Wilhelm Reich’s synthesis of Marxism and psychoanalysis

Back in June, in a post fea­tur­ing cri­tiques Karl Korsch and Georg Lukács wrote on Freu­di­an psy­cho­ana­lys­is, I an­nounced that I’d shortly be post­ing a num­ber of works by the Marxi­an psy­cho­ana­lyst Wil­helm Reich. A couple days earli­er, of course, I’d pos­ted an ex­cel­lent piece by Ber­tell Oll­man on Reich from his 1979 es­say col­lec­tion So­cial and Sexu­al Re­volu­tion. Need­less to say, this post is long over­due.

Some brief re­marks are there­fore ap­pro­pri­ate, in passing, to frame Reich’s rel­ev­ance to the present mo­ment.

First of all, Reich is rel­ev­ant to con­tem­por­ary dis­cus­sions of fas­cism. His work on The Mass Psy­cho­logy of Fas­cism re­mains one of the most in­nov­at­ive and pro­found Marx­ist ef­forts to un­der­stand ideo­logy as a ma­ter­i­al force that has ap­peared to date.

Moreover, this forms a pivotal point of de­par­ture for a host of sub­sequent at­tempts to the­or­ize re­volu­tion­ary sub­jectiv­ity — both in terms of con­scious­ness and of de­sire. To­mor­row or the next day I hope to jot down some of my own thoughts on the mat­ter, us­ing Reich for ref­er­ence.

Last but not least, Reich’s thoughts on sexu­al eman­cip­a­tion are con­sid­er­ably ahead of their time. Con­sider, for ex­ample, this ex­cerpt from one of his journ­al entries dated 1939, while in Oslo:

The past few nights I wandered the streets of Oslo alone. At night a cer­tain type of per­son awakes and plies her trade, one who these days must view each bit of love with great fear but who will someday hold sway over life. Today prac­tic­ally a crim­in­al, to­mor­row the proud bear­er of life’s finest fruits. Whores, os­tra­cized in our day, will in fu­ture times be beau­ti­ful wo­men simply giv­ing of their love. They will no longer be whores. Someday sen­su­al pleas­ure will make old maids look so ri­dicu­lous that the power of so­cial mor­al­ity will slip out of their hands. I love love!

While some of his views on ho­mo­sexu­al­ity might seem an­ti­quated or back­wards today — he saw it as a de­vi­ant be­ha­vi­or, linked to lat­ent au­thor­it­ari­an tend­en­cies — the fact re­mains that Reich favored de­crim­in­al­iz­a­tion and pro­tested adam­antly against its re­crim­in­al­iz­a­tion in the So­viet Uni­on un­der Stal­in.

In­cid­ent­ally, this is why I find it so ab­surd that left­ists look to ex­cuse Castro’s ho­mo­phobic policies pri­or to 1980. Eduard Bern­stein was pro­mot­ing gay rights dur­ing the 1890s, and Au­gust Bebel ad­voc­ated the re­peal of laws against sod­omy as early as 1898.

Re­gard­less, here are the prom­ised PD­Fs, along with some rare im­ages and a trans­lated art­icle by the Itali­an Trot­sky­ist Aless­andro D’Aloia. I have taken the liberty of de­let­ing some need­less asides about the Big Bang, a pe­cu­li­ar hangup the In­ter­na­tion­al Marx­ist Tend­ency re­tains with re­spect to the­or­et­ic­al phys­ics des­pite none of its mem­bers be­ing qual­i­fied enough to judge the mat­ter.

