Let us review the story so far. For the last three years, we have been working our way through all three (rather long and dense) volumes of Cornelius Castoriadis's Political and Social Writings (translated and edited by David Ames Curtis, and published by the University of Minnesota Press between 1988 and 1993). A former Trotskyist born in Greece, Castoriadis founded the ultraleftist group Socialisme ou Barbarie [Socialism or Barbarity] in Paris in 1949, and published a great many essays in the eponymous journal published by that group until its dissolution in 1967. Curtis's superb three-volume anthology includes essays written as early as 1946 and as late as 1979. Previously unknown to us, these essays have been and continue to be extremely useful (in part because they are both informative and insightful, and in part because they clearly had a strong and enduring influence on the Situationist International, the revolutionary group that has had a strong and enduring influence on ). Even if we were to complete our anticipated trilogy of articles on Political and Social Writings as planned, we would barely scratch the surface of the ground covered by these three books.
In Workers' Councils, Cornelius Castoriadis and the Situationist International (NOT BORED! #26, December 1996), we reported the little known fact -- at least among American situationists of our generation -- that the situationist Guy Debord had briefly been a member of and, one might say, received his education in the history of the workers' movement thanks to Socialisme ou Barbarie, to which he belonged in 1960. Our essay traced the post-1960 influence of the writings of the S. ou B. group and Castoriadis upon Debord and the other situationists, as well as noted that this influence primarily consisted in the situationists' sudden adoption of and repeated insistence upon the theme of workers' councils (long one of Castoriadis's central concerns). Our essay also criticized the situationists, both for hiding their significant indebtedness to the excellent work done by Castoriadis and the S. ou B. group all through the late 1940s and 1950s, and for heaping indiscriminate and undeserved abuse on them, Castoriadis in particular. (One of the enduring effects of this abuse -- whatever its purpose back in the day -- is that people who are today turned on to politics, sometimes for the very first time, by the situationists know absolutely nothing about the people the SI insulted, people such as Henri Lefebvre, Daniel Guerin, and Castoriadis.)
Because "Workers' Councils, Cornelius Castoriadis and the Situationist International" was intended to follow-up on commentary we'd previously made upon the manner in which the American section of the Situationist International adopted the "situationist" theme of the councils (Highway 69 Revisited, NOT BORED! #25, May 1996), our essay did not mention or discuss all of the other "classic" situationist themes that (it turns out) have their roots in the work and writings by Castoriadis and S. ou B. One might do a detailed study of the date and manner of appearance in situationist writing of such original Castoriadian concepts as "bureaucratic capitalism" (adopted wholesale and without attribution by Debord in The Society of the Spectacle) and the fundamental split in capitalist society between "directors" and "executants" (adopted wholesale and without attribution by Raoul Vaneigem in The Revolution of Everyday Life).
What would be accomplished by such a study? On the one hand, it would add to the on-going posthumous evaluation of the extent and nature of S. ou B.'s and Castoriadis's influence on the young radicals who rose up en masse in May 1968. While the influence of the situationists on these young radicals has been well-documented (in part because some of the situationists were themselves among the young radicals who rose up), the direct and indirect influence of the S. ou B. group upon them has not. This is unfortunate, because Castoriadis's after-the-fact evaluation of the May 1968 revolt was quite different from that of the situationists. Somewhere between the situationists' triumphant proclamations and Castoriadis's sober reservations about what "really" happened lies an accurate, comprehensive and tempered version of May '68 that will help rather than hurt our current efforts to incite and participate in similar revolts.
