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Cornelius Castoriadis, interview on the Greek public TV (ERT)

In this video, the universal philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis is interviewed by Teta Papadopoulou for the broadcast called Paraskinio (Backstage).

Castoriadis was born in Istanbul in 1922 and after the Asia Minor Catastrophe moved with his family to Athens. His parents were distinguished school teachers, enlightened anti-royalists, who quickly become among the strongest influences on his philosophical adventures. Castoriadis during his early adulthood became an active Marxist after joining the Greek Communist Party (KKE) in 1992, only to abandon it one year later after criticizing its leadership, exposing its chauvinistic and ultra-bureaucratic tendencies. He, later on, joined the small Trotskyist Group of Spyros Stinas which resulted in his persecution by both the Nazi occupiers, the Gestapo forces and the Stalinist guerillas of EAM (that officially belonged to the KKE) who executed dozens of non-Stalinist Marxists in Greece before and after the December 1944 violent clashes in Athens.

In 1945 Castoriadis after wining a scholarship from the French Government, will permanently move to Paris. There he published the magazine «Socialism ou Barbarie» (a magazine that included Jean-François Lyotard, Guy Debord and profoundly influenced the French intellectual left), which – despite its small circulation – inspired radically the revolutionary students of May ’68. A few years later he will entirely abandon Marxism – a theory that (as he states in the documentary) became degenerated into a tool for the preservation of the Soviet regime (or other similarly bureaucratic regimes). He, then, begun to develop his own social and political theories, by combining different fields of knowledge, such as philosophy, politics, psychoanalysis, economics, biology. During this time, Castoriadis spoke about the project of autonomy (as almost tautological with direct democracy). For Castoriadis, an autonomous society knows (consciously) that every institution is created by its members and no extrasocial force (such as the laws of ancestors, the laws of markets, the laws of history, laws of God) interferes in the common world of public sphere.

The Castoriadian project of autonomy is, however, twofold: it is, on one hand, synonymous with the freedom of prattein, but this freedom is not exercised arbitrarily; it is not unrestricted. For Castoriadis autonomy (and democracy) is also the regime of equality and self-limitation, that is direct acknowledgement of some ethical restrictions aiming to prevent individuals (or societies) to fall in hubris, in the condition of unlimited desire for pride and power which leads to enmity and destruction. Hitherto, there have been two historical periods (as he explains in the interview) where autonomous movements emerged; one is ancient Greece (particularly Athens). The second can be found shortly after the decline of medieval feudalism. The project of social and individual autonomy is a reflection of the progress and evolution of the spirit of Greek antiquity in the modern age. This spirit is enhanced when citizens become politically active; engaged in political movements (such as the labour movement or minority initiatives, historically speaking) that call into question the existing social institutionalized order, proposing more openness and broader participation in the decision making at the same time, or it recedes when societies conform to the existing order and cease to despise norms, values and ethics (a condition that for Castoriadis reflects the state of heteronomy).

Manifesto 2014 (English version)

Read the Greek version here

The collective of Eagainst.com started its operation in December 2010, as an initiative not only for dialogue and counter-information but also to promote philosophical, political and cultural self-education of human beings based on universal values ​​and ideals (such as freedom of speech, the right to education, gender, racial and sexual equality, the right of excluded social groups – like immigrants and unemployed – the opposition to any exploitation of man by man, the review of work and labour and its alienating consequences …). Eagainst.com brings together people from diverse political spaces, mostly ardent supporters of the project of autonomy – as expressed by Cornelius Castoriadis – thinkers of council democracy (inspired by Hannah Arendt) and anarchist supporters (with particular emphasis on Murray Bookchin and Errico Malatesta), or situationists commentators and analysts who do not wish to compromise ideologically with the dominant values ​​that underlie the modern capitalist imaginary but instead seek for political alternatives rejecting at the same time the notion of representation, or even theories acknowledged as a solid truths and doctrinal beliefs. Eagainst.com is consisted by activists, journalists and political writers/researchers who refuse to reproduce social taboos, nationalism or outdated ideological currents. Always posing as a key project the social transformation, according to political, economic and cultural justice and equality, direct deliberative democracy and rejection of any kind of bureaucracy and hierarchy, this collectivity continues to promote in the public dialogue political ideas that remain largely undiscovered, ideas that promote a different understanding not only on the ways and means of social change but also regarding the objectives of that change. Far from trivial and sterile entrenched perceptions, breaking from ideological taboos and all kinds of conservatism, Eagainst.com continues its difficult work, welcoming all who respond to this call for political dialogue.

Coming from different backgrounds (workers, students, unemployed, artists, academics, writers) we are people with similar problems and concerns, people from different parts of the world who unite our voices under a common purpose: to contribute in the radical change of things. We know that this requires a clear rupture with any kind of transcendental or metaphysical rigid determinism (such as religious beliefs, laws of ancestors, laws of markets, laws of history) – that is called heteronomy – aiming to a world fairer and freer, to a world of political, economic and cultural equality, where processes through direct participation in decision-making will take place, enhancing the feasibility for us to redefine our needs and prioritize the values ​​that govern human communities. We know, of course, that the achievement of these objectives is not an easy task given that a) under the current situation with the rise of extreme right-wing populist, fascist movements and the hardening of state repression (which threatens and violates basic civil, democratic, social and economic rights earned with hard struggles), our efforts may face several risks (although that does not intimidate us), and b) in the era of mass apathy, of de-politicization and generalized poverism/conformity, where public communication is swamped by silence and isolation, the responses may not be broadly accepted in comparison with the initiatives that had significant resonance in the period of great social struggles during the past two centuries. We believe, however, that it is up to us to offer a political impetus for the further expansion of the antagonistic network that aims to the beginning of new struggles, while stressing that human beings are not solely destined for labour and consumption, obeying blindly and unquestioningly commands as slaves. The human (political) being can also create and excel using positive imagination and providing meaning to his/her existence.

