Claude Lefort: An intruder in Socialisme ou Barbarie?

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Claude Lefort: An Intruder in Socialisme ou Barbarie?

byAntoine CholletBy the same author

Centre Walras-Pareto, University of Lausanne.

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In his very personal reminiscences of the period during which he was an active member of "Socialisme ou Barbarie" (from 1957 to 1965), Sébastien de Diesbach describes the gulf that separated Cornelius Castoriadis and Claude Lefort, the two main founders of the group:

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The two men were as different as fire and water. The water was Lefort: profound, silent, concealing unexplored depths, slipping out of any hand wishing to grasp him. The fire was Castoriadis: consuming any material that could set the world ablaze, totally identified with a single project, continuing on his chosen path. Lefort was on the side of questions, Castoriadis on that of answers. [1]  Sébastien de Diesbach, La Révolution impossible: Mes...[1]

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In stressing the contrast between the two leaders of the journal’s early years, Diesbach (who signed his articles "S. Chatel" in the journal) points out at the same time what Claude Lefort’s special role was within the group. He was, probably more than the other members and already at the time, if not a true "intellectual," at least a researcher and an aspiring academic, which put him "on the side of questions," and therefore, as Diesbach aptly says, somewhat removed from the convictions required for political action. While this situation clearly distinguished him from the rest of the group, other aspects need to be taken into account in order to explain Lefort’s relative isolation within the group.

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Of all the members of "Socialisme ou Barbarie," Lefort is perhaps the one who proved to be the most critical about his experience in retrospect. This was already apparent in the interview he gave in 1975 to L’Anti-Mythes, a small journal run by students at the University of Caen. He expresses this much more clearly, however – the circumstances of publication were probably a factor – in the "preface" to the republication of Éléments d’une critique de la bureaucratie in 1979, which serves to introduce the republication of some of his first contributions to Socialisme ou Barbarie, the group’s journal. In this essential text in Lefort’s work, the following lines appear, which seem devastating if one thinks of the level of his commitment and that of the group to which he had belonged:

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For a time, I thought I saw the outline of a revolution that would be the work of the oppressed themselves and would be able to defend itself against those who claimed to lead it. […] Those illusions started to fade away in 1958, soon after I broke with "Socialisme ou Barbarie": from then on, I was determined to destroy them. In the past, I kept my doubts to myself as they accumulated. Although I often opposed the majority of the small group to which I belonged, I modeled my arguments on those of the others, my colleagues. When I no longer felt compelled to constantly give them – by giving it to myself – the proof of my loyalty to the project that united us, I admitted to myself that it was pointless to compress history into the confines of a single class and to make that class the agent of society’s completion. More to the point: I was surprised I ever desired that impossible completion. [2]  Claude Lefort, Éléments d’une critique de la bureaucratie...[2]

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Further on, Lefort declares that he "no longer breathes the air of Marxism" and that his break with the journal led him to "reject the revolutionary tradition." [3]  C. Lefort, ibid., 12, 14.[3] There is therefore a wide gap between him and the positions defended by "Socialisme ou Barbarie" and by most of its members, until the journal’s closure, followed by the dissolution of the group in 1967. For if the life of the group was marked by conflicts, departures and splits, when the other members looked back on their experience their judgment rarely reached this level of criticism – the only exception was probably Daniel Mothé, who was also very circumspect concerning his experience with "Socialisme ou Barbarie," but his most virulent critiques came much later.

