was taken not directly from the Soviets which appeared at the outbreak of the Russian Revolution and whose power Lenin claimed to incarnate, but from the period of revolutionary unrest in post great War Germany, councils there, in Hungary and Austria, and factory occupations in Italy. Manuel Cervera-Marzal offers an analysis of the degeneration of the Russian revolution He suggests that nobody has resolved the issue of how the impulse for autonomous power, which he identifies in the early years of the Soviets, became challenged/confiscated by a Party.

This is one of the hardest topics to resolve in SouB and Castoriadis’ legacy It is heightened by the fact that some of their members, such as Alberto Vega, who had fought for the POUM in the Spanish civil war, had participated in fights for workers’ councils and for whom they were part of a lived experience. Throughout the group’s existence they underlined the importance of these efforts as direct worker action. For SouB the Hungarian councils of 1956 were an electrifying moment: amidst the fall-out from Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, the proletariat itself challenged ‘Stalinism without Stalin’. The problems begin when we consider that these were not metaphysical Events, calling us back to faith, but the objects of wide historical and – on the left – theoretical research and debate.

One of the 20th century’s most important political philosophers, Hannah Arendt, talked of the public space opened up by workers’ council as the revolutionary tradition’s “lost treasure”. “Spontaneous movements, “spaces of freedom” they were “a new power structure which owed to existence to nothing but the organisational impulses of the people themselves.” They, she asserted, have regularly emerged since the French Revolution, and, after appearing again, were submerged in the political violence of the 20th century. As working bodies they have not been, she argued, successful in running factories or enterprises; primarily political they were led by those selected on that basis, not managerial or technical ability. Their deeper difficulties lay in the conflicts between councils and parties. The former were “organs of action” and  “order” (a new social rule), the latter of “representation”. (20)

Arendt could hardly be said to have resolved the question of how the conflict between the political Vita Activa and more than a brief foray into this “social” sphere could ever be resolved.  The Councillists had declared that the working class could not be represented. Claude Lefort’s early political writings could be said to be an extended reflection on and endorsement of this point. Castoriadis believed that the councils could be organised. To discover a way to extend the freedoms of the council to a wider political space, an instrument for not just (in Hannah Arendt’s wistful words), “breaking up the modern mass society” but to rebuild it, required some kind of leadership, direction and thought. They could avoid bureaucratisation. Groups such as SouB had a role in encouraging the leading forces to self-reflection and independent activity. Yet this would mean accepting the division of labour SouB protested against: the party form. It would also mean competing with other parties, some of which would want to destroy or take control, with the authority of vanguard knowledge, of the councils. It would mean accepting what Arendt, the theorist celebrated above all for her conceptualisation of totalitarianism, saw as its most fundamental opposition  the irreducible plurality of human individuals. As a result  dissensus has a fundamental role in one of the aspect of active public life she valued the most, political disagreement, compromise, and the ability to hold together without coercion, the new beginnings offered by democratic republican politics. This is a view made popular today in a different shape in the writings of Jacques Rancière and Chantal Mouffe’s picture of agonistic democracy. But how do they face with the difficulties signalled? The dilemma – to whether to include all, at the risk of irreconcilable differences, or to form islands of consensual organisation that exclude radical opposition, was not solved. This applies not only to parties like Podemos but, as the fate of contemporary efforts to build autonomous movement well outside the world of work and formal politics, from Occupy to Nuit Debout indicates.

Issues related to the role of political parties, or even the party form itself, crop up time and time again in SouB’s history. What exactly did SouB mean by “Orientation”? Was it a signpost, a directing message, or a signal from a coordinated – led? – political force? In other words, the journal’s motto raised the need for organisation, either from SouB or from those receiving their call. Discussion of this would be inevitable for any group that wishes to do more than celebrate the spontaneous resistance and self-activity of the working class. The project of a Workers Paper –  (after Lefort’s departure) took shape in with the monthly supplement Pouvoir Ouvrier seemed like proletarian tribune, aimed to assemble the masses through their own expression. This Iskra without Lenin and the Bolshevik wing of Russian Social Democracy, and a few hundred subscribers, had a limited impact

Deep theoretical divisions on these topics, from the threat of bureaucracy, to the need for any kind of political vanguard (however self-organised and ‘coaching’ rather than commanding) remained throughout SouB’s existence. Lefort and Castoriadis famously disagreed from the early 1950s onwards, clashed and finally split on the party issue, as did part of SouB’s membership when his leadership abandoned Marxism. A Socialisme ou Barbarie Anthology presents, in lucid translation, articles from a variety of SouB authors from the review on the Eastern Bureaucracies, the world of work, and interesting pieces by Jean-François Lyotard (of later ‘post-modern’ celebrity) on the Third World and the Algerian national liberation struggle

Every left-wing activist should read Lefort’s Organisation and Party, one of the most significant critiques of Trotskyism (with much wider implications) ever produced. Lefort observed that the “micro-bureaucracy” of these parties was “all the more remarkable in that it is not determined directly by material conditions of exploitation” As an “echo” of prevailing bureaucratic models it shows how hard it is to escape the dominant culture by the Leninist effort to “fabricate” an external leadership for the working class. The answer, that such groups rely above all on an intellectual division of labour, between leaders and led, which one might challenge, remains live to this day.  This judiciously selected collection presented “anonymously”, and introduced by the invaluable David Ames Curtis, is a welcome addition to their extensive English language versions of SouB and Castoriadis’ writings. The download is free…..

Contributors to Autonomie ou barbarie retrace both the history behind these ideas and the challenges they face in what Castoriadis later called the ‘privatisation’ of  society, not the selling off nationalised companies or public services  to large companies but a wider retreat from collective solutions to individual life.  Jean Vogel asks if Castoriadis really came to terms with the details of the structural changes in capitalism. Perhaps he suggests, Castoriadis took refuge in his own intransigent hopes for a final way out, while looking from on high at “triumphant barbarism”.

SouB’s support for the belief that workers’ councils could embody people’s control over their daily lives (a model that extends beyond the enterprise) and the basis of a self-organised society grew after the Hungarian revolt in 1956. To many left observers, outside Communist orthodoxy, this was a new episode during which proletarians took over enterprises and appeared to replace the Stalinist state with their political and social power. These events loomed over, and one would imagine, tended to obscure any of the divisions outlined above. This, it might be said, provides much of the flesh and bones of any account of the foundations of Castoriadis’ politics of autonomy, however much they broadened over the years and faced up to the – unpredicted – hostile environment of triumphant liberal economics, and the fall out on the entire left from the collapse of Official Communism.

Yet it is not hard to see that efforts to bring society under self-rule, to have a new beginning with such sweeping ambitions, to replace the workings of technical-rationality in bureaucratic capitalist forms of society with self-created laws, ‘autonomy’, not to mention a reconciliation with Nature, run up against serious obstacles. One would have wished to discover an extended commentary in this respect on Castoriadis’ assertion that the French Revolution was the first to clearly pose the idea of the “auto-institution explicite de la société” (D, Page 389). The bald claim aside, was not the Sovereignty of the Nation an appeal that excluded the anti-Nation? If we are to believe Benjamin Constant the effects of the Terror cannot be lightly dismissed. Are there no such potential reefs today?  How can people create their own rules, that is decide on, and vote on, everything to do with ‘society’, whose causal springs exist across the globe, without finding resistance? What exactly did Castoriadis mean when he talked of the “auto-limitation” of the processes of autonomy in a future society mean for individuals imply for dealing with those who wish to resist the project in the name of transcendent truths that lay down the framework and the detail of social order. How does he, to repeat, propose to confront those so opposed to autonomy that they are prepared to bring the world to the civil war which the Italian political philosopher, Giorgio Agamben considers the normal state of politics, “stasis”?

