Castoriadis, Munis and the problem of breaking with Trotskyism Second part: On the content of the communist revolution

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In the previous part of this series, we re-published the article ‘Welcome to Socialisme ou Barbarie’ written by the Gauche Communiste de France in 1948. The article took up a clear position on the nature of the Trotskyist movement, which had abandoned its proletarian credentials by participating in the second imperialist world war:

“Trotskyism, which was one of the proletarian reactions within the Communist International during the first years of its degeneration, never went beyond this position of being an opposition, despite its formal constitution into an organically separate party. By remaining attached to the Communist Parties – which it still sees as workers’ parties –even after the triumph of Stalinism, Trotskyism itself functions as an appendage to Stalinism. It is linked ideologically to Stalinism and follows it around like a shadow. All the activity of Trotskyism over the last 15 years proves this”.

And it goes on to say:

“This doesn’t mean that revolutionary workers who only have a little political education have not been drawn into its ranks. On the contrary, as an organisation, as a political milieu, Trotskyism, far from favouring the development of revolutionary thought and of the organisms (fractions and tendencies) which express it, is an organised milieu for undermining it. This is a general rule valid for any political organisation alien to the proletariat, and experience has demonstrated that it applies to Stalinism and Trotskyism. We have known Trotskyism over 15 years of perpetual crisis, through splits and unifications, followed by further splits and crises, but we don’t know examples which have given rise to real, viable revolutionary tendencies. Trotskyism does not secrete within itself a revolutionary ferment. On the contrary, it annihilates it. The condition for the existence and development of a revolutionary ferment is to be outside the organisational and ideological framework of Trotskyism”[1].

Having constituted itself as a tendency within the French Trotskyist party, the Parti Communiste Internationaliste, the initial reaction of the GCF towards the ‘Chaulieu-Montal tendency’[2] was thus to express severe doubts about its potential for evolution. And yet, with the rupture from the PCI and the formation of the SouB group, the GCF recognized that a genuine break had taken place, and was thus to be welcomed. This did not however prevent the GCF from warning that the new group continued to be marked by vestiges of its Trotskyist past (for example on the union question, or its ambiguous relationship with the review Les Temps Modernes published by the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre) as well as displaying an unwonted arrogance towards the revolutionary currents who had come to similar conclusions to those of SouB well in advance of its break from Trotskyism.

In this new article, we will seek to show how right the GCF were to be cautious in their welcome to SouB, and how difficult it is for those who have grown up in the corrupt milieu of Trotskyism to make a really profound break with its fundamental ideas and attitudes. We will examine the political trajectory and work of two militants - Castoriadis and Grandizo Munis - who formed parallel tendencies in the Trotskyist movement in the late 40s, and who broke with it at around the same time.  The choice of these two militants is apt not only because they illustrate the general problem of breaking with Trotskyism, but also because both of them wrote at length about the question on which this series is based: the content of the socialist revolution.

Breaking with the IVth International

There is no question that in the late 40s and early 50s, both Castoriadis and Munis were militants of the working class. Munis remained one all his life.

As a young man in occupied Greece Castoriadis quit the Communist Party because he opposed their policy of support for (and even leadership of) the nationalist Resistance. He found his way to the group around Aghis Stinas[3], which though officially part of the Fourth International maintained an intransigent opposition to both camps in the imperialist war, including the Resistance fronts. Ill-informed about the real betrayals of the Trotskyist movement, they assumed that this would be the “normal” position for any internationalist group since it was in continuity with Lenin’s position on the First World War.

In danger from both fascist and Stalinist agents, Castoriadis left Greece at the end of the war and settled in France, becoming a member of the main Trotskyist organisation in that country, the PCI. After forming an opposition tendency within the PCI (the Chaulieu-Montal tendency referred to by the GCF), they split from the Party in 1948 to found the SouB group. The tendency’s splitting document, ‘Open letter to the militants of the PCI and the IVth International….’[4], published in the first issue of Socialisme ou Barbarie, develops a far-reaching critique of the theoretical vacuity of the Trotskyist movement and its inability to function as anything more than an appendage to Stalinism, both in its view that the USSR was still playing a progressive world historical role in setting up new (though deformed) workers’ states in eastern Europe, or in its tail-ending of the Socialist Party/Communist Party coalition which had been made part of the reconstruction government in France and which was charged with overseeing a ferocious intensification of exploitation. It was particularly sharp in its critique of the Fourth International’s toadying to the dissident Stalinist Tito in Yugoslavia, which expressed a clear break with Trotsky’s view that Stalinism could not be reformed.

At the end of his life Trotsky had argued that if the USSR emerged from the war without being overthrown by a proletarian revolution his current would have to revise their view of it as a workers’ state, and might have to conclude that it was the product of a new age of barbarism. There are traces of this approach in the group’s initial characterization of the bureaucracy as a new exploiting class, echoing the ‘bureaucratic collectivism’ analyses of Rizzi and Shachtman, which defined Russia as neither capitalist nor socialist; although as the GCF recognizes, the group soon moved away from this notion towards the idea of a new bureaucratic capitalism. In a text from SouB 2, ‘The relations of production in Russia’, Castoriadis does not hesitate to criticize Trotsky’s own view of the USSR as a system with a capitalist mode of distribution but an essentially socialist mode of production. Such a separation between production and distribution was, it argued, contrary to the marxist critique of political economy.  In line with this effort to apply a marxist analysis to the world historic situation, the group considered this tendency towards bureaucratisation to be both global and an expression of the decadence of the capitalist system.  This position also explains why the new group’s review was entitled Socialism or Barbarism. In particular, in its open letter and in the first years of SouB, the group considered that in the absence of a proletarian revolution, a third world war between the western and eastern blocs was inevitable.

As for Munis, his courage as a proletarian militant was particularly remarkable.  Along with his comrades in the Bolshevik Leninist group, one of the two Trotskyist groups active in Spain during the civil war, and alongside the dissident anarchists of the Friends of Durruti, Munis fought on the barricades erected by the workers’ uprising against the Republican/Stalinist government in May 1937. Imprisoned by the Stalinists towards the end of the war, he narrowly escaped an execution squad and fled to Mexico, where he resumed his activity within the Trotskyist milieu, speaking at Trotsky’s funeral and becoming influential on the political evolution of Natalia Trotsky, who like Munis was becoming increasingly critical of the official Trotskyist stance on the imperialist war and the defence of the USSR.