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Earlier I mentioned the more favorable circumstances of publication for his critique. To them we should add the benefit of hindsight, for in the text serving as a postface to the first edition of Éléments d’une critique de la bureaucratie (published by Droz in 1971 [4]  Republished as "Le nouveau et l’attrait de la répétition,"...[4]), his recollections of the period of "Socialisme ou Barbarie" used a different, less radical language. It is true that at the time May 1968 was still a recent memory; later, Lefort would say that that event was a reference point that split the postwar period in two. [5]  In the editorial of the first issue of Libre, republished...[5]

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In speaking of his departure, this time definitive, from the group in 1958 (after an initial estrangement in 1952), Lefort declared that it "freed [him] from a censor within" that prohibited him from imagining his break with Marxism. [6]  "Entretien avec C. Lefort," in L’Anti-mythes 14 (1975),...[6] Other members have spoken of the difficulty in thinking freely within "Socialisme ou Barbarie," particularly as a result of the dominating presence of Castoriadis and the kind of censorship that he imposed, despite himself, on the other members of the group (I am thinking in particular of Daniel Blanchard, who has spoken of this but in quite different and more moderate terms than those used by Lefort). [7]  See Daniel Blanchard, "Crise de mots," in Crise de...[7]

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As we will soon see, the positions defended by Lefort in Socialisme ou Barbarie were unusual, but it was already very clear that his retrospective gaze put him at a remove from the other former members who typically valorized, if not always the experience of the group and the journal, at least its arguments and the positions it defended. [8]  On this topic, see the other interviews by the L’Anti-Mythes...[8] Unlike others, Lefort intimated that his departure from the group, far from representing a separation and a personal failure, allowed him to think, almost to breathe.

A Political Organization, or a Journal?

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The 1958 split sheds some light on what divided Lefort from the other members of the group, including those who followed him into the adventure of the ILO ("Informations et liaisons ouvrières"), like Henri Simon for example. In the 1975 interview, Lefort expresses the differences that, in his view, separated him from the group:

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I considered it essential to publish an organ of reflection, discussion, and information: the sub-title, "An Organ of Critique and Revolutionary Orientation," reflected my perspective. But […] I was not weighed down with the project of the construction of an organization and was reticent toward anything that might appear to be a new Manifesto or programmatic conception […]. The conflict was not very clear. Some perceived the journal only as a means to construct the organization. I did not deny this objective, but it was the journal itself that mattered most to me. [9]  "Entretien avec L’Anti-Mythes," 228-229 ["An Interview...[9]

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We may note the strange expression for describing this divergence within the group, consisting in pitting "some" not against "others," but against Lefort alone, whose main concern was the journal. Here we have an extremely profound divergence, not just in the life of the group, but more generally in the conception of political activity and the relationship between theory and practice. While the group "believ[ed] itself to be the embryo of a revolutionary organization," sought to "embrace the totality of the problems" raised by the advent of socialism, and survived "by compulsively pronouncing theses on everything," [10]  Ibid., 232 [Ibid. 177].[10] Lefort wished to clearly separate the two activities: organization on the one hand, writing or reflection on the other. In support of his position, he noted that the group "did not want to admit that it is impossible to write in a language accessible to all, while doing justice to the complexity of history. They did not want to admit that the journal could be read only by intellectuals, students, or workers who had made an exceptional effort to become educated." [11]  Ibid., 235 [Ibid., 179].[11] Instead of being an organ for building a party or a revolutionary organization, the journal was merely a publication intended for an educated public with the time and the desire to spend a few hours reading long analyses of contemporary capitalism and the international situation. Indeed, most of the articles published in Socialisme ou Barbarie were more like intellectual contributions than texts for the general public, and this was true from the very first issues. Making oneself read forty pages on the economy of the kolkhozes (in issue n°. 4, October-November 1949) – to give just one example – presupposes, as Lefort rightly puts it, either that one is used to reading contributions of that kind, or that one has made "an exceptional effort."