Continue reading

Юлий Мартов, «Религия и марксизм» (1909)

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The following article on “Religion and Marxism” was written by Iulii Martov, one of the leading Mensheviks (along with Georgii Plekhanov). It was published in the journal On the Brink in 1909, and responds to the first volume of Lunacharskii’s Religion and Socialism, as well as some occasional pieces by Nikolai Berdiaev and Dmitrii Merezhkovskii. Martov also takes aim at Georges Sorel’s conception of “social myth” and the beautiful words of Benedetto Croce.
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«Мы стараемся показать», говорит в предисловии к своему французскому сборнику г-н Мережковский, «что последний смысл русской революции остается непонятным, вне понимания мистического»). Юродствующий во Христе писатель может позволить себе роскошь откровенно признаться в научной непознаваемости «тайны» пережитого Россией общественного кризиса. Эта роскошь недоступна общественным деятелям, принимающим непосредственное участие в социальной борьбе и слишком близко соприкасающимся с ее грубой реальностью. Это не значит, однако, что «мистическое понимание» недавних событий привлекало к себе мысль одних лишь чудодеев ого человечества и человекобожества.

На заре закончившегося периода отечественной истории народническая мысль нашла в идее «не буржуазного, но демократического» переворота формулу достаточно-мистического проникновения в сущность надвигавшейся стихии.

На закате того-же периода, переработав все противоречивые впечатления бешеной пляски общественных сил, марксистская мысль большевистского толка, отчаявшаяся дать научную формулу» сущности русской революции», мистически постигла последнюю, как лежащую» на границе» между переворотом буржуазным и переворотом социалистическим (формулу дал К. Каутский и одобрил Н. Ленин).

Действительный, объективный смысл пере-жевавшегося «сдвига» упорно не давался познающей мысли и, жаждая «синтеза», она склонялась к интуитивному восприятию того, что составляло «душу событий».

Побежденные общественные движения не раз уже оставляли по себе осадок мистической реакции. Ее знала и революция 1789-1798 г., и революция 1848 года, и русское движение 70-тых г.г. Интересно, однако, что потер певшая жестокое поражение Коммуна 1871 года не имела такого идейного эпилога. Быть может, потому, что она была первой — и до сих пор последней — революцией не буржуазной, пролетарской? Есть все основания думать, что это так. Но еслиб это было так, то отсюда следовало бы, что наша отечественная «смута», несомненно? оставившая по себе еще не исчерпанный осадок мистицизма, eo ipso должна быть зачислена по ведомству движений буржуазных. Этот вывод может, на первый взгляд, показаться парадоксальным. И, однако, это так буржуазному перевороту имманентно присуще глубокое противоречие между бытием и сознанием, между тем, что он есть в действительности, и тем, как он себя сознает, между объективными задачами, выполняемыми его участниками, и идеальными целями, которые они себе ставят. Тайна этого неизбежного противоречия не заключает в себе ничего мистического: она вся, целиком, коренится в условиях существования и развития буржуазного общества. Но раскрытие этой тайны, практическое преодоление этого противоречия само предполагает эмансипацию от условий существования буржуазного общества эмансипацию, возможную лишь в процессе хвостанные» против этого общества и на достаточно высокой стадии борьбы с ним. Continue reading

“¡Que viva Mexico!” Eisenstein in North America (1931)

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For anyone who’s interested in this sort of thing, Experimental Cinema was basically an organ of Soviet avant-garde movie-making published in English. It includes articles written by Sergei Eisenstein, Béla Balázs, Dziga Vertov, Vsevolod Pudovkin, and numerous others from that milieu. El Lissitzky and Aleksandr Rodchenko were employed as photographers for the journal. You can download a few issues published between 1930 and 1934 courtesy of the Internet Archive. Movie posters for some of the films discussed in its pages can be found in my post from a few days ago on the Stenberg brothers.

The following review of Eisenstein’s unfinished masterpiece, Que viva México!, was written by the American filmmaker and studio producer Morris Helprin. At the time, both he and his wife were committed communists. Later, Helprin became president of London Films in Hollywood (one article in Experimental Cinema called Hollywood “the sales agent of American imperialism”). Still, quite a neat summary and some behind-the-scenes details. If you’re interested in reading more about it, you can download the following texts or watch the full-length movie below.

Eisenstein in Mexico

Morris Helprin
Experimental Cinema
September 1932

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“Que Viva Mexico!”

It is the first film made in the Western hemisphere to assume the mantle of maturity. The furthest step yet from the idiocies of corn-fed Hollywood. It turns its tail up at the banal; thumbs its nose at the benign. It is pictorial rhetoric of such vital force that it thunders and roars. Yet it contains every aspect of the popular cinema.

