Notes on Society of the spectacle - Ken Knabb

Guy Debord at a flour mill

Helpful notes on Guy Debord's seminal text, Society of the Spectacle, put together by translator Ken Knabb.

The following notes are partially based on a 1973 list that Guy Debord himself made of many of the quotations and détournements in order to help translators of his book (“Relevé provisoire des citations et des détournements de La Société du Spectacle”) — a list that can be found in Debord’s Oeuvres (Gallimard Quarto, 2006, pp. 862-872). The same list, in some cases with additions by others, has been reproduced in pamphlet form and at various online sites. I have included all the material from Debord’s original list plus whatever additional items I have been able to discover. I have not included others’ additions unless I have been able to verify them. I have also added notes on some of the historical references.

Debord’s list is sometimes not very specific (e.g. “detourned from Hegel”). For the convenience of readers who may want to examine the sources in their original contexts, I have added more specific chapter or page references when I have been able to locate them.

Note that Debord almost always used French versions. In some cases the original texts (e.g. the German of Hegel or Marx) have been differently translated into English, so the quotations and détournements do not always match perfectly. I have also sometimes chosen to render passages slightly differently from the translations I quote here.

I hope these notes will help to clarify certain aspects of Debord's text and give some idea of how he worked. I would appreciate being informed of any errors or omissions.

 

 

References are to the numbered theses of the book, not to page numbers.

Chapter 1 epigraph: Ludwig Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity was published in 1841; the Second Edition appeared in 1843.

1. In societies . . . accumulation of spectacles: Cf. the opening sentence of Marx’s Capital: “The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails presents itself as an immense accumulation of commodities.”

2. the deceivers are deceived (literally: “the liar has lied to himself”): Debord says this is detourned from Hegel: “The truth verifies itself.” an autonomous movement of the nonliving: Cf. Hegel’s First Philosophy of Spirit (Jenenser Realphilosophie, Part I, 1803-1804): “Money is that materially existing concept, the unitary form or the possibility of all objects of need. By elevating need and work to this level of generality a vast system of common interest and mutual dependence is formed among a great people, a self-propelling life of the dead, which moves hither and thither, blind and elemental and, like a wild animal, it stands in constant need of being tamed and kept under control.”

3. The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as society itself, as a part of society, and as a means of unification: The first example among many in this chapter revealing that “the spectacle” is not some fixed, objective entity that can be defined once and for all, but a multifaceted process or tendency within the present society that must be seen and examined from different angles.

4. The spectacle is not a collection . . . mediated by images: Cf. Marx’s Capital (Vol. I, chap. 33): “Capital is not a thing; it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by things.”

6. it is the very heart of this real society’s unreality: Cf. Marx’s Introduction to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed, the heart of a heartless world, the spirit of spiritless conditions.”

7-8. Debord says that several phrases in these two theses are detourned from Hegel.

9. the true is a moment of the false: Cf. the Preface to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit: “The false (though no longer as false) is a moment of the true.” This quotation follows the French translation used by Debord. The various English translations are somewhat different (Miller #39, p. 23; Baillie, p. 98; Kaufmann, p. 60). See Note 76 for information on these different editions.

12. “What appears is good; what is good appears”: Cf. the Preface to Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: “What is rational is real, and what is real is rational.”

13. the sun that never sets over the empire of modern passivity: The phrase “the empire on which the sun never sets” was applied to the Spanish Empire of the sixteenth century and later to the British Empire.

14. goals are nothing, development is everything: Cf. the “Conclusion” of Eduard Bernstein’s Evolutionary Socialism: “To me that which is generally called the ultimate aim of socialism is nothing, but the movement is everything.”

17. degradation of being into having: Cf. the “Private Property and Communism” section of Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts (a.k.a. Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts): “Private property has made us so stupid and partial that an object is only ours when we have it, when it exists for us as capital or when it is directly eaten, drunk, worn, inhabited, etc., in short, utilized in some way. But private property itself only conceives these various forms of possession as means of life, and the life for which they serve as means is the life of private property — labor and creation of capital. Thus all the physical and mental senses have been replaced by the simple alienation of all these senses — the sense of having.”

18. When the real world is transformed into mere images, mere images become real beings: Cf. Marx and Engels’s The Holy Family (chap. VIII.3.a): “For one to whom the sensuously perceptible world becomes a mere idea, for him mere ideas are transformed into sensuously perceptible beings. The figments of his brain assume corporeal form.”