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To a certain degree, Lefort had already taken these positions in his articles for Socialisme ou Barbarie, notably in "The Proletarian Experience," [12]  C. Lefort, "L’expérience prolétarienne," in Socialisme...[12] which appeared like a meteorite within the forty issues of the journal even though it was published as an editorial and was therefore not signed. As a result, when it was published, the authorship belonged to the group as a whole. Despite this, it was a reflection at some distance from the concerns of the journal and which ultimately had very little effect on its future evolution. Moreover, it was a contribution of a very different sort from the other texts Lefort published in Socialisme ou Barbarie, and the disparity is striking if we compare it to texts like "La nouvelle diplomatie russe" ("The New Russian Diplomacy"), "La situation sociale en France" ("The Social Situation in France"), or "Le poujadisme" [13]  C. Lefort (as Claude Montal), "La situation sociale...[13] ("Poujadism"), to name just some examples. All things considered, there were not many of these other articles – Lefort wrote only 19 in the first 26 issues of Socialisme ou Barbarie between 1949 and 1958, including unsigned editorials and news items that were only a few pages long – but they fit in easily with the other texts in the journal.

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When Lefort looked back on his definitive departure from "Socialisme ou Barbarie," three events seemed in his view to have hastened it: the detrimental influence on the group of the Johnson-Forest Tendency, whose "dogmatism" and "megalomaniac systematization" [14]  "Entretien avec L’Anti-Mythes," 231 ["An Interview...[14] he denounced, the arrival of militant Bordigists who accentuated "the group’s ’organizationalist’ orientation," [15]  Ibid., 232 [Ibid., 177]. Concerning the Bordigists...[15] and finally the admission of Jean-François Lyotard and Pierre Souyri into "Socialisme ou Barbarie," as the two new members also wanted the group to become a party. To these events it seems to me that we should add a fourth reason for Lefort’s departure, which relates specifically to Castoriadis and his text published in the journal in 1957, "On the Content of Socialism." For Lefort, this attempt to prefigure a future society appeared to be a kind of "rationalist fiction" concealing a "desire for homogeneity." [16]  Ibid., 240, 241 [Ibid., 182].[16] This critique revisits one of the essential divergences between Lefort’s conception of democracy and Castoriadis’s, to which Lefort returns in the "preface" to Éléments d’une critique de la bureaucratie by speaking of "two sides to democracy," between a society "haunted" by "the question of its self-generation" and one that goes through "the ordeal of a heterogeneity of the social." [17]  C. Lefort, Éléments d’une critique de la bureaucratie,...[17] Castoriadis may not be mentioned by name in support of the first conception, but he is clearly the one who Lefort is targeting: the similarity of the expressions used in the two texts, in order to describe that attempt to envision the future society, is there to prove it.

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A profound disagreement concerning the group’s direction, overlaying the theoretical and political disagreement we have just presented, was therefore what drove Lefort to leave "Socialisme ou Barbarie" in order to found ILO, [18]  The spelling of this collective’s name changes depending...[18] which he quickly left in turn in order to devote himself to more exclusively academic work, both in journals and think tanks, involving his research work on Machiavelli, which would result, about a decade later, in Machiavelli in the Making. [19]  C. Lefort, Le Travail de l’œuvre: Machiavel (Paris,...[19]

Envisioning Democracy

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In the conflict between Lefort (joined by those members of the group that would found ILO) and the majority of "Socialisme ou Barbarie" led by Castoriadis, one may identify the first outlines of the political thinking that Lefort would begin to work out in the 1970s and which would lead to the publication of L’Invention démocratique and Essais sur le politique, which are probably his best known and most discussed books. [20]  C. Lefort, L’Invention démocratique: Les limites de...[20] He also recounted this itinerary in the "preface" to Éléments d’une critique de la bureaucratie.

