Cornelius Castoriadis(1922–97) was a Paris-based Greek political philosopher and psychoanalyst. Born in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) and educated in Greece, Castoriadis lived in France from the end of the Second World War until his death. At 15 he joined the Kommounistike Neolaia (Communist Youth) in Athens and in 1941 he joined the Communist Party but left after only a year to become a Trotskyist. His association with communist groups caused him considerable trouble during the Nazi occupation of Greece. When he moved to Paris he joined the Trotskyist Parti Communiste Internationaliste, but cancelled his membership after three years in response to Tito’s break with Stalin in 1948 and helped to establish the breakaway group (which included Guy Debord, Claude Lefort, and Jean-François Lyotard) who have come to be known by the name of the journal they founded, Socialisme ou Barbarie (Socialism or Barbarism).
The Socialism or Barbarism group was always very small, but its journal provided an important outlet for Castoriadis. He did not obtain an academic job until very late in life and for most of his professional career, he was employed as an economist by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Most of his early writings were written under a variety of pseudonyms which include Paul Chardan and Pierre Chalieuand many others.
His work as an economist influenced his view of Marxism. Although a committed Marxist, Castoriadis was anti-Soviet. He saw the USSR as a bureaucratic state rather than a communist country and was highly critical of its centralized power structure. He came to reject Marxist economic theories and focused more on the idea of revolution, stressing that it was the spirit not the doctrine of Marx that was important. Then he also started to move in this period towards a more psychoanalytic view of the world as he tried to understand the relationship between individuals and social formations.
He trained as a psychoanalyst (though not with Jacques Lacan or his Ecole Freudienne) and obtained a licence to practise in 1974. His most well-known publication is L’institution imaginaire de la société (1975), translated as The
Imaginary Institution of Society (1987), in which Castoriadis set out to articulate his theory of the autonomous subject. For Castoriadis the subject is not completely self-producing; he or she must constitute themselves using the pre-existing resources of society. So revolutionary change can come only insofar as it is possible to increase one’s autonomy in relation to these resources of the psyche. This was consistent with his earlier political writings that insisted neither capital nor the state could be entrusted with the control of society and that the only hope for socialism lay in the autonomy of the workers.
His other works include Le Contenu du socialisme (On the Content of Socialism) 1979, Capitalisme moderne et révolution (Modern Capitalism and Revolution) 1979, Domaines de l’homme (Domains of Man) 1986, Le Monde morcelé [World in Fragments], Sur Le Politique de Platon (Commentary on The Statesman of Plato) 1999, L’Imaginaire comme tel (The Imaginary As Such), 2008, La Culture de l’égoïsme (The Culture of Egoism) 1986, etc.
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