Situating Castoriadis Politically.

Given his ambitions, called by Dosse ‘Promethean’, any account of Castoriadis should perhaps reach out to his, and SouB’s place in the left’s wider intellectual, social and political history. How to do this is not immediately obvious. As a theorist he cannot be easily slotted into the “Existentialist” “Structuralist” or “post-Structuralist” ‘moments’ in French.20th century intellectual history. He was not confined by the philosophical problems of existence, of structures, or of deconstruction. The Greek ex-Trotskyist’s formative years, and writings, were not academic but political. Can Castoriadis, in view of his, and SouB’s hostility to Stalinism and denunciation of its bureaucratic capitalist ruling class, be located as part of the pre-history of the 1970s  “anti-totalitarian moment”?  In his influential account of this nexus of politics and intellectuals Michael Scott Christofferson gives him, and Claude Lefort, a prominent place. They became “des icôns vivantes de l’antitotalitarisme français” during this decade (Les intellectuels contre la gauche. L’idéologie antitotalitaire en France (1968-1981. Second – French – Edition. 2013). (21)

It is far from clear that one can simply embed Castoriadis and SouB in the message and acts that made up this particular ‘anti-totalitarian moment’, even if their images, as will be seen, continue to be paraded, largely by those on the Second Left and, almost as a talisman, by Marcel Gauchet. Nicolas Poirier in his Preface to the collection cited above argues that their critique of totalitarianism stemmed form that of capitalism, and cannot be confounded with any kind of liberal ‘anti-totalitarian’ old or new. As for their role as anti-totalitarian forerunners some heavy qualifications are required. The French Editors’ Preface to the Socialisme ou Barbarie Anthology points out, SouB was not just concerned with criticising the Eastern bloc, the ‘socialist’ bureaucracy’s collective exploitation, but with a wider critique of all forms of bureaucratic capitalism.  It was a group of revolutionaries, not intellectuals, whose primary focus was one capitalist society, France.

Nevertheless Castoriadis saw the PCF’s gaol through the template of post-war Eastern European take overs of the handles of the state and the elimination of rivals on the left and right. He continued this approach long past its sell-by date, After  the break up of Union of the Left  in 1977 he described the PCF as “a totalitarian Apparatus that can no longer appeal explicitly to a totalitarian ideology and is led to water down gradually the totalitarian mode of  operation of the organization it dominates even as it is forced to maintain its totalitarian goal of power, which is encoded in its very substance and in its genes, but which nevertheless appears for the indefinite future unrealizable in the society it inhabits. The Apparatus can no longer be totalitarian except shamefacedly.” There is little sign of an appreciation of the details of French left politics. Perhaps the most striking not that he did more than dismiss any signs of critical ‘Euro Communists’ within the PCF. It was that, as there was no effort to take any group within the Parti Socialiste (founded in 1971 but with tis main component going back to the SFIO) seriously as socialists, or as social democrats who might transform French society. This indifference mingled with disdain to the non-Communist ‘reformist’ left – the dominant political force in France, then as now –  can be traced, as we have already seen back to the founding years of SouB. (22)

At the beginning of the 1980s, when newly elected President Mitterrand’s first Cabinet included 4 Communist Ministers without any sightings of a French Gulag, Castoriadis raised the alarm at a renewed expansion of Russian totalitarianism. In Devant la guerre, (Vol 1. 1981) he claimed that the Soviet Union, now dominated by a ‘stratocracy’ (the Military fraction of the bureaucracy), had achieved superiority of arms over the West. It was an imminent danger. Territorial aggrandisement was part of its inner nature. In a climate of hostility and and fear towards Moscow  the book was widely praised in the mainstream media, from the right-wing Le Figaro, to Le Monde’s Editorialists. Lefort shared concern, although he was less impressed by Castoriadis’ new terminology or his grasp of empirical sources  Much of the left, by this point little inclined to admire the former SouB theorist,  loathed it on sight. Castoriadis found himself classed in France and elsewhere, with the West in what was called the Second Cold War, launched by President Regan. A planned second volume of Devant la guerre never appeared.

Yet, supportive commentators assert, the principles of Castoriadis’ “radical imaginary” were not an endorsement of the liberal West and a bulwark against all forms of  revolution. Hostility to the USSR was consistent with being on the left. His objectives remained focused on finding means to end alienation, “heteronomy”, the imposition of norms and laws. Castoriadis, in this view, remained true to the goal of abolishing the division between those who Rule and those who Obey. This was the central aim of “praxis”, the combination of reflection and action that could make autonomy possible. Above all Castoriadis still believed in ‘Revolution’. He continued to write, assessing the ‘low decade’ of the 1980s, neo-liberalism, ecology, the Fall of Communism, and his unique views on the ontology of historical creation, a change in inherited “ensemblist-identitary logic” from the depths of the imaginary, the ongoing process of autonomy, and the “germs” of democracy in ancient Greece.

A Spirit of Hope.

François Dosse introduced Une Vie by stating that the book is “born of a paradox. Castoriadis had been called a “Genius” whose thought still leaves readers in a state of star-struck stupefaction (sidération). But despite this, Castoriadis was, he states, at the end of his days, a” who has still to receive the acknowledgment he merits. Perhaps, he suggests, it was because of the “caractère prométhéen” of his project. That is, he had an underlying aim to “think all that is possible” in every “continent of knowledge”. Less grandly: he wrote about many different areas in social studies, psychology, history, even mathematics, and philosophy.

One might equally say that the ‘project of autonomy’ is Promethean. It claims to have found a lever to change the world in the depths of the psyche, to bring it to being across continents and countries, to transform the world from top to bottom. Perhaps it may one day come to fruition. Who knows? Faith in humanity’s boundless creativity still springs forth. The citation at the beginning of this article suggests that human potentials are great. History can be made. But what is clear is that Castoriadis did not end up at the advocate of politics that is negotiation between opposing interests, or democracy, in that these processes are but at the heart of the idea, but the affirmation of Historical Creation

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(1) Page 116. The Holy Family. Marx, Engels. Progress Publishers. 1980. The first three words form the heading of Part 1 of Daniel Bensaïd’s Marx For Our Times. Verso. 2009. The reflections From the Sacred to the Profane. Marx’s critique of Historical Reason. On the “unresolved contradiction between the influence of a naturalistic model of science (‘the inexorability of a natural process’) and the dialectical logic of an open-ended history. (Page 58) may be said to over the framework for a reflection on Castoriadis

(2) Last of the Western Marxists. Axel Honneth. Radical Philosophy. No 90. July/August 1988.. An Encyclopaedic Spirit, Edgar Morin. Radical Philosophy, Ibid. Page 20. Marxisme et théorie révolutionnaire. Socialisme ou Barbarie. N 36. 1964, “nous sommes – ‘ arrivés au point où il fallait choisir entre rester marxistes et rester révolutionnaires ; entre la fidélité à une doctrine qui n’anime plus depuis longtemps ni une réflexion ni une action, et la fidélité au- projet d’une transformation radicale de la société, qui exige d’abord que l’on comprenne ce que l’on veut transformer, et que l’on identifie ce qui, dans la société, conteste vraiment cette. société et est en lutte contre sa forme présente.” This claim still rankles, see for example Bensaïd on this “binary choice”:  Bensaïd, Daniel. Politique de Castoriadis. Contretemps n°21.2008. Bensaïd begins by making the valid point that there is no such thing as a single Marxism. The Crisis of Marxism and the Crisis of Politics. (1992).

