Cornelius Castoriadis – Neither resignation nor archaism

Conversation with Alexis Libaert and Philippe Petit.
Posted in “L ‘Evenement du jeudi” 21 to 17 December 1995 under the title: «Ni” Esprit “ni Bourdieu: les intellos entre l’ archaisme et la fuite».

The article in Greek here

You did not sign the two texts that were released on the occasion of the Juppe plan [1]. Why?

The first (the one proposed by Esprit) denounced the Juppe plan, apart from some theoretical concerns, and it was unacceptable for me. The second (known as list Bourdieu) was imbued with the jargon of the traditional Left and invoked “Democracy” – what democracy? – as if there simply is a “democratic” solution to the enormous problems posed today. A mixture of archaism and flight.

How do you judge the position of the traditional Left regarding this social movement?

Both the political left and the trade unions have demonstrated their emptiness once again. They had nothing to say about the essence of the issues. The Socialist Party, loyal manager of the established system, asked for vague negotiations. The two trade unions, the CGT and FO, jumped on the train of the movement after it started, trying to restore their prestige. From this point of view, nothing new. Instead, what is new is the social awakening we observe.

Awakening or return to old forms of struggle?

Superficially, the claims were sectoral and to movement seemed not to care about the general state of society. But if we look at both the reactions of the strikers and the attitude of the majority of the population, it is evident that at the heart of this struggle was something else: a deep rejection of the status quo in general. The strikers were unable to express this rejection by individual claims. Because these claims, by their nature, do not take into account the overall situation, we come inevitably to an impasse. On the other hand, the strikers – except students, although this is still questionable – could not create forms of self-organization to enable them to escape from the union patronage. I have been talking for a long time now about the privatization of individuals, their withdrawal into the private sphere, their indifference to public affairs. It is the dominant tendency of modern societies. It is not the only one, we do not yet live in a dead society, a society of manipulated individuals. The movements of November-December show this. Men and women continue to be ready to act to defend their living conditions. But two huge obstacles are opposed to this. On the one hand, the results of the double fraudulent bankruptcy of the communist and socialist “Left”: deep disappointment and heavy disorientation, which will not soon be overcome. On the other hand, the fact that the survival of a reformed capitalism becomes increasingly unlikely. Almost everywhere, the system attacks the partial reforms it had consented to in the last century, and its outcome (wild globalization under the emblem of ‘liberalism’) makes it less and less possible to maintain very different national circumstances. The vastness, interdependence and complexity of the issues arising from this, make individual demands seem unrealistic and doomed most of the time to failure. So discouragement grows and privatization is enhanced.

How do you explain the fact that the employees of the private sector did not side with those of the public sector?

They showed their sympathy, but there is a huge fear of unemployment and layoffs. Rising unemployment is now registered in the logic of globalization of capitalism, and this is not going to change by the meager and ridiculous measures of the French government. Beyond that, the increase in unemployment was welcomed by the managing layers, who at the moment prefer a significant margin of unemployment to “discipline” their employees. The essential thing is that a company with good management has no reason to invest in France, while it may in China or elsewhere to pay wages corresponding to a twentieth or fortieth of the French and European wages in general. Since the liberalization of capital movements, thanks also to the European Union, there is no longer a hindrance to this process. Apart from two or three exceptions, there is a risk to go towards a desertification of the old industrialized countries – similar, in infinitely greater scale, to the one that struck the mining areas in Western Europe since 1960.

Don’t you believe that the Maastricht Treaty can be a factor of social progress?

You know, I have always been an internationalist, and therefore a supporter of a union of European peoples. But this has nothing to do with what happens in the case of the European Community. This association has no real meaning, and would be realistically possible only if they were political in principle. It is clear that, at present, almost no one wants a political union, nor the people nor the directing oligarchies. Faced with this reality, invented a false good idea, a minor technocratic finding, the monetary union. But how could a monetary union operate without a common economic policy? And who else could impose common economic policy other than a political power? Indeed, this is about to happen in secret. The German desire for economic and political hegemony in the long term gradually draws its path. Europe has indeed been a Deutsche mark zone since 1980, and this situation is established by Maastricht. Mr. Trichet boast for the independence of Banque de France – which dares not blink without permission from Bundesbank. And the Bundesbank invariably follows a policy oriented to the “stability of the currency value”• briefly, a deflationary policy. But for capitalism to be able to keep going with zero inflation, it will necessarily have to create unemployment.

And what would the solution be for you?

There can be no solution without radical changes in the organization of society. For this thing, but we could talk another time if you want.

[1] Plan of November 15, 1995 on pensions and social security, which took its name from the French Prime Minister of the time Alain Juppe.