One of his first major criticisms of the Fourth International’s position on the war was contained in his response to James Cannon’s defence, at his trial for ‘sedition’ in Minneapolis, of the policy of the Socialist Workers Party in the US – an application of the ‘proletarian military policy’ which essentially consisted of a call to place the USA’s war against fascism under ‘workers’ control’. For Munis this represented a complete capitulation to the war effort of an imperialist bourgeoisie. Although quite late in clearly rejecting the defence of the USSR[5], by 1947 Munis, also in an open letter to the PCI written with Natalia and the surrealist poet Benjamin Peret, was insisting that the rejecting the defence of the USSR was now an urgent necessity for revolutionaries[6]. Like the Chaulieu-Montal letter, the text denounced the Trotskyists’ support for the Stalinist regime in the east (though not yet putting forward a definite analysis of its social nature) and for CP/SP governments in the west. The letter is much more focused than that of Chaulieu-Montal on the question of the Second World War and the betrayal of internationalism by large parts of the Trotskyist movement through their support for antifascism and the Resistance alongside their defence of the USSR. It also clearly rejects the idea that nationalisations – the call and support for which was a central plank of Trotskyisms ‘programmatic demands’– could be viewed as anything but a reinforcement of capitalism. Although the letter still harbours hopes for a revived IVth International purged of opportunism, and to this end called for joint work between his group and the Chaulieu-Montal tendency within the International, in reality the current around Munis soon broke all links with this false International and formed an independent group (the Union Ouvrière Internationale) which, like SouB, entered into discussion with the groups of the communist left.

Castoriadis on ‘The content of socialism’: beyond Marx or back to Proudhon?

We will return later on to the subsequent political trajectory of Castoriadis and Munis. Our main aim is to examine how, in a period dominated by Stalinist and social democratic definitions of socialism, a period of retreat for the working class and of growing isolation of the revolutionary minority, both militants tried to elaborate a vision of an authentic path to the communist future. We begin with Castoriadis, whose three articles on ‘The Content of Socialism’(CS), published between 1955 and 1958 in Socialisme  ou Barbarie[7] are without doubt his most ambitious attempt to criticise the dominant falsities about the meaning of socialism and to put forward an alternative.  These texts, but above all the second, were to have an influence on a number of other groups and currents, not least the Situationist International, which took up Castoriadis’ notion of generalised self-management, and the UK libertarian socialist group Solidarity, which was to rework article two in their pamphlet Workers’ Councils and the Economics of a Self-managed Society[8].

The dates of publication are significant; in between the first article and the second there were momentous events in the ‘eastern’ empire: Kruschev’s famous speech about Stalin’s excesses, the revolt in Poland and above all the proletarian uprising in Hungary, which saw the emergence of workers’ councils. These events evidently had a major impact on Castoriadis’ thought and on the rather detailed description of a projected socialist society in the second article. The problem is that these articles persist in the theoretical arrogance noted by the GCF in 1948 with their claim to having understood key elements of capitalism and its revolutionary negation which had not been grasped in the workers’ movement, including by Marx. But in reality, rather than going ‘beyond’ Marx, they tend to take us back to Proudhon, as we shall explain. 

That is not to say that there are no positive elements in these texts. They confirm Castoriadis’ rejection of the Trotskyist view of Stalinism as a misguided expression of the workers’ movement, insisting that it defends a class interest which is opposed to that of the proletariat. Although Castoriadis freely accepts that his conception of the post-revolutionary society is very close to the one put forward by Pannekoek in his pamphlet Workers’ Councils[9], he does not fall into some of the crucial errors of the ‘late’ Pannekoek: the rejection of the Russian revolution as bourgeois and of any role for a revolutionary political organisation. Instead the Russian revolution is still treated as an essentially proletarian experience whose degeneration must be understood and learned from. Neither do the texts fall explicitly into the anarchist position that rejects centralisation on principle: on the contrary, he strongly criticizes the classical anarchist view and argues that “To refuse to face up to the question of central power is tantamount to leaving the solution of these problems to some bureaucracy or other”[10].

Rejecting the Trotskyist view that a mere change in the forms of property can bring about an end to the mechanics of capitalist exploitation, Castoriadis rightly insist that socialism has no meaning unless it brings about a total transformation in humanity’s relationship with all aspects of social and economic life, a change from a  society in which mankind is dominated by the products of his own hands and brains to one in which human beings consciously control their own activity, and above all the process of production. For this reason, Castoriadis stresses the central importance of the workers’ councils as the forms through which this profound change in the way society operates can be brought about. The difficulty arises less with this general notion of socialism as the restoration of “human power as its own end”, but with the more concrete means Castoriadis advocates to achieve this goal, and with the theoretical method that lies behind the measures he advocates.

To begin with the idea of criticising the contributions of the past workers’ movement:  there is nothing wrong in this per se. In fact it is an essential element in the development of the communist project. We cannot disagree with Castoriadis’ idea that the workers’ movement is necessarily affected by the dominant ideology and that it can only throw off this influence through a process of constant reflection and struggle.  But Castoriadis’ criticisms are very often inaccurate and lead to conclusions that tend to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater ‘ –in short, they lead him towards a break with marxism that was to become explicit not long after these articles were published, and the premises of this break can already be seen in these texts. To give an example:  he already rejects the marxist theory of crisis as a product of the internal economic contradictions of the system. For him the crisis is not the result of overproduction or the falling rate of profit but a result of the growing rejection, by those ‘below’,  of the division of society into order givers and order takers, which he sees not as the inevitable product of capitalist exploitation, but its actual foundation:  “The abolition of exploitation is only possible when every separate stratum of directors ceases to exist, for in modern societies it is the division between directors and executants that is at the root of exploitation[11]. By the same token, in CSII he offers us an extremely reductionist (albeit very common) caricature of Rosa Luxemburg’s theory of crisis as one that predicts a purely automatic collapse of capitalism.

Seizing on a quote from Marx about the persistence of a “realm of necessity” even in communism, Castoriadis thinks he has discovered a fatal flaw in Marx’s thinking: that for Marx, production would always be a sphere of denial and essentially of alienation, whereas he, Castoriadis, alone has discovered that alienation cannot be overcome unless the sphere of production is also one in which our humanity is expressed. The reference (in CS II) is to the passage in Capital volume 3 where Marx says that “the realm of freedom actually begins only where labour which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations ceases; thus in the very nature of things it lies beyond the sphere of actual material production”[12]. This passage does imply that labour or material production can never be an area of human fulfillment, and for Castoriadis this represent a decline from the early Marx who looked forward to the transformation of labour into free activity (especially in the 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts) . But presenting things in this way distorts the complexity of Marx’s thought. In the Critique of the Gotha Programme, written in 1875, Marx also insists that the aim of the proletarian revolution is a society in which “labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want”. We can find similar ideas in the Grundrisse, another ‘mature’ work[13].