(3) In Postscript on Insignificancy. Cornelius Castoriadis. Translated anonymously as a public service.

(4) Page 682. Les Gauches Françaises. Jacques Julliard. Flammarion. Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiappelo. Page 171.

(5) The New Spirit of Capitalism 2007 (1999 France). Translated Gregory Elliot. Mai 68, l’héritage impossible Jean Pierre Le Goff. La Découverte/Poche. 2002/2006. Indeed on only has to read Lefort’s morally serious and historically informed, not least on the left, Gulag Archipelago, Un homme en trop. (1976) to realise the difference with, for example, Bernard Henri-Lèvy.

(6) François Dosse et La marche des idées. C:\Documents and Settings\Compaq_Owner\Desktop\Temporary\François Dosse et La marche des idées.htm Deleuze, Guattari : peut-on faire l’histoire d’un agencement ? Hervé Regnuad. C:\Documents and Settings\Compaq_Owner\Desktop\Temporary\Hervé Regnauld @en Deleuze, Guattari  peut-on faire l’histoire d’un agencement.htm.  Page 604. Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari. François Dosse. La Découverte/Poche. 2009.

(7) Pages 10 –11. François Dosse. Castoriadis Une Vie. La Découverte. 2014. An appreciation of Dosse’s biography. François. Castoriadis: l’avocat de la démocratie Web LinlDosse, François (Interview): ‘Maintenir une radicalité critique’ en redécouvrant Castoriadis. Joseph Confavreux. Mediapart. 22/9/2014. Page 11.Une Vie. The labyrinth metaphor in: Castoriadis, Avocat de la démocratie. François Dosse. The claims that his thought is a maze but also coherent are not necessarily contradictory; coherence is not the same as a completed system, otherwise many paragraphs would be one.

(8) Other judgements include: Castoriadis, more than any other theoretician in the group, writes Marie-France Raflin, was the “instrument through which he managed a kind of symbolic blow and which permitted him to exist as a theoretician, if not potential political leader.”  In Christophe Premat. Les scissions internes au groupe “Socialisme ou Barbarie”. Dissidences, Bord de l’eau, 2009, 6, pp.137-147. <halshs-00401201  Gorz: “son désir d’incarner à lui seul la pensée critique.” Page 139. Une Vie. Op cit. In the same paragraph, Dosse equally notes, the “posture guerrière de ‘intellectual soucieux de faire la demonstration de sa puissance et dénoncer la faiblesse de l’adversaire.” One does not have to have had much experience of small political groups to imagine that such a character was not easy to deal with inside Socialisme ou Barbarie. His strong personality was not always appreciated within SouB itself, as Henri Simon, elsewhere, has expressed. « Castoriadis était très autoritaire de par sa personnalité et dès que la contradiction avait tendance à le gêner, ça explosait » given in De la scission avec Socialisme ou Barbarie à la rupture avec I.C.O. 2014. K:\De la scission avec Socialisme ou Barbarie à la rupture avec I.C.O. – Fragments d’Histoire de la gauche radicale. Page 269. Also see: Marie-France Raflin, « Socialisme ou barbarie », du vrai communisme à la radicalité [archive]

(9) The Political Forms of Modern Society. Claude Lefort. Edited and Introduced by John B. Thompson. MIT Press. 1986. On Lefort’s views see also amongst many sources, Nicolas Préface. L’expérience démocratique contre la domination bureaucratique et totalitaire. In Cornelius Castoriadis et Claude Lefort: L’expérience démocratique. Le Bord de l’eau. 2015. Trotskyism. Alex Callinicos. 1980. Chapter: Cornelius Castoriadis and the triumph of the will. Pages 320-1, and 324. The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Jürgen Habermas. Translated by Fredrick G. Lawrence. Polity Press. 1987. Page 28. The Origins of Postmodernity. Perry Anderson. Verso 1998.

(10) Page 105.  Looking for the Proletariat. Socialisme ou Barbarie and the Problem of Worker Writing. Stephen Hastings-King. Brill 2014 Further see :   Lefort. Claude . L’expérience Prolétarienne. (Unsigned). Mémoires militantes dans la classe ouvrière: cinq militants ouvriers de Renault.   Pierre Bois, Gil Devillard, André Lancteau, Daniel Bénard et Daniel Mothé, cinq militants pour une conscience ouvrière socialiste chez Renault. Robert Paris.  C:\Documents and Settings\Compaq_Owner\Desktop\Material\Mémoires militantes dans la classe ouvrière  cinq militants ouvriers de Renault – Matière et Révolution.htm. Look   The American Worker. Paul Romano and Ria Stone (1947). Part V. Management Organisation and Worker Organisation.

(11)Page 74 Stephen Hastings-King. Op cit. Socialisme ou Barbarie. No 17. 1955. Pierre Chaulieu (Castoriadis) Sur le contenu du socialisme. Pages 7 – 8 “Les conclusions qui résultent de cette brève analyse sont claires : le programme de la révolution socialiste ne peut être  autre que la gestion ouvrière. Gestion ouvrière du pouvoir. c’est à dire pouvoir des organismes autonomes des masses (Soviets ou Conseils) ; gestion ouvrière de l’économie, c’est-à-dire direction de la production par les producteurs, organisés aussi dans les organismes de type sovietique. L’objectif du prolétariat ne peut pas être la nationalisation et la planification sans plus, parce. que cela signifie remettre la domination de la société à une nouvelle couche de dominateurs et d’exploiteurs; il ne peut pas être réalisé en remettant le pouvoir à un parti, aussi révolutionnaire et aussi prolétarien ce. parti soit-il au départ, parce ce parti tendra fataiement à l’exercer pour son propre compte et servira de noyau à la cristallisation d’une nouvelle couche dominante.” Also see: Socialisme ou Barbarie: A French Revolutionary Group (1949-65) Marcel van der Linden. Left History. 5.1. 1997

(12) . On the PSU the invaluable Quand la Gauche se Réinventait. Bernard Ravenel. Le PSU, Histoire d’un Parti visionnaire. 1960 – 1989. La Découverte. 2016. Mallet, the canonical explanation is this: “En effet, plus se développe l’importance des secteurs de recherche, de creation et de surveillance, plus le travail humain se concentre dans la preparation et l’organisation de la production, plus s’accroît le sens de l’initiative et des responsabilites, en un mot, plus l’ouvrier moderne reconquiert, au niveau collectif, l’autonomie professionnelle qu’il avait perdue dans la phase de mécanisation du travail, plus les tendances des revendications gestionnaires se développent. Les conditions modernes de la production offrent aujourd’hui les possibilites objectives du développement de l’autogestion gen.ralis.e de la production ET de l’. Conomie par ceux qui en portent le poids.” Serge Mallet.- La nouvelle classe ouvrière et le socialisme. Revue Internationale du Socialisme, N.8, [1965] . Pages 161 to 184. The differences between SouB and the Mallet (and Gorz) approach are made very clear in André Gorz. Une Vie. Willy Gininazzi Page 100 – 105.  SouB hostility to Mallet goes back to the late 1950s, including this attack on “Objective” industrial sociology (including Alain Touraine: Canjures: Sociologie-fiction pour gauche-fiction (à propos de Serge Mallet) SouB 27: 1959 Followed by an attack on his writing on Mothé’s Journal d’un ouvrier. Comment Mallet juge Mothé SouB 28:. 1959. It ends with the, by now familiar, tone of absue against the “professor” Mallet. Autogestion et Hiérarchie. Cornelius Castoriadis.  Texte écrit en collaboration avec Daniel Mothé    CFDT Aujourd’hui, n°8, juillet-aout 1974

(13) Pages 266 – 7. Modern Capitalism and Revolution. Castoriadis, Cornelius. Political and Social Writings. Translated and Edited by David Ames Curtis. University of Minnesota Press. 1988 –1993. Volume 2, 1955-1960: From the Workers’ Struggle Against Bureaucracy to Revolution in the Age of Modern Capitalism.