On the other hand, a detailed study of S. ou B.'s influence on the Situationist International would aid in the constructive de-mythification of the situationists, who were able to (re)contextualize a variety of ideas in such a way that, although some or even most of these ideas were originally given form by other people, they came across as though they could only be situationist ideas. The presence and role of Raoul Vaneigem would be central here, for, according to Pierre Guillaume (a member of S. ou B. in the early 1960s), it was through S. ou B. that Vaneigem originally entered the SI, and it was as a result of the Belgian wildcat strikes of 1961 -- documented and praised in S. ou B.'s journal, but not in the pages of Internationale Situationniste -- that Vaneigem became interested in joining a revolutionary organization. (To the extent that situationist writing -- especially Vaneigem's The Revolution of Everyday Life -- remains exciting to read, while some or even most of the writing published in S. ou B.'s journal is not [and perhaps never was] exciting to read, an evaluation of the manner in which the situationists plagiarized or "detourned" such Castoriadian concepts as "self-management," "bureaucratic capitalism" and "directors/executants" would be quite useful to contemporary polemicists, propagandists and agitators.)
In Cornelius Castoriadis, 1922-1997 (NOT BORED! #29, July 1998) -- the second installment of our anticipated trilogy of articles about Political and Social Writings -- we contrasted the respective attempts of the SI and S. ou B. to "re-orient" themselves in the early 1960s, that is to say, at a time when revolutionary struggles, after a long hiatus, began to break out, not only in the "socialist" bureaucratic countries, but in the capitalist "democracies" as well. (One might say that what the SI and S. ou B. were really doing in the 1961 to 1962 period was re-orienting themselves in the light of their contact with each other.) Our second essay noted that, unlike the SI (which flourished in the mid-1960s and thus was able to play a direct role in the May 1968 uprisings), S. ou B. was unable to re-orient itself adequately, and was forced to disband itself in 1967 -- a fact we tried to explain by highlighting Castoriadis's lack of attention to the form of revolutionary exposition and action, and to his over-emphasis upon content. We associated this imbalance with an inability to communicate effectively with rebellious student youth, precisely the people who rose up with so much style in May 1968.
Had "Cornelius Castoriadis, 1922-1997" not been narrowly focused on May '68 (the revolution that Castoriadis neither anticipated nor totally approved of), it would have included a discussion of all of the formal, "youth-oriented" things that S. ou B. and Castoriadis -- unlike the situationists -- didn't have a feel for: late 19th century French poetry; modern art (especially Dada and surrealism); popular culture in all its forms (including street posters and graffiti); architecture, urbanism, and social space; and intoxication, passion, desire and love. Indeed, though Castoriadis continued writing (and continued writing well) long after the dissolution of S. ou B., so far as we can tell he never took up these "situationist" themes. (Note that "Social Transformation and Cultural Creation," the only essay on music in volume three of Political and Social Writings is totally untroubled by the sudden appearance of punk, despite being written in December 1978.) As for Debord and Vaneigem, they continued to dwell within "romantic" themes -- poetry, modern art, and so forth -- in their various works, long after the dissolution of the SI and long after they stopped talking about workers' councils and directors and executants. (Note that Debord says nothing about workers' councils in the film version of The Society of the Spectacle, despite the importance given to them in the book version.)
In a certain sense, what is truly remarkable about the relationship between the SI and S. ou B. is not the fact that, after brief contact in 1960, the former adopted and popularized certain key themes of the latter -- it's the fact that the two organizations, despite the agreement they came to have for a brief moment in time, were so different from each other in the pre-1960 period. Unlike the very cool and "ultra-modern" Situationist International, S. ou B. was a very traditional revolutionary organization (despite breaks with "paleo-Marxists" in 1959 and again in 1962) whose roots lay in the dissident factions of the French Communist Party and the Fourth International. The roots of the SI, in sharp contrast, lay in revolutionary surrealism. Which is the stranger of the two, a group of ex-Trotskyists embracing workers' councils a good 30 years after Trotsky's suppression of the Kronstadt uprising or a group of ex-surrealists discovering workers' councils a good 5 years after the Hungarian Revolution (in which the councils played a prominent role)?