The self-management of a market economy

A common criticism of ‘On the content of socialism’ is that it violates Marx’s admonition against “drawing up recipes for the cookbooks of the future”. In CSII Castoriadis anticipates this criticism by denying that he is trying to draw up statutes or a constitution for the new society.  It is interesting to see how much capitalist society has changed since CSII was written, posing problems which don’t quite fit into the schema – above all the tendency towards the elimination of large factory production at the centre of many of the central capitalist countries, the growth of precarious employment, and the practise of ‘outsourcing’ to areas of the globe where labour power is cheaper. We can’t blame Castoriadis for failing to predict such developments, but it does show the pitfalls of schematic anticipations of future society. However, we prefer to look at the ideas contained in the text and to show why so much of what Castoriadis puts forward would in any case not be part of a really evolving communist programme.

We have already mentioned Castoriadis’ rejection of Marx’s theory of crisis in favor of his own innovation: exploitation, and the fundamental contradiction of ‘modern’ capitalism, as being rooted in the division between order givers and order-takers.  And this bold ‘revisionism’, this shelving of the economic contradictions inherent in the wage relationship and the accumulation of capital, means that Castoriadis has no qualms about describing his socialist society of the future as one where all the essential categories of capital remain intact and present no danger of engendering a new form of exploitation and no obstacle to the transition to a fully communist society.

In 1972, when the UK Solidarity group produced their pamphlet Workers’ Councils and the Economics of a Self-managed Society, their introduction was already rather defensive about the fact that the ‘socialist’ society described by Castoriadis still retained a number of the key features of capitalism: wages (although Castoriadis insists on the absolute equality of wages from day one), prices, labour value as the source of accounting, a consumer market, and “the criterion of profitability”. And indeed in a polemic written in 1972, Adam Buick of the Socialist Party of Great Britain showed the degree to which the Solidarity version had bowdlerised some of the most embarrassing passages in the original:

 “Nobody who has read the original article can deny that Cardan was an advocate of so-called 'market socialism'. Solidarity themselves clearly found this embarrassing because they have edited out its more crude manifestations. In their introduction they apologise:

"Some will see the text as a major contribution to the perpetuation of wage slavery - because it still talks of 'wages' and doesn't call for the immediate abolition of 'money' (although clearly defining the radically different meanings these terms will acquire in the early stages of a self-managed society)" (p.4)

and, again, in a footnote :

"All the preceding talk of ‘wages', 'prices' and 'the market' will, for instance, undoubtedly have startled a certain group of readers. We would ask them momentarily to curb their emotional responses and to try to think rationally with us on the matter" (p. 36).

But Cardan did not speak only of 'wages', 'prices' and 'the market'. He also spoke of 'profitability' (rentabilité) and 'rate of interest’ ('taux d'intérêt'). This was evidently too much even for Solidarity's curbed emotion since these words nowhere appear in the edited translation.

It is very revealing to give some examples of the way Solidarity has toned down the 'market socialism' aspects of Cardan's original articles:

Original: shops selling to consumers (magasins de vente aux consomateurs) .

Solidarity’s version : stores distributing to consumers (p. 24).

Original: The market for consumer goods (le marché des biens de consommation).

Solidarity’s version : consumer goods (heading p. 35).

Original: This implies the existence of a real market for consumer goods (ce qui implique 1'existence d'un marché réel pour les biens de consommation).

Solidarity’s version: This implies the existence of some mechanism whereby consumer demand can genuinely make itself felt (p.35)

Original: Money, prices, Wages and value

Solidarity’s version: 'money', 'wages', 'value' (heading p. 36)..

In fact Cardan envisaged a market economy in which everybody would be paid in circulating money an equal wage with which to buy goods which would be on sale at a price equal to their value (amount of socially necessary labour embodied in them). And he as the cheek to claim that Marx also held that under Socialism goods would exchange at their values…”[GD1] [14]

The real continuity here is not with Marx but with Proudhon, whose future ‘mutualist’ society is a society of independent commodity producers, exchanging their products at their value. ..

“Socialism” as a transitional society?

 Castoriadis does not claim that the society he describes is the final goal of the revolution.  In fact, his position is very similar to the definition that arose during the period of social democracy and was theorised by Lenin in particular: socialism is a stage on the road to communism[15]. And of course Stalinism took full advantage of this idea to argue that the fully stratified economy of the USSR was already “real socialism”. But the problem with this idea lies not only in the way it was used by Stalinism. A deeper difficulty is that it tends to freeze the transition period into a stable mode of production, when it can really only be understood in a dynamic and contradictory manner, as a period marked by a constant struggle between the communist measures unleashed by the political power of the working class, and all the remnants of the old world which tend to drag society back towards capitalism. Whether the political regime of this ‘socialist’ stage is envisaged despotically or democratically, the fundamental illusion remains: that you can arrive at communism through a process of accumulating capital.  One can even see Castoriadis’ attempt to develop a balanced economy, where production is harmonised with the consumer market, as a reflection of the Keynesian methods of the day, which aimed to do away with economic crises precisely by achieving such a planned equilibrium. And this in turn reveals the degree to which Castoriadis was bewitched by the appearance of capitalist economic stability in the period that followed the Second World War[16].

In an early section of CS II, Castoriadis rightly takes up Marx’s view that the future society of free producers must profoundly simplify the whole process of production and distribution – must make its operations “perfectly simple and intelligible”, to use the term used by Marx in one of the rare descriptions of communist society contained in Capital[17]. But by retaining the categories of value production, not only will any attempt to rationally plan production and distribution be fettered by the concerns of the market and of profitability, it will also lead sooner or later to the same old shit – to economic crisis and to hidden, then open, forms of exploitation. It also seems rather ironic that having developed, in the early part of CSII, the argument that capitalist technology cannot be seen as neutral but is profoundly connected to the goals of capitalist production, Castoriadis then appears to opt for something of a technical fix, in which the ‘Plan Factory’, using very big computers, is able to work out how the self-managed market will achieve a perfect economic balance.

Castoriadis’ inability to envisage a real overcoming of the wage relation is connected to his fixation on the notion of the socialist “enterprise” as a self-managed unit, albeit one that coordinates with other enterprises and branches of production at various levels. CSII ‘s description of relations in the future socialist society begins with a long section on how the factory of the future will be managed, and only later in the text does it discuss how society as a whole will be run at the political and economic level. CSIII is almost entirely devoted to analysing the reality of day to day resistance on the factory shop floor, seeing it as the soil in which a future revolutionary consciousness will develop. Castoriadis is not wrong to stress the importance of the workplace as a focus for the association of the workers, for their collective resistance, and in any revolutionary process the base assemblies at the workplace will certainly play a vital role as ‘cells’ of a wider network of councils. But Castoriadis goes further than this and suggests that in socialist society the factory/workplace will maintain itself as a kind of fixed community. On the contrary, as Bordiga for one always stressed, the emergence of communism necessarily involves the end of the individual enterprise, and the real overcoming of the division of labour will surely imply that producers are less and less tied to a single unit of production.