(14) Page 201 Vol 2 Volume 2, 1955-1960: From the Workers’ Struggle Against Bureaucracy to Revolution in the Age of Modern Capitalism. Proletariat et organisation,” Originally Socialisme ou Barbarie. , 27 and 28. (April and July, 1 959) Page 74Pages 266 – 7. Modern Capitalism and Revolution.   Castoriadis, Cornelius. Political and Social Writings. Translated and Edited by David Ames Curtis. University of Minnesota Press. 1988 –1993. Volume 2, 1955-1960: From the Workers’ Struggle Against Bureaucracy to Revolution in the Age of Modern Capitalism.

(15) Page 29 Castoriadis, Cornelius. The Imaginary Institution of Society Translated by Kathleen Blarney. Polity Press. 1987.

(16) Page 127 The Imaginary Institution of Society Op cit.

(17) The Life and Death of Democracy. John Keane. Simon and Shuster. 2009.

(18)Page 129. Political and Social Writings. Volume 3, 1961-1979: Recommencing the Revolution: F r o m S o c i a l i s m to the Autonomous Society Edited David Curtis. 1993.

(19) What democracy ? (1990) In Figures of the Thinkable. Cornelius Castoriadis. ‘Anonymous’. 2005. Manuel Cervera-Marzal. Cornelius Castoriadis, Miguel Abensour, Quelles Convergences. In: Cornelius Castoriadis et Claude Lefort: L’expérience démocratique. Nicolas Poirier. Le Bord de l’eau. 2015. Pages 157 – 8. La Démocratie Contre l’Etat. Miguel Abensour. Le Félin. 2004 For Absenour’s intellectual debts, including to SouB see : Penser la politique autrement, avec Miguel Abensour. 14 février 2015   Davic Munnich. \Documents and Settings\Compaq_Owner\My Documents\Socialisme ou Barbarie\Penser la politique autrement, avec Miguel Abensour.htm  and Repenser la utopie. Fabien Delmotte.   C:\Documents and Settings\Compaq_Owner\My Documents\Socialisme ou Barbarie\Miguel Abensour  repenser l’utopie – La Vie des idées.htm.

(20) Pages 255 to 281  On Revolution. Hannah Arendt. Penguin 1990 (1964). Hannah Arendt. For Love of the World. Second Edition, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl. Yale University Press. 2004.Young-Bruehl’s brilliant intellectual biography notes that Arendt’s views on these issues took account of the direct knowledge her husband, a former German Communist anti-Stalinist, had of the importance of workers’ councils. Castoriadis and Left are generally compared to Arendt’s theory of totalitarianism, which they discovered when French translations became available, in the 6os. See the chapter “Totalitarianism” Hanna Arendt. Politics, History and Citizenship. Phillip Hansen. 1993

(21) Page 392. Michael Scott Christofferson. Les intellectuels contre la gauche. ‘L’idéologie antitotalitaire en France (1968-1981). Agone – revised edition. Agone. 2014 English original. French intellectuals against the Left, The anti-totalitarian Moment of the 1970s. See also the bitter remarks about SouB and Castoriadis’ recognition in the review of Christofferson’s book, Parisian Impostures. Gregory Elliot. New Left Review. No 41 new Series. 2006.

(22) Pages 281 – 300. The Evolution of the French Communist Party. In Cornelius Castoriadis Political and Social Writings: Volume 3, 1961-1979

See above all:  Cornelius Castoriadis Agora International Website

The complete set of Socialisme ou Barbarie is available to download free here: Sommaires de la revue Socialisme ou Barbarie (1949-1967)

Written by Andrew Coates

January 13, 2017 at 2:44 pm

Momentum: An analysis of the latest Rows.

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New Kind of Politics? 

The Independent reports,

Trotskyists are trying to take over Momentum

Labour’s grassroots movement risks being taken over by a ‘disruptive, over-bearing and ultra’left’ faction, according to a new member of its national committee

Trotskyists are a ‘vocal, disruptive and over-bearing’ presence within Momentum, whose ‘sectarian attitude is destructive to our movement,’ according to a new member of its central committee.

Laura Murray, who also works as Special Advisor to Labour Shadow Housing Minister Teresa Pearce, attended her first Momentum Committee, since being elected to the post of Women’s Representative, and has written a lengthy and scathing blogpost of the divisions within the movement that evolved from the campaign to elect Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015.

Ms Murray said Momentum “would be engaging in collective self-denial if we were to downplay [Trotskyism’s] prevalence in Momentum. Dyed-in-the-wool Trotskyists are not the majority in Momentum. But they are a vocal, disruptive and over-bearing minority who have won themselves key position in the regional committees, National Committee and even the Steering Committee.”

Labour List led the way this morning with its account of the Momentum splits:

Fresh splits have emerged in Momentum in the aftermath of a crunch meeting to decide on reforms to internal democracy.

Laura Murray, women’s representative, has claimed that the tactics of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty are contributing to a form of “hard-left warfare” in the Corbynite group.

She published a highly critical blog, following Saturday’s meeting of Momentum’s national committee, in which she alleged there was a “plot” to oust Jon Lansman, chairman and veteran Bennite organiser.

Murray said the two suggested groups in Momentum – those from a Labour Party background and those from movements such as Occupy and UK Uncut – had been joined by a Trotskyite faction.

“Some people take offence at this term being used — understandably, as it is Tom Watson and the Labour right’s insult of choice for us. But we would be engaging in collective self-denial if we were to downplay it’s prevalence in Momentum,” she wrote on Medium.

“Dyed-in-the-wool Trotskyists are not the majority in Momentum. But they are a vocal, disruptive and over-bearing minority who have won themselves key position in the regional committees, National Committee and even the Steering Committee. To be clear, I am not anti-Trotskyist per se, and I recognise the enormous contributions that some Trotskyist thinkers and groups have made to political discourse, but the sectarian attitude taken by Trotskyist groups within Momentum is destructive to our movement.”

Nobody from Momentum could be reached to comment immediately.

They also noted,

Controversial activists Jackie Walker has been elected to a key organising role at Momentum.

Walker, who was removed as vice-chair earlier this autumn after offending many with comments about anti-Semitism, has won a place on the conference arrangements committee at Momentum’s national committee meeting.

The meeting, on Saturday, came after repeated cancellations of the meeting by the steering committee, which meant that the national committee had not met in seven months.