In principle, we reject the contemporary global political infrastructure, the concentration of power in the hands of the few which reproduces and perpetuates poverty, inequality and injustice in all areas, leading inevitably to violence and dissolving any bond of social solidarity. The existing political system of liberal oligarchies deprives humanity as it measures every human value in profit (the only dominant value) destroying every spirit of friendship. Values ​​such as political participation, concepts such as consultation and communication are gradually fading away in a world that manufactures human machines, isolated individuals who attempt to disguise the lack of any meaning regarding their existence through consumerism (which is regarded as personal «success» and fulfilment), with lonely individuals who are accept pauperization as a natural condition in this jungle of social Darwinism that characterizes the capitalist imaginary, a dreadful machinery that generates and reproduces indifference, hatred and derision for the less powerful. Thus, we demand equality, ie actual (direct and deliberative) democracy, which according to us is inseparable from justice, equality and isonomy, that is equal participation in political power for all citizens. This requires explicit rupture with parliamentary institutions and any mechanism that perpetuates hierarchy and thus exploitation, heteronomy and alienation into the abyss of insignificance. Having acknowledged that the eutopic (and not utopic) political system we want isn’t going to be achieved through press releases, or ballot boxes, we call into question of the current state of power relations, we challenge all social institutions (such as the state – which gradually throws away its mask revealing its true face, that of a punisher -, or party offices), surpassing the demand for improving, rationalizing, or replacing them with others that will move into the same direction. Thus, we propose to replace all of these institutions that constitute and reproduce the modern capitalist (and ostensibly free) social reality, by political bodies that will allow all citizens to participate in the making (and taking) of decisions concerning public life, popular assemblies in squares, municipalities, workplaces (schools, factories, universities). Equality, friendship, solidarity and human creation for us should be a key objective of these new institutions.

At the same time we reject the imaginary of unlimited economic growth based on the hierarchical structure of the productive capitalist model which serves the interests of a small oligarchy in the arena of global competition that has transformed the entire planet into financial casino, damaging at the same time our natural environment and turning populations into profit machines that blindly execute orders in exchange for survival. Always under the scope of democratic transformation we promote the project of self-organization of production, moving away from the capitalist standards, away from the accumulation of profit in the hands of few, objecting to equal sharing of the wealth (and of course to income equality) while at the same time we incorporate environmental initiatives within the framework of our political program. But as aforementioned, human beings are not born and die having as an intended goal labour/production and consumption. Humans action can also result to worldliness – and this is the raison d’être of genuine politics (of direct democracy and autonomy), which undeniably cannot take place within our, utterly alienated by the imaginary of poverism, societies, deeply eroded by the insignificance of pseudo-individualism. Given that lack of freedom is not something that only concerns the work relationships (the oppression and exploitation of the worker from the employer and the boss) but has also to do with the nature of the production process, we aim not only to provide a more substantial meaning to work and workmanship (by asking ourselves why and for whom we labour?), but also to reduce the work-time, which is undoubtedly necessary for public happiness (namely for the re-emergence of a public realm). Such a system can not exist within the capitalist economic model that leaves no space for real communication between people and instead imprisons everyone to the impotence of private sphere. Extreme adherence to the work ethic, to productivism and profit-making signifies lack of time for reading, for analysis and discussion. Political representation serves exactly this pathology; to let others – some skilled technocrats – undertake the task of political implementation, a task that in fact should be exclusively our concern instead of acknowledging as our ultimate goal only private happiness.

Therefore, we reject any notion of bureaucratisation and we do not believe in change through the means that the system itself has created, means that keep us trapped in the world of impotence, conformity, entertainment and spectacle. Hence, we are not only looking for a public space as a key component of the participatory democracy we aim, but also for public time as an important tool to achieve our goals. Of course, for us the meaning of bureaucracy is not only confined to the hierarchical structures of the state apparatus, it does not solely refer to dialectic between rulers and the ruled (or in the workplace between masters and labourers, as mentioned above). The entire bureaucratization for our lives is characterized by the sheer totality of capitalist (and every heteronomous) imaginary that embraces every aspect of human activity and condition. It is located in the education system which produces «technocrats» who perpetuate the existing structures by prioritizing specific needs, it is incarnated in the psychological and anthropological approaches of the contemporary world, in short, it is an objective of (self)manipulation. We can see it on the Media (TV, magazines, radio, books), in all the institutions of mass culture. It is also located even in science which no longer serves the people but the large economic interests. We intent thus to challenge all the sociological narratives which proclaim that human beings are incapable of freedom and that the need for guidance by a skilled artisan, a polar economist is always required. The phrase of Sophocles «there is no more fearful or admirable being than a human» denotes explicitly the capabilities of human beings for self-creation and freedom.

To counter the current political challenges, we declare that the time to rise up and act collectively through a joint new network of revolutionary agenda is here. Through open assemblies, councils and open political bodies in every square, where communication and interaction will become possible, we aim to liberate ourselves. Not as lenders and borrowers, not as rich and poor, not as prosecutors and defendants, but as equal and free citizens, if we do not wish concepts such as democracy and freedom to become forgotten entries in encyclopedic dictionaries and history books.

Cornelius Castoriadis – History as creation (Part II)

(Read the first part here).

This is a further instalment, in English, of Marxisme et Teorie Revolutionnaire by Cornelius Castoriadis (Paul Cardan). The original French text appeared between 1961 and 1964) in issues 36-40 of the now defunct journal Socialisme ou Barbarie. Published in English by Solidarity London in 1966 (vol. IV, no.3) under the title ‘The fate of Marxism’.