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The concept of democracy, which Lefort constructed in opposition to totalitarianism and which was defined in a very general sense as the refusal of the One, had some antecedents in his texts from the 1950s. Questioning the need for the group to constitute an embryo of revolutionary leadership, accepting the fact that intellectuals are to a certain degree separated from the proletariat, refusing to consider the revolution as an absolute caesura in history: all these ideas, which he developed in "The Proletariat and the Problem of Revolutionary Leadership" and "Organization and Party," presage his subsequent reflections on democracy. [21]  C. Lefort (as Claude Montal), "Le prolétariat et le...[21] Later, in his analysis of May 1968, we see similar political and theoretical reflexes, praising as he did this "new disorder" created by the students, whereas Castoriadis despaired of their disorganization and the absence of truly revolutionary perspectives within the movement. [22]  Edgar Morin, Lefort, Jean-Marc Coudray, Mai 68: la...[22]

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Thinking back on his years with "Socialisme ou Barbarie," Lefort had no regrets: on the contrary, he added that this "candid" examination of the path he had taken subsequently gave him "the conviction that [he] thought more clearly." [23]  C. Lefort, "Préface," in Éléments d’une critique de...[23] Furthermore, he asserted that he remained faithful to the movement that inspired him at the time: a movement that, beyond the revolutionary outlook and the communist dream that accompanied it, was concerned mostly with what, in 1979, he called a "libertarian idea of democracy," [24]  Ibid.[24] an expression that, to my knowledge, he never used elsewhere. We can nevertheless detect the presence of this idea in the texts published in Socialisme ou Barbarie, although it becomes much more pronounced in his writing after 1958 (he had almost never spoken of democracy before that date, nor had the other contributors to the journal, including Castoriadis.) [25]  Gilles Labelle also emphasizes that the interpretations...[25]

The Reasons Behind a Split

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We must first mention the importance of Lefort’s phenomenological training. As Stephen Hastings-King and Hugues Poltier have both suggested, the texts written by Lefort in Socialisme ou Barbarie, particularly "The Proletarian Experience," are somewhat analogous to the methods of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology. [26]  See Stephen Hastings-King, Looking for the Proletariat:...[26] In this sense, we may read Lefort’s text as an attempt to politicize phenomenology, a point that finds confirmation in his interview with L’Anti-Mythes, in which he asserted that when he joined the Trotskyists in 1943, he thought that "Marx’s thought found its true expression in the language of phenomenology." [27]  "Entretien avec L’Anti-Mythes," 225 ["An Interview...[27] Other texts published in the journal also fall into this category. We should at the very least mention "The American Worker" by Paul Romano (a pseudonym for Phil Singer, a militant American worker associated with the Johnson-Forest Tendency who had published this testimony in the US in 1947), translated from English and published over the first five issues of the journal, and "La vie en usine" ("Life in the Factory") by Georges Vivier (a worker at the Chausson car parts plant near Paris), published over five issues from 1952 to 1955. The first part of this last text appeared in the issue whose editorial was "The Proletarian Experience," and was in a way the tangible illustration of the will demonstrated in the editorial to give workers a voice. To these first few examples we can add the texts by Daniel Mothé, a worker for Renault and an active member of the group, although his case is somewhat different. [28]  The most detailed analysis of Mothé’s texts is by Hastings-King:...[28] These very detailed descriptions of the working and living conditions inside factories thus represent the kind of articles that Lefort ardently wished to see in the journal, much more than the grand theoretical texts outlining a political program. Although texts of this kind were ultimately fairly unusual for Socialisme ou Barbarie, we should nevertheless point out that they appeared in more than half of the issues up to 1955.

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The second reason that must be mentioned to explain Lefort’s unique status within the group is his closeness to Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who had been his teacher during the war: Lefort remained close to him until his premature death, and then had Merleau-Ponty’s final texts published posthumously. This closeness secured his presence in several issues of Les Temps modernes until the falling-out between Merleau-Ponty and Sartre in the early 1950s, which led Lefort to exercise a more directly intellectual activity than the other "social-barbarians," and most importantly, an activity of public thinking. [29]  The proof of this is in the articles he wrote for various...[29] Beyond these material circumstances, Lefort felt Merleau-Ponty’s influence more deeply. He gave a full account of this in a long text written in homage to the philosopher and published in 1963, "La politique et la pensée de la politique" ("Politics and Political Thinking"). [30]  C. Lefort, "La politique et la pensée de la politique"...[30] Merleau-Ponty’s ideas definitively deterred Lefort from what the philosopher called "high-altitude thinking" (la pensée de survol). But thinking of this kind, despite the constant references to dialectics and the interplay between theory and practice, flows through all the writings of the postwar revolutionary groups, and it would be hasty to immediately exclude Socialisme ou Barbarie from this tendency, despite the more moderate positions that were indisputably expressed there. The 1975 interview and the 1979 preface regularly demonstrate this contradiction between what, for Lefort, constituted the heart of political thinking and the thinking that characterized "Socialisme ou Barbarie."