QUE VIVA MEXICO!

That day at Los Remedios, when we walked over the hills in search of a suitable location, served as an indication of Eisenstein’s preciseness, his exciting demands that his subject be even in quality. All Mexico around us was “beautiful enough to swoon in.” Here was no prettiness of the postcard cinema, none of your oak-paneled pictures that need but sprinklings of chemical brilliants to turn them into revolting chromes. The top of a mountain and an ancient aqueduct jutting at a seven-thousand foot height into a stilled canopy of swan-white clouds. You could set your camera down at almost any spot and grind. And have a beautiful scenic.

But the Russian, followed hastily by Tisse, his cameraman, Aragon, a young Mexican intellectual who serves as a guide, interpreter, and go-between, a camera boy, and myself, trailed by five peons who were the day’s actors at a peso each, led a frantic chase to find the spot. Following which were at least a dozen of the spots. Continue reading

Open source Marxism: Free PDFs from Historical Materialism, Verso, and Jacobin

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UPDATE: Though the links below are no longer working, some hero bundled the entire contents of this post into a torrent that can be downloaded from The Pirate Bay.

Stumbled across an amazing database of free Marxist PDFs, the posts of which seems to be password protected but whose files are nevertheless accessible. (You can click any of the hundreds of links below to download them directly, since the post itself is locked). Even if these get taken down, as seemed to happen with the Fuck V£R$0 blog a few years ago, the cat is already out of the bag. As Novara Media pointed out following the Lawrence & Wishart copyright controversy in 2014, once published these things tend to obey the logic of the so-called “Streisand effect.” They explained that “[the] attempt to ban or censor something will tend to increase its prominence and breadth of dissemination. The instantly and near-infinitely replicable quality of digital information makes this easy.”

In their view, this is just one of “Seven Reasons ‘Radical’ Publishers are Getting OWNED by the Internet.” You should really read the whole article; it’s quite good. With Lawrence & Wishart, the outcry over their exclusive claims to ownership over material that should be made available to all was nearly universal. However, publishing tycoons such as Sebastian Budgen — until recently a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party in Britain (prior to its 2013 rape scandal), commissioning editor of Historical Materialism, Verso Books, New Left Review, and now also Jacobin — take exception when similar demands are placed on books released by their own companies. Budgen of course claims that the printing presses he works for are not ordinary companies, but rather integral parts of a “counterhegemonic apparatus” that will someday challenge hegemonic capitalism.

The Association of Musical Marxists captured this hilarious sense of exceptionalism on their “Sebastian Budgen Memorial Download Page,” featuring one of his trademark outbursts against those who illegally download books:

Before the internet people had to actually go to the photocopying shop. Now they don’t even have to do that and they are outraged when they can’t download the stuff for free. Fuckers – I hate them so much…

I make a distinction between the honest downloaders who do it discreetly and will spend money when they have it and the loud-mouthed freeloading scum who have no interest in or understanding of how to build a counterhegemonic apparatus.

I’m not just interested in people being customers but in recognising, to the extent that they are leftists, that they should be involved in building a counterhegemonic apparatus. The anarchoids and lazy leftists of today don’t get that so they act like the lowest petty bourgeois individualist swine.

Usually rhetoric denouncing “lazy fuckers” and “freeloading scum” comes from neoliberal demagogues, who want to gut social welfare programs and impose austerity. Not this time, though. This time it’s straight from the mouths of counterhegemonic apparatchiks, tilting at windmills in order to protect intellectual property. Pretty pathetic, if you ask me. Whoever uploaded these PDFs has it more right, to my mind: “Knowledge must be held in common.”

Erik Olin Wright, in his book Envisioning Real Utopias (ironically published by Verso), went so far as to claim online file-sharing as an “interstitial strategy” that can “subvert capitalist intellectual property.” I personally doubt whether acts of petty piracy can undermine capitalist social relations, but maybe it’s significant as a utopian impulse. Better to just recognize file-sharing as an unavoidable fact, and that embarrassing hissy fits like the one above only encourage practitioners to download harder.

