(Excerpts of) (a) talk given by ‘Paul Cardan’ (Cornelius Castoriadis). Issued as a pamphlet by Solidarity (London) a month later in June 1965. (Solidarity pamphlet No. 23).
THE CRISIS OF VALUES
Let’s start from an aspect which traditional Marxists consider just part of the ‘superstructure’ of society, as a derived and secondary phenomenon, but which we consider to be very important, i.e. the crisis of social and human values.
No society can exist without a set of values which are recognized in practice and adhered to by the quasi-totality of its members. The problem here is not to know if these values are right or wrong — or whether they conceal real mechanisms whereby some people succeed in exploiting others. For the cohesion, for the working of all the societies we have known — even of societies divided into classes — such a set of values has proved necessary. They are what constantly orients the actions and motives of people and makes them cohere into a social whole. This function cannot be ensured just by violence or coercion, nor even just by the penal law, which says ‘you ought not to do this, otherwise you go to prison’. There must be something more. After all the law only states what is prohibited. It cannot provide positive motives, a positive orientation enabling people to fill the content of social life.
Now we all know (it has been said for a long time but this does not diminish the importance of the phenomenon) that such a set of values, such a system of accepted goals and common beliefs as to what is right and what is wrong, what ought to be done or not done (irrespective of what the penal law says) hardly exists any more in today’s society.
There was a problem in all societies, in all historical phases, about the place of man in the world and about the meaning of life in society and of life in general. Every period of history attempted to give an answer to these questions. The problem here is not whether these answers were right or wrong but the mere fact that an answer was forthcoming gave a cohesion, a sense of purpose, a sense of meaning to the people living in these periods. But today there is no clear answer. We know very well that religious values are out, for all purposes practically finished. What used to be called moral values (inasmuch as they can be distinguished from religious values) are also practically finished. Are there really any accepted moral standards left in today’s society ?
At the level of officiality, of the powers that be, of the press, etc, there is just an official hypocrisy which almost explicitly recognizes itself as sheer hypocrisy, and does not even take its own standards seriously. And in society at large there is an extremely widespread cynicism, constantly fed by the examples provided by social life (scandals and so on). The general idea is that you can do anything and that nothing is wrong, provided you can get away with it, provided that you are not caught.
What in Western Europe had appeared for some time to be a sort of universal value welding society together, namely the idea of the nation, of national power, of national grandeur, is no longer an accepted value. What was after all its real basis — or the pretence of a real basis — has disappeared. In the past it was often a mystification when great nations pretended that they were playing important roles in world affairs. But today no nation can claim this except for America and Russia. And even for them this ‘leading role in world affairs’ is clearly seen as being just an entanglement in the impasse of nuclear power.
Could knowledge or art provide values for society today ? First of all let us not forget that knowledge or art are important or have meaning, at least today, for only very limited strata of the population. More generally, in history, wherever art has played a role in social life, it has never been as an end in itself. It has been as part of a community which was expressing its life in this art. This was the case in the Elizabethan period. It was the case in the Renaissance. It was the case in Ancient Greece. The Greeks or the people during the Renaissance did not live for art, but they put great value into their art because they recognized themselves and their problems in it. Their whole life had a meaning which was expressed in its highest form in this artistic creation.
What about knowledge ? Again in the strict sense, it is limited today to a small minority. And there is a tremendous crisis developing in science. This has followed the increasing division within particular spheres of knowledge, the increasing specialization, the fact that a scientist today is necessarily someone who knows more and more about less and less. At least among scientists who take a broad view there is a deep feeling of crisis in relation to what even yesterday was considered to be the solid basis of factual knowledge. Newton thought he was discovering eternal truth, that he was reading a page out of the eternal book of nature or of God’s creation. Today no scientist believes that in discovering a ‘law’ he is discovering an eternal truth. He only knows that he will perhaps be the object of three lines in a history of physics or of chemistry where it will be said ‘attempts to explain the peculiarities of this experiment by W. in 1965, provided some hopes that led to theory X. This however was later superseded by the construction of theories Y and Z.’
Scientists themselves, like Oppenheimer for instance, are dramatically aware of yet another aspect of the crisis. It is that with this specialization they have not only isolated themselves from the whole of society but that they have also isolated themselves from each other. There is no longer any scientific community with a common language. As soon as you go beyond the limits of a speciality, people cannot really communicate, because there is so little common ground.