Castoriadis himself "came a long way." In the late 1940s, he was a Marxist, a member of the French Communist Party, and a (dissident) Trotskyist. By the early 1960s, Castoriadis was no longer a member of the Communist Party nor was he a (dissident) Trotskyist. Indeed, though he remained a proponent of radical autonomy, generalized self-management and workers' councils, Castoriadis wasn't (even) a Marxist anymore, a point to which we will return. Compare Castoriadis's trajectory to that of Debord, who, in the early 1950s, was a surrealist-inspired poet, filmmaker, and flaneur. By the early 1960s, Debord was a Marxist theoretician and a founding member of an increasingly formal revolutionary organization. Who is the stranger of the two, the former Communist Party member who renounces Marx but remains a partisan of workers' radical self-management, or the former surrealist who becomes a Marxist and a partisan of workers' councils?
The obvious answer is that both trajectories are passing strange. The temptation to stage a speculation (or series of speculations) about the two of them meeting in the night is strong. Castoriadis writes in "The Diversionists," a stiff essay from 1977 included in volume three of Political and Social Writings: "You can search with a magnifying glass for one single sentence in Sartre, Levi-Strauss, Lacan, Althusser, Foucault, Barthes, etc., that is even remotely relevant either for the preparation of May '68 or for its subsequent comprehension" (emphasis in original). But what about Debord and Vaneigem? What about Rene Vienet, author of a book on the subject? But, all told, it would be just too strange to try to position the very different trajectories of Castoriadis and Debord along a common axis, or to imagine what S. ou B. would have been like if Debord had remained a member, or what the SI would have been like if Castoriadis had become a member.
It is, therefore, with some embarrassment that we recall that the conclusion of "Cornelius Castoriadis, 1922-1997" calls for a third article from us that would bring together into one "image" the best aspects of the SI and S. ou B. When we made this call, we imagined that we'd "take" from the situationists their style (their love of scandal; their youthfulness; their passion and reckless creativity) and from Castoriadis and the other members of S. ou B. their smarts (their thoroughness and patience; their knowledge of relevant facts; their insistence on informed judgments based on accurate information). We imagined that we'd be able to envision a group 1). that was organized like the SI (unstable, intentionally small, and nonhierarchical); 2). that was composed of people such as were attracted to the SI (painters, writers, and architects, on the one hand, and profligates, hedonists and criminals, on the other), as well as those who were attracted to S. ou B. (professors, union militants, and dissident Party members); and 3). that was capable of speaking intelligently about both complex economic and political issues, and complex aesthetic and social issues.
But it just won't work. The whole project is too mechanical, too much of an abstract or speculative enterprise. Fuck! Combining the "best" of one long-defunct revolutionary organization with that of another long-defunct revolutionary organization -- why bother? It isn't the early-1960s anymore! It's more than 35 years later, and it is quite possible (even likely) that neither the SI nor S. ou B. are particularly relevant to today's conditions. But, even if it were, metaphorically speaking, "still 1962" -- even if it still made sense to speculate upon the possibility that the radical elements in the SI and S. ou B. might have joined together in 1962 and formed a new revolutionary organization that would still be relevant today -- there is a problem that will not be ignored or easily resolved. And that problem can be indicated by the words "Marx and Marxism." Rather than being the grounds upon which the meeting between the SI and S. ou B. could or might take place, Marx and Marxism are the chasms that separate the two groups from each other.
From very early on, Castoriadis realized that the rejection of Stalinism -- that is, the rejection of what "socialism" had become in "Soviet" Russia -- necessitated or entailed the rejection of central, even fundamental, aspects of Marxism itself. In "The Problem of the USSR and the Possibility of a Third Historical Solution" (originally written in 1947, first published in 1949 and reprinted in the first volume of Political and Social Writings), Castoriadis insisted that the very fact that neither (true) "socialism" nor "barbarism" (another word for capitalism) was instaurated by the October 1917 Revolution meant that Marx -- as well as Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky -- had been wrong about the historical process (the very thing that Marx and the Marxists claimed that they and they alone had mastered). For Marx as well as for Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky -- that is, for what Castoriadis called "the classical schema for the end of capitalism from Marx to Trotsky" -- it was inevitable that, faced with the choice between socialism and barbarity, the international working class movement would eventually choose the former. But what was instaurated in "Soviet" Russia was in fact "a third historical solution," one not foreseen by any of the great Marxists, including Marx himself: the instauration of the modern bureaucratic state.