19. The spectacle does not realize philosophy, it philosophizes reality: Cf. Marx’s Introduction to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: “you cannot supersede philosophy without realizing it.”

20. This thesis contains several allusions to Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity, which among other things examines the projection of humanity’s positive potentials into an imagined heavenly realm.

21. As long as necessity is socially dreamed, dreaming will remain necessary: Debord says this is detourned from Marx. Perhaps he is alluding to Marx’s distinction between the “realm of necessity” and the “realm of freedom” in Capital (Vol. III, chap. 48). The spectacle is the bad dream . . . guardian of that sleep: Cf. Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams (chap. 5, section C), which contends that dreams reflect “the wish for sleep” and that “dreams are the guardians of sleep.”

22. The fact that the practical power . . . in contradiction with itself: Cf. Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach”: “But the fact that the secular basis detaches itself from itself and establishes itself as an independent realm in the clouds can only be explained by the divisions and contradictions within this secular basis.”

23. The most modern . . . is thus also the most archaic: Cf. the Introduction to Marx’s Grundrisse: “Some determinations will be shared by the most modern epoch and the most ancient.”

24. The fetishistic appearance . . . conceals their true character as relations between people and between classes: Cf. Georg Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness (1923; translated by Rodney Livingstone, MIT Press, p. 14): “The fetishistic illusions enveloping all phenomena in capitalist society . . . conceal the fact that they are the categories of the relations of men with each other. Instead they appear as things and the relations of things with each other.” a second Nature, with its own inescapable laws, seems to dominate our environment: Cf. Lukács, op. cit., p. 128: “For, on the one hand, men are constantly smashing, replacing and leaving behind them the ‘natural,’ irrational and actually existing bonds, while, on the other hand, they erect around themselves in the reality they have created and ‘made,’ a kind of second nature which evolves with exactly the same inexorable necessity as was the case earlier on with irrational forces of nature (more exactly: the social relations which appear in this form).”

28. “lonely crowds”: allusion to David Riesman’s book The Lonely Crowd (1950).

29. In the spectacle, a part of the world presents itself to the world and is superior to it: Cf. Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach”: “It thus tends to divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.” reunites the separated, but it reunites them only in their separateness: Cf. Hegel’s “Love” (a fragmentary text included in his Early Theological Writings): “In love, the separate still exists, but it exists as unified, no longer as separate.” This passage is quoted at greater length in Debord’s dedication to his wife Alice Becker-Ho at the beginning of his film The Society of the Spectacle (1973). See Guy Debord, Complete Cinematic Works (AK Press, 2003, translated and edited by Ken Knabb), p. 43.

30-33. The alienation of the spectator . . . The more he contemplates, the less he lives . . . Workers do not produce themselves, they produce a power independent of themselves . . . The closer their life comes to being their own creation, the more they are excluded from that life: Cf. various passages of the “Alienated Labor” section of Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts, e.g. “The worker is related to the product of his labor as to an alien object. The more the worker exerts himself in his work, the more powerful becomes the world of objects that he brings into being over against himself, and the poorer his inner world becomes, and the less he belongs to himself. . . . The greater his activity, the less he possesses. What is embodied in the product of his labor is no longer his own. The alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labor becomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists outside him, independently of him and alien to him, and begins to confront him as an autonomous power; that the life he has bestowed on the object confronts him as a hostile and alien force.”

31. a map that is identical to the territory it represents: allusion to Alfred Korzybski’s phrase, “The map is not the territory,” and possibly also to Jorge Luis Borges’s story “On Exactitude in Science”: “the Cartographers Guild drew a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, coinciding point for point with it.”

Chapter 2 epigraph: from Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness (pp. 86, 89, translation slightly modified).

35. In the spectacle’s basic practice . . . we recognize our old enemy: Cf. Marx’s “Toast” at the anniversary of the People’s Paper (London, 1856): “In the signs that bewilder the middle class, the aristocracy and the poor prophets of regression, we do recognise our brave friend, Robin Goodfellow, the old mole that can work in the earth so fast, that worthy pioneer — the Revolution.” Marx is making two Shakespeare allusions: Robin Goodfellow is a mischievous sprite in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the “old mole” is from Hamlet (see Note 77). the commodity . . . metaphysical subtleties: Cf. the “Fetishism of the Commodity” section of Marx’s Capital (Vol. I, chap. 1, section 4): “A commodity appears at first glance to be something very trivial and obvious. Analysis reveals that it is in reality a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological abstrusities.”