Maybe I’d feel a bit worse about linking to all these texts if Budgen weren’t such a whiny crybaby. Hard to sympathize with him, however, after he put out this ridiculous burn notice against me a couple months back, urging other leftists to erect a cordon sanitaire around me. Leftists should “shun” and “no platform” me, defriending anyone who posts or shares links to this blog. Kind of reminds me of a recent Clickhole article, “Uncompromising: This Tyrant Unfriends All Dissidents as an Example to the Rest,” which describes “[a] despotic maniac rules with an iron fist of callous indifference, unfriending anyone who dares go against something he posts.”

Childishness and grandiosity aside, though, this is a great list of books. Grab them while you can, but don’t despair if they’re removed before you get the chance. Someone will repost them eventually, probably sooner than later. Enjoy. Continue reading

In defense of Slavoj Žižek

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The title of this post recalls Žižek’s own 2008 work In Defense of Lost Causes. Not one of his better books, in my opinion. Žižek remains one of the few redeemable intellectuals of our time. Despite, or perhaps because of, his zany antics and constant clowning, he manages to be consistently insightful. Or at least compared to most. Marxism, like Žižek, might today be a lost cause. But I’ll defend it nonetheless.

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Molly Klein and friends have leveled a number of accusations against the Slovenian Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek. Among other things, they have alleged that he is a “psyop” in the employ of the US government. Supposedly he is working to undermine the rebirth of any genuinely anti-imperialist Left. (Recently Molly suggested that the Jacobin editor and founder Bhaskar Sunkara is also a paid propagandist). Klein’s online clique — a couple drones and devotees, but mainly sock puppets run by Klein herself — takes great exception to the term “tankie,” yet calls anyone who disagrees with them a fascist.

They have also implied that Žižek and his Ljubljana school colleagues Alena Zupančič and Mladen Dolar published a translation of the apocryphal Protocols of the Elders of Zion in 1989, the first to appear in Slovenia. Certainly a serious charge, not to be taken lightly. It is however baseless, as can be proved without much difficulty. Perhaps Klein’s other arguments against Žižek are accurate (not bloody likely). But this is the claim under investigation here, so I’ll confine my remarks to it.

Most are probably aware that the Protocols were widely disseminated in the first few decades of the twentieth century, providing “indisputable proof” of an international Jewish conspiracy. Anti-Semites in multiple countries across Europe and North America promoted the text as an authentic document, as part of their vicious smear campaign against the Jews. So its translation would seem especially incendiary in a place like former Yugoslavia, where memories of the Holocaust were still fresh in the 1980s.

Perhaps it is a waste of time to debunk Klein’s defamatory claim. Nobody really believed this ridiculous libel to begin with. Readers of Žižek will no doubt be surprised to hear that he endorses the view that the Protocols are genuine, as this runs counter to everything he has said on the subject in his writings. For example, in Welcome to the Desert of the Real he wrote:

When we consider [the Palestinian-Israeli] conflict we should stick to cold, ruthless standards, suspending the urge to try to “understand” the situation: we should unconditionally resist the temptation to “understand” Arab anti-Semitism (where we really encounter it) as a “natural” reaction to the sad plight of the Palestinians; or to “understand” the Israeli measures as a “natural” reaction against the background of the memory of the Holocaust. There should be no “understanding” for the fact that, in many — if not most — Arab countries, Hitler is still considered a hero; the fact that in primary-school textbooks all the traditional anti-Semitic myths — from the notorious forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion to claims that the Jews use the blood of Christian (or Arab) children for sacrificial purposes — are perpetrated. To claim that this anti-Semitism articulates resistance against capitalism in a displaced mode does not in any way justify it (the same goes for Nazi anti-Semitism: it, too, drew its energy from anticapitalist resistance): here displacement is not a secondary operation, but the fundamental gesture of ideological mystification. What this claim does involve is the idea that, in the long term, the only way to fight anti-Semitism is not to preach liberal tolerance, and so on, but to express the underlying anticapitalist motive in a direct, non-displaced way.

