The Working Class and Organisation

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(1922 - 1997)
Cornelius Castoriadis[a] (Greek: Κορνήλιος Καστοριάδης;[b] 11 March 1922 – 26 December 1997) was a Greek-French philosopher, social critic, economist, psychoanalyst, 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. (From :


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The Working Class and Organisation

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This document contains 6 sections, with 17,187 words or 109,324 characters.

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Introduction The organizations created by the working class for its liberation have become cogs in the system of exploitation. This is the brutal conclusion forced upon anyone who is prepared to face up to reality. One consequence is that today many are perplexed by an apparent dilemma. Can one become involved without organization? And if one cannot, how can one organize without following the path that has made traditional organizations the fiercest enemies of the aims they originally set out to achieve? Some believe the question can be approached in a purely negative way. “Experience shows,” they say, “that all working-class organizations have degenerated; therefore, any organization is bound to degenerate.” This is basing too much on experience — or too little. Up to now all revolutions either have been crushed or have degenerated. Are we to deduce from this that all revolutionary struggle should be abandoned? The defeat... (From :

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1. Socialism: Management of Society by the Workers One fact, because of its direct and indirect consequences, has dominated human history in the twentieth century: The working class carried through a revolution in Russia in 1917. Far from leading to socialism, however, the revolution finally resulted in the coming to power of a new exploiting class: the bureaucracy. Why, and how, did this happen? In 1917 the Russian proletariat mobilized itself to destroy the power of the Czar and of the capitalists and to put an end to exploitation. It took up arms and organized itself in factory committees and soviets to conduct this struggle. But when, after a long civil war, the remnants of the old regime had been cleared away, economic and political power were once more found to be concentrated in the hands of a new group of leaders, centered around the Bolshevik party. The proletariat did not take over the management of the new society — which is... (From :

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2. The Degeneration of Working-Class Organizations The evolution of workers’ organizations can be understood only in this context. For a century the proletariat of all countries has been setting up organizations to help them in their struggle, and all these organizations, whether trade unions or political parties, ultimately have degenerated and become integrated into the system of exploitation. In this respect it matters little whether they have become purely and simply instruments of the State and of capitalist society (like the reformist organizations), or whether (like the Stalinist organizations) they aim to bring about a transformation of this society, concentrating economic and political power in the hands of a bureaucratic stratum while leaving unaltered the exploitation of the workers. The main point is that such organizations have become the strongest opponents of their original aim: the emancipation of the proletariat. Of course this i... (From :

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3. A New Period Begins for the Labor Movement Under what conditions can this situation change in the future? First, the experience of the preceding period will have to allow revolutionary militants and workers alike to become aware of the contradictory and, basically, reactionary elements in their own and the other’s conceptions and attitudes. Militants will have to overthrow these traditional ideas and come around to viewing revolutionary theory, program, politics, activity, and organization in a new way, in a socialist way. On the other hand, the proletariat will have to come around to seeing its struggle as an autonomous struggle and the revolutionary organization not as a leadership responsible for its fate but as one moment and one instrument in its struggle. Do these conditions exist now? Is this overthrow of traditional ideas an effort of will, an inspiration, or a new, more correct theory? No, this overthrow is made possible from now on b... (From :

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Remarks This text and the following one [Trans.: i.e., “The Proletariat and Organization, II,” which is not included in the present edition] were written during the summer of 1958 and circulated within the S. ou B. group in the autumn of the same year. The references to Claude Lefort’s text, around which the comrades who left the group were united, are given later. I do not have anything of great import to add to the description of circumstances surrounding this scission furnished in the following text, for otherwise I would have to go into detail about the history of the group from its beginnings, a task that does not strike me as particularly urgent today. On the antecedents to this whole discussion, see also “Postface to The Revolutionary Party and Proletarian Leadership,” L’Expérience du mouvement ouvrier, 1: Comment lutter (10/18, 1974), pp. 163–78. [Trans.: see volume 1 of the present edition for excerp... (From :

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Notes: The analysis of this question has occupied a central place in the work of Socialisme ou Barbarie. We can only summarize our conclusions here. See “Socialism or Barbarism,” “The Relations of Production in Russia,” “ On the Content of Socialism I,” etc. Attempts have been made for a long time to reduce the factors that brought about the degeneration of the Russian revolution to the international isolation of the revolution and to the backward state of Russia. This “explanation” explains nothing: International isolation and the backwardness of the country could just as well have led (purely and simply) to the defeat of the revolution and to the restoration of capitalism. Such considerations do not in any way explain how the revolution both “succeeded” and degenerated at the same time. To place the emphasis on these factors is both to conceal the particular h... (From :


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