Walker, who was suspended from the Labour party over comments made about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, was removed from her position as vice-chair of Momentum in the wake of her suspension from Labour.

Walker said she had not found a definition of anti-Semitism she could “work with”, and accused Holocaust Nemorial Day of not being sufficiently inclusive in an outburst at a Jewish Labour Movement event at Labour conference, which was filmed and subsequently leaked.

Numerous senior Momentum figures were said to be deeply unhappy with her remarks, and the head of the TSSA union Manuel Cortes described her views as “abhorrent”. Walker, who is Jewish, later apologised.

Laura Catriona Murray‘s controversial Blog began,

Waking up the morning after the Momentum National Committee, I had that feeling you have after a horrible break-up from someone you love. When you momentarily forget what happened, then you remember and the feeling of loss comes crushing down on you like a ton of bricks all over again.

She cites as a basis for her analysis:  Lewis Bassett of Lambeth Momentum has eloquently described the inevitable conflict between the two political strands which merged with Momentum’s inception — Labourism, those people steeped in the traditions and ideology of the British Labour movement, and Movementism, those activists which had previously spurned party-politics in favour of innovative and exciting campaigning organisations like Occupy, UK Uncut and Climate Camp.

Bassett  summarises his argument:

I cover three developments of Corbyn’s left-wing advance guard, the extra-parliamentary group that evolved out of Corbyn’s initial leadership campaign: first the transition from “social movement” activism to parliamentarianism; second, how the extra-parliamentary politics of post-movementist activists are being tapered by the Labour Party; and third, the way movementist tropes regarding democracy are being operationalised in order to sideline the decision-making structures in Momentum which benefit the traditional left. I end with a critique of the traditional left’s position in Momentum at present.

My experience suggests that “social movement” activists from the recent period of struggle (the alter-Globalisation era) have had a tendency to prefigure the world they want to see, such that at times they have announced the premature death of an existing one. These proclamations have often included the death of the nation state as well as the traditional left which, it turns out, have only been dormant.

In the first part of his analysis Bassett is not uncritical of “movementism”. He describes them in abstract terms – the shift to “state-centred” strategies and then offers an outline of how the Greek left, Syriza has operated in the face of the restless hostility of the EU Troika, which is a largely external and hard-fought over history. Discussing Podemos, he alludes to the centralisation of the party, from its initial  circle based democracy, to the present day centralised -E-democracy. Bassett does not discuss the possibility that the adoption of some of the recipes from Laclau and Mouffe’s analysis of ‘populism’. That is,  how to  articulate political protest through relations of “equivalence” into a machine that pits the People against the ‘Casta’ (the ‘elites’ as French and English language populists call it), and the importance Laclau gave to strong leadership figures to do this.

Bassett however does not discuss the organising principles that have come to the fore in many (post the new millennium) social movements, from Occupy onwards. Consensus-decision making, with its roots in 1970s US feminism and the Quakers, is considered by many activists to have been an obstacle to wider participation – how it could be applied to Momentum is a thought worth considering!  He also does not mention that the latest widely publicised social movement,  Nuit Debout in France  collapsed this summer without making any serious impact at all beyond a limited circle of activists. One of the reasons lay in these organising forms (although the Place de la République meetings allowed a modified form of majority voting).

Bassett continues in terms of a contrast between the two trends he cited above.

Or rather he does not discuss what exactly the ‘traditional’ left is.

One could argue that ‘social movement’ trend has the same 1960s and 1970s origins as the present Labour and an important section of the extra-Labour far-left. One only needs to look at post-May 68 in France to see both trends (themselves a galaxy of different approaches) converging, party, anti-party, movementist, a revival or mainstream political parties. The British left saw a similar, if much less profound, emergence of differing, but allied, currents.

Both were marked by political and social objectives wider than capturing the existing state structure (ideas about participation), recognition of the importance of issues of gender, sexuality, cultural and ethnic (‘race’)  oppression, and an expressed wish for more democratic political forms.

No doubt what might be called ‘traditional’ is an emphasis on the central importance of class inequality and class struggle, (the more radical ideas of self-management and workers’ control were also developed) but each strand is recognisable as part of what was once called the ‘New Left‘.

These priorities, this cultural shift,  extended to some nominally Leninist – or ‘Trotskyist’ groups – though clearly not to others who remain thoroughly – and mendaciously – anti-democratic.

An interchange between these different strands happened during the Rise of the Labour Left, from the late ‘seventies till the ‘eighties. The late ’80s Chesterfield Socialist Conferences, supported by Tony Benn,  were perhaps one of the best known examples of this approach, arguing for socialist and social movement initiatives “inside” and “outside” the State.

Therefore it is not without precedent or surprising that this happened,

…social movement’ actors and organizations became inflected by an emphasis on class as well as a renewed awareness of the material and ideological power of the nation state, which, in the theories that had been popular among the movementists, was thought about only in terms of its erosion (eg Hardt and Negri, 2001). This shift in political consciousness was the prerequisite for ‘social movement’ activists adopting state-centered strategies.

Having worked with Negri I am sure he would be flattered at this degree of influence, though I doubt if anybody moved from the “multitude” to the Labour Party through any deep reading of, say, Commonwealth (2009) to seeing the Labour Party as a vehicle for establishing the ‘common’.

The reason for the support for these activists is a lot simpler: Corbyn’s election to the head of the Labour Party….

The two trajectories discussed here – the movementist and the traditional left – converged on Momentum. Corbyn’s election demonstrated an organic demand for a movement that could outpace the Party in terms of organizing. Tens of independent meetings were held to discuss the victory and ask where next, while in many official Party Ward and Constituency meetings the election was brushed over with an embarrassed shudder by the caste of incumbents.

There are good reasons for this: if these activists intend to pursue their own strategy – protest – how are they going to govern?

A centre to Momentum began to crystalize around the right to possess and access the data gathered during the leadership campaign. The names and contact details of tens of thousands of supporters were made the possession of a board of trusties composed of several Corbyn-friendly MPs and the seasoned Labour Party activist Jon Lansman. With a name provided by popular left-wing commentator Owen Jones, Momentum was officially founded and all other independent pro-Corbyn initiatives and the mass of supporters accepted the branding.

Bassett outlines the internal situation:

At the newly-formed centre, Lansman and behind him a network of activists with deep roots to long embittered struggles within the Labour Party, represented one pole of attraction; on the other were the three members of staff and group of unpaid volunteers drawn from the leadership campaign, among them James Schneider whose own checkered political history diverges dramatically from that of the typically “tribalist” Labour Party activist. Schneider’s thoughts on the development of Momentum reveal his intellectual “fit” with the movementist trend, evidenced by a weariness of trade union practices (motions and delegates, for example), a preference for UK:Uncut style tactics and an expressed desire to make the Labour Party “more like a social movement” (Schneider, 2016). Unprepared and under siege (both within and outside of the Party) Momentum’s centre and Corbyn’s offices contributed next to nothing that would definitively shape the early development of the organisation. Likewise Lansman’s initial efforts to limit and control the spread of local groups was counterbalanced by the movementists in Momentum’s office who ensured a laissez-faire approach. The result was that the aims and structure of Momentum took shape without a shred of authoritative guidance, a power vacuum into which the traditional left gained ascendance.