Though Trotsky granted that the unprecedented growth of the bureaucracy under both Lenin and Stalin was regrettable, he continued to remain faithful to Marxism's unwavering belief in the "scientific" inevitability of socialism. Consequently, Castoriadis and his comrades (Claude Lefort, among them) broke with the Trotskyists, who obstinately refused to draw and act upon the following obvious conclusions, which Castoriadis draws in "The Problem of the USSR and the Possibility of a Third Historical Solution": 1). "The historical process is neither fated nor necessarily determined in advance," and 2). "The historical process does not follow a straight and narrow line of ascent."
But Castoriadis's real disagreement was with Marx. "But we must go back even further," Castoriadis writes in "On the Content of Socialism, II," originally published in 1957 and reprinted in the second volume of Political and Social Writings; "we must go back to Marx himself." For it was Marx himself who insisted on -- who attacked Bakunin and the anarchists because they refused to recognize and act in accordance with -- the "scientifically" verifiable "facts" that capitalism would be overthrown in a Western European industrialized nation (not in a backward Eastern European nation such as Russia), that capitalism would be overthrown by a mass uprising of the revolutionary proletariat (not by a palace coup), and that "the dictatorship of the proletariat" would instaurate socialism (not the modern bureaucratic state) in place of capitalism. To Castoriadis, these mistakes were not small, incidental or limited, but indicative of the essential uselessness of Marxism as an effective revolutionary theory in the second half of the twentieth century.
All through the 1950s -- that is, long after dispensing with the Trotskyists -- Castoriadis continued to criticize the writings of Marx. Indeed, Castoriadis's break with the classical Marx-Trotsky scheme grounded all of his later work in the S. ou B. period, and beyond. In his "General Introduction" (1972), reprinted as the preface to volume one of Political and Social Writings, he states, "There is not, as Marxism implied, borrowing a three-thousand-year-old belief, an irresistible advance toward truth in history, neither under its liberal-naive-scientistic form nor under some form of dialectical accumulation." Within this general critique of the historical process as it is theorized and practiced by Marx and the Marxists, Castoriadis offers a number of very valuable examples of Marx(ism)'s blindness to various forms of contingency, which, as T.J. Clark shows in both The Painting of Modern Life and Farewell to an Idea, is the very essence and expression of modern society. We have already seen that "the classical schema for the end of capitalism from Marx to Trotsky" is blind to the historical contingency of socialism. But Marx and the Marxists were also blind to the organizational contingency of capitalist production.
In "On the Content of Socialism, II" one of his most important essays, Castoriadis writes,
Marx shed a great deal of light on the alienation the producer experiences in the course of the capitalist production process and on the enslavement of man by the mechanical universe he has created. But Marx's analysis is at times incomplete in that he sees only alienation in all this. In Capital -- as opposed to Marx's early writings -- it is hardly brought out at all that the worker is (and can only be) the positive vehicle of capitalist production, which is obliged to base itself on him as such, and to develop him as such, while simultaneously seeking to reduce him to an automaton and, at the limit, to drive him out of production altogether. Because of this, the analysis fails to perceive that the primary crisis of capitalism is the crisis at the point of production, due to the simultaneous existence of two contradictory tendencies, neither of which could disappear without the whole system collapsing. Marx shows in capitalism "despotism in the workshop and anarchy in society" -- instead of seeing it as both despotism and anarchy in both workshop and society. This leads him to look for the crisis of capitalism not in production itself (except insofar as capitalist production develops "oppression, misery, degradation, but also revolt," and the numerical strength and discipline of the proletariat), but in such factors as overproduction and the falling rate of profit. Marx therefore fails to see that as long as this type of work persists, this crisis will persist with all it entails, and this not only whatever system of property but also whatever the nature of the State, and finally whatever even the system of management of production [even if it is "socialist"].