Coherence in society

Let us consider for example the question of the coherence of a given society – be it a primitive society or a capitalist one. What is that ensures that the rules (legal or normal) which regulate the behaviour of its adults are in keeping with their motivations, and that they are not only compatible but deeply and mysteriously related to the society’s method of work and production? How is it that all this, in turn, corresponds to the structure of the family, to how mothers breastfeed their infants, to weaning, to the bringing up of children? How is it that there is a definite structure of the human personality in that particular culture, including its particular neuroses (and no others) – and that all this coordinates itself with one world-view, one religion, such and such a manner of eating or dancing? When studying a primitive society (3) one sometimes has the giddy impression that a team of psychoanalysts, economists, sociologists, etc., of superhuman capacity and knowledge, has made laws setting out the rules that would ensure it. Even ethnologists, while analysing the functions of such a society and revealing it to us, introduce more coherence than actually is, this impression is not, and cannot be, totally illusory. After all, these societies function. They are stable. They are even self-stabilising and capable of absorbing important shocks (except, obviously, that of contact with ‘civilisation’).

To be sure, the mystery of this coherence can be vastly reduced through causal considerations. This is what is involved in the ‘exact’ study of a society. If adults behave in a certain fashion, it is because they were brought up in a certain way; if the religion of a people contains such and such and element, it is because it corresponds to the ‘basic personality’ of the culture in question; if the authority relations are organised in a particular way, this is due to these particular economic factors, or vice versa, etc. But this causal reduction does not exhaust the problem, it only gradually strips it to the bone. The links which it detects, for instance, are those between individual acts situated in a predefined framework. The framework is both that of a social life already coherent at any moment as a concrete totality (4) (for without such a coherence there would be no individual acts), and of a collection of rules both explicit and implicit, of an organisation, of a structure which is at one and the same time both an aspect of this totality and something different from it. The rules are themselves the product, in some respects, of that social life. In a number of instances (hardly ever in primitive societies, more often in the case of historical societies) we can insert their emergence into a pattern of social causation (for example free competition and the abolition of serfdom, introduced by the bourgeois, serve the ends of the bourgeois and are explicitly desired for this reason). But even when one succeeds in ‘producing’ the rules in such a manner, the fact remains that their authors were not, and could not have been, conscious of the totality of their results and of their implications – and yet there results and implications were inexplicably ‘harmonised’ with what already existed or with what others were producing, at the same time, in other areas of the social scene. (5) In most instances, conscious #authors’ quiet simply did not exist. The evolution of forms of family life, fundamental to the understanding of all cultures, did not depend on explicit legislative acts. Still less did such acts stem from an awareness of obscure psychoanalytical mechanism, at work in the family. There also remains the fact that these rules are given at the point of departure of each society (6) and that they are coherent with each other, whatever the distance between the areas they cover.

(When we talk of coherence in this context, we take the word in its widest possible sense: for a given society even crisis and being torn apart can, in a certain way, be manifestations of coherence, for they are inserted in its functioning. They are never followed by a total collapse, by a pure and simple atomisation. They are its crises and its incoherence. The great depression of 1929, like the two world wars, are entirely ‘coherent# manifestations of capitalism. It is not simply that they are integrated into its concatenations of causality, but also that they promote the functioning, qua functioning, of the system. In their very meaninglessness we can still see in many ways the meaning of capitalism.)

There is a second reduction we can apply. There is no reason to be surprised if all current and past societies are coherent. By definition, o0nly coherent societies are observable. Non-coherent societies would have collapsed immediately and we wouldn’t be able to talk about them. This idea, important as it is, does not put an end to the discussion either. It would only enable us to ‘understand’ the coherence of the societies we are looking at by reference to a process of ‘trial and error’, whereby only viable societies would have survived by some sort of natural selection. But already in biology, where evolution has many millions of years at its disposal and where there is an infinitely rich process of contingent variations, natural selections thought trial and error does not seem a sufficient answer to the problem of the origin of species. ‘Viable’ forms seem to be produced far more often that the statistical probability of their appearance would predict. In history, this reference to random variations and to a process of selection seems gratuitous. Besides, the problem is posed at a previous level (in biology, too!): the disappearance of peoples and nations described by Herodotus may well have been the outcome of their encounter with other peoples who crushed or absorbed them; nevertheless the former already had an organised and coherent way of life, which would have continued had not the encounter occurred. Anyway, we have seen with our own eyes, literally or metaphorically, the birth of new societies and we know things don’t happen like this. Between the 13th and the 19th century, we don’t see an enormous number of different types of society appearing in Europe, all of which bad one disappear because incapable of surviving. We see a different phenomenon: the birth (accidental, in relation to the system preceding it) of the bourgeois, which through thousands of contradictory ramifications and manifestations, from the Lombard bankers to Calvin, and from Giordano Bruno to the use of the compass, causes the appearance from the outset of a coherent meaning which will go on developing and strengthening itself.

On the Russian Revolution

These considerations allow one to grasp a second aspect of the problem. It isn’t only in the structure of a society that we see how a system of significations imposes itself upon a network of causes. We see it also in the succession of historical societies or, more simply, in each historical process. Let us look, for instance, at the process, already touched upon, whereby the bourgeois emerged. Or better still, let us look at one we think we know so well, which led first to the Russian Revolution of 1917, and subsequently to the power of the bureaucracy.

It isn’t possible here, and it is hardly necessary, to recall the causes deep at work in Russian society which were leading it towards a second violent social crisis after that of 1905, and which were allocating roles to the main actors of the drama in the person of the basic classes of society. It doesn’t seem difficult for us to understand that Russian society was pregnant with revolution, or that in this revolution the working class was going to play a decisive role. We don’t dwell on it. But this comprehensible necessity remains ‘sociological’ and abstract. It has to be manifested through definite processes. It must embody itself in acts (or omissions) dated and signed by particular individuals and groups, ending up with the appropriate result. Necessity has also to find combined, at the outset, a mass of conditions whose presence wasn’t always guaranteed by the very factors which generated the ‘general necessity’ of revolution. One aspect of the question, a minor one if you like but which allows one to see easily and clearly what we are driving at, is that of the role of individuals. Trotsky, in his History of the Russian Revolution, certainly doesn’t neglect it. He is himself sometimes seized with an astonishment, which he conveys to his readers, when confronted with the perfect adequacy of the character of people for the ‘historic roles’ they will be called upon to place. He is also struck by the fact that when the situation ‘demands’ a person of a given type, this person somehow emerges (one recalls the parallels he draws between Nicholas II and Louis XVI, between the Tsarina and Marie Antoniette).