Žižek’s understanding of anti-Semitism as a misrecognized form of anticapitalism mirrors that of Moishe Postone and Werner Bonefeld, as well as other Marxist theorists of antisemitism. But the pertinent point here is that the Slovenian philosopher explicitly denounces the Protocols as a forgery, which they are. Why would he maintain the Protocols were the Real deal if he clearly believes them to be a hoax? Klein takes this a step further, of course, “betting that [Žižek] translated the Protocols into Slovenian and wrote Sublime Object side by side.”

Let’s examine the accusation in detail, however, point by point.

  1. First, it is pointed out that Žižek, Dolar, and Zupančič edited and wrote essays for the Ljubljana-based student journal Tribuna. In 1971, Dolar became editor of “the student newspaper Tribuna,” as he relates in a recent interview. More info can be found in Žizek and His Contemporaries: On the Emergence of the Slovenian Lacan, an intellectual history put out by. Perfectly true.
  2. Next, Klein et al. refer to an obscure report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 1990, discussing a scandal that had broken out the previous year. “A prominent member of the tiny Jewish community in Slovenia has sued the youth magazine Tribuna for publishing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious anti-Semitic forgery that originated in Czarist Russia at the turn of the century.” Perfectly true.
  3. Third, a paper by Laslo Sekelj on “Antisemitism and Jewish Identity in Serbia after the 1991 Collapse of the Yugoslav State” from 1997 is invoked. “Ljubljana’s University magazine Tribuna (financed from the republic’s budget) between August 1988 to March 1989 published The Protocols of the Elders of Zion for the very first time in the Slovenian language, and there was no way to have its publication suspended,” writes Sekelj. “This was the first open publication of the Protocols in Yugoslavia since 1945.” Perfectly true.

Indeed, this is the same publication Dolar edited in the early- to mid-1970s, to which Žižek and Zupančič contributed articles. Case closed! Turns out they were right. Right? Continue reading

The works of Leon Trotsky

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This post has been a long time coming. Not only because it’s taken time to track down and convert some of these massive files into manageable sizes, though that also. Rather, it is more that I’ve been busy reassessing my own relationship to Trotsky’s works. Some reflections on his career, in thought and in deed, follow the documents posted below. For now, here are all fourteen volumes of his Writings during his last exile, from 1929 to 1940, along with his three-volume History of the Russian Revolution, his biographical works (his autobiography, biography of Lenin, and incomplete biography of Stalin), along with some of his earlier works (Results and Prospects, Terrorism and CommunismAn Appeal to the Toiling, Oppressed, Exhausted Peoples of Europe, The Permanent Revolution, Problems of Everyday Life, Literature and Revolution, and Lessons of October).

Assorted Writings
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  1. Leon Trotsky, Permanent Revolution (1920) and Results and Prospects (1906)
  2. Leon Trotsky, An Appeal to the Toiling, Oppressed, and Exhausted Peoples of Europe (1915)
  3. Leon Trotsky, Dictatorship vs. Democracy: A reply to Karl Kautsky on Terrorism and Communism (1919)
  4. Leon Trotsky, Problems of Everyday Life: Creating the Foundations for a New Society in Revolutionary Russia (1922)
  5. Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution (1923)
  6. Leon Trotsky, Lessons of October (1924)
  7. Leon Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin (1928)
  8. Leon Trotsky, My Life (1928)
  9. Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed: What is the Soviet Union and Where is it Going? (1933)
  10. Leon Trotsky, Writings on Literature and Art (1905-1940)
  11. Leon Trotsky, Diary in Exile, 1935
  12. Leon Trotsky, Stalin: An Appraisal of the Man and His Influence (1940)

History of the Russian Revolution
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  1. Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, Volume 1: The Overthrow of Tsarism
  2. Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, Volume 2: Attempt at Counterrevolution
  3. Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, Volume 3: The Triumph of the Soviets