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Of course, Merleau-Ponty’s influence is not just limited to political thinking. It is constantly present in the substantial work that Lefort did on Machiavelli, which he started in the 1950s while he was still writing for Socialisme ou Barbarie. Moreover, we should note that the political trajectory of Merleau-Ponty himself is somewhat similar to Lefort’s, notably in their nearly simultaneous break with Marxism. For Merleau-Ponty, this happened precisely when Adventures of the Dialectic was published in 1955; Lefort, as we have already said, placed his own break at the time of his departure from the journal in 1958.

What Political Action?

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Lefort’s insistence on the importance of the workers’ testimonies in Socialisme ou Barbarie only had a limited impact on the journal, as we have just seen: it did not manage to obtain more first-hand reports of this kind. Only the series of articles by Georges Vivier truly fulfilled Lefort’s wishes, and its publication ended abruptly with issue 17 although a further installment had been announced. ILO, an environment intended to be more conducive to Lefort’s ideas, also ended in failure. The publication of ILO’s journal lasted from October 1958 to May 1960 (only three full issues were published, preceded by around fifteen "informational bulletins" that were only a few hand-typed pages each, to which we should add four "notebooks" and various other documents), [31]  We must pay homage here to the activists running the...[31] and its availability remained extremely limited. On the whole, the objective set by Lefort concerning what the activity of a revolutionary group like "Socialisme ou Barbarie" should be was not reached, in any case for the most manifest activities of the collective.

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Starting with Lefort’s years with "Socialisme ou Barbarie," there was a strange vacillation between the radical refusal of a separation between theoreticians and activists on the one hand and on the other, a wide gap between what intellectuals like him could do (in the best-case scenario, bringing workers into contact with each other) and what the proletariat actually did. There was a question that Lefort left open and unresolved: who could fill the roles to play in what he called "revolutionary effervescence" and, later, "untamed democracy" (démocratie sauvage)? This is what Hugues Poltier has aptly described as "an aporia of revolutionism." [32]  H. Poltier, Passion du politique, 79.[32] Unlike Merleau-Ponty, nowhere in Lefort’s writing are there "exceptional men [who] top it all" – living contradictions of revolutionary moments, but necessary ones – who "succeed in governing while keeping their revolutionary consciousness." [33]  Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Les Aventures de la dialectique...[33] This problem never allows itself to be resolved in Lefort’s work, and we rediscover it even in the historical figures who fascinated him, constituting between them a kind of pantheon of this ambivalence: Machiavelli, Tocqueville, Edgar Quinet, Solzhenitsyn… Thinkers of action who steered clear of it, either because they were forced to like Machiavelli or Quinet, who were in exile, or because they were preparing for action, like Tocqueville. Neither Socialisme ou Barbarie nor Informations et liaisons ouvrières fulfilled the mandate that Lefort had wished to establish for them, but this should not lead us to conclude that his conception was a complete failure. On the contrary, despite the texts that were published – in the first of the two journals in any event – and the positions taken by the members of the group who published it, the description that Lefort gives of the work done at a revolutionary and antibureaucratic journal probably corresponds better to what Socialisme ou Barbarie really was during its fifteen or so years of publication. It made its members think – they all say it in their texts or interviews devoted to that period – and it made its sparse number of readers think as well, as far as anyone knows (we do in fact have some declarations along these lines). It kept them informed on a great many international events in an original fashion: on this point, we may mention the importance of its position during the Hungarian revolution in 1956, even though its readership was microscopic. On the other hand, the group and the journal never constituted an organization in any possible sense of the term, contrary to the ambitions declared by most of its members. In his long article devoted to the influence of Socialisme ou Barbarie, Enrique Escobar says this extremely clearly: "The influence of Socialisme ou Barbarie on postwar French thinking was approximately zero." He adds that the people interested in the journal "have difficulty imagining today the nature, the quality of the silence that surrounded this journal and this group in the 1950s and early 1960s." [34]  Enrique Escobar, "Sur l’"influence" de S ou B et, inévitablement,...[34] Concerning the organizational ambitions of "Socialisme ou Barbarie," he points out that "the group never reached the threshold – number of members, social composition, relations with actual social milieus – that would have allowed it, even if it were just an attempt, to put its ideas into practice, to become the organization that it would have wanted to be: it was only a small grouping of individuals recognizing themselves to varying degrees in the ideas of a journal." [35]  E. Escobar, ibid., 180.[35]