What then is the key to this mystery? Trotsky’s answer still seems sociological: everything in the life and historical existence of a decadent privileged class leads it to produce individuals without ideas and without character. If a different type of individual were exceptionally to appear, he could do nothing with this particular social fabric, and he could do nothing against ‘historical necessity’. On the other hand, everything in the life and existence of a revolutionary class tends to produce individuals of hardened temperament, with strongly-help opinions. This answer contains without doubt a large part of truth. Yet it is not sufficient. Or rather it says both too much and not enough. It says too much because it ought to be valid in all cases, whereas it is only valid where the revolution has been victorious. Why did the Hungarian proletariat only produce as ‘hardened’ leader a Bela Kun – for whom Trotsky never has enough scornful irony? Why could not the German working class recognise – and eventually replace – Rosa Luxemburg and Larl Liebknecth? Where was the French Lenin in 1936?

To say in these cases the situation was not ripe for the appropriate leaders to appear is precisely to abandon the sociological interpretation, which can legitimately lay claim to a certain comprehensibility, and to return to the mystery of particular situations which either ‘demand’ or ‘forbid’. Besides, the situation which ought to forbid sometimes doesn’t. For half a century now the ruling classes have been able to provide themselves with leaders who, whatever their historical role was, have been neither Prince Lvovs nor Kerenskys. But the explanation doesn’t say enough either, for it cannot explain why chance is excluded from the business in the very place where it appears to be at work in the most blinding fashion, why chance always operates ‘in the right direction’, and why the infinite number of possible events which would operate in other directions never materialise. For the revolution to come about we need the weakness, flabbiness and inertia of the Tsar. We need the character of the Tsarina. We need Kerensky and Kornilov. Lenin and Trotsky must return to Petrograd, and for this we need a mistaken reasoning on the part of the German General Staff and another by the British government, not to mention all the pneumococci and diptheria bacilli which conscientiously avoided these two persons ever since their birth. Trotsky puts the question squarely: without Lenin, would the revolution have been completed? After discussing the matter, he tends to answer ‘no’. We are inclined to think that he is right, and moreover that one could say just as much about Trotsky himself. (7) But what in what sense can we say that the internal necessities of the revolution guaranteed the appearance of individuals like Lenin and Trotsky, their survival until 1917, and their more than improbable presence in Petrograd at the right moment? We are compelled to note that the signification of the revolution affirms and completes itself though chains of causes bearing no relationship to it, but nonetheless inexplicable bound up with it.

The emergence of the bureaucracy in Russian after the revolution enables us to envisage the problem at yet another level. In this case too, analysis lets us see deep and understandable factors at work, upon which can’t dwell again here. (8) The birth of the bureaucracy in Russia was certainly not a chance occurrence. The proof is that bureaucratisation has since then increasingly appeared as the dominant trend of the modern world. But to understand the bureaucratisation of capitalist countries we call upon the tendencies immanent in the organisation of production, of the economy and of the state under capitalism. Yet the bureaucracy which first appeared historically was that which arose in Russia, on the very morrow of the revolution, on the social and material ruins of capitalism; it is even this bureaucratisation within capitalism. Everything happened as though the modern world was pregnant with bureaucracy – and that to produce it was ready to bring all grist to its mill, including some which seemed least appropriate such as Marxism, the workers’ movement and the proletarian revolution.

On retrospective rationalism

As with the problem of the coherence of a society, there is here again a causal reduction which one can and should operate – and this is precisely what an exact and reasoned study of history consists of. But this causal reduction, as we have just seen does not abolish the problem. An illusion must then be eliminated: the illusion of retrospective rationalisation. The historical material, in which we cannot help seeing links between meanings, well defined entities, one might even say a personal aspect – the Peloponnesian War, the Spartacus revolt, the Reformation, the French Revolution – has itself cast our idea of what historical meaning – or historical figure – is. These particular events have taught us what an event is, and the rationality we later detect in them only surprises us because we have forgotten that we have ourselves first extracted it from them. When Hegel more or less asserts that Alexander had of necessity to die at the age of thirty three, because it was of the essence of a hero to die young and that one could not imagine an old Alexander, and when he thus builds up an accidental fever into the manifestation of Reason hidden in history, we not that our image of what a hero is was precisely forged our of the real case of Alexander and other similar ones, and that there is therefore nothing surprising if one discovers in the event a form which constituted itself for us through the event.

Similar demystifications are needed in many cases. But even this won’t exhaust the problem. Firstly, because here too we meet something similar to what happens in our knowledge of nature (9): when one has reduces all that appears rational in the physical world to the rationalising activity of the cognisant subject, there still remains the fact that this a-rational world should be such that this activity can impinge upon it, which excludes its being chaotic. Secondly, because the historical meaning (that is to say, a meaning which surpasses the meaning effectively lived and carried by individuals) seems truly pre-constituted in the material which history offers us. To keep the fore-mentioned example, the myth of Achilles who also died young (and of numerous other heroes who shared the same fate) was not forged on the basis of the example of Alexander (it was rather the other way round). (10) The meaning expressed by the phrase: ‘The hero dies young’ seems from way back to have fascinated humanity in spite of – or because of – the absurdity it denotes. Reality seems to have provided enough support for it to become ‘obvious’. In the same way the myth of the birth of a hero (11) presents – throughout very different epochs and in very different cultural environments  – similar features (features which simultaneously deform and reproduce real facts). Ultimately, all myths bear witness to hos facts and significations are mingled in historical reality long before the rationalising consciousness of the historian or of the philosopher appears on the scene. Thirdly, because history seems constantly dominated by tendencies, because one encourages in it a sort of ‘internal logic’ of its processes which confers a central place to a signification or complex of significations (we referred earlier to the birth and development of the bourgeois and of the bureaucracy), links with one another causal sequences which have no necessary ‘accidental’ conditions. The first surprise one experiences on looking at history is to note that in truth, had Cleopatra’s  nose been shorter, the face of the world would have been changed. The second, even greater surprise, is to not that there noses did have, most of the time, the required dimensions.