Even back in Marx's time, workers experienced more in the capitalist production process than simply alienation and enslavement, though alienation and enslavement were undeniably and unfortunately part of that experience. Producers (factory workers) also experienced participation in what industrial sociologists term "elementary groups," that is, the informal bands that must be created and officially or unofficially allowed to function if the production enterprise is to work at all. For capitalist enterprises -- especially large-scale enterprises -- do not actually function simply or only according to the way they were designed or according to the way managers want them to function. They function only because the workers at the point of production have discovered and collectively implemented all of the various but absolutely necessary short-cuts and modifications without which the production process would not in fact function properly. By the very requirements (complexity and scale) of capitalist production -- by virtue of the "collective reality of production" -- the worker can never be simply or only the negative vehicle of capitalist production, the only-temporarily-necessary element in the process that eventually will be totally replaced by machines. The worker must also be the "positive vehicle" of capitalist production; the worker must always be involved in the day-to-day practical aspects and applications of the very process that is nevertheless designed to exclude him or her. This organizational contingency was the fundamental contradiction of capitalism in Marx's time and -- long after capitalism solved its strictly economic problems with the falling rate of profit and over-production -- it remains capitalism's fundamental contradiction.
Not surprisingly, there is no contingency when it comes to commodified labor, according to Marx and the Marxists. In "The Question of the Workers' Movement" (an important essay written in 1973 and published in volume three of Political and Social Writings), Castoriadis starts with the classic Marxist notion (and now a commonplace of bureaucratic thought) that, in the employer-employee relationship, "a quantity of 'commodity' labor power" is sold or exchanged for "a quantity of money, that is, wages."
But are these definite quantities? [Castoriadis asks]. Apparently so: so many hours of work, so much in wages. In reality, however, absolutely not: labor power is not a commodity like any other, not only because it "produces more than it costs its buyer," but because it is indefinite in advance in its concrete content -- which makes it a commodity only in a formal and empty sense -- and ultimately because it is not a commodity at all. When the capitalist buys a ton of coal, he knows [exactly] how much heat he can extract from it; for him, the business is settled. When he buys a day of work, the matter has only begun. What he will be able to extract from it in terms of actual output will be the stakes in a struggle that does not stop for a second during the entire workday.
Quite obviously one cannot codify and enforce an unchanging "law of value" or even a provisional "labor theory of value" if the amount of value extracted from labor or the cost of labor per workday is always contingent upon the outcome of myriad daily struggles. One can't adequately define and contest capitalist alienation at the political or "world-historical" level if one pretends it that it isn't being effectively contested every single day at the point of production. One can't base a theory of alienation or a theory of "commodity fetishism" on the fiction that, because labor power has become "completely" commodified, the commodity-form now dominates all of society. And yet these are precisely the things that both Marx and Marxism set about doing -- forming an army of worthless concepts.
As serious as these wounds are (on their own they could prove fatal), Castoriadis's analysis reveals other and far more serious casualties among the upper echelons of central Marxist concepts and "revolutionary" practices. "When workers launched wildcat strikes to win a fifteen-minute coffee break," Castoriadis writes in "The Question of the Workers' Movement," "trade unionists and Marxists tended to consider such a demand as trivial or indicative of the workers' backwardness." But, "by lodging such a demand, the workers were challenging the very foundation of the capitalist organization of the business enterprise and of society -- namely, that man [sic] exists for production -- and they opposed to this the principle of organizing production around the needs and life of man [sic] the producer." (The reason for the Marxists' long-standing and unbroken tradition of denigrating and even helping to suppress these revolutionary struggles is clear to Castoriadis: "autonomous and anonymous collective activity, implicit and informal struggle on the part of workers has no place in the traditional conceptualization." We might add that Marxism is also hostile to autonomous and anonymous [leaderless] collective activity because there is no place for it in Marxism's hierarchical and authoritarian organizational practice.)
What Castoriadis has revealed is that both revolution and capitalism are themselves contingent. Capitalism it does not develop according to pre-determined economic laws or its own "logic"; it develops as a result of the daily struggles at the point of production. "Through its activity, the proletariat, going on two centuries, has profoundly modified its situation in capitalist society, as well as this society itself," Castoriadis observes. Conversely, in these daily struggles, the working class movement does not confront an enemy that remains unchangeably the same. The boundaries, if you will, between capitalism and socialism -- and between reformism and revolutionary action -- are always shifting and thus difficult to precisely determine, but especially "scientifically" and once-and-for-all.