Perhaps more importantly, Castoriadis’ ‘factoryism’ leads to a profound underestimation of the primary function of workers’ councils, which is not the management of the factory but the unification of the working class at both the economic and political levels. For Castoriadis, a workers’ council is essentially a council elected by the workers’ assembly of a given unit of production, and towards the end of CSII he clearly distinguishes this from the Russian soviets which he sees as essentially based on territorial units[18]

“Although the Russian word ‘soviet’ means ‘council,’ one should not confuse the workers' councils we have been describing in this text with even the earliest Russian Soviets. The workers' councils are based on one's place of work. They can play both a political role and a role in the industrial management of production. In its essence, a workers' council is a universal organ. The 1905 Petrograd Soviet (Council) of Workers' Deputies, although the product of a general strike and, although exclusively proletarian in composition, remained a purely political organ. The Soviets of 1917 were as a rule geographically based. They too were purely political institutions, in which all social layers opposed to the old regime formed a united front”

Castoriadis does envisage a network of councils taking on the running of local and national political affairs, and Solidarity helpfully draws us a diagram, but it seems to involve a central assembly of factory delegates at national level without anything in between. But, fixated on the problem of managing the factory (an issue that in Russia was taken up by the factory committees),  Castoriadis underestimates the significance of the fact that the soviets emerged both in 1905 and 1917 to coordinate the workplaces engaged in a mass strike: they were a ‘council of war’ of delegates from all the enterprises in a given town or city, and from the very beginning took up the direction of a movement that was moving from the terrain of economic defence to one of political confrontation with the existing regime.

It’s true that alongside, and often in conjunction with, the soviets of workers’ deputies there were soviets of soldiers’ and sailors’ delegates, elected from the barracks and on the ships, and soviets of peasants’ deputies elected from the villages, as well as comparable forms elected on the basis of urban neighbourhoods, blocks of flats, etc.   In that sense there was a strongly territorial or residential basis to many of the soviets. But this raises a further question: the relationship between the workers’ councils and the councils of other non-exploiting strata. Castoriadis is aware of this problem as his ‘diagram’ envisages the central assembly of delegates containing delegates from peasant councils and councils of professionals and small traders. For us this is the central problem of the state in the period of transition: a period in which classes still exist, in which the working class has to exercise its dictatorship while at the same time integrating the other non-exploiting strata into political life and into the process of transforming social relations. Castoriadis envisages a similar process but he rejects the idea that this transitional organisation of society constitutes a state. In our view this approach is more rather than less likely to permit a situation where the state becomes an autonomous force opposing the organs of the working class, as happened rather rapidly in Russia given the isolation of the revolution after 1917. For us, the real independence of the working class and its councils is better served by calling the state what it is, by recognizing its inherent dangers, and ensuring that there is no subordination of the organs of the working class to the organs of ‘society as a whole’.

A final expression of Castoriadis’ failure to envisage a real break with the categories of capital: the limitation of his vision to the national level. Hints of this are given here and there in CSII where he talks about how things might work “in a country like France”, and how “the population of the entire country” might run their affairs through an assembly of council delegates which is depicted as existing on a national scale only. But the danger of seeing “socialism” in a national framework comes through much more explicitly in this passage:

“…the revolution can only begin in one country, or in one group of countries. As a result, it will have to endure pressures of extremely varying kinds and durations. On the other hand, however swiftly the revolution spreads internationally, a country's level of internal development will play an important role in how the principles of socialism will be concretely applied. For example, agriculture might create important problems in France—but not in the United States —or Great Britain (where, inversely, the main problem would be that of the country's extreme dependence on food imports). In the course of our analysis, we have considered several problems of this kind and hope to have shown that solutions tending in a socialist direction existed in each case.
We have not been able to consider the special problems that would arise if the revolution remained isolated in one country for a long time —and we can hardly do it here. But we hope to have shown that it is wrong to think that the problems arising from such isolation are insoluble, that an isolated workers' power must die heroically or degenerate, or that at the most it can ‘hold on’ while waiting. The only way to ‘hold on’ is to start building socialism; otherwise, degeneration has already
[GD2]  set in, and there is nothing to hold on for. For workers' power, the building of socialism from the very first day is not only possible, it is imperative. If it does not take place the power held has already ceased to be workers' power”[19]

The idea that a proletarian power can hold on in a single country by building socialism reverses the reality of the problem and takes us back, finally, to the errors of the Bolsheviks after 1921, and even to the counter-revolutionary positions of Stalin and Bukharin after 1924. When the working class takes power in one country it will, of course be compelled to take economic measures to guarantee the provision of basic needs, and as far as possible they should be compatible with communist principles and antithetical to the categories of capital. But it must always be recognised that any such measures (like  ‘war communism’ in Russia) will be deeply distorted by conditions of isolation and scarcity and will not necessarily have any direct continuity to the authentic communist reconstruction that will only begin once the working class has defeated the bourgeoisie on a global scale.  In the meantime, the essentially political task of extending the revolution will have to take precedence over the contingent and experimental social and economic measures that will take place in the first stages of a communist revolution.

We will return later to the political trajectory followed by Castoriadis, which would be significantly molded by this departure from marxism at the theoretical level

Munis:  ‘For a Second Communist Manifesto’

Munis returned to Spain in 1951 to intervene in a widespread outbreak of class struggle, seeing the possibility of a new revolutionary upsurge against the Franco regime[20]. He was arrested and spent the next seven years in jail. It can be argued that Munis failed to draw some key political lessons from this experience, particularly about the revolutionary possibilities of the post-war period, but it certainly did not dampen his commitment to the revolutionary cause. He took very precarious refuge in France – the French state soon expelled him - and he spent several years in Milan, where he entered into contact with the Bordigists and with Onorato Damen of Battaglia Comunista, with whom he developed a strong mutual respect. It was during this period, in 1961 that Munis, in company with Peret, founded the group Fomento Obrero Revolucionario. In this context, he produced two of his most important theoretical texts: Unions against revolution in 1960 and For a second Communist Manifesto (FSCM) in 1961[21].

At the beginning of this article we noted the similarities in the political trajectories of Castoriadis and Munis in their break with Trotskyism. But by the early 60s their paths had begun to diverge rather radically. In its early days, the title Socialisme ou Barbarie was consistent with the real choice facing humanity: Castoriadis considered himself to be a marxist and the alternative announced in the title expressed the group’s adherence to the notion that capitalism had entered its epoch of decline[22]. But in the introduction to the first volume of a collection of his writings, The Bureaucratic Society[23] , Castoriadis describes the period 1960-64 as the years of his break with marxism, considering not only that capitalism had essentially resolved its economic contradictions, thus disproving the basic premises of the marxist critique of political economy; but also that marxism, whatever its insights, could not be separated from the ideologies and regimes which laid claim to it. In other words, Castoriadis, like other former Trotskyists (such as the remnants of the German RKD) went from a wholesale rejection of “Leninism” to a rejection of marxism itself (and thus ended up in a “new look” kind of anarchism).

