Cornelius Castoriadis

1922 - 1997

Cornelius Castoriadis

Cornelius Castoriadis was a Greek-French philosopher, social critic, economist and psychoanalyst. He was the author of The Imaginary Institution of Society, and co-founder of the Socialisme ou Barbarie group.

His writings on autonomy and social institutions have been influential in both academic and activist circles.What distinguished Socialisme ou Barbarie from many other revolutionary groups was its idea that socialism meant not rule by a "leading party" versed in Marxist theory but workers' management of production and society.

Developing his concept of "bureaucratic capitalism," Castoriadis asserted that the main struggle had become that between "executants," or "order-takers," and "directors," or "order-givers." A resistence to this process, expressed initially in cooperation among "informal groups" at work, also encouraged a tendency toward autonomous action that could serve as a basis for the transformation of society, he argued. With a managerial bureaucracy in state-run enterprises, private businesses, and top-down, integrated unions replacing capital ownership as the distinguishing feature of capitalism, those who perform the tasks of production had to be encouraged to participate and to show initiative. At the same time, however, management found that it must combat independent decision-making on their part. Out of the experience of the Hungarian Revolution Castoriadis composed his classic statement of how a self-managed society might work. Still today, "On the Content of Socialism" serves as a reference point for libertarian socialists.

In 1967 Socialisme ou Barbarie disbanded, but its key ideas continued to gain ground helping students to turn May '68 into the largest strike France had ever known. Calls for "autogestion" (self-management) in universities and factories echoed his 1949 manifesto, "Socialism or Barbarism," and appeals to the "power of the imagination" recalled his final S. ou B. text.


Castoriadis Works in English:

Archives in English in International Marxists’ Archives

Cornelius Castoriadis Agora International Website