Writings, 1929-1940
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  1. Leon Trotsky, Collected Writings, 1929
  2. Leon Trotsky, Collected Writings, 1930
  3. Leon Trotsky, Collected Writings, 1930-1931
  4. Leon Trotsky, Collected Writings, 1932
  5. Leon Trotsky, Collected Writings, 1932-1933
  6. Leon Trotsky, Collected Writings, 1933-1934
  7. Leon Trotsky, Collected Writings, 1934-1935
  8. Leon Trotsky, Collected Writings, 1935-1936
  9. Leon Trotsky, Collected Writings, 1936-1937
  10. Leon Trotsky, Collected Writings, 1937-1938
  11. Leon Trotsky, Collected Writings, 1938-1939
  12. Leon Trotsky, Collected Writings, 1939-1940
  13. Leon Trotsky, Collected Writings, Supplement (1929-1933)
  14. Leon Trotsky, Collected Writings, Supplement (1934-1940)

Enjoy. If you like this post and are looking for some other free downloads, check out my past entries dedicated to the works of Marx and Engels as well as those of Roland Barthes.

Leon Trotsky drawing

My reevaluation of the legacy of Leon Trotsky is largely due to my belated exposure to the left communist tradition. Or, more specifically, the writings of the Italian left communist Amadeo Bordiga. To be more specific still, Bordiga’s early writings — from 1919 to 1926 — have left a deep impression on me. As will become clear, I’d hardly endorse his entire corpus. Particularly his later stuff tends to be more hit or miss, though there’s still quite a bit to be learned from his undying (invariant) Bolshevism. His article “Against Activism” is an instant classic, and his longer essay on “The Factors of Race and Nation in Marxist Theory” is epic as well.

Council communism is a tradition I’m decidedly less keen upon. Early on, in the 1920s, when the Dutch councilists Herman Gorter and Anton Pannekoek hadn’t yet completely forsaken the role of the party, there was perhaps a little more substance to their arguments. Later, when Otto Rühle and Paul Mattick took up the mantle of council communism, their politics tended to devolve into empty moralizing and a quasi-religious faith in the spontaneity of the masses. Nevertheless, Mattick’s various articles on economic theory and his critique of nationalism are excellent. They almost cannot be recommended highly enough. Karl Korsch intersects with this milieu in his flight from Leninism, but only to his detriment.

One final factor has been decisive in this process of reevaluation: the critical and theoretical edifice left by Korsch, Georg Lukács, Walter Benjamin, and the Frankfurt School (Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm). Unlike Bordigism or council communism, I have been thoroughly acquainted with this body of literature for some time now. It has informed my own writings and opinions since college. Still, in reviewing Trotsky’s writings I have focused a bit more on the orientation of these figures vis-à-vis Trotsky and Trotskyism.

With respect to Trotskyism, the innumerable tendencies that lay claim to the theoretical and practical lineage of Bronshtein himself, I am much less enthusiastic. Like his famous biographer, Isaac Deutscher, I even find the founding of the Fourth International somewhat perplexing. Understandable, perhaps, in that his friends in the Left Opposition abroad were defecting, or else being tortured and shot, but perplexing nevertheless. It was a non-starter from the word “go.” Trotsky still put out some great essays and texts during this period, and some of his squabbles with Shachtman, Eastman, Burnham, and Rivera are entertaining, if not all that enlightening. Cannon was certainly a great organizer, but was a piss-poor theorist. Only orthodox Trotskyism has anything redeeming to say after the 1950s and 1960s, especially James Robertson and the Sparts. Today, I suppose I retain some respect for Alan Wood of the IMT, ignoring his Bolivarian boosterism, the Spart-lite star-brights in the IBT, and the polemical pricks in the League for the Revolutionary Party. But that’s it.

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The International Socialist Organization is a hodgepodge of brainless Cliffite heterodoxy, academic jargon (mostly in and through their publishing house, Haymarket Books), and the latest in trendy activism (intersectionality, “x lives matter” hashtags, and so on). I’d almost say they’re unworthy of the name. Anyone who is interested in Trot genealogies, check out this. The author is a social democrat, basically, but his sprglord game is tight and so he can be relied upon for encyclopedic information.