Even though, as we shall also examine, FSCM indicates the degree to which Munis had not entirely thrown off the weight of his Trotskyist past, it argues quite clearly that, despite all the contemporary propaganda about the affluent society and the integration of the working class, the real trajectory of capitalist society confirmed the fundamentals of marxism: that capitalism had, since the first world war, entered its epoch of decadence, in which the crying contradiction between the relations of production and the productive forces were threatening to drag humanity to ruin, above all because of the historic danger of war between the two imperialist blocs that dominated the globe. The affluent society was in essence a war economy.

Far from blaming marxism for in some sense giving birth to Stalinism, FSCM eloquently denounces the Stalinist regimes and parties as the purest expression of capitalist decadence, which, in different forms around the world, was engendering a drive towards totalitarian state capitalism. From the same theoretical starting point, the text argues that all national liberation struggles had become moments in the global imperialist confrontation. At a time which saw a widespread dissemination of the idea that national struggles in the Third World were the new force for revolutionary change, this was a striking example of revolutionary intransigence, and the arguments that accompanied it would be amply confirmed by the evolution of the ‘post-colonial’ regimes produced by the struggle for national independence. And it stood in contrast with the ambiguities of the SouB group on the war in Algeria and other basic class issues. The FSCM makes it clear that SouB has followed a path of compromise and workerism rather than of fighting for communist clarity, against the stream where necessary:

“For its part, the ‘Socialisme ou Barbarie’ tendency, which also came out of the IVth International , operates at the tail end of the decaying French ‘left’ on all problems and in all important movements: on Algeria and the colonial problem, 13 May 1958 and the Gaullist power, trade unions and contemporary workers’ struggles, attitude towards Stalinism and state direction in general. To the point where, although it sees the Russian economy as a form of state capitalism, it has only served to spread further confusion. By expressly renouncing the task of struggling against the current and by only saying to the working class ‘what it can understand’, it dooms itself to its own failure. Lacking in nerve this ‘tendency’ has given in to a kind of versatility which has the air of existentialist tight-rope walking. To them, as towards other currents in the US, it’s worth recalling Lenin’s words: ‘a few pitiful intellectuals who think that with the workers it’s enough to talk about the factory and blather on about what they have already known about for a long time’”.

Again, in contrast to the evolution of SouB, FSCM has no hesitation in defending the proletarian character of the October revolution and of the Bolshevik party. In a document written about 10 years later, and which takes up similar themes to FSCM, Party-state, Stalinism, Revolution[24], Munis argues against those currents from the German and Dutch left who had reneged on their initial support for October and decided that the Russian revolution and Bolshevism were essentially bourgeois in nature. At the same time, FSCM focuses on certain key errors which accelerated the degeneration of the revolution in Russia and the rise of the Stalinist counter-revolution: the confusion of nationalisations and state property with socialism, and the idea that the dictatorship of the proletariat meant the dictatorship of the party. In Party-State, Munis also has a definite insight into the idea that the transitional state cannot be seen as the agent of communist transformation, echoing the position of Bilan and the GCF:

“From the Paris Commune, revolutionaries drew a lesson of great importance, among others: the capitalist state could not be conquered or used; it had to be demolished. The Russian revolution deepened this same lesson in a decisive manner: the state, however workers’ or soviet it might be, cannot be the organiser of communism. As the proprietor of the instruments of labour, as the collector of necessary (or superfluous) social surplus labour, far from withering away, it acquires an unlimited smothering force and capacity. Philosophically the idea of an emancipating state is pure Hegelian idealism, unacceptable to historical materialism” (P-S, 43)

And where Castoriadis in ‘The content of socialism’ advocates a form of self-managed capitalism, Munis offers no room for doubt about the economic/social content of the communist programme – the abolition of wage labour and commodity production.  

“The aim of a really planned economy can only be to bring production into accord with consumption; only the full satisfaction of the latter – and not profit or privileges, nor the demands of ‘national defence’ or an industrialisation alien to the daily needs of the masses – can be considered as the spur of production. The first condition for such an approach can thus[GD3]  only be the disappearance of wage labour, the foundation stone of the law of value, universally present in capitalist societies, even if many of them claim today to be socialist or communist”.

At the same time, this strength of FSCM regarding the content of the communist transformation also has a weak side – a tendency to assume that wage labour and commodity production can be abolished from the first day, even in the context of a single country. It’s true, as the text says, that “from the first day, the society in transition born from this victory must aim towards this goal. It must not lose sight for an instant of the strict interdependence between production and consumption”. But as we have already remarked, the proletariat in a single country must also never lose sight of the fact that whatever measures it undertakes can only be temporary as long as the revolutionary victory has not been achieved on a world scale, and that they remain subject to the global operation of the laws of capitalism. The fact that Munis does not keep this in mind at all times is confirmed in particular in Party-state where he presents war communism as a kind of “non-capitalism” and sees the NEP as the restoration of capitalist relations. We have already criticised this approach in two articles in the International Review nos 25 and 52 [25]. It is also confirmed by what Munis always maintained about the events in Spain 36-37: for him the Spanish revolution went even deeper than the Russian revolution. This was partly because in May 1937 the workers for the first time showed, arms in hands, an understanding of the counter-revolutionary role of Stalinism. But he also considered that the Spanish industrial and agrarian collectives had established small islands of communism. In sum: communist relations are possible even without the destruction of the bourgeois state and the international extension of the revolution. In these conceptions we see, once again, a renewal of anarchist ideas and even an anticipation of the ‘communisation’ current which was to develop in the 1970s and which has a definite influence within the wider anarchist movement today.

And while an incomplete break with Trotskyism sometimes takes this anarchist direction, it can also manifest itself in more explicit hangovers from Trotskyism. Thus FSCM ends with a kind of updated version of the 1938 transitional programme. We quote at length from our article in International Review 52:

“In its 'For a Second Communist Manifesto' the FOR con­sidered it correct to put forward all kinds of transitional demands in the absence of revolut­ionary movements of the proletariat. These go from the 30 hours week, the suppression of piece work and of time and motion studies in the fact­ories to the ‘demand for work for all, unemployed and youth’ on the economic terrain. On the political level the FOR demands democratic 'rights' and 'freedoms' from the bourgeoisie: freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly; the right of workers to elect permanent workshop, factory or professional delegates ‘without any judicial or trade union formalities’.

This is all within the Trotskyist logic, according to which it is enough to pose the right demands to gradually arrive at the revolution. For the Trotskyists, the whole trick is to know how to be a pedagogue for the workers, who don't understand anything about their demands, to brandish in front of them the most appetising carrots in order to push the workers towards their 'party'. Is this what Munis wants, with his Transitional Program Mark 2?

