Socialism or Barbarism

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Cornelius Castoriadis (1922—1997)

Guy Debord (1931—1994)

Jean-François Lyotard (1924—1998) French philosopher and literary critic

Marxist criticism

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A political group so-called because of the journal they established of the same name, which ran for 40 issues. Formed in response to Tito's break with Stalin in 1948 by a breakaway group from the Trotskyist Parti Communiste Internationaliste which included Cornelius Castoriadis, Guy Debord, Claude Lefort, and Jean-François Lyotard, Socialism or Barbarism was essentially Marxist in its outlook yet, paradoxically, broke with virtually every major tenet of Marxism in the course of its nearly two decades of effective life. The group's name was taken from a line by Rosa Luxembourg and reflected the conviction that a Third World War was inevitable, and following that the choice would be between socialism or barbarism, and that it was necessary to begin preparing for that moment. The group folded in 1965 because internal tensions reached such a high point it became impossible to continue. During its lifespan the membership of the group never rose above 100, but its influence was felt more widely than that number suggests. The group's two main theorists were Castoriadis and Lefort, both of whom also wrote under pseudonyms (Pierre Chaulieu and Claude Montal respectively). Anti-Stalinist in its outlook, the group was against all forms of bureaucracy and favoured worker-led councils instead. It agitated in factories, particularly the Renault factory in Billancourt which would be at the centre of the events of May '68, although it never had more than a few members who were actually blue-collar workers. Its peak period was in the early 1950s following Stalin's death when both the Korean War and the war in Algeria gave fresh impetus to the group's aims. Interestingly, although Castoriadis tried to revive the group following May '68 it proved impossible. Influential in its time, the group has faded from view, largely because its economic prognoses have not panned out.

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.

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