Therefore, if we notice that capitalism has the uncanny ability to adapt and to survive all kinds of crises -- or that capitalism changed its strategy in the 1950s and has since then "endo-colonialized" the inhabitants of the First World -- we must conclude that one of the prime causes of these changes and adaptations has been the conscious, collective and revolutionary actions of the international working class movement. Contrary to Marx, it turns out that, in Castoriadis's words, "the objective assigned to the working class, the historical role inscribed in its position within the capitalist relations of production, was to maintain capitalism against everything that capitalists represented and immediately aimed for; for those who think the cunning of reason is at work in history should have the courage to say that it has made of the proletariat not the gravedigger, but the savior of capitalism."
But this last point does not mean that for Castoriadis revolution -- the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement with genuine socialism -- is impossible. (Both the situationists and our previous essay on Castoriadis have made this erroneous claim.) Only a Marxist would believe that the proletariat and (the) revolution are inseparable, that giving up on one is giving up on the other. One of the challenges made by Castoriadis's "The Question of the Workers' Movement" is to re-examine this movement before the appearance of Marx (especially the English struggles in the 1820s) -- that is to say, before Marx introduced into this movement his only original contribution, which was the always already poisonous and ultimately fatal idea of "the dictatorship of the proletariat" -- and conceptualize it without recourse to any Marxist concepts. (Though Castoriadis doesn't say so, it seems clear that anarchists are best suited to this on-going theoretical enterprise.) A related challenge to the international revolutionary movement is not to find the (one) social class that "really" is the vanguard or embodiment of anti-capitalist and anti-bureaucratic revolution -- and that would be "put in the place" of the proletariat -- but to promote generalized autonomy and self-management among all people. "What was intended by the term 'socialism' we henceforth call autonomous society," Castoriadis writes in "Socialism and Autonomous Society," the last essay in volume three of Political and Social Writings; "An autonomous society implies autonomous individuals -- and vice versa. Autonomous society, autonomous individuals: free society, free individuals."
Unlike Castoriadis, Debord and the other situationists never realized or allowed themselves to admit that the rejection of Stalinism necessitated or entailed the rejection of fundamental aspects, if not the whole theoretical apparatus, of Marxism. Despite all of their "detournements" of Marx, the situationists remained Marxists all through the 1950s and 1960s. (Indeed, as we can see in the case of Professor T.J. Clark, some situationists remain Marxists long after they've stopped being situationists! One imagines the same thing is true for such other English-speaking ex-situationists as Donald Nicholson-Smith and Bruce Elwell. . . .) Significantly, the Marxism of Debord and the SI is not seen in some quarters as the central weakness of situationist theory, but as its strength, as the very quality that sets it apart from (on a higher level than) other contemporary critical theories.
This is in fact the argument of young Anselm Jappe's recent biography Guy Debord, which is shortly to be published in an English edition that will have a preface by T.J. Clark. Jappe's very traditional (boring) book, which is actually about the critical theory of the spectacle, and not about Guy Debord, places Debord's theory squarely in line with Marx's theory of commodity fetishism and Lukacs' theory of reification. Hardly a new idea! But the problem -- more intense here because Jappe presses the point so hard -- is the fact that it is all-too-fitting to position the critical theory of the spectacle along this axis. Marx and the great Western Marxists: this is the company Debord wanted to keep. Bakunin and the other anarchists and Pannekoek and the other council communists were just so many big sticks with which to thrash the Stalinists.