36. “imperceptible as well as perceptible things”: quotation from the “Fetishism of the Commodity” section of Capital: “A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labor appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labor; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labor is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labor. This is the reason why the products of labor become commodities, social things whose qualities are at the same time perceptible and imperceptible by the senses.”

40, 44, 47. survival: For in-depth analysis of the situationists’ distinction between real life and mere “survival,” see the opening sections of Raoul Vaneigem’s “Basic Banalities” in the Situationist International Anthology (Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981, translated and edited by Ken Knabb, pp. 89-95) or in the Revised and Expanded Edition of the same book (2006; pp. 117-124). “Basic Banalities,” incidentally, can be seen as a kind of preliminary draft for Vaneigem’s book, The Revolution of Everyday Life (1967), a unique and essential work which examines the same social system as does The Society of the Spectacle but in a more lyrical and ``subjective'' manner. Get the new translation by Donald Nicholson-Smith (PM Press, 2012).

41. remaining unknown precisely because it was so familiar: Cf. the Preface to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (Miller #31, p. 18; Baillie, p. 92; Kaufmann, p. 48): “What is familiarly known is not really known, precisely because it is so familiar.”

43. “political economy considers the proletarian only as a worker” . . . and never considers him “in his leisure and humanity”: quotations from the “Wages of Labor” section of Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts: “political economy regards the proletarian . . . as nothing more than a worker. It can therefore advance the proposition that, like a horse, he must receive just enough to enable him to work. It does not consider him when he is not working, as a human being.” “total denial of man”: quotation from the “Private Property and Labor” section of Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts: “Thus, although political economy, whose principle is labor, appears to recognize man, it is in fact nothing more than the denial of man carried to its logical conclusion.”

44. The spectacle is a permanent opium war: allusion to the Opium Wars of 1839-1842 and 1857-1860. The Chinese government wanted to ban the British opium trade, which was debilitating large sections of the Chinese population. England went to war against China to force it to accept that trade, which at the time was one of the main sources of the British Empire’s wealth. England (joined by France in the second one) won both wars and gained Hong Kong and several other port districts as “concessions” or “free trade” areas.

46. condottiere . . . for its own sake: Condottiere were mercenary leaders in Renaissance Italy who often ended up taking over the small states they were hired to fight for.

47. decline of use value: Cf. the “tendency of the general rate of profit to fall” (Capital, Vol. III, chap. 13).

51. The economy’s triumph . . . spells its own doom: Cf. Marx’s Letter to Ruge (September 1843): “he will force this party to supersede itself — for its victory is also its defeat.” Freud: Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), founder of psychoanalysis. I have not been able to locate the source of the quote.

52. The economic Id must be replaced by the I: allusion to Freud’s The Ego and the Id.

53. the commodity contemplates itself in a world of its own making: Cf. the “Alienated Labor” section of Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts: “He contemplates himself in a world that he himself has created.”

Chapter 3 epigraph: Red Flag was the official “theoretical journal” of the Chinese Communist Party from 1958-1988. The citation is full of ironies, not only because of the fact that the Chinese regime was itself part of the pseudo-opposition and actual unity of global capitalism examined in this chapter, but also because its crude (and very undialectical) ideological rhetoric unintentionally suggests the actual irreconcilable struggle of the global proletariat against both forms of capitalism (the Chinese Maoist-Stalinist form as well as the Western “free enterprise” form).

61. The admirable people . . . attain greatness by stooping below the reality of the most insignificant individual life: Cf. Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction (Nisbet., p. 84): “the great individuals of history . . . are admirable simply because they have made themselves the instruments of the substantial spirit.”

63. The spectacle exists in a concentrated form or a diffuse form: In chapter 4 of his 1988 book Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (translated by Malcolm Imrie, Verso, 1990) Debord updated his analysis: “In 1967 I distinguished two rival and successive forms of spectacular power, the concentrated and the diffuse. . . . The former, presenting an ideology concentrated around a dictatorial personality, had accompanied the Nazi and Stalinist totalitarian counterrevolutions. The latter, inciting wage-earners to apply their freedom of choice to the vast range of new commodities now on offer, had represented the Americanization of the world. . . . Since then a third form has been established — a calculated combination of the two preceding forms, based on the victory of the form that had proven the stronger of the two: the diffuse. This is the integrated spectacle, which has since tended to impose itself globally.” Debord’s Comments book is largely concerned with examining the implications of this new form of spectacular power. an image of happy harmony surrounded by desolation and horror, at the calm center of misery: Cf. Melville’s Moby Dick (chap. 87): “And thus, though surrounded by circle on circle of consternations and affrights, did those inscrutable creatures at the centre freely and fearlessly indulge in all peaceful concernments; yea, serenely revelled in dalliance and delight. But even so, amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still ever centrally disport in mute calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy.”