Robert Alexander, International Trotskyism, 1929-1985: A Documentary Analysis of the Movement (1990)

In a series of upcoming posts, I will try to briefly summarize my thoughts regarding each of these camps or schools. Spoiler alert: Trotsky belongs to a bygone era of revolutionary politics. A gulf divides his work from the present. Even within his own epoch, some of his positions seem to have been ill-advised. But perhaps this is the wisdom of retrospect, as the line he took on anti-imperialist “national liberation” was made in the context of approaching war (on the eve of each world war). The “united front” tactic is not as universally applicable as Trotskyists would like to believe; nor is it as universally inapplicable as Bordigists believes. Nevertheless, in every instance, Trotsky the man is far more salvageable than contemporary Trotskyism.

P.S. — I am of course fully aware that the headpiece used for this post is a malicious representation of Trotsky, taken from a Polish anti-bolshevik propaganda poster from 1919. Nevertheless, I have decided to keep it, because it is fucking metal.

The Marxism of Roland Barthes

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Here are a number of books I’ve found across the web by the French semiologist and literary critic Roland Barthes, all of them downloadable as PDFs:

  1. Writing Degree Zero (1953)
  2. Michelet (1954)
  3. Mythologies (1957)
  4. “Seven Photo Models of Mother Courage” (1958)
  5. Elements of Semiology (1964)
  6. Critical Essays (1964)
  7. Criticism and Truth (1966)
  8. “An Introduction to the Structuralist Analysis of Narrative” (1966)
  9. The Fashion System (1967)
  10. Semiology and Urbanism (1967)
  11. The Grain of the Voice: Interviews, 1962-1980 (1980)
  12. Empire of Signs (1970)
  13. Sade, Fourier, Loyola (1971)
  14. S/Z (1973)
  15. Roland Barthes (1974)
  16. Image Music Text (1977)
  17. A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments (1977)
  18. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (1980)
  19. The Rustle of Language (posthumously published in 1984)
  20. The Language of Fashion (compiled posthumously from Œuvres complètes 1993, 1994, 1995)

Below I have composed a brief sketch of Barthes’ early political leanings, broken into three parts and interspersed with snippets from his biography and articles he wrote.

Part 1

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Roland Barthes’ Marxism tends to get downplayed, especially in light of his post-1968 “turn” toward deconstruction. When he was still a structuralist, however, this dimension of his thinking could scarcely be ignored. Barthes’ structuralism was of a different sort than that of Louis Althusser, or even Claude Lévi-Strauss, who declined to oversee his thesis in the 1950s. His version was sensitive to historical change, despite Saussure’s methodological synchrony. As he put it in “The Structuralist Activity”:

Structuralism does not withdraw history from the world: it seeks to link to history not only certain contents (this has been done a thousand times) but also certain forms, not only the material but also the intelligible, not only the ideological but also the aesthetic. And precisely because all thought about the historically intelligible is also a participation in that intelligibility, structural man is scarcely concerned to last; he knows that structuralism, too, is a certain form of the world, which will change with the world.

It is significant that Barthes’ entry into Marxist political discourse came through his contact with a young Trotskyist named Georges Fournié. French Marxism since the 1920s had been dominated by the Stalinist PCF, with all competing tendencies deemed “dissident.” All this occurred while the two roomed together at a Swiss sanatorium, recovering from tuberculosis.

Thus the literary theorist Martin McQuillan remarks: “Like Lenin, [Barthes] learned his future Marxism in the quiet cantons of Switzerland” (Roland Barthes, Or the Profession of Cultural Studies, pg. 24). McQuillan’s a bit inaccurate here, as Lenin was already a convinced Marxist before ever staying in Switzerland. But he certainly honed his Marxism there, and so the error is a slight one.

Louis-Jean Calvet, Barthes’ biographer, relates the story of Barthes and Fournié’s friendship below.

