On the weekend of the international conference on Nicos Poulantzas’s work held at the Sorbonne on 16–17 January, Contretemps published this interview with Michael Löwy, who was for seven years the late Greek-French thinker’s assistant at the Université de Paris 8-Vincennes.
Can you tell us about how you met Nicos Poulantzas?
In the 1960s my Brazilian friend Emir Sader – who to this day remains one of the most important Latin American Marxists – was living in exile in France. After my own move to France in 1969 I met with Emir one day and he said to me: ‘I have to leave for Chile’ (this was a few months before Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular came to power, in 1970), ‘can you take my place as Nicos Poulantzas’s assistant at Vincennes university’? I said ‘yes, of course…’ That was when he introduced me to Nicos, who also agreed to this.
At that time, Nicos knew nothing of my own theoretical and political pedigree. He had no reason to worry about that, since Emir had vouched for me. But we belonged to very different tribes of Marxists: he was an Althusserian whereas I was a Lukácsian, he was semi-Maoist and then a Eurocommunist, whereas I was a Trotskyist. And yet we got along marvellously well. Over the years we organised courses on the Third International, the national question, state theory, Lenin, Gramsci… And at the outset we had decided to do the courses together. The students loved this, because they heard two different points of view on each of these themes. Our little duo lasted for some years…