- Tiny heresies -
SMW: When you came by the other day, you brought with you those red publications, maybe some old magazines. You never pulled them out, but your bag was filled with them. Why? What were they for? Days later, I was still left with that image of that pile stuck in your bag… those bloody red spines.
FL: Recently I have been following the strands of a history of para-academic institutional critique, which involved the problem of freedom in artistic creativity. The only transgression to a lengthy and miserable trend of cultural seriality – you won't believe it – was found in Socialisme ou Barbarie, an editorial project dating back to 1949, founded by Cornelius Castoriadis and a few others in Paris. That's the project that you saw in my bag, you actually saw the physical copies. Socialisme ou Barbarie offered in its periodical outputs, elements for a different understanding of the world we live in, for a different understanding of the goals of social change, and for a different understanding of the historical world.
SMW: How long did they do it for?
FL: Over two decades, the group tried to develop a new perspective on human society and human history as creation and not as subject to iron historical laws, which was an idea of Marx – these iron historical laws, which express in Marxism the survival of the capitalist element, also express his theory-centric element, this speculative element, which he himself was criticizing, though he never, really, managed to overcome.
SMW: That's interesting, as being effectively critical of Marxism, but able to argument that critique in a way that is accessible, can that be a tool used for something completely different? Maybe we still need to wonder, what is Marxism when it is not a state ideology?
FL: That's a great question! Well, when Marxism is not a state ideology, it remains a tiny heresy, it remains a sect, an affair of 5-10-15-20 people who think that they are the only, the real, the right Marxists. If someone went back and checked everything that has been written by all the sects, by these tiny heresies, he/she would see that the work accomplished, not only from the practical standpoint but also from the standpoint of ideas is – zero. The Trotskyists continue to repeat the same thing, which was the same thing that they were saying back in 1938, and so on.
SMW: Unlike in the time of Socialisme ou Barbarie, the concept of culture today is deeply reactionary – more reactionary than ever. Generally, cultural producers – in particular, those who have a more or less stable position within the production world – seem to accept the formal conditions imposed to their practices and modalities of work.
FL: Culture is nothing but a way of separating semiotic activities into spheres to which people are referred. These isolated activities are standardized and capitalized to suit the dominant mode of semiotization – basically, they are cut off from their political realities.
SMW: Culture as an autonomous sphere only exists in terms of markets of power, economic markets, and not in terms of production, creation, and real consumption. But then, on the other side of the same hemisphere, there are also some who believe that: “Life is like a performance, one must construct it, work at it, singularize it” (Guattari, 1989).
FL: It's an ongoing aesthetic-existential process, for everyone. Did you know that, philosophy and democracy were born at the same time and in the same place. Their solidarity comes from the fact that both express the refusal for heteronomy – the rejection of the claims to validity and legitimacy of rules and representations just because they happen to be there, the refusal of any external authority.
SMW: The struggle for democracy is the struggle for true self-government.
FL: Yes. And the project of collective autonomy means that the collectivity, which can only exist as instituted, recognizes and recovers its instituting character explicitly, and questions itself and its own activities. In other words, democracy is the regime of political self-reflectiveness.
SMW: So the problem in the modern, western capitalist society is obviously not an economic problem. The problem is not the pauperization of the proletariats, either relative or absolute, but it is elsewhere.
FL: The problem is that of freedom for the people within production. The problem is in their everyday lives, in the education, in the family.......
SMW: The main difficulty with modern societies is not about finding the forms that would retain or renew the spirit of direct democracy – I mean, creating forms that wouldn't be alienating, where people participate in modern societies – since that can only be the work of the people in its entirety and not of some theorist or some artist saying: “here is the recipe”.
FL: We are constantly asked to correspond to the outrageous conviction that there are people who have a political episteme, political-scientifical knowledge, and who can decide for us. Now, that is false, and the Greeks knew it. And I maintain that they were right. There is no political science, except in the academical sense, but that's not what interests us. In politics we should only have doxa, that is to say, opinion. Political debate is a debate among opinions. The challenge now is to have the faculty to decide in full knowledge about the relevant facts, discuss different opinions, with different arguments. The citizens of antiquity really thought that the community, the polis, was their affair.
SMW: They had a passion for that. Modern individuals don't have a passion for that. We now have long periods of greater or lesser political apathy, during which common affairs are managed by professional politicians, and then we have, in paroxysmal ways, things like crisis, revolutions. Because, obviously, the professionals managing the political domain have gone too far. Or what they do no longer correspond to what society wants. Society can't find normal channels to express its will, so political activity can only occur now in this paroxysmal form of crisis that arise every ten, twenty, forty, fifty, seventy etc. years.
FL: Ongoing historical movements that foster people's creative assertion of their autonomy do exist. The beginnings of autonomy as a social-historically effective project, for example, can be dated and located. It began in Greece and took place in the Greek poleis from the eighth to the fifth century B.C., to be repeated in another form in the buerger cities that arose at the end of the Middle Ages in Western Europe. Reflection itself as well as effective judging and choosing are historical in character and have their origin in ancient Greece.
SMW: What Greek philosophy makes possible is not (religiously) instituted ideas and beliefs, but dozens of different schools of thought transcending geographic and ideological borders. And what's remarkable, is not a Greek “model” of democracy and politics, but the ongoing instituting activity it fostered for four centuries.
FL: Yes, because these four centuries were characterized by the constant, permanent participation of citizens in the political body. And that only is an incredible achievement, it's incredibly inspiring. We can try to re-think – our relationship to law, our relationship to collectivity, our relationship to power.
This conversation between Francesca Lacatena and Susanne M. Winterling in June 2015.
It has been one of the guiding lines of Pandora`s box thereafter.