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Switzerland and Marxism

Louis-Jean Calvet
Roland Barthes: A
Biography
(1990)
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[Georges Fournié] was three years younger than Barthes, and his social background and subsequent life had been completely different from his. An orphan, Fournié had to earn his own living from the age of twelve or thirteen. He had also taken evening classes and eventually become a proofreader. At the age of seventeen, with the outbreak of the Spanish civil war, he joined the republicans and had fought with the POUM on the Aragonese front, where he had been injured. He had then returned to Paris, where he met his future wife Jacqueline and worked with militant anti-fascist groups. Through such groups he had met David Rousset and Maurice Nadeau.

Fournié had been a Trotskyist, an anti-fascist, and a member of the Resistance. His code name in the Resistance had been “Philippe” and his friends continued to call him this after the war. On 19 December 1943 he had been arrested by the Gestapo along with Rousset and other comrades and imprisoned at Fresnes and Campiègne before being deported to Buchenwald. Finally, he had been transferred to Porta Westfalica, a concentration camp near Hanover. For a year and a half his wife had no news of him and it was only in the spring of 1945 that he returned, on a stretcher, exhausted and suffering from tuberculosis. At Bichat hospital he was given a pneumothorax and sent to Leysin. His wife tried to make arrangements to rejoin him there. In October he met Roland Barthes.

However different their backgrounds and temperaments, both men had in common their aloofness from the general atmosphere of the place. Roland, at thirty, was a somewhat distant intellectual, while Georges had survived both the Spanish civil war and deportation. Both men were more mature than the average patient at Leysin. Neither of them liked the adolescent antics and barrack-room humor, which were supposed to take one’s mind off the illness and constant threat of death. In the canteen, where the atmosphere was rather childish (glasses of water and spoonfuls of mashed potato were frequently thrown across the room), both men kept very much to themselves.

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After several attempts, Jacqueline Fournié had finally found work in a luxury sanatorium for rich tuberculosis patients, The Belvédère, which is now a Club Méditerranée hotel. She visited her husband every evening and ate with him in the canteen every Sunday. She remembers Barthes as being extremely reserved in the expression of his thoughts and feelings. The only indication of how he felt was the expression in his eyes or the movement of his lips, and his somewhat mocking sense of irony. He never really laughed out loud, totally uninhibitedly, as if it would be indecent to let himself go. He seemed to be someone without strong passions, always self-controlled, completely a creature of nuance. In this he was the complete opposite of Fournié, who was about to initiate him into the previously unknown universe of Marxist theory and the reality of class struggle.

The two would talk together for hours. Barthes discussed theater, literature, and of course Michelet. Fournié talked about Marx, Trotsky, and Spain. They had mutual admiration for each other, and each taught the other things which had previously been foreign to them. Barthes was extremely lucky that at a time when initiation into Marxism usually came through the Communist party — and more often than not required unconditional support for the political positions of the Soviet Union — Fournié’s Marxism was Trotskyist, anti-Stalinist, and non-dogmatic. [Roland Barthes: A Biography, pgs. 62-64]

Part 2

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Later, when Barthes moved to Paris and began engaging the intellectual scene there, he reaffirmed his Marxian convictions, this time with reference to the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre. “Barthes was bound to find such an atmosphere exciting, since he considered himself both a Sartrean and a Marxist. He decided then that his project was to combine these two philosophies in his approach to literature: to develop a ‘committed’ literature, and to justify Sartre in Marxist terms” (Roland Barthes: A Biography, pg. 74).

Apart from Sartre, the other major literary figure bridging the gap between Barthes’ object of critique and Marxism was Bertolt Brecht. “Near the end of May 1954, [Barthes and his friend Bernard Dort] saw the Berliner Ensemble’s production of Mother Courage at the Paris international festival. It was a revelation to Barthes, who with astonishing speed came up with the following phrase to describe its impact: ‘Brecht is a Marxist who has thought about the sign,’ a phrase he was to use many times. As far as the two friends were concerned, Brecht provided Marxism with the aesthetics it lacked” (Roland Barthes: A Biography, pg. 111). Continue reading