_______________________________
3) See for example, the studies of Margaret Mead in Male ad Female, or in Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies.
4) Thus merely to refer an ‘infinite series of causations’ doesn’t solve the problem
5) Of course, that is not an absolute truth. There are also bad laws which are incoherent, or which themselves destroy the ends they seek to serve. This phenomenon seems, moreover, curiously restricted to modern societies. But this doesn’t alter the essence of what we are saying: it remains an extreme variant of the production of coherent social rules.
6) We do not say ‘of society in general’. We are not discussing the metaphysical problem of the origins.
7) One could obviously go on discussing this for ever. One can almost certainly say that the revolution would not have taken the form of a seizure of power by the Bolshevik party. Perhaps it might have consisted of a re-enactment of the Commune. The content of such considerations may seen pointless. The fact that they are unavoidable shows that history cannot be thought of, even retrospectively, outside of the categories of the possible or of the accident which is more than an accident.
8 ) See, for example, in No. 36 of Socialisme ou Barbarie, the Workers’ Opposition by Alexandra Kollontai. Also the introduction and notes accompanying this text.
9) What Kant was already referring to as ‘a happy accident’.
10) We know that Alexander ‘took Achilles as a model’.
11) See The Myth of the Hero’s Birth by O.Rank, and Freud’s Moses.

Cornelius Castoriadis: «Se reposer ou être libre» («stopper la montée de l’insignifiance»)

Castoriadis infront of the fire place

IL manque la voix de Cornelius Castoriadis, ce dissident essentiel, en ces temps de « non- pensée ». Il n’a pas sombré dans le renoncement esthète, ni dans le cynisme ni dans cette apathie repue qui dit : «Tout se vaut, tout est vu, tout est vain. » Il dénonce une élite politique réduite à appliquer l’intégrisme néolibéral, mais souligne aussi la responsabilité du «citoyen» que la précarité désengage de l’activité civique. Silencieusement, s’est mise en place cette formidable régression : une non-pensée produisant cette non-société, ce racisme social. Jusqu’au bout Castoriadis a recherché une radicalité : «Je suis un révolutionnaire favorable à des changements radicaux, disait-il quelques semaines avant sa mort. Je ne pense pas que l’on puisse faire marcher d’une manière libre, égalitaire et juste le système français capitaliste tel qu’il est.»

Par Cornelius Castoriadis

Ce qui caractérise le monde contemporain ce sont, bien sûr, les crises, les contradictions, les oppositions, les fractures, mais ce qui me frappe surtout, c’est l’insignifiance. Prenons la querelle entre la droite et la gauche. Elle a perdu son sens. Les uns et les autres disent la même chose. Depuis 1983, les socialistes français ont fait une politique, puis M. Balladur a fait la même politique; les socialistes sont revenus, ils ont fait, avec Pierre Bérégovoy, la même politique ; M. Balladur est revenu, il a fait la même politique; M. Chirac a gagné l’élection de 1995 en disant : «Je vais faire autre chose» et il a fait la même politique.

Les responsables politiques sont impuissants. La seule chose qu’ils peuvent faire, c’est suivre le courant, c’est-à-dire appliquer la politique ultralibérale à la mode. Les socialistes n’ont pas fait autre chose, une fois revenus au pouvoir. Ce ne sont pas des politiques, mais des politiciens au sens de micropoliticiens. Des gens qui chassent les suffrages par n’importe quel moyen. Ils n’ont aucun programme. Leur but est de rester au pouvoir ou de revenir au pouvoir, et pour cela ils sont capables de tout.

Il y a un lien intrinsèque entre cette espèce de nullité de la politique, ce devenir nul de la politique et cette insignifiance dans les autres domaines, dans les arts, dans la philosophie ou dans la littérature. C’est cela l’esprit du temps. Tout conspire à étendre l’insignifiance.

La politique est un métier bizarre. Parce qu’elle présuppose deux capacités qui n’ont aucun rapport intrinsèque. La première, c’est d’accéder au pouvoir. Si on n’accède pas au pouvoir, on peut avoir les meilleures idées du monde, cela ne sert à rien ; ce qui implique donc un art de l’accession au pouvoir. La seconde capacité, c’est, une fois qu’on est au pouvoir, de savoir gouverner.

Rien ne garantit que quelqu’un qui sache gouverner sache pour autant accéder au pouvoir. Dans la monarchie absolue, pour accéder au pouvoir il fallait flatter le roi, être dans les bonnes grâces de Mme de Pompadour. Aujourd’hui dans notre « pseudo- démocratie », accéder au pouvoir signifie être télégénique, flairer l’opinion publique.

Je dis «pseudo-démocratie» parce que j’ai toujours pensé que la démocratie dite représentative n’est pas une vraie démocratie. Jean-Jacques Rousseau le disait déjà : les Anglais croient qu’ils sont libres parce qu’ils élisent des représentants tous les cinq ans, mais ils sont libres un jour pendant cinq ans, le jour de l’élection, c’est tout. Non pas que l’élection soit pipée, non pas qu’on triche dans les urnes. Elle est pipée parce que les options sont définies d’avance. Personne n’a demandé au peuple sur quoi il veut voter. On lui dit : «Votez pour ou contre Maastricht». Mais qui a fait Maastricht? Ce n’est pas le peuple qui a élaboré ce traité.

