Wednesday, March 21, 2007


I've just had a brief introduction to the 1940-book by Sartre called L'Imaginaire. It became very clear that Sartre ends up with several problems in this book, which Castoriadis's concept of the (radical and social) imaginary adresses, and solves very well. I believe that Castoriadis must have worked specifically with - and up against - this thought of Sartre's in his own main work, The Imaginary Institution of Society. However, I have never heard mention of any connections between these works. Does anyone know if there has been written papers or articles that investigate the connections between them?

Ingerid S.


At 2:20 AM, Anonymous Ottó Másson said...

I haven't read that book of Sartre's. But Castoriadis himself, when asked whether he was influenced by it, said: 'I think I come from a completely different direction. Sartre's imaginary or imagination is purely negative. It is the possibility of envisaging that something could not be. It's a negativizing faculty of the ego. For me, it's just the opposite. It's the capacity to posit something which is not there.' ('Institution and Autonomy', in P. Osborne (ed.), A Critical Sense, London 1996, p. 10.) He then goes on to explain how important this difference is, saying that his own conception, being constitutive, has more in common with that of Kant.

So he certainly doesn't acknowledge that he had been influenced by Sartre. But then, of course, Castoriadis after 1952 tended to be very dismissive of Sartre's work in general.

At 8:49 AM, Anonymous Ingerid S said...

Thanks for this. I understand the difference between the two concepts in exactly the same way. Sartre was very concerned that one should not confuse the imaginary with the real. But then he is not able to explain how works of art, or something new more generally, are brought about.

This is probably a revealing question - but what happened in 1952?

At 12:10 AM, Anonymous Ottó Másson said...

In that year Sartre, who had been an independent leftist and publisher of Les temps modernes for a few years, started leaning more seriously towards the 'official' Communist movement, the French CP in particular - at a time when the cold war was quite intense. Sartre wrote an essay called 'The Communists and Peace' to explain this new position. He was severely criticized by many on the far left, including Ernest Mandel (leader of the Trotskyist movement), Claude Lefort and Castoriadis.

The French CP was extremely big in the immediate post-war period, and also very staunchly Stalinist. Being an independent, critical leftist at the time was obviously quite difficult. Simone de Beauvoir's novel 'The Mandarins' gives one a pretty good idea of the whole situation from her and, to some extent, Sartre's, point of view. Socialisme ou Barbarie maintained their strongly independent stance throughout the 50s, - and much of the time it was a walk in the desert.

At 12:47 PM, Anonymous Ingerid S. said...

I would like to know whether the French "commies" saw the division between maoists and sovietcommunists as equally important - or could one perhaps adhere to both directions at the same time? Well, probably not, as cessations was the rule of the left ...

At 9:22 PM, Anonymous Ingerid S. said...

Sorry, part of the comment above got lost. What I had intended to ask was whether Mr. Másson or somebody else could say a few words on maoism vis a vis stalinism/soviet communism in post war France. My country, Norway, held a ridicilously large contingency of maoists in the 1970's. These were obsessed with the Norwegian soviet communist party, whom they thought would seize power when (sic!) the USSR would invade Norway. Thus they spent most of their energy on secret organization and spying on the soviet communists - using coded messages, wigs, rubber gloves and secret agents. The whole works.

My question was whether the divide between maoists and stalinist was equally stark in France, or whether for instance Sartre was sympathetic to both.

At 6:25 AM, Anonymous Ottó Másson said...

The question bears on a great many things, in fact. The 'official' world Communist movement was formally united in the Comintern or 'Third' Communist International until that organization was dissolved during WWII (in 1943). After the war a whole new situation had arisen, as new Stalinist regimes came to power in Czechoslovakia and most Eastern European countries, usually (though not always) on the strength of Soviet armies. Under these circumstances, Moscow saw fit to replace the Comintern by the more strictly top-level Cominform; and of course there were organized relations through the Warsaw pact, etc. between the CPs of the Eastern bloc. The Communist movement thus remained more or less a monolithic unity in Stalin's lifetime, the only exception being disputes with Tito in the wake of the Yugoslav revolution; and these didn't affect the unity of the international communist movement.

However, 1949 also saw Mao Zedong come to power. Now, the Chinese revolution wasn't directly controlled by Moscow, but was obviously an event of tremendous importance, and signaled the emergence of a new, quasi-independent Communist/bureaucratic regime and bastion of power. If any dispute between Moscow and Beijing were to arise, it thus inherently risked destroying the unity of the world movement. On the surface relations between the two communist big powers remained very friendly until the Sino-Soviet dispute finally erupted in about 1959-60.

As for how this translated into French left-wing politics, first of all, the CP was very big, but also (as previously mentioned) very staunchly Stalinist, much more so than the Italian CP, for instance. The PCF was an extremely bureaucratized organization, and one that was thus pretty oppressive for any independently minded leftists. Predictably, it remained sympathetic to Moscow throughout. It's ranks however, had been affected by the Sino-Soviet dispute; Louis Althusser for instance, unlike Sartre, was a member of the party, and his sympathy with Beijing, even if somewhat muffled, wasn't very hard to detect in his famous early 1960's essays. There weren't any direct threats to the organizational unity of the PCF to speak of, however. The independent Maoist groups only became stronger as a result of the so-called Cultural Revolution in China - it was presented as an anti-bureaucratic crusade by the rank-and-file of the party and of the 'people of China', etc. and thus seemed to underline the specificity of Maoist ideology vis-a-vis the boring Brezhnev regime in Moscow, etc. The Maoist groups, in the context of the French far left in the late 1960's, were certainly a force to reckon with, and they were overwhelmingly composed of very young members. Their impact on the events of 1968 however was quite negligible; they were ideologically much too rigid and organizationally way too bureaucratic to gain much ground in that context - by contrast, the Trotskyists under the leadership of Alain Krivine et al. were able to co-operate much more easily with Cohn-Bendit, Sauvageot and others from the student movement.

Sartre was outraged by the invasion by the Warsaw pact into Czechoslovakia in 1968; it was in fact the final end of his sympathy with the USSR - he openly condemned the invasion, and never went to the USSR again (he'd been there innumerable times in the 60's for both personal and political reasons). For a while after this he leaned heavily towards the Maoists - nominally assuming editorship of 'La cause du peuple', for instance.

In general, the conflict between the Moscow-leaning communists and the Maoists by this time and well into the 1980s was extremely hard. The Maoists saw the USSR as a social-imperialistic super-power on the rise, and thus as more dangerous to progressive forces everywhere than Washington. This was obviously a pathetic excuse of an ideology, and of course allowed Chou En-Lai and Mao Zedong to friendly shake hands with Richard Nixon in 1973. Moscow returned their compliments in kind.


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