64. bureaucratic capitalism (a.k.a. “state capitalism”): Although Western “free enterprise” capitalism has also become increasingly bureaucratized, when Debord uses the terms “the bureaucracy,” “bureaucratic capitalism,” “bureaucratic class,” etc., he is referring to the “Communist” parties’ evolution into a new type of totalitarian bureaucratic ruling class. See Theses 103-113.

66. epic poem of this struggle . . . fall of Troy: allusion to Homer’s Iliad. The spectacle does not sing of men and their arms: Cf. the opening line of Virgil’s Aeneid: “I sing of arms and of the man . . .” In this blind struggle each commodity . . . absolute realization: Cf. Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction (Nisbet, p. 89): “Particular interests contend with one another, and some are destroyed in the process. But it is from this very conflict and destruction of particular things that the universal emerges. The universal Idea does not itself enter into conflict and danger; it remains in the background, untouched and unharmed, and sends forth the particular interests of passion to fight and wear themselves out in its stead. With what we may call the cunning of reason, it sets the passions to work in its service, so that the agents by which it gives itself existence must pay the penalty and suffer the loss.” globalization of the commodity . . . commodification of the globe: Cf. Marx’s On the Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature (note to Part I, chap. 4): “As the world becomes philosophical, philosophy also becomes worldly.”

67. accumulating commodity indulgences — glorious tokens of the commodity’s real presence among the faithful: This whole thesis plays on associations with classic religious delusions, in this case the “indulgences” for forgiveness of sins peddled by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages and the doctrine of the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharist.

70. Stalin: Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), totalitarian leader of the USSR from the late 1920s till his death in 1953. Following his death, his successors, who had slavishly followed him for decades, undertook a “de-Stalinization” campaign, denouncing the “excesses” of his reign. See Note 110.

71. Nothing stands still for it . . . inclination: Cf. Pascal’s Pensées (Brunschvicg #72): “When we try to anchor ourselves to any point, it wavers and leaves us; and if we pursue it, it continually eludes our grasp. Nothing stands still for us. This is our natural condition, yet it is completely contrary to our inclination.”

Chapter 4 title. The Proletariat as Subject and Representation: Cf. Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation.

Chapter 4 epigraph: Insurrection of March 18: i.e. the Paris Commune (March 18-May 28, 1871). fearsome organization . . . army: the parliamentary committee’s paranoically exaggerated characterization of the First International.

73. The real movement that transforms existing conditions: Cf. Marx and Engels’s The German Ideology (Part I, chap. 2, section 5): “Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. What we call communism is the real movement that is dissolving existing conditions.” all static order crumbled into dust: Cf. Marx and Engels’s Communist Manifesto (Part 1): “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind, in a clear and disabused manner.”

74. obliged to view their relationships in a clear and disabused manner: See the previous Communist Manifesto quotation. the final unconscious metaphysical vision of the historical era: i.e. Hegel’s philosophy of history.