The FOR still doesn't understand today:

  • that it is not a question of drawing up a catalogue of demands for future struggles: the workers are big enough to formulate their own precise demands spontaneously, in the course of the struggle;
  • that this or that precise demand -- like the 'right to work' for the unemployed -- can be taken up by bourgeois movements and used against the proletariat (labor camps, public works, etc.);
  • that it's only through the revolutionary struggle against the bourgeoisie that the workers can really satisfy their demands…..

It's very characteristic that the FOR should put on the same level its reformist slogans about democratic 'rights and freedoms' for workers, and slogans which could only arise in a fully revolutionary period. We thus find mixed pell-mell such slogans as:

expropriation of industrial, finance, and agricultural capital;

workers' management of the production and distribution of goods;

destruction of all the instruments of war, atomic as well as classical, dissolution of armies and police, reconversion of war industries into consumer industries;

individual armament of those exploited by capitalism, territorially organized according to the schema of democratic committees of management and distribution;

suppression of frontiers and constitution of a single government and a single economy to the extent of the proletariat's victory in diverse in countries.’

.    …..All these slogans display enormous confusions. The FOR seems to have abandoned any marxist compass. There is no distinction made between a pre-revolutionary period in which capital still rules politically, a revolutionary period in  which a dual power is established, and the period of transition (after the seizure of power by the proletariat) which alone can put on the agenda (and then not immediately!) the ‘suppression of wage labor’ and the ‘suppression of frontiers.’[26]

The later trajectory of Munis and Castoriadis

Munis died in February 1989. The ICC published a tribute to him that began by saying that “the proletariat has lost a militant who devoted his whole life to the class struggle”[27]. After briefly tracing the political history of Munis through Spain in the 30s, his break with Trotskyism over the Second World War, his sojourn in Franco’s jails in the early 50s and the publication of For a Second Communist Manifesto, the article takes up the story in the late 60s:

In 1967, along with comrades from the Venezuelan group Internacialismo, he partici­pated in efforts to restore contacts with the revolutionary milieu in Italy. Thus, at the end of the ‘60s, with the resurgence of the working class onto the scene of history, he took his place alongside the weak revolutionary forces existing at that time, including those who were to form Révolution Internationale in France. But at the beginning of the ‘70s, he unfortunately remained outside the discussions and attempts at regroupment which resulted in particular in the constitution of the ICC in 1975. Even so, the Ferment Ouvrière Révolutionaire (FOR), the group he formed in Spain and France around the positions of the ‘Second Manifesto', at first agreed to participate in the series of confer­ences of groups of the communist left which be­gan in Milan in 1977. But this attitude altered during the course of the second conference; the FOR walked out of the conference, and this was the expression of a tendency towards sectarian isolation which up to now has prevailed in this organisation”.

Today the FOR no longer exists. It was always highly dependent on the personal charisma of Munis, who was not able to pass on a solid tradition of organisation to the new generation of militants who rallied round him, and which could have served as a basis for the continued functioning of the group after Munis’ death. And as the tribute notes, the group suffered from a tendency towards sectarianism which further weakened its capacity to survive.

The example of this attitude referred to in the tribute is the rather showy departure of Munis and his group from the second conference of the communist left, citing his disagreement with the other groups on the problem of the economic crisis. This is not the place to examine this problem in detail, but we can see the core of Munis’ position in the FSCM:

“The recovery of the fighting spirit and the resurgence of a revolutionary situation cannot be expected, as claimed by certain marxists who lean towards economic automatism, to be the result of one of these cyclical crises, wrongly called ‘crises of overproduction’. These are the tremours which regularise the chaotic development of the system, and are not the result of its exhaustion. Managed capitalism knows how to attenuate them and besides, even if one of them does arise, it could easily favour the tortuous designs of new reactionaries, who await their moment, five year plans in one pocket, and production norms in the other. The general crisis of capitalism is its exhaustion as a social system. It consists, summarily speaking, in the fact that the instruments of production as capital and the distribution of products, limited by wage labour, have become incompatible with human necessities, and even with the maximum possibilities that technique could offer to economic development. That crisis is insurmountable for capitalism, and in the West as well as in Russia it gets worse every day”

Munis’s position is thus not one of simply denying the crisis of overproduction, and indeed earlier on in the FSCM he attributes them to a fundamental contradiction in the system, that between use value and exchange value. Furthermore, in his rejection of “automatism”, any idea that an economic crash will mechanically lead to an upsurge in revolutionary consciousness, Munis is correct. He is also right to see that the emergence of a truly revolutionary consciousness involves the recognition that the very social relations underlying civilisation have become incompatible with the needs of humanity. These are points which could have been discussed with other groups of the communist left and certainly didn’t justify leaving the Paris conference without even explaining his real differences.

Again, in his pamphlet ‘Mistaken Trajectory of Révolution Internationale[28], where his views on the relationship between economic crisis and class consciousness are explained at greater length, Munis does sometimes hit the target, since, as we argued in our resolution on the international situation from the 21st international congress, the ICC has sometimes  drawn an immediatist and mechanical  link between crisis and revolution[29]. But reality was not really on the side of Munis, since whether we like it or not, the capitalist system has indeed been stuck in a very profound economic crisis ever since the 1970s; the idea that economic crises are simply part of the mechanism for “regularising” the system seems to reflect the pressures of the time the FSCM was written – the early 60s, the zenith of the post-war boom. But this peak was followed by a rapid descent into a global economic crisis that has proved fundamentally intractable, despite all the energies that a state-managed system has expended in slowing down and delaying its worst effects. And while it’s true that a genuinely revolutionary consciousness must grasp the incompatibility between capitalist social relations and the needs of humanity, the visible failure of an economic system which presents itself as no less than an incarnation of human nature will surely play a key part in enabling the exploited to throw off their illusions in capitalism and its immortality. 