Il y a la merveilleuse phrase d’Aristote : «Qui est citoyen? Est citoyen quelqu’un qui est capable de gouverner et d’être gouverné.» Il y a des millions de citoyens en France. Pourquoi ne seraient-ils pas capables de gouverner? Parce que toute la vie politique vise précisément à le leur désapprendre, à les convaincre qu’il y a des experts à qui il faut confier les affaires. Il y a donc une contre-éducation politique. Alors que les gens devraient s’habituer à exercer toutes sortes de responsabilités et à prendre des initiatives, ils s’habituent à suivre ou à voter pour des options que d’autres leur présentent. Et comme les gens sont loin d’être idiots, le résultat, c’est qu’ils y croient de moins en moins et qu’ils deviennent cyniques.

Dans les sociétés modernes, depuis les révolutions américaine (1776) et française (1789) jusqu’à la seconde guerre mondiale (1945) environ, il y avait un conflit social et politique vivant. Les gens s’opposaient, manifestaient pour des causes politiques. Les ouvriers faisaient grève, et pas toujours pour de petits intérêts corporatistes. Il y avait de grandes questions qui concernaient tous les salariés. Ces luttes ont marqué ces deux derniers siècles.

On observe un recul de l’activité des gens. C’est un cercle vicieux. Plus les gens se retirent de l’activité, plus quelques bureaucrates, politiciens, soi-disant responsables, prennent le pas. Ils ont une bonne justification : «Je prends l’initiative parce que les gens ne font rien.» Et plus ils dominent, plus les gens se disent : «C’est pas la peine de s’en mêler, il y en a assez qui s’en occupent, et puis, de toute façon, on n’y peut rien.»

La seconde raison, liée à la première, c’est la dissolution des grandes idéologies politiques, soit révolutionnaires, soit réformistes, qui voulaient vraiment changer des choses dans la société. Pour mille et une raisons, ces idéologies ont été déconsidérées, ont cessé de correspondre aux aspirations, à la situation de la société, à l’expérience historique. Il y a eu cet énorme événement qu’est l’effondrement de l’URSS en 1991 et du communisme. Une seule personne, parmi les politiciens – pour ne pas dire les politicards – de gauche, a-t-elle vraiment réfléchi sur ce qui s’est passé ? Pourquoi cela s’est- il passé et qui en a, comme on dit bêtement, tiré des leçons? Alors qu’une évolution de ce type, d’abord dans sa première phase – l’accession à la monstruosité, le totalitarisme, le Goulag, etc. – et ensuite dans l’effondrement, méritait une réflexion très approfondie et une conclusion sur ce qu’un mouvement qui veut changer la société peut faire, doit faire, ne doit pas faire, ne peut pas faire. Rien!

Et que font beaucoup d’intellectuels? Ils ont ressorti le libéralisme pur et dur du début du XIXe siècle, qu’on avait combattu pendant cent cinquante ans, et qui aurait conduit la société à la catastrophe. Parce que, finalement, le vieux Marx n’avait pas entièrement tort. Si le capitalisme avait été laissé à lui-même, il se serait effondré cent fois. Il y aurait eu une crise de surproduction tous les ans. Pourquoi ne s’est-il pas effondré? Parce que les travailleurs ont lutté, ont imposé des augmentations de salaire, ont créé d’énormes marchés de consommation interne. Ils ont imposé des réductions du temps de travail, ce qui a absorbé tout le chômage technologique. On s’étonne maintenant qu’il y ait du chômage. Mais depuis 1940 le temps de travail n’a pas diminué.

Les libéraux nous disent : « Il faut faire confiance au marché. » Mais les économistes académiques eux-mêmes ont réfuté cela dès les années 30. Ces économistes n’étaient pas des révolutionnaires, ni des marxistes ! Ils ont montré que tout ce que racontent les libéraux sur les vertus du marché, qui garantirait la meilleure allocation possible des ressources, la distribution des revenus la plus équitable, ce sont des aberrations ! Tout cela a été démontré. Mais il y a cette grande offensive économico- politique des couches gouvernantes et dominantes qu’on peut symboliser par les noms de M. Reagan et de Mme Thatcher, et même de François Mitterrand ! Il a dit : « Bon, vous avez assez rigolé. Maintenant, on va vous licencier », on va éliminer la « mauvaise graisse », comme avait dit M. Juppé ! « Et puis vous verrez que le marché, à la longue, vous garantit le bien-être. » A la longue. En attendant, il y a 12,5 % de chômage officiel en France !

La crise n’est pas une fatalité

ON a parlé d’une sorte de terrorisme de la pensée unique, c’est-à-dire une non-pensée. Elle est unique en ce sens qu’elle est la première pensée qui soit une non-pensée intégrale. Pensée unique libérale à laquelle nul n’ose s’opposer. Qu’était l’idéologie libérale à sa grande époque ? Vers 1850, c’était une grande idéologie parce qu’on croyait au progrès. Ces libéraux-là pensaient qu’avec le progrès il y aurait élévation du bien-être économique. Même quand on ne s’enrichissait pas, dans les classes exploitées, on allait vers moins de travail, vers des travaux moins pénibles : c’était le grand thème de l’époque. Benjamin Constant le dit : «Les ouvriers ne peuvent pas voter parce qu’ils sont abrutis par l’industrie [il le dit carrément, les gens étaient honnêtes à l’époque!], donc il faut un suffrage censitaire.»

Par la suite, le temps de travail a diminué, il y a eu l’alphabétisation, l’éducation, des espèces de Lumières qui ne sont plus les Lumières subversives du XVIIIe siècle mais des Lumières qui se diffusent tout de même dans la société. La science se développe, l’humanité s’humanise, les sociétés se civilisent et petit à petit on arrivera à une société où il n’y aura pratiquement plus d’exploitation, où cette démocratie représentative tendra à devenir une vraie démocratie.