If we review what we have just seen of the blindness of Marx(ism) to various forms of contingency -- the historical contingency of socialism, the organizational contingency of capitalist production, the contingency of "commodified labor," and the contingency of capitalism and revolution -- we quickly find that the only blindness not evinced by Debord and the other situationists concerns the historical contingency of socialism. The situationists do not expect "miracles" from the working class, Debord writes somewhere in The Society of the Spectacle. Hardly "adventurists," the situationists certainly knew how to wait, and didn't become impatient, suspicious, or bitter during the very years (1964 and 1965) in which Castoriadis and the other S. ou B. radicals found no reason to stay together. Unfortunately, all the other forms of contingency pass in the night without being visible to Debord the Marxist.
Against the background of Castoriadis's critique of Marx, certain passages of Debord's The Society of the Spectacle read like a caricature and not a detournement of Marxism. This is from Thesis 31:
Workers do not produce themselves: they produce a force independent of themselves. The success of this production, that is, the abundance it generates, is experienced by its producers only as an abundance of dispossession.
Who is Debord to make such a sweeping generalization about all producers all over the world (or even just Western Europe), who are employed in a staggering variety of productive enterprises? Nothing backs this statement up -- what possibly could? For surely there are producers who, despite the degradations they are forced to endure at work day after day after day, actually enjoy those things that they have created with their fellow workers; surely there are producers who are not "fragmentary individuals completely cut off" from the production process. Otherwise, what could explain the obviously genuine feelings of brother- and sisterhood among unionized workers? Absolutely nothing. Elsewhere in The Society of the Spectacle (Thesis 42), Debord writes:
With the advent of the so-called second industrial revolution, alienated consumption is added to alienated production as an inescapable duty of the masses. The entirety of labor sold is transformed overall into the total commodity. A cycle is thus set in train that must be maintained at all costs: the total commodity must be returned in fragmentary form to a fragmentary individual completely cut off from the concerted action of the forces of production. [Emphasis in original.]
"The entirety of labor sold" -- how much is that, exactly? Over what period of time is that value calculated: a fiscal year? a fiscal quarter? a business day? an honest hour? It is clear that one can at best or must speak of an average here: "The time in question is always that which is needed on average to manufacture a particular product in a given society under working conditions," Anselm Jappe writes in Guy Debord. But an average won't do here; it is too imprecise, too contingent. Despite Jappe's belief that "more complicated jobs have a value that is simply a multiple of that of simpler ones (i.e. a greater quantity of simpler labor)," things aren't that simple, don't "add up" so neatly. Doesn't the value of the labor that has been purchased vary according to the effectiveness of the labor-extraction process? Are there not some set-backs experienced along the way that are so serious that they completely wipe out the successes of the past? What sense is there in averaging those set-backs in with a series of successes that turned out to be temporary? None. And so there is no fucking way "the entirety of labor sold" is going to be "transformed overall" into anything, not even "the total commodity," because the entirety of labor sold can only be approximated, that is, rendered on a contingent basis.
And so we are forced to conclude that, in order to get rid of Stalin, you must get rid of Marx, too; and, if you do get rid of Marx, you must get rid of Debord, as well. Not that Debord is to be likened to Stalin -- Debord wasn't an authoritarian, mass murdering dictator, and wasn't likely "to become one" if he ever came to power. But Debord based his entire theory of the spectacle-commodity upon Marx's theory of commodified labor: the former, putatively the most radical theory of the alienation experienced in consumption, was designed to be the complement of the latter, putatively the most radical theory of the alienation experienced in production. They fit all too well. If one goes down, the other goes down with it.
We can still hold on to Castoriadis, it seems, but this is a decidedly mixed blessing. As we showed in "Cornelius Castoriadis, 1922 to 1997," his writing is short on precisely the rhetorical and emotional satisfactions contained in the best writing by Debord and the other great situationists. There are other problems as well: Castoriadis appears to have spent far too much time writing about getting rid of Marx: indeed, a good deal (far too much) of Castoriadis's The Imaginary Institution of Society (translated by Kathleen Blamey and published in 1987 by MIT Press) is taken up with this subject. Thus it seems premature on Castoriadis's part to replace "socialism" with "autonomous society," when there has been absolutely no discussion of anarchism, and its various relationships to Marxism, socialism, and autonomy. All of this has been left up to us to do. Enough preparation then: let's get to it.