What is happening, in these circumstances ? What values today does society propose to its citizens ? The only value which survives is consumption. The acquisition of more and more, of newer and newer things is supposed completely to fill people’s lives, to orient their efforts, to make them stick to work, etc. I won’t dwell much on all this, which you all know very well. I’ll only stress how much all this — even as a mystification — is only a partial and unsatisfactory answer. Already today people cannot fill their lives just by working to earn more money, in order to buy a more modern TV set and so on and so forth. This is felt more and more, The profound reason for this feeling is of course that in its content this consumption does not express organic human needs. It is more and more manipulated, so that purchases can become an outlet for the ever-growing mass production of consumer goods. This whole pattern of existence almost by definition becomes absurd. The value which having newer and more things can possess is caught up in a process of perpetual self-refutation. It has no end. The only point is to have something more, something newer. People become aware of what in the USA is now called the ‘rat race’. You just try to earn more so that you can consume more than the neighbours. You somehow value yourself more than the neighbours because you have a higher consumption standard, and so on.
Now let us pass to another sphere : the sphere of politics. Everybody is familiar with the crisis of politics. It has been talked about for a long time, under, the term ‘apathy’. What is apathy and what are its roots ?
After a certain historical development both the State and various other institutions (like local government) became increasingly bureaucratized, like everything else in modem society, Political organizations — not only the bourgeois, conservative political organizations, but the political organizations created by the working class to struggle against the ruling class and their State — and even the trade unions were involved in this process. Irrespective of its other aspects, this bureaucratization meant that people were excluded from running their own affairs.
The fate of trade unions is now more or less left to appointed officials, to people elected for long periods. These people act in such a way that the rank and file are prevented from expressing their views. They are prevented from having any genuine activity within the union. The rank and file serve as a sort of support, paying fees and obeying orders. From time to time they are even given orders to strike. But they aren’t supposed to have a real say in all this. By a natural reaction the rank and file estranges itself from the organization, be it the trade union or the Party.
I don’t know how far this has already gone in Britain, but on the Continent we are familiar with trade union branch meetings where the two or three appointed officials turn up and perhaps half a dozen other persons, out of 200 people who were supposed to be there, Now, of course, when this happens a sort of vicious circle is set up. The bureaucracy argues : ‘You see ! We call upon people to come along and discuss their affairs. They don’t ! Somebody has to take over to solve all these problems» So we do it. We do it for them, not for our own sake.’ This is partly propaganda and self-justification by the bureaucracy but it is also partly true, What is not usually seen is that this vicious circle always started at some specific point where the wish and tendency of people actively to participate, to take over their own affairs, was opposed and finally destroyed by the will of the bureaucracy, using all the means at its disposal.
The same thing happens in the purely political organizations. These are bureaucratized. They keep people away from active participation except in periods of ‘crisis’ when the rulers may suddenly call on people to help. This is exactly what de Gaulle did in France, in 1960. He appealed over the radio : ‘Help me against the revolt in Algiers !’ Of course he had previously produced a constitution, whereby the population would be kept firmly in place for 7 years. Then, just like that, when a crisis arose, he called for help. Did he expect people to take the equivalent of their Morris Minors to the airports, and help fight the parachutists from Algiers ?
There is a growing consciousness in the population at large that politics today is just a manipulation of people, a manipulation of society to serve specific interests. The phrase ‘they are all the same gang’ (which you often hear ‘apathetic’ or ‘non-political’ people use) expresses first of all an objective truth. It also expresses, as a first approximation, a very correct attitude. It has been perceived, after all, that those who compete to rule society are all part of the same gang.
This was even recognized, during the 1959 General Election, by the serious bourgeois press (papers like the Economist and the Guardian). They complained that there was no discernible difference between the Tory and Labour programmes. This was very bad, because the beauty of British democracy was that it worked on a system of two parties. But in order to have two parties you must have something which makes the two parties really two, and not just two faces of the same gang. There must be some real differences, at least in what they say, if not in what they do. Today these ‘differences’ are less and less.
