Cornelius Castoriadis (11/03/1922 - 26/12/1997)

Cornelius Castoriadis Cornelius Castoriadis was a Greek philosopher, economist and psychoanalyst. He was one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century. One of his most important books is The Imaginary Institution of Society, and his thoughts on autonomy and societal classification have influenced both academics and revolutionaries.

His family was from Istanbul but relocated to Athens after his birth in 1922. He was deeply influenced by his family; his father was passionate for knowledge, an atheist, antimonarchist, while his mother was well educated and had a passion for music. Cornelius started studying philosophy when he was 12, while his first contact with Marxism was one year later. He actively participated in politics for the first time in 1937, during the Metaxas dictatorship, by becoming a member of the Communist Youth Federation of Greece (OKNE) and the Communist Party (KKE). During the German Occupation, in 1941, he formed a group against KKE and later, he became a member of a Trotskyism group, which resulted in his prosecution both by Germans and Communists.

He studied Law and Economics at University of Athens. During the events of December 1944, he criticized the actions of KKE and left for Paris. There, although he initially enlisted in a Trotskyist group there, he decided to abandon it in 1948. At the same time, he started working at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and retained that position for 22 years. In 1946, along with Claude Lefort, he created the group “Socialisme ou Barbarie” and published a homonymous journal, which published articles by many French intellectuals, such as Jean-Francois Lyotard and Guy Debord. Castoriadis’ opinion on the political system of the USSR is characteristic of the mentality around which this journal was created; he characterized the Soviet system as a type of “bureaucratic capitalism”, which was formed when a new ruling class, bureaucracy, emerged around communism. Concerning the “liberal democracies” of the West, he believed that the main criterion of the societal class system is no longer having control over production lines, but the ability to exercise power.

Although his views were popular among many revolutionary circles of various countries, he wasn’t particularly known, as he had to publish his views under pseudonyms, because he did not have the French citizenship yet and was afraid of being deported back to Greece. The group disbanded in 1967, but its thoughts inspired students in the events of May 1968. In 1970, Castoriadis received the French citizenship and turned to psychoanalysis, which from this point forward characterizes his thought process. In 1979, he was elected director of Ecoles des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, while in 1989 and 1993, he was proclaimed Philosophy Doctor at Panteion University of Athens and Democritus University of Thrace respectively. He died in 1997.

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