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As a result, paradoxically, it seems as though what the journal has managed to do comes closer to Lefort’s objectives than to those stated explicitly by the group concerning its own activity. Similarly, the existing research work done on Socialisme ou Barbarie and the new readers that the journal has found posthumously also rely on this aspect of its work, considering it as a theoretical journal and not as a militant group for which the journal was only to be used for organizing recruitment activity and its own expansion. In the final analysis, it is indeed Lefort who, perhaps by being a realist, gives the best idea of the actual work done by "Socialisme ou Barbarie," including after his departure.

Notes

[1] Sébastien de Diesbach, La Révolution impossible: Mes années avec "Socialisme ou Barbarie" (Paris, Éditions L’Harmattan, 2013), 44.

[2] Claude Lefort, Éléments d’une critique de la bureaucratie (Paris, Éditions Gallimard, 1979), 9-10.

[3] C. Lefort, ibid., 12, 14.

[4] Republished as "Le nouveau et l’attrait de la répétition," in Éléments d’une critique de la bureaucratie, 355-371 ["Novelty and the Appeal of Repetition," trans. John B. Thompson, in The Political Forms of Modern Society: Bureaucracy, Democracy, Totalitarianism, ed. Thompson (Cambridge MA, MIT Press, 1986), 122-136].

[5] In the editorial of the first issue of Libre, republished as "Maintenant," in Lefort, Le Temps présent: Écrits, 1945-2005 (Paris, Éditions Belin, 2007), 275-299.

[6] "Entretien avec C. Lefort," in L’Anti-mythes 14 (1975), republished as "Entretien avec L’Anti-Mythes," in Le Temps présent, 236 ["An Interview with Claude Lefort," trans. Dorothy Gehrke and Brian Singer, Telos 30 (Winter 1976-77): 179]. Olivier Mongin also insists on the "solitude" of Lefort’s thinking within "Socialisme ou Barbarie": see Mongin, "Un parcours politique: Du cercle des idéologies au cercle des croyances," in La Démocratie à l’œuvre: Autour de Claude Lefort, ed. Claude Habib and Claude Mouchard (Paris, Éditions Esprit, 1993), 143.

[7] See Daniel Blanchard, "Crise de mots," in Crise de mots (Paris, Éditions du Sandre, 2012), 19-46.

[8] On this topic, see the other interviews by the L’Anti-Mythes group, particularly their interview with Castoriadis ("Pourquoi je ne suis plus marxiste" [1974]), in Cornelius Castoriadis, Une société à la dérive: Entretiens et débats, 1974-1997 (Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 2011), 35-83 ["Why I Am No Longer a Marxist," in A Society Adrift: Interviews and Debates, 1974-1997, ed. Enrique Escobar, Myrto Gondicas, and Pascal Vernay, trans. Helen Arnold (New York, Fordham University Press, 2010), 11-44].