He concluded,

Can the ‘social movement’ and the traditional left trajectories work together productively? It is possible that the traditional left has the ideological maturity to counter a post-movementist turn to short-termist Fabianism. On the other hand the movementists offer a useful skepticism regarding bureaucracy and a greater sense of post-colonial and contemporary feminist perspectives. Between the two tendencies is Momentum’s office, the core of which will be probably unwilling to hand over the keys to any national structure that fails to make Labour the movement’s primary vehicle.

Whether this is the real division in Momentum remains open to discussion.

Murray makes the reasonable critical  point of how Saturday’s Momentum meeting seemed to be developing which locates the most immediate problem.

This system of using inwardly-focussed and off-putting meetings to elect delegates to hierarchical structures and to discuss motions which are very rarely implemented has failed the left for at least the last century.

It is fairly obvious that the present clashes are leading away from either possibility: towards faction fights, people advancing their personal bug-bears (see ‘anti-Zionism’ above).

Murray’s own comments are hardly above the fray,

the AWL — a group with such extreme Trotskyist politics that they are almost a caricature of themselves — and their fellow travellers. Subtle support for imperialist wars, uncritical support for Israel and fanatical support for the European Union are amongst their policies.

It is perhaps not a good idea to make up the political views of your opponents when you complain about ‘factionalism’, as this farrago indicates…

Though many will sympathise with this more considered judgement:

those who feel very supportive of Jackie Walker, many of whom know her through the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) or anti-racism campaigning, and feel outraged that she was removed as Momentum’s Vice-Chair. I have sympathy for this group because I’ve campaigned for Palestine my entire adult life and know that censorship of free speech on Israel is a very real and dangerous thing. However, I — like many others — believe that Jackie Walker’s comments on Holocaust Memorial Day and security in Jewish schools were insensitive, unnecessary and entirely inappropriate to make at Labour Party conference, as Vice-Chair of Momentum. The rage felt by many when she was removed as Vice-Chair — which was a badly-handled and unpleasant affair — has rendered them unable to grasp the nuance of the situation and unable to appreciate that the action taken by Momentum’s Steering Committee was a reasonable compromise in the face of an escalating situation which Jackie Walker herself could have easily avoided.

And this,

Seven months in which those who rallied around Jackie Walker had their initial hurt and anger stoked by baseless allegations of racism and of a ‘Zionist conspiracy’ against absolutely everybody who didn’t agree with them. Seven months in which these various groups did their upmost to whip everyone else up into a frenzied atmosphere of hatred of Jon Lansman. Online and in local groups, Jon Lansman is demonised, vilified and dehumanised by people who have comparatively not committed an iota of time or energy to the cause of the left in their lives.

I can only say that the more I hear against Landsman the more I concur with Murray’s statement.

In fact the more I hear the more I like Landsman.

But I personally want the Labour Party to be a successful democratic socialist party, with a modern European radical left programme.

I do not want it to be just a “social movement”. I do not want it to be a play-ground for left factions.

I want it to change this country, as part of an internationalist left movement that transforms the world, starting with Europe.

On the evidence Momentum is not, at present, part of that future.

 As counter-evidence one can read Michael Chessum’s eminently sane report:  Thoughts on finding a positive way forward after the Momentum NC.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 6, 2016 at 1:15 pm

Nuit Debout: “It did not take off”, Frédéric Lordon.

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Nuit Debout: A Spark that did not Light a Prairie Fire.

Nuit debout was a French movement that began on 31 March 2016, arising out of protests against proposed labour reforms known as the El Khomri law or Loi travail. The movement was organised around a broad aim of “overthrowing the El Khomri bill and the world it represents”. It was compared to the Occupy movement in the United States and to Spain’s anti-austerity 15-M or Indignados movement. Occupy, and its much smaller imitation in the UK, Like the former, and unlike the latter, it failed to make any lasting connection with wider political forces. 

Nuit Debout was best known for its months long 2016 occupation of the Place de la République in Paris.

Organisers refused to set out a specific list of political demands in advance, although they did denounce the government’s proposed reforms as regressive, and they called for the construction of a new political project that would be “ambitious, progressive, and emancipatory”.

Lordon played an instrumental role in the rise of the Nuit debout movement. He wrote a piece in the February 2016 issue of Le Monde diplomatique on François Ruffin‘s film, Merci patron!, describing the film as a clarion call for a potential mass uprising. This prompted Ruffin to organise a public meeting which led to the organisation of the public occupation of Paris’s Place de la République on 31 March 2016. Lordon delivered a speech at the 31 March protest, highlighting the goal of uniting disparate protest movements. He subsequently refused to talk to national media about his role in the movement, explaining that he did not wish to be seen as the leader of a leaderless movement. More Frédéric Lordon, Nuit Debout ‘Leader’: Diamond Geezer, or….Not?.

Lordon has also been criticised for his ‘soverigentist’ tendencies: that is a belief that French democracy must first be transformed,  however grass-roots led – on a national scale. This means he is against the pooling of sovereignty in the European Union, attacking its ne-libeal and amrket inflection but   offers no concept of how internationalist democracy may be built. (1)

A more radical critique is offered of this type of politics in the latest Red Pepper,

Occupations, assemblies and direct action – a critique of ‘body politics’ Joseph A Todd .

Todd argues that the demand for “presence” at such assemblies (Occupy Wall Street, London, the small camp at St Paul’s, the  Place de la République), is questionable.

Inclusion in the polis was premised on physical presence – both in that decision making was conducted in general assemblies for extended periods of time, but also in that non-participation in the general assembly constituted a symbolic exclusion from the performative spectacle that became the symbol of the movement. And while the lack of demands was partly rooted in a distrust of existing institutions, we can also trace it back to body politics, the belief that bodies together is enough to create change, that bodies in space could prefigure the revolution.

Others have criticised the “consensus” ideal of these movements, which excludes serious debate, and represses minorities, while allowing for a fictitious agreement to be manipulated by an unacknowledged and unaccountable  leadership – the “tyranny of structurelessness”.  Or, more simply, the offputting rules that govern these assemblies, including strange signs to signify intervention in discussions, agreement, or disagreement. Nuit Debout did not enforce consensus – voting was by majority – but adopted many of these alienating procedures.

Nuit Debout existed for some months, brought important issues about the effects of markets, and the failings of democracy in French society and Europe  to the fore, had some interesting debates about democratic structures and the remoteness of official French politics, and inspired some to continue to seek an alternative to liberal pro-market politics.

It never touched the core of the labour movement or the banlieue.

Now we learn that Lordon, still one of the leading voices in the movement, acknowledges it has failed to take hold.

Frédéric Lordon fait le bilan de Nuit Debout : “On ne va pas se raconter d’histoire, le feu n’a pas pris”

la puissance de la multitude” – the might of the multitude has not taken off.

The Bondy Blog interview is in a typical, highly abstract and philosophical vein,  complete with references to Spinoza (one hears echoes of Toni Negri here, as the term multitude suggests already), and La Boétie.

It is heavy going, even for those used to Lordonese.

Fortunately Les Inrocks summarises the key points in which Lordon assesses the successes and the – very evident – petering out of the movement:

Tous les mouvements insurrectionnels commencent à très petite échelle. Le problème pour le pouvoir c’est quand ‘ça gagne’, quand la plaine entière vient à s’embraser. On ne va pas se raconter d’histoire, le feu n’a pas (ou pas encore) pris. Je crois cependant que beaucoup de gens qui étaient loin de l’événement l’ont regardé avec intérêt, et qu’il s’est peut être passé quelque chose dans les têtes dont nous ne pouvons pas encore mesurer tous les effets.”

