More Solid Work from Castoriadis

This is from 1955, and Castoriadis is writing in Socialisme ou Barbarie. He rejects reformist socialism that tries to work within the existing State to produce a kindergentler capitalism. He also rejects Stalisnism because it replaces the domination of the bourgeoisie with the domination of party bureaucrats. What socialism must be, he says, is “workers’ management of the economy and of power” (Castoriadis Reader, p. 46). No party, no State, no vanguard, no centralization of power, no division of society into leaders and led. Socialism is workers coming together in autonomous organizations (like soviets, or councils) that directly manage production and power.

To be sure, Casoriadis here suffers from a workerism (that he would later realize and move beyond) in that he sees the proletariat as the only conceivable agent of management, and a passive economism in that the only sphere of activity he talks about managing is production. But still. 1955. He already sees the disaster of State-party-vanguard socialism, and he is already working to build an alternative idea of socialism as workers’ self-management. If we strip the workerism from this idea, and generalize the call for self-management, we get something I would prefer to just call “democracy”.

This may strike you as me mucking around in dusty old texts to find lessons that are already well-known. But I write from a Seattle in 2016 where the left is giddy at having elected a ‘socialist’ member of the City Council, whose imagination is limited to dead-end ideas like raising the minimum wage, and who is nothing more than a less-impactful version of the reformist socialists Castoriadis dismissed in 1955. Castoriadis strikes me as something of a North Star, showing us a way to think clearly amid the noise.

Of course there is so much work to do, to move beyond workerism and economism, to understand how autonomous groups can best be organized, to learn how to fight off the temptation to be passive and let ourselves be ruled. But we are constantly urged in the wrong direction, back toward reformist socialism, or (much worse) towards some form of State-party-vanguard socialism (be it Stalinist, Maoist, or, more palatably, Leninist). Castoriadis cuts through all the crap (whether its Kshama Sawant or Bernie Sanders or Slavoj Zizek), and he points us in the right direction. It is up to us to heed his advice and get to work.


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