[9] "Entretien avec L’Anti-Mythes," 228-229 ["An Interview with Claude Lefort," 175-176].

[10] Ibid., 232 [Ibid. 177].

[11] Ibid., 235 [Ibid., 179].

[12] C. Lefort, "L’expérience prolétarienne," in Socialisme ou Barbarie 11 (1952), republished in Éléments d’une critique de la bureaucratie, 71-97 ["Proletarian Experience," trans. Stephen Hastings-King, viewpointmag.com, Viewpoint Magazine, 26 Sep 2013, Web, 19 November 2019].

[13] C. Lefort (as Claude Montal), "La situation sociale en France," in Socialisme ou Barbarie 10 (July-August 1952), "La nouvelle diplomatie russe," in Socialisme ou Barbarie 17 (July-September 1955), and "Le poujadisme," in Socialisme ou Barbarie 18 (January-March 1956), all republished in Le Temps présent (respectively 85-96, 127-136 and 137-145).

[14] "Entretien avec L’Anti-Mythes," 231 ["An Interview with Claude Lefort," 177]. The "Johnson-Forest Tendency," whose most famous members were C. L. R. James, Raya Dunayevskaya and Grace Lee Boggs, could be considered the equivalent of "Socialisme ou Barbarie" in the US. It also cut its ties with Trotskyism on the basis of analyses of the USSR’s nature. Concerning this group, see Matthieu Renault, C. L. R. James: La vie révolutionnaire d’un "Platon noir" (Paris, Éditions La Découverte, 2015), 101-119. Castoriadis was in close contact with Grace Lee Boggs during her stay in Paris for a congress of the Fourth International in 1948. Socialisme ou Barbarie translated her text that accompanied Paul Romano’s "The American Worker" (see below) in its American edition. [Translator’s note: Grace Lee Boggs (as Ria Stone), "The Reconstruction of Society," in Paul Romano and Ria Stone, The American Worker (Detroit, Correspondence, 1947).] On the Tendency’s influence on Castoriadis, as well as on Lefort’s confusion of Grace Lee Boggs with Raya Dunayevskaya, see Enrique Escobar’s comments republished in François Dosse, Castoriadis, une vie (Paris, Éditions La Découverte, 2014), 120.

[15] Ibid., 232 [Ibid., 177]. Concerning the Bordigists in "Socialisme ou Barbarie," I refer the reader to Philippe Gottraux’s analyses in "Socialisme ou Barbarie": Un engagement politique et intellectuel dans la France de l’après-guerre (Lausanne: Éditions Payot, 1997).

[16] Ibid., 240, 241 [Ibid., 182].

[17] C. Lefort, Éléments d’une critique de la bureaucratie, p. 26.

[18] The spelling of this collective’s name changes depending on the issues of the bulletin it published. There is "Information et liaison ouvrières" and "Information et liaisons ouvrières," but also "Informations et liaisons ouvrières," which appears to be the most logical spelling and is the one used in the last set of bulletins.

[19] C. Lefort, Le Travail de l’œuvre: Machiavel (Paris, Éditions Gallimard, 1972) [Machiavelli in the Making, trans. Michael Bradley Smith (Evanston IL, Northwestern University Press, 2012)].

[20] C. Lefort, L’Invention démocratique: Les limites de la domination totalitaire (Paris, Éditions Fayard, 1981) [partially translated in The Political Forms of Modern Society: Bureaucracy, Democracy, Totalitarianism, ed. John B. Thompson, trans. Thompson, Alan Sheridan, and Terry Karten (Cambridge MA, MIT Press, 1986)]; Lefort, Essais sur le politique: XIXe-XXe siècles (Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 1986) [Democracy and Political Theory, trans. David Macey (Cambridge UK, Polity Press, 1988)].