Mais cela n’a pas marché ! Donc les gens ne croient plus à cette idée. Aujourd’hui ce qui domine, c’est la résignation ; même chez les représentants du libéralisme. Quel est le grand argument, en ce moment ? « C’est peut-être mauvais mais l’autre terme de l’alternative était pire.» Et c’est vrai que cela a glacé pas mal les gens. Ils se disent : «Si on bouge trop, on va vers un nouveau Goulag.» Voilà ce qu’il y a derrière cet épuisement idéologique et on n’en sortira que si vraiment il y a une résurgence d’une critique puissante du système. Et une renaissance de l’activité des gens, d’une participation des gens.

Çà et là, on commence quand même à comprendre que la «crise» n’est pas une fatalité de la modernité à laquelle il faudrait se soumettre, «s’adapter» sous peine d’archaïsme. On sent frémir un regain d’activité civique. Alors se pose le problème du rôle des citoyens et de la compétence de chacun pour exercer les droits et les devoirs démocratiques dans le but – douce et belle utopie – de sortir du conformisme généralisé.

Pour en sortir, faut-il s’inspirer de la démocratie athénienne ? Qui élisait-on à Athènes ? On n’élisait pas les magistrats. Ils étaient désignés par tirage au sort ou par rotation. Pour Aristote, souvenez-vous, un citoyen, c’est celui qui est capable de gouverner et d’être gouverné. Tout le monde est capable de gouverner, donc on tire au sort. La politique n’est pas une affaire de spécialiste. Il n’y a pas de science de la politique. Il y a une opinion, la doxa des Grecs, il n’y a pas d’épistémè (1).

L’idée selon laquelle il n’y a pas de spécialiste de la politique et que les opinions se valent est la seule justification raisonnable du principe majoritaire. Donc, chez les Grecs, le peuple décide et les magistrats sont tirés au sort ou désignés par rotation. Pour les activités spécialisées – construction des chantiers navals, des temples, conduite de la guerre -, il faut des spécialistes. Ceux-là, on les élit. C’est cela, l’élection. Election veut dire «choix des meilleurs». Là intervient l’éducation du peuple. On fait une première élection, on se trompe, on constate que, par exemple, Périclès est un déplorable stratège, eh bien on ne le réélit pas ou on le révoque.

Mais il faut que la doxa soit cultivée. Et comment une doxa concernant le gouvernement peut-elle être cultivée? En gouvernant. Donc la démocratie – c’est important – est une affaire d’éducation des citoyens, ce qui n’existe pas du tout aujourd’hui.

«Se reposer ou être libre»

RÉCEMMENT, un magazine a publié une statistique indiquant que 60 % des députés, en France, avouent ne rien comprendre à l’économie. Des députés qui décident tout le temps ! En vérité, ces députés, comme les ministres, sont asservis à leurs techniciens. Ils ont leurs experts, mais ils ont aussi des préjugés ou des préférences. Si vous suivez de près le fonctionnement d’un gouvernement, d’une grande bureaucratie, vous voyez que ceux qui dirigent se fient aux experts, mais choisissent parmi eux ceux qui partagent leurs opinions. C’est un jeu complètement stupide et c’est ainsi que nous sommes gouvernés.

Les institutions actuelles repoussent, éloignent, dissuadent les gens de participer aux affaires. Alors que la meilleure éducation en politique, c’est la participation active, ce qui implique une transformation des institutions qui permette et incite à cette participation.

L’éducation devrait être beaucoup plus axée vers la chose commune. Il faudrait comprendre les mécanismes de l’économie, de la société, de la politique, etc. Les enfants s’ennuient en apprenant l’histoire alors que c’est passionnant. Il faudrait enseigner une véritable anatomie de la société contemporaine, comment elle est, comment elle fonctionne. Apprendre à se défendre des croyances, des idéologies.

Aristote a dit : «L’homme est un animal qui désire le savoir.» C’est faux. L’homme est un animal qui désire la croyance, qui désire la certitude d’une croyance, d’où l’emprise des religions, des idéologies politiques. Dans le mouvement ouvrier, au départ, il y avait une attitude très critique. Prenez le deuxième couplet de L’Internationale, le chant de la Commune : «Il n’est pas de Sauveur suprême, ni Dieu – exit la religion – ni César, ni tribun» – exit Lénine !

Aujourd’hui, même si une frange cherche toujours la foi, les gens sont devenus beaucoup plus critiques. C’est très important. La scientologie, les sectes, ou le fondamentalisme, c’est dans d’autres pays, pas chez nous, pas tellement. Les gens sont devenus beaucoup plus sceptiques. Ce qui les inhibe aussi pour agir.

Périclès dans le discours aux Athéniens dit : « Nous sommes les seuls chez qui la réflexion n’inhibe pas l’action. » C’est admirable ! Il ajoute : «Les autres, ou bien ils ne réfléchissent pas et ils sont téméraires, ils commettent des absurdités, ou bien, en réfléchissant, ils arrivent à ne rien faire parce qu’ils se disent, il y a le discours et il y a le discours contraire.» Actuellement, on traverse une phase d’inhibition, c’est sûr. Chat échaudé craint l’eau froide. Il ne faut pas de grands discours, il faut des discours vrais.

De toute façon il y a un irréductible désir. Si vous prenez les sociétés archaïques ou les sociétés traditionnelles, il n’y a pas un irréductible désir, un désir tel qu’il est transformé par la socialisation. Ces sociétés sont des sociétés de répétition. On dit par exemple : «Tu prendras une femme dans tel clan ou dans telle famille. Tu auras une femme dans ta vie. Si tu en as deux, ou deux hommes, ce sera en cachette, ce sera une transgression. Tu auras un statut social, ce sera ça et pas autre chose.»

