In short, Castoriadis is not, in judgemental language, a sell-out or a cop-out. He keeps going, but keeps going on the same song, that it is a whole tradition of determinacy that must be confronted. The attack on this tradition comes with his attack on Marxism that is first elaborated in the mid-sixties. Clearly he is right to attack those who have used Marx as a bible, on the dangers and stupidity of such an attitude. Right too on the marxist assumption of the development of the forces of production as a neutral process when technology from the point of view of what and for whom it creates is not so, nor in its impact on the development of production processes. But here his critique remains deaf, not taking on board the similar thrust of Panzieri’s work, one also from the working class viewpoint but which is far more fruitful. This deafness, non-acknowledgement of the work of the Italian theorists of autonomy in general is extraordinary, a kind of complacency once he has made a wholescale rejection of Marxist thought which begins with an attack on ‘Capital’ for not acknowledging working class struggle and resistance as a primary historical force, which is then generalized into an attack on its determinism. The main accusation [being] that the Thesis on Feuerbach, that we are made by history but that we also make it, is betrayed by Marx.
To get there he makes the reasonable and obvious points about the 19th century positivist tone of that work (ironically an historically determined false need for a critique of capitalism to be scientific for it to be taken seriously), and its search for laws, but loads the argument in such a way so that he can, from then on, be once-and-for-all the non-Marxist theorist of self-organisation. The falling rate of profit for example is not a law but a tendency against which counter-tendencies work especially intensity of labour (he does not bother to unpick the ideological concept of productivity which mendaciously merges productiveness and intensity of labour). He simply turns his back on these tools which are especially useful in understanding what is going on in the world at present; does not bother with the emphasis on commodity fetishism that so informs Volume I; nor the relation between land expropriation and capitalist discipline so passionately described in the same Volume; and, when writing of ecological politics simply ignores the essential Marxist understanding of capital as being compelled to accumulate, and that being antithetical to the ‘self-limiting’ he sees as having become the necessary corollary to self-government in the present period.
Though Castoriadis’s work started out within the Trotskyist tradition, it soon transcended those origins. By the late forties, he saw in American mass production or the Russian labor camp the embodiments of a demented rationalism: an economic will to power that constantly engendered unforeseen crises in the division of labor and responded with totalitarian measures in a desperate effort to avoid its own collapse. In the fifties, Castoriadis analyzed the “bureaucratic capitalism” of Stalinist Russia, explored the philosophical implications of the 1956 Hungarian revolt against Soviet rule, and scrutinized the wildcat strikes of Detroit autoworkers in search of new forms of proletarian self-organization. Castoriadis took seriously Leon Trotsky’s dictum that the future of humanity was a choice between socialism and barbarism-with the USSR being, for him, a decisive example of the latter. A circle of workers and intellectuals (including Claude Lefort, now a leading political philosopher) collaborated in hammering out a radically anti-hierarchical conception of direct democracy.
Mr. Castoriadis’s life combined high intellectual seriousness with intense political infighting. When he arrived in France from Greece in 1945, at the age of 23, he had already translated the work of Max Weber into Greek. He was also a veteran of the Trotskyist movement, which both the fascists and the communists were seeking to “liquidate,” to use their polite term for “exterminate.”