[21] C. Lefort (as Claude Montal), "Le prolétariat et le problème de la direction révolutionnaire," in Socialisme ou Barbarie 10, republished in Éléments d’une critique de la bureaucratie, 59-70 [partially translated in "The Proletariat and the Problem of Revolutionary Leadership," in A Socialisme ou Barbarie Anthology: Autonomy, Critique, and Revolution in the Age of Bureaucratic Capitalism, translated anonymously (La Bussière FR, Acratie, 2007)]; Lefort, "Organisation et parti: Contribution à une discussion," in Socialisme ou Barbarie 26 (November-December 1958), republished in Éléments d’une critique de la bureaucratie, 98-113 [partially translated in "Organization and Party," A Socialisme ou Barbarie Anthology].

[22] Edgar Morin, Lefort, Jean-Marc Coudray, Mai 68: la Brèche (Paris, Éditions Fayard, 1968). On the analyses of 1968, I refer the reader to Antoine Chollet, "Claude Lefort et Cornelius Castoriadis: regards croisés sur Mai 68," in Politique et Sociétés 34.1 (2015): 37-60.

[23] C. Lefort, "Préface," in Éléments d’une critique de la bureaucratie, 15.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Gilles Labelle also emphasizes that the interpretations positing a radical split between a Marxist Lefort of the Socialisme ou Barbarie period, and a democratic, antitotalitarian Lefort later on, are not plausible. Taking an opposite tack, Labelle suggests that the reference to the real could be the notion that ties together Lefort’s work and itinerary as a whole. See Gilles Labelle, "Parcours de Claude Lefort: de l’’expérience prolétarienne’ de l’’aliénation’ à la critique du marxisme," Politique et Sociétés 34.1 (2015): 17-36.

[26] See Stephen Hastings-King, Looking for the Proletariat: Socialisme ou Barbarie and the Problem of Worker Writing (Chicago, Haymarket Books, 2015), 114; Hugues Poltier, Passion du politique: La pensée de Claude Lefort (Genève, Éditions Labor et Fides, 1998), 30-32.

[27] "Entretien avec L’Anti-Mythes," 225 ["An Interview with Claude Lefort," 173].

[28] The most detailed analysis of Mothé’s texts is by Hastings-King: "Reading Daniel Mothé," in Looking for the Proletariat, 235-320.

[29] The proof of this is in the articles he wrote for various scientific journals from the early 1950s on, which were partially republished in Les formes de l’histoire (Paris, Éditions Gallimard, 2000). In addition, Dick Howard notes that the most important theoretical texts that Lefort published during those years did not appear in Socialisme ou Barbarie but rather in other journals such as Les Temps modernes. See Dick Howard, The Marxian Legacy: The Search for the New Left, 3rd edition (London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 203.

[30] C. Lefort, "La politique et la pensée de la politique" [1963], in Sur une colonne absente: Écrits autour de Merleau-Ponty (Paris, Éditions Gallimard, 1978), 45-104.

[31] We must pay homage here to the activists running the admirable site archivesautonomie.org, who have patiently digitized a large number of journals and magazines from the history of the workers’ movement that would otherwise be absolutely inaccessible. ILO is an excellent example of one such publication that they have made available, as is, to a lesser extent, Socialisme ou Barbarie.

[32] H. Poltier, Passion du politique, 79.

[33] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Les Aventures de la dialectique (Paris, Éditions Gallimard, 2000), 307 [Adventures of the Dialectic, trans. Joseph Bien (Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 1973), 222].

[34] Enrique Escobar, "Sur l’"influence" de S ou B et, inévitablement, sur Castoriadis," in Socialisme ou Barbarie aujourd’hui: Analyses et témoignages, ed. Sophie Klimis, Philippe Caumières, and Laurent Van Eynde (Bruxelles, Presses des Facultés universitaires de Saint-Louis, 2012), 176.

[35] E. Escobar, ibid., 180.

Outline

  1. A Political Organization, or a Journal?
  2. Envisioning Democracy
  3. The Reasons Behind a Split
  4. What Political Action?