What is the end result ? Parties (and, in the case of the USA, presidents) cannot claim support on the basis of ideas or of programmes. Presidents or parties are now sold to the population, like various brands of toothpaste. An ‘image’ of Kennedy, or of Johnson, of Sir Alec or of Wilson is created. Public relations experts ask themselves ‘Isn’t Wilson coming over as too much of an egghead ? Shouldn’t he say something or other to correct this impression ? What should he do to get support from that 5% sector of the electorate who really likes Sir Alec because he is rather stupid and who don’t want a Prime Minister who is too clever ? Shouldn’t Wilson try to say something stupid next time ?’
In the end politics becomes practically undistinguishable from any other form of advertising or sale of products. In this respect the products are immaterial, though they matter in other respects.
I will not dwell on the fact that all this does not just create a subjective crisis. It isn’t just that we resent the fact that society is run this way. All this has objective repercussions. In an Italian town, during the Renaissance, a tyrant might have succeeded in keeping the population cowed. But a modern society, with its established rules and deep-going institutions, cannot be managed on this basis, even from the point of view of the rulers themselves. It cannot be run with the total abstention of the population from any intervention or any control in politics, for there is then no control by the reality on the politicians. They run amok and the result is, for instance, Suez. Here again the crisis impinges upon the workings of society itself. (http://libcom.org)
Οι ρίζες του μίσους
«Υπάρχουν δύο ψυχικές εκφράσεις του μίσους: το μίσος για τον άλλο και το μίσος για τον εαυτό μας, το οποίο συχνά δεν παρουσιάζεται ως τέτοιο. Αλλά πρέπει να καταλάβουμε ότι και τα δυο έχουν κοινή ρίζα, την άρνηση της ψυχικής μονάδας να δεχθεί αυτό που για την ίδια είναι ξένο. Η οντολογική αυτή διάρθρωση του ανθρώπου επιβάλλει αξεπέραστους εξαναγκασμούς σε κάθε κοινωνική οργάνωση και σε κάθε πολιτικό πλάνο. Καταδικάζει αμετάκλητα κάθε ιδέα για μία«διαφανή» κοινωνία, κάθε πολιτικό πλάνο που αποσκοπεί στην άμεση οικουμενική συμφιλίωση.» (http://www.tovima.gr/culture/article/?aid=530904)
Δημοκρατία και κοινοβουλευτισμός
«Θα ήθελα να σας μιλήσω για τα σημερινά προβλήματα της δημοκρατίας, λέω σημερινά προβλήματα της δημοκρατίας και όχι προβλήματα της σημερινής δημοκρατίας γιατί δημοκρατία σήμερα πραγματικά δεν υπάρχει πουθενά -υπάρχουν το πολύ φιλελεύθερες ολιγαρχίες σε ορισμένες χώρες, σχετικά προνομιούχες, προνομιούχες από πολλές απόψεις. Πρέπει να είμαστε τώρα πάνω από πέντε δισεκατομμύρια άνθρωποι πάνω στη γη, είναι ζήτημα αν υπάρχουν 500 ή 600 το πολύ 700 εκατομμύρια ανθρώπων που ζουν σε χώρες όπου η πείνα δεν είναι καθημερινό πρόβλημα, όπου η καταδίωξη, η φυλάκιση,η ανελευθερία δεν είναι η καθημερινή πραγματικότητα. Αλλά και σε αυτές τις οικονομικά αναπτυγμένες και πολιτικά ας πούμε φιλελεύθερες χώρες η κατάσταση ενώ φαίνεται περίπου βιώσιμη είναι στην πραγματικότητα απελπιστική. Είναι απελπιστική γιατί ο καθένας δυστυχώς δεν κοιτάει πιο μακριά από την μύτη του, τα προβλήματα που αντιμετωπίζει σήμερα η ανθρωπότητα είναι τεράστια, είναι πρώτα-πρώτα το πρόβλημα που ανάφερα προηγουμένως ότι τα 6/7 εάν όχι τα 7/8 του κόσμου ζούνε σε ένα καθεστώς φτώχειας και τεράστιας καταπίεσης.» (http://eagainst.com/articles/democracy-parliament/)
ΚΟΡΝΗΛΙΟΣ ΚΑΣΤΟΡΙΑΔΗΣ – Παρασκήνιο ΕΤ-1