Underlying this refusal to analyse the economic dimension of capitalism’s decadence there lies an unresolved voluntarism, the theoretical foundations of which can be traced back to the letter announcing his break from the Trotskyist organisation in France, the Parti Communiste Internationaliste,  where he steadfastly maintains Trotsky’s notion, presented in the opening lines of the Transitional Programme, that the crisis of humanity is the crisis of revolutionary leadership:

The crisis of humanity – we repeat this a thousand times along with L.D. Trotsky – is a crisis of revolutionary leadership. All the explanations which try to lay the responsibility for the failure of the revolution on the objective conditions, the ideological gap or the illusions of the masses, on the power of Stalinism or the illusory attraction of the ‘degenerated workers’ state’, are wrong and only serve to excuse those responsible, to distract attention from the real problem and obstruct its solution. An authentic revolutionary leadership, given the present level of the objective conditions for the taking of power, must overcome all obstacles, surmount all difficulties, triumph over all its adversaries”[30]

It was this ‘heroic’ attitude which led Munis to see the possibility of revolution just under the surface at all times during the decadent period: in the 1930s, when Munis sees the events in Spain not as proof of a triumphant counter-revolution but as the highest point of the revolutionary wave that began in 1917; at the end of the Second World War, when, as we have seen, Munis saw the movements in Spain 1951 as the precursor to a revolutionary onslaught; at the height of the ‘boom’ period of the 60s, since the FSCM already refers to “the accumulation of formidable revolutionary energies” taking place at the time it was written.  And just as he rejected the ICC’s efforts to examine the evolution of the economic crisis, he equally rejects our argument that even if decadence means that the proletarian revolution is on the agenda of history, there can be phases of profound defeat and disarray in the class during this period, phases which make revolution almost impossible and which confer different tasks on the revolutionary organisation.

 But however costly these errors might have been, they are understandable errors of a revolutionary who desires with his whole being to see the end of capitalism and the beginning of the communist revolution. This is why our tribute concludes:

It's thus clear that we have very important differences with the FOR, which has led us to polemicise with them a number of times in our press (see in particular the article in International Review 52). However, despite the serious errors he may have made, Munis re­mained to the end a militant who was deeply loyal to the combat of the working class. He was one of those very rare militants who stood up to the pressures of the most terrible counter­revolution the proletariat has ever known, when many deserted or even betrayed the militant fight; and he was once again there alongside the class with the historical resurgence of its struggles at the end of the ‘60s.

We pay our homage to this militant of the revolutionary struggle, to his loyalty and un­breakable commitment to the proletarian cause. To the comrades of the FOR, we send our fraternal greetings

Castoriadis deserts the workers’ movement

One of the best accounts of the life of Munis was written by August Guillamon in 1993. Its title – ‘G Munis, a little known revolutionary’[31] – summarises one of the main points of the article: that most of those militants who, through the trials and tribulations of the 20th century, remained loyal to the proletarian cause, were not rewarded by fame or fortune: alongside Munis he mentions Onorato Damen, Amadeo Bordiga, Paul Mattick, Karl Korsch, Ottorino Perrone, Bruno Maffi, Anton Pannekoek and Henk Canne-Meijer[32]. By contrast, our obituary for Castoriadis was entitled, ‘Death of Cornelius Castoriadis: bourgeoisie pays homage to one of its servants’[33]. We can let the article speak for itself, adding a few further comments.

“The bourgeois press, especially in France, has made a certain amount of noise about the death of Cornelius Castoriadis. Le Monde referred to it in two successive issues (28-29 December and 30 December 1997) and devoted a full page to it under a significant title: 'Death of Cornelius Castoriadis, anti-marxist revolutionary'. This title is typical of the ideological methods of the bourgeoisie. It contains two truths wrapped around the lie that they want us to swallow. The truths: Castoriadis is dead, and he was anti-marxist. The lie: he was a revolutionary. To shore up the idea, Le Monde recalls Castoriadis' own words, ‘repeated until the end of his life’: ‘. "Whatever happens, I will remain first and above all a revolutionary’.

And indeed, in his youth, he had been a revolutionary. At the end of the 1940s he broke with the Trotskyist ‘4th International’ in company with a number of other comrades and animated the review Socialisme ou Barbarie. At this time SouB represented an effort, albeit confused and limited by its Trotskyist origins, to develop a proletarian line of thought in the middle of the triumphant counter-revolution. But in the course of the 1950s, under the impulsion of Castoriadis (who signed his articles Pierre Chaulieu, then Paul Cardan), SouB more and more rejected the weak marxist foundations on which it had been built. In particular, Castoriadis developed the idea that the real antagonism in society was no longer between exploiters and exploited but between ‘order givers and order takers’. SouB finally disappeared at the beginning of 1966, hardly two years before the events of May 68, which marked the historic resurgence of the world-wide class struggle after a counter-revolution of nearly half a century. In fact, Castoriadis had ceased to be a revolutionary long before he died, even if he was able to maintain the illusory appearance of one.

Castoriadis was not the first to betray the revolutionary convictions of his youth. The history of the workers' movement is littered with such examples. What characterised him, however, is that he dressed his treason in the rags of ‘political radicalism’, in the claim that he was opposed to the whole existing social order. We can see this by looking at an article written in Le Monde Diplomatique in response to his final book, 'Done and to be done', 1997.

"Castoriadis gives us the tools to contest, to build the barricades, to envisage the socialism of the future, to think about changing the world, to desire to change life politically... What political heritage can come from the history of the workers’ movement, when it is now obvious that the proletariat cannot play the role of motor force that marxism attributed to it? Castoriadis replies with a superb programme that combines the highest demands of human polity with the best of the socialist ideal...Action and thought are in search of a new radicalism, now that the Leninist parenthesis is closed, now that the police-state marxism of history has fallen into dust..."

In reality, this ‘radicalism’ that makes highbrow journalists drool so much was a fig leaf covering the fact that Castoriadis' message was extremely useful to the ideological campaigns of the bourgeoisie. Thus, his declaration that marxism had been pulverised (The rise of Insignificance, 1996) gave its ‘radical’ backing to the whole campaign about the death of communism which developed after the collapse of the Stalinist regimes of the eastern bloc in 1989”.

We have seen some of the early signs of a search for recognition in the decision of the Castoriadis group to write for Sartre’s Les Temps Modernes, a practice strongly criticized by the GCF[34]. But it is when he finally abandons the idea of a working class revolution and begins to speculate about a kind of autonomous citizens’ utopia, when he dives into the more obscure pools of sociology and Lacanian psychoanalysis, that he becomes of interest to bourgeois academia and the more sophisticated branches of the media, who were quite willing to forgive him the follies of his youth and accept him into their very comfortable fold.

But our article accuses Castoriadis of a more serious betrayal than giving up the life of a militant and seeking above all his professional advancement.

“But the real test of Castoriadis' radicalism had already taken place in the early 80s, when under Reagan's leadership the western bourgeoisie launched a deafening campaign against the military threat of the ‘Evil Empire’ of the USSR in order to justify an armaments drive unprecedented since the second world war. And it was precisely during this period that Castoriadis published his book Facing War where he tried to demonstrate that there was a ‘massive imbalance’ in favour of Russia, ‘a situation that was practically impossible for the Americans to amend’. What's more this ‘analysis" was frequently cited by Marie-France Garaud, an ideologue of the ultra-militarist right and mouthpiece in France for the Reaganite campaigns.