All insurrectional movements begin small scale. The problem for those in power is when this “takes off”, when the social terrain is swept up in their heat. I am not going to hide the fact that in this case the spark has not (or has not yet) caught fire. I consider nevertheless that many people who were distant from the event watched it keenly, and what took place inside our heads has had effects which we have not really come to grips with yet.

Lordon talks of the “violence des “gardiens de l’ordre” which radicalised the participants in Nuit Debout. But he denied that there was any link between the movement and the ‘casseurs’ (hooligans) who led attacks on the Police and property to demonstrations in France earlier this year, and who provoked a strong counter-reaction.

 The Inrocks also cites Nuit debout, l’instant d’après. Pour un bilan qui n’en soit pas un by .

This is a more intelligible and serious balance-sheet (bilan) of the movement.

Marzel celebrates Nuit Debout’s existence in an “oligarchic regime” and presence in the ” imaginaire politique alternatif”, its democratic experiments, and – apparently – resistance to “narcissism”  as victories in themselves. It did not, however, help stop the new Labour law. And, “Nuit debout s’est rapidement élargie à une contestation de toute la politique du gouvernement et à un rejet global du capitalisme mondialisé.” – it quickly expanded to challenge all the government’s policies, and a complete rejection of globalised capitalism.”

Manzel does not hide that there problems with sexism, intoxication, internal disputes, inside Nuit Debout. Yet he considers that core message of  of the protests was part of the “Miracle” of politics in the sense celebrated by Hannah Arendt.  That is, we might comments,  creative action and reflection by equal citizens that breaks  governmental routine and helps create free public realm.

While some may hope that a new wave of protests may arise in France this autumn Nuit Debout has reached some kind of terminus.

*****

 (1) “Frédéric Lordon offers a radical critique of the construction of Europe. We can only agree when he interprets ‘the oddity of building Europe as a gigantic operation of the political elimination … of popular sovereignty itself’. The Enchanted World of Common Currency – On the Article by Frédéric Lordon).

The Labour Party, Trotskyism and Pabloism.

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They Lost….

“Trotskyism is being studied as never before” The Brent Soviet.

“But we want to speak frankly to you, comrade Trotsky, about the sectarian methods which we have observed around us and which have contributed to the setbacks and enfeebling of the vanguard. I refer to those methods which consist in violating and brutalising the revolutionary intelligence of those militants – numerous in France – who are accustomed to making up their own minds and who put themselves loyally to the school of hard facts. These are the methods which consist in interpreting with no indulgence whatever the inevitable fumblings in the search for revolutionary truth. Finally, these are the methods which attempt, by a colonisation directed from without, to dictate to the labour movement attitudes, tactics or responses which do not come from the depths of its collective intelligence. It is in large part because of this that the French section of the Fourth International has shown itself absolutely incapable not merely of reaching the masses but indeed even of forming tried and serious cadres.”

Marceau Pivert to Trotsky. 1939 (Where is the PSOP Going?  A correspondence between Marceau Pivert, Daniel Guerin and Leon Trotsky)

 

With Trotskyists about to take over the Labour Party there is interest in the ideology and politics of this current on the left.

One figure we have yet to hear mention is Michael Pablo one, of many but by far the best known, party names of a revolutionary usually called Michel Raptis. The most reviled Trotskyist of the post-war period, he has been accused of being the father of lies, liquidationism, and revisionism of all stripes and spots.  In fact his ideas and career are important to anybody concerned with Trotskyism: an illustration of its worst faults and some of its better features.

It will come as no surprise that Tendance Coatesy, as with many other leftists, owes a political and ideological debt to this outstanding individual. That his principal orthodox Trotskyist enemies were Gerry Healy, Pierre Lambert and James Cannon – all po-faced right-wing authoritarians – one cannot but help but like Pablo.

This should be borne in mind even if we accept that the fundamental premises with which he, and all Trotskyists, worked, that the Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc, and China, not to mention countries like Cuba, had, by revolution or by bureaucratic imposition, become ‘non-capitalist’ social formations, part of a fundamentally new stage in history has been proved false. And that it’s hard to avoid acknowledging the erosion of the related belief, that ‘building revolutionary parties’ on the models laid down by Lenin and Trotsky was a realistic strategy to help create socialist societies in the capitalist world,  and overthrow the Stalinist bureaucratic ‘deformations’ in these non-capitalist countries.

Pabloism. 

The term Pabloism was first used during the splintering of Trotskyism in the 1950s. It referred to a set of positions advanced by Michael Rapitis during debates within the Fourth International, principality Pablo’s view that the “objective” growth of Stalinist-led ‘workers’ states’ ‘degenerated’ and deformed) meant that they had to have a strategy towards the mass Communist parties that could capture their base. He was accused of ‘liquidating’ the Trotskyist ‘programme’ as an independent point of reference outside of these parties.

Since many of his opponents had their own strategic alliances inside social democratic parties that disguised their true ‘programme’ (Gerry Healy’s pre-Socialist Labour League group in Labour ‘The Club‘, the original home of most UK ‘Trotksyist’ organisations and groupuscules) , not to mention  collaboration with right-wing anti-Communist elements backed by American funds (in France, in the union federation Force Ouvrière) this accusation looks  bad faith. More serious criticisms stem from the claim that Stalinist forms of Communism were a kind of ‘leap’ into a better form of society which Trotskyists should back (from the outside) and influence (from the inside).

The noise and fury (cited above) around such disagreements can only be understood by referring to earlier disputes which set the pattern for Trotskyist polemics that has endured to this day.

This process of raucous fractures and splits which can be traced back to the 1930s, notably in France. Despite the widespread impression that American Trotskyism, above all the US Socialist Workers’ party, was the lodestar of the movement, French Trotskyism was the centre of the Fourth International and many of the original parties – a country with (in the 1912 foundation, larger than the Socialist SFIO), and form 1936 ownwards a significant political player) a large Communist party to boot, and a deep-rooted socialist and communist tradition that sets it off from America. Before looking at what ‘Pabloism’ is we have to begin there.

One of the first Trotskyist groups in that country was the  la Ligue communiste founded in 1930. By the latter half of the decade there were already three main Trotskyist tendencies in the Hexagone (French Trotskyism) .

They were all organised around strong personalities: long embedded leadership is an enduring feature of Trotskyism (French Trotskyism)

Zeller’s Témoin du siècle (2000) outlines some of their disagreements. Perhaps it is most revealing on how the Trotskyists behaved after the ‘french turn’ which saw them joining the French Socialists, the SFIO.

Zeller describes their activists lecturing people on the First Congresses of the Third International and Trotsky’s line on the Chinese Revolution. Not surprisingly not everybody was impressed with these no doubt kindly meant lectures. They were kicked out of the party of Léon  Blum after, amongst other things,  a sustained campaign to build workers’ militias. For Trotsky the “La révolution française a commencé” with the wave of strikes that accompanied the election in 1936 of the Front Populaire you understand (Trotsky, Ou Va La France 1934 – 8, particularly the section on the ” milice ouvrière ” in  Socialisme et lutte armée.)

