Castoriadis “Recommencing the Revolution” – Sunday, 20th October 2013, 1:30pm

In October, the Fantin Reading Group will turn its attention to the next in a series of essays from the pen of Cornelius Castoriadis, tacking his 1964 article, “Recommencing the Revolution”, originally published in Issue 35 of Socialisme ou Barbarie.

The article is both theoretically and historically important.  In it, Castoriadis announces his formal break with the philosophy of Marxism, arguing that if the socialist revolutionary project has stalled, it is due both to the various aporia that exist within orthodox Marxism, and the fact that Marxism has itself become an orthodoxy.  Thus, if the revolution is to recommence, it must start with a critique of Marxian theory.  In “Recommencing the Revolution, Castoradis begins this critique, which he will continue in next month’s reading “Marxism and Revolutionary Theory”.

“Recommencing the Revolution” is also significant in that it provoked a split, that ultimately lead to the break-up and demise of the Socialism or Barbarie group, between Castoriadis – who felt the revolution could only be progressed by radicalising the project of critical interrogation, even if it meant, as he believed it did, going beyond Marx – and those committed to defending the continuing validity of Marx’s theoretical legacy.

The a photocopy of the text can be downloaded here: Castoriadis Reader Ch4 – Recommencing the Revolution (1964).  All welcome.

3 thoughts on “Castoriadis “Recommencing the Revolution” – Sunday, 20th October 2013, 1:30pm

  1. This sounded like an interesting reading group. Sorry I couldn’t make it.

    ‘Recommencing the Revolution’ (RTR) was published in Socialisme ou Barbarie (SB) in January 1964. That’s a few months after the July 1963 split. Even though a draft of the article was circulated in the group in March 63 it’s still too much to say the circulation of the draft provoked the split.

    The split had a longer lineage. It went back to at least the split of Lefort and others in 1958. But its more ‘proximate’ and ‘theoretical’ source is Castoriadis’ article ‘Modern Capitalism and Revolution’ published in SB in 3 parts from December 1960 to December 1961. A draft f this article also circulated in the group in 2 parts in 1959 and 1960.

    It is this article that provoked considerable debate and consternation in the group that ultimately resulted in the 1963 split between Pouvoir Ouvrier (PO) and SB. Certainly Castoriadis is very critical of Marx and Marxism in this earlier article, but he presents his perspective still in terms of ‘renovation’ rather than rejection.

    Interestingly it is at this same time, 1960-61, that Debord and other members of the Situationist International are engaged directly with SB. Certainly Debord and others found much of interest in Castoriadis’ ‘Modern Capitalism and Revolution’. However they opposed his critique and rejection of Marx (more than Marxism) in RTR and ‘Marxism and Revolutionary Theory’ (1964-65). Indeed RTR is more a result of the developing split, rather than its cause. And MRT is a result of Castoriadis coming to grips with the implications of his new position after the split. Debord and the SI went on to develop their own critique of Marxism which can be found in Chapter 4 of Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle.

    An interesting post script to RTR can be found in Castoriadis’ 1974 ‘Postface to “Recommencing the Revolution”’, available in the David Ames Curtis translated ‘Cornelius Castoriadis Political and Social Writings Volume 3’. Curtis also provides a very interesting commentary on the split in a footnote to this piece, particularly with regards to JF Lyotards ‘orthodox Marxism’ and fairly pathetic opposition to Castoriadis during the split.

    Of further interest is a ‘situ tendency’ that developed in SB between 1960 and 1963. Castoriadis called them ‘Dadao-clochards’ which roughly translates as ‘Dada-bums’! Unfortunately the only good account so far of the SI and SB’s intersection is in a so far untranslated French text: Phillipe Gottraux’s ‘Socialisme ou Barbarie, un engagement politique et intellectuel dans la France de l’après guerre’. This book also has an excellent account of the split and its context, amongst other interesting stories of SB.

  2. Anthony, it is indeed a shame you couldn’t have made it. I’d have enjoyed the chat. Much thanks for the correction regarding the timing and nature of the split in SouB, and for the expansiveness of your post. I can’t help feeling a little embarrassed about it, given Vol.3 of Castoriadis’ Political and Social Writings is presently staring at me from across desk, still mostly unread at this time. (Some much to read…) Please feel free to hit us up for a beer next time your down in Melb.

    • Benjamin, thanks for the reply. Don’t worry too much about books taunting you from a near. There is too much to read and its often very hard to work out what to read and what to avoid. CC’s ‘Modern Capitalism and Revolution’ should be on the ‘to read’ pile. There is a copy of it here:

      Also there is a new book on SB coming out in English soon – Stephen Hasting-King’s ‘Looking for the Proletariat: Socialisme ou Barbarie and the Problem of Worker Writing’.

      I know and have known a few Benjamin’s in my time. Have we met before?

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