Or, aujourd’hui, il y a une libération dans tous les sens du terme par rapport aux contraintes de la socialisation des individus. On est entré dans une époque d’illimitation dans tous les domaines, et c’est en cela que nous avons le désir d’infini. Cette libération est en un sens une grande conquête. Il n’est pas question de revenir aux sociétés de répétition. Mais il faut aussi – et c’est un très grand thème – apprendre à s’autolimiter, individuellement et collectivement. La société capitaliste est une société qui court à l’abîme, à tous points de vue, car elle ne sait pas s’autolimiter. Et une société vraiment libre, une société autonome, doit savoir s’autolimiter, savoir qu’il y a des choses qu’on ne peut pas faire ou qu’il ne faut même pas essayer de faire ou qu’il ne faut pas désirer.

Nous vivons sur cette planète que nous sommes en train de détruire, et quand je prononce cette phrase je songe aux merveilles, je pense à la mer Egée, je pense aux montagnes enneigées, je pense à la vue du Pacifique depuis un coin d’Australie, je pense à Bali, aux Indes, à la campagne française qu’on est en train de désertifier. Autant de merveilles en voie de démolition. Je pense que nous devrions être les jardiniers de cette planète. Il faudrait la cultiver. La cultiver comme elle est et pour elle-même. Et trouver notre vie, notre place relativement à cela. Voilà une énorme tâche. Et cela pourrait absorber une grande partie des loisirs des gens, libérés d’un travail stupide, productif, répétitif, etc. Or cela est très loin non seulement du système actuel mais de l’imagination dominante actuelle. L’imaginaire de notre époque, c’est celui de l’expansion illimitée, c’est l’accumulation de la camelote – une télé dans chaque chambre, un micro-ordinateur dans chaque chambre -, c’est cela qu’il faut détruire. Le système s’appuie sur cet imaginaire- là.

La liberté, c’est très difficile. Parce qu’il est très facile de se laisser aller. L’homme est un animal paresseux. Il y a une phrase merveilleuse de Thucydide : «Il faut choisir : se reposer ou être libre.» Et Périclès dit aux Athéniens : «Si vous voulez être libres, il faut travailler.» Vous ne pouvez pas vous reposer. Vous ne pouvez pas vous asseoir devant la télé. Vous n’êtes pas libres quand vous êtes devant la télé. Vous croyez être libres en zappant comme un imbécile, vous n’êtes pas libres, c’est une fausse liberté. La liberté, c’est l’activité. Et la liberté, c’est une activité qui en même temps s’autolimite, c’est- à-dire sait qu’elle peut tout faire mais qu’elle ne doit pas tout faire. C’est cela le grand problème de la démocratie et de l’individualisme.

( Propos recueillis par Daniel Mermet.Le texte intégral de cet entretien est disponible à : France-Inter, émission «Là-bas si j’y suis», pièce 5463, 116, avenue du Président-Kennedy, 75220 Paris Cedex 16. Sous le titre Post-scriptum sur l’insignifiance, il sera publié fin 1998 aux Editions de l’Aube, 84240 La Tour-d’Aigues.)

Article paru dans: Le Monde Diplomatique

Castoriadis Cornelius – The Imaginary Institution of Society

The Imaginary Institution of Society, is probably the most original and influential work of the radical Greek-French philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis who is distinguished for his deep analysis and clarity of thought, and also one of the most important works of the twentieth century political theory. In the pages of this book a new approach on man, history and society emerges; a new ontology. This emergence presupposes a radical deconstruction and expose of certain philosophical topics of classical Western and liberal thought, from ancient Greece and, through Kant, Hegel and Marx to Heidegger and the theories of structuralists.

The dialectical and argumentative approach of Castoriadis, together with his well supported analysis exhorts us to reconsider and revise our understanding for the world and adopt a new orientation. It is essential for the theoretical and ideological emancipation and the formation of another politician being, especially in our age where our societies suffer from shallowness, cynicism, meanness and insignificance.

Castoriadis appears to be tireless as he not only shows a clear and widespread understanding of political philosophy and sociology but also engages his work with various other sciences: Mathematics, Physics, Linguistics, Aesthetics, Psychoanalysis, Economics and Ethnology. His first active involvement in politics took place around 1937, when he joined the Greek Communist Youth. In 1941 he joined the Stalinist Communist Party of Greece (KKE), but one year later he abandoned it and became active Trotskyist. This resulted in his persecution by both the Nazi forces, their right-wing collaborators and Communist guerillas. After earning degrees in political science, economics and law from the University of Athens (1944), he migrated to Paris, where he remained permanently until his death. There he joined the Trotskyist Parti Communiste Internationaliste, only to leave it four years later, to form with Claude Lefort and others libertarian socialist group and the journal Socialisme ou Barbarie (1949–1966), which included Jean-François Lyotard and Guy Debord.

Castoriadis was particularly influenced by the anti-Stalinist left during the 1950s and heavily criticized the Soviet Union, as being a stratocratic and bureaucratic state, which contrasted with Western powers mostly by virtue of its centralized power apparatus. He distanced from Marxism at the end of 60s and having studied psychoanalysis and introduced it into his work, developed the project of collective and individual autonomy (the ability of every society to put into question institutions that promote certain values).

The Imaginary: Every creates its own institutions that function under a basic understanding of the world and man’s place in it. Theocratic societies, for example, express themselves through a variety of myths, which they explaine how the world came to be and how it is sustained. Capitalism was the first regime that rejected such mythic imaginaries by replacing them with an instrumental form of «rationality». That same imaginary appears in the opposite ideology, Communism (unlimited expansion of productive forces, economic centrality and absolute domination of men against nature).

«Castoriadis typifies what is increasingly rare in the contemporary world – an engaged intellectual. This book is an excellent introduction to the range, depth and perceptiveness of his thinking. He has the distinctive ability to bring illumination where there is darkness and obscurity» (Richard J. Bernstein)


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