In his Mémoire d’un dinosaure trotskiste (1999) Yvan Craipeau describes the various positions Trotsky took on French politics,, from ‘entryism’ in the SFIO as the bolchevik-léniniste tendency, to efforts to influence Marceau Pivert’s “Gauche révolutionnaire” both while it remained in the Socialist party, and later (see above) when it was the independent Parti socialiste ouvrier et paysan (PSOP). founded in 1938. Pivert memorably replied to Trotsky about their  efforts at hectoring instruction, that his party members “are accustomed to making up their own minds ” and that they “put themselves loyally to the school of hard facts” – not Trotsky’s international prognostics. 

Trotsky replied by, behind his back,  describing Pivert (as described by Zeller) as a false revolutionary in the mould of  a provincial school teacher.

The entire history is of  bitterness and great  complexity (one I am familiar with in case anybody wants a Trainspotter lesson…).  People wishing the investigate further should begin with these two books and look at this Wikipedia entries: Trotskisme en France. French Trotskyists.

But all this ill-will was a mere foreshadowing of the later splits in the Trotskyist movement.

Entryism.

To jump from those years: the key issues in the 1954 split included entryism (which Pablo advocated inside the mass Communist parties and well as social democracy) and this,

Pablo’s elevation of the “objective process” to “the sole determining factor” reducing the subjective factor (the consciousness and organization of the vanguard party) to irrelevance, the discussion of “several centuries” of “transition” (later characterized by Pablo’s opponents as “centuries of deformed workers states”) and the suggestion that revolutionary leadership might be provided by the Stalinist parties rather than the Fourth International—the whole analytic structure of Pabloist revisionism emerged. The Genesis of Pabloism.

Pablo indeed took seriously the prospect of a Third World war. In these conditions he  backed, and enforce, this entryist strategy known as ” entrism sui generis ” inside (where possible) Stalinist Communist parties, and just about everything  that moved on the social democratic left. This meant not just concealing  membership of the Trotskyist movement,  even to the point of point-bank denial of any link. Famously as the text above states he considered that it might take decades of such underground work for their efforts to bear fruit.

Apart from its inherent implausibility the prospect of ‘centuries’ of clandestine burrowing away seemed to  consign the Trotskyists to the fate of the Marranos, ‘converted’ Jews who ostensibly  submitted to Catholicism but practised their faith in secret.

The strategy had little impact in the Communist parties – in contrast to long-term and independently initiated entryism in the British Labour Party by Trotskyists (the secretive and bureaucratic ‘Militant’ group) who were distant from his Fourth International.

After winning support for these policies, and even a degree of power over the International, helped by the departure of Healey, Lambert and Canon (cited above) Rapitis by the end of the same decade  plunged into a new cause: anti-colonialism and the ‘Arab Revolution’. He lost control of the Fourth International to Ernest Mandel and Pierre Frank. He retired from it in the mid-sixties.

Romance about epochs of hidden revolutionary labour aside, the  idea of working within the French Parti communiste français (PCF) was, even at the time,  in view of the party’s  top-down structure  and intolerant culture, ill-thought out and profoundly misjudged. It was equally parasitic on the success of the party being ‘entered’ (as indeed the experience of the Labour Party indicates).

Nevertheless French Trotskyism emerged more openly on the 60s political scene when a group of young Communist students, led by Alain Krivine, founded the independent Jeunesse communiste révolutionnaire in 1966. (1) Pablo did however put heart and soul in supporting the anti-colonial struggle in Algeria (a fight in which Krivine was also engaged) and was imprisoned for gun running to the independence fighters. He had a  brief period of influence in  the post-independence (5th of July 1962) Front de Libération Nationale, (FLN) notably on the leader Ben Bella (1916 – 2012) promoting the ideas of self-management. The Houari Boumédiènne,  1965 military coup put paid to that. (2)

The later politics of Pablo’s the  Tendance marxiste-révolutionnaire internationale (TMRI), and its French affiliate, the Alliance marxiste révolutionnaire (AMR) centred around the primacy of self-management.  They embraced the project of a ‘self-managed’ republic, took up themes such as feminism (in the mid-sixties), supported anti-colonial revolutions (without neglecting as their consequences unravelled, the necessary critique of ‘anti-imperialist’ national bourgeoisies), and defended democratic politics against Stalinism and orthodox Trotskyism. Pablo’s writings translated into English include a collection of his articles (Michel Raptis, Socialism, Democracy & Self-Management: Political Essays 1980 and his first-hand studies of workers’ control during the Allende government in Chile (Revolution and Counter Revolution in Chile by Michael Raptis. 1975) – another experience cut short by a bloody military coup.

New Left.

In the 1970s its members joined the Parti Socialiste Unifié, a French New Left party with over 30,000 members,  hundreds of councillors  during the late 60s and early 1970s and 4 MPs in 1967. Later the AMR was involved in other left alliances, all within the  traditions of workers’ self-management and New Left causes, participative democracy feminism, gay rights, green issues.  By the 1980s the TNR,  operated on a collegiate rather than a ‘Leader’ basis (and numbered outstanding figures such as Maurice Najman). It helped keep alive the ideas of workers’ control during the political triumph of neoliberalism. I was close to them in the 1980s (and attended one of their World Congress, the 8th) as a member of the Fédération pour une gauche alternative where we worked with the PSU in its final years.

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Movements, that place ecological issues within the context of popular control, talk of new forms of democracy, owe something to those in the PSU and other New Left groups of the sixties and seventies across Europe. The TMRI was part of these currents, less and less concerned with building a revolutionary ‘party’ than with the interests of the movements themselves. (3) It could be said to have been a practical answer to the critique of Trotskyism offered by Claude Lefort of the group, Socialisme ou Barbarie in the 1950s.  Lefort once asked, why, without the kind of material basis of a Stalinist state or even a trade union administration, did all Trotskyist groups reproduce the bureaucratic forms of these apparatuses?One response is, yes, “liquidationism”, being part of the wider movement and not a self-styled ‘vanguard’.

Pabloism’s  legacy continues. It is one of many influences inside  the French ‘alternatifs’, left social- republicanism, and the (left-wing of) the  Front de Gauche (Ensemble) and more widely in the European and Latin American left.

Although a small number of  ‘Pabloites’ re-joined the ‘Mandelite’ Fourth International (already moving away from Trotskyist  ‘orthodoxy) in the 1990s most evolved away from ‘Trotskyism’ towards broader forms of democratic socialism and New Left radicalism. Some even became part of the French Greens (at the time known as Les Verts), while most, as indicated, merged into the broader left.

As the political landscape has radically changed since the fall of Official Communism and the entrenchment of neo-liberal economists and social policies in most of the world those associated with this current have  been involved in a variety of left parties and campaigns. Pablo’s anti-colonialism hardly meets the challenges we face today. But the democratic strand of workers’ self-management remains perhaps, a strand which retains its relevance in the emerging ideas and policies of the left, including within the Labour Party..

Unlike ‘entryism’ and dogmatic Trotskyism….

 

(1)One of the best accounts of this and Krivine’s background is in Hervé Hamon, Patrick Rotman, Génération, les années de rêve, Paris, Seuil, 1987. For 68 itself: Patrick Rotman et Hervé Hamon, Génération, T.2 Les années de poudre, Paris, Le Seuil, 1988,

(2)The best biographical introduction to Michel Raptis: on the Lubitz Trotskyanet –  here

(3) A  reliable sketch of the French affiliate of the TMRI, the AMR, is  available here: Bref aperçu de l’histoire du courant “pabliste” ses suites et sespériphéries en France 1965-1996.  A journal from this tradition is Utopie Critique.

From KS.