At the end of the 80s, reality demonstrated that Russian military power was actually vastly inferior to that of the US, but this didn't puncture Castoradis' self-importance or silence the journalists' praise for him. Neither was this new. From 1953-4, even before he openly abandoned marxism, Castoriadis developed a whole theory that capitalism had now definitively overcome its economic crisis (see 'The dynamic of capitalism' in SouB 120). We know what happened after this: capitalism's crisis returned with a vengeance in the late 60s. So when a pocket collection (Editions 10/18) of the works of Castoriadis was published in 1973, it missed out certain not very glorious writings, which allowed his friend Edgar Morin to say at the time: ‘Who today can publish without shame, indeed with pride, the texts that marked his political road from 1948 to 1973, if not a rare spirit like Castoriadis?’ (Le Nouvel Observateur)”.

Did Castoriadis openly call for mobilizing workers in defence of ‘western democracy’ against what he called the “stratocracy” of the eastern bloc? In a thread on libcom in 2011, a poster who signs himself ‘Julien Chaulieu’ takes issue with the original post, an account of the life of Castoriadis written by the Anarchist Federation in the UK, which argues that "In his last period, Castoriadis directed himself towards philosophical investigations, to psychoanalysis. In this period, his lack of knowledge of current social events and movements led him towards a tentative defence of the West - because struggle still remained possible within it - against Stalinist imperialism".[35]

Julien Chaulieu replied:

“As somebody who has studied all of his works, alongside with Guy Debord and many anarchists-libertarian socialists, I can confirm that the above statement is utterly wrong.

Castoriadis never defended the west. This was a misunderstanding, based on a propaganda by the Greek Stalinist social-fascist party (Communist Party of Greece). In this interview-video (which is unfortunately only available in Greek) he claims that indeed USSR was oppressive and tyrannical but that doesn't mean we should defend the western capitalist powers which are similarly brutal towards the ‘Third World’. The fact he abandoned typical socialist ideas, moving towards autonomy caused massive reactions to the (CPG).

In this interview he stated the following:

‘The western Societies are not just capitalist societies. If somebody is a Marxist will say that the mode of production in the Western world is capitalist, therefore these societies are capitalist because the mode of production determines everything. But these societies are not only capitalist. They are self-called democracies, (I do not call them democratic because I have a different definition on democracy), I call them liberal oligarchies. But in these societies there is a democratic element which has not been created by capitalism. On the contrary, it has been created in contrast to capitalism. It has been created while Europe was exiting from the Middle Ages and a new social class was being created, the so called middle class (which has nothing to do with the capitalists) and they tried to gain some freedom over the feudals, the kings and the church. This movement is continuing after the Renaissance with the English Revolution in the 17th century, the French and the American Revolutions in the 18th century which resulted to the creation of the labour movement.’

In fact, he appears to be very critical against capitalism, he uncovers the myth of ‘capitalism is the only system that works, the less bad’, the dominant western approach. Nothing pro-capitalist here. On the contrary, he speaks out the truth that has been destroyed by stupid liberals”

But what we really find in this passage, with its hint that there remains a real democratic and extra-capitalist substrate in the western forms of capitalism, and even more so with his alarmist analysis of Russian military strengthis that the later Castoriadis creates a zone of ambiguity which can easily be exploited by the real hawks of capitalist society, even if Castoriadis himself avoids incriminating himself with any explicitly pro-war pronouncements.

Our article could also have added that there is another side to the ‘legacy’ of Castoriadis: he is, in a sense, one of the founding fathers of what we have called the ‘modernist’ current, which is made up of various groups and individuals  who claim that they have gone beyond marxism (which, let’s recall, was always to an important extent the version Castoriadis inherited from Trotskyism)  but who still consider themselves to be revolutionaries and even communists. Several members of the Situationist international, who tended in this direction, were even members of SouB, but the passing on of this flame is a more general tendency and not dependent on direct physical succession. The Situationists , for example, agreed with Castoriadis about putting forward the slogan of generalised self-management, concurred that the marxist analysis of the economic crisis was old hat, but did not follow him into abandoning the idea of the working class as the motor force of revolution. On the other hand, the main trend of later modernism – which today tends to label itself as the “movement for communisation” – has read its Marx and its Bordiga and is able to show that this notion of self-management is entirely compatible with value relations. But what they do inherit from Castoriadis above all is the abandonment of the working class as the subject of history. And just as Castoriadis’ ‘supercession’ of Marx took him back to Proudhon, so the communisers mighty act of ‘aufhebung’  takes them back to Bakunin, where all classes immolate themselves in the coming grand conflagration. But this is a polemic we will have to take up elsewhere.

C D Ward, December 2017

[2] Chaulieu being a nom de guerre for Cornelius Castoriadis – along with Paul Cardan and others; Montal for Claude Lefort

[9] Pannekoek’s pamphlet was written during the war but published in full in the years that followed. The reference to it by Castoriadis is in

[10] CSII

[11] CSII

[12] chap XLVIII

[14] ‘Solidarity, the market and Marx’, available here: The text is also interesting in that it welcomes the appearance of new groups like Workers Voice in Liverpool, Internationalism in the US and the London group which, after splitting from solidarity, formed World Revolution, who are much clearer than Solidarity on the content of socialism/communism. What it doesn’t do is take issue with the essentially national conception of socialism contained in CSII – a weakness also that inevitably afflicts the SPGB with their vision of a parliamentary road to socialism. See below.

[15] For ourselves – and we think we are closer to Marx here, even if he much preferred the term ‘communism’ –  we take socialism and communism to mean the same thing: a society where wage labour, commodity production and national frontiers have been overcome.

[17] Capital Vol 1, chapter 1

[18] Interestingly, in a letter to Socialisme ou Barbarie in 1953, Anton Pannekoek already noticed the French group’s restrictive conception of workers’ councils: “While you restrict the activity of these organisms to the organization of labour in the factories after the taking of social power by the workers, we consider them as also being the organisms by means of which the workers will conquer this power”

[19] CSII

[21] This text was also published in Internationalism 3 in the early 70s, with an introduction by Judith Allen, ‘Unions and Reformism’. Munis replied to this here;

The ‘Second manifesto’ has not been translated into English. A French edition can be found here:

[22] See for example ‘The relations of production in Russia’

[23] La société bureaucratique 1: les rapports de production en Russie, editions 10:18, 1973

[24] Parti-Etat, Stalinisme, Révolution, ed Spartacus, 1975

[26]  52

[28] Alarme pamphlet, undated, ‘Fausse Trajectoire de Révolution Internationale’

[32] Curiously, he doesn’t include Marc Chirik in the list, or in the article as a whole, which somewhat deprives him of an important area of investigation. Not only did the discussions between Munis and the Gauche Communiste de France in the late 40s and early 50s play a part in Munis’ break with Trotskyism: we can see throughout the writings of Munis about the economic crisis a continued polemic against the conception of decadence defended by the GCF and later the ICC



Political currents and reference: 


Communism on the agenda