76. Hegel: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), German philosopher. Although it is possible to understand most of The Society of the Spectacle without knowing anything about Hegel, some familiarity with his work is useful to anyone who wishes to engage in the dialectical type of radical practice initiated by Marx and further developed by the situationists. This dialectical method, which Alexander Herzen called “the algebra of revolution,” cuts through traditional logic, expressing the dynamic manner in which things interact, how they divide, merge, grow, decay, and are transformed, sometimes even into their opposites. Because most of Hegel’s work is quite difficult, commentaries and other secondary readings are almost essential. A good starting place might be Peter Singer’s Hegel: A Very Short Introduction. A more substantial work, which puts Hegel in his historical context, is Herbert Marcuse’s Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory. The Philosophy of History is probably Hegel's most accessible book: the fact that he is dealing with concrete historical events may help you to see how his ideas play out in practice. The only translation of the complete work is rather old and based on an outdated German edition, but there is a good modern edition of the Introduction, published under the title Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 1975, translated by H.B. Nisbet). More difficult, but very rich, is The Phenomenology of Spirit. I prefer the edition with that title (Oxford University Press, 1977, translated by A.V. Miller with commentary by J.N. Findlay) over the earlier translation by J.B. Baillie titled The Phenomenology of Mind (Allen & Unwin/Humanities Press, 1949). Walter Kaufmann’s Hegel: Texts and Commentary (Anchor, 1966) contains an annotated translation of the Preface. the point was no longer to interpret the world, but to interpret the transformation of the world: Cf. Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach”: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point now is to change it.” consciousness that always arrives too late: Cf. the Preface to Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: “As for trying to teach the world what it ought to be, for this purpose philosophy always arrives too late. As the thought of the world, it appears only when actuality is already there.” bourgeois revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: notably in England (1640-1660 and 1688), America (1775-1788) and France (1789-1799). Karl Korsch, “Theses on Hegel and Revolution”: This short but very pithy text, published in 1931, can be found in Douglas Kellner (ed.), Karl Korsch: Revolutionary Theory (University of Texas Press, 1974, pp. 277-278) and online at www.bopsecrets.org/CF/korsch.htm. “the glorification of existing conditions”: another quotation from Korsch’s text. absolute heroic force which has done what it willed and willed what it has done: Cf. Hegel’s Encyclopedia (Vol. I, #140): “great men willed what they did, and did what they willed.” only tribunal where truth could be judged is closed: Cf. Friedrich Schiller’s poem “Resignation” (1786): “World history is the tribunal that judges the world,” quoted in Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (#340).

77. this historical thought has not been forgotten: Cf. Hegel’s History of Philosophy (Vol. III): “Spirit often seems to have forgotten and lost itself, but inwardly opposed to itself, it is inwardly working ever forward as Hamlet says of the ghost of his father, ‘Well done, old mole’ — until grown strong in itself it bursts asunder the crust of earth which divided it from its sun, its Notion, so that the earth crumbles away.” that thought’s conclusion: i.e. Hegel’s idealistic philosophical conclusion. its method: Hegel’s dialectical method.

78. Stirner: Max Stirner (1806-1856), German individualist anarchist philosopher, author of The Ego and His Own. Bakunin: Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876), Russian anarchist revolutionary, collaborator and then opponent of Marx within the First International. Marx: Karl Marx (1818-1883), German revolutionary. The literature on Marx’s work is immense, and most of it is unreliable. (Anything that implies that Marx had anything to do with so-called “Marxist” or “Communist” regimes is totally unreliable.) An excellent general introduction is Karl Korsch’s Karl Marx (1938). Korsch’s book is out of print, but it can be found online at www.bopsecrets.org/CF/korsch-karlmarx.htm.

79. Bernstein: Eduard Bernstein’s book Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie (“The Prerequisites for Socialism and the Tasks of Social Democracy”) was published in 1899, and its “revisionist” positions provoked heated debates for many years afterwards. It has been translated as Evolutionary Socialism and more recently as The Preconditions of Socialism. 1847 Manifesto: i.e. the Communist Manifesto. Engels: Friedrich Engels (1820-1895), German revolutionary, lifelong collaborator with Marx.

80. “salvage” . . . by “transplanting”:  Cf. Korsch’s “Theses on Hegel and Revolution”: “The attempt made by the founders of scientific socialism to salvage the high art of dialectical thinking by transplanting it from German idealist philosophy to the materialist conception of nature and history, from the bourgeois to the proletarian theory of revolution, appears, both historically and theoretically, as a transitory step only. What has been achieved is a theory not of the proletarian revolution developing on its own basis, but of a proletarian revolution that has just emerged from the bourgeois revolution; a theory which therefore in every respect, in content and in method, is still tainted with the birthmarks of Jacobinism, that is, of the revolutionary theory of the bourgeoisie.” historical wounds leave no scars: Cf. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (Miller #669, p. 407; Baillie, p. 676): “The wounds of the Spirit heal, and leave no scars behind.” “Of all the instruments . . . class itself”: Quotation from Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy (chap. 2).

81. “We recognize only one science: the science of history”: quotation from Marx and Engels’s The German Ideology (Part I, chap. 1, section 1).

83. Utopian socialists: most notably Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825), Charles Fourier (1772-1837) and Robert Owen (1771-1858), whose theories were contrasted with the “scientific socialism” of Marx and Engels (see Engels’s Socialism: Utopian and Scientific). unarmed prophets: Machiavelli compares “armed prophets” and “unarmed prophets” in chapter 6 of The Prince. Sombart: The quotation is from Chapter 2 of Werner Sombart’s Socialism and the Social Movement in the Nineteenth Century (1896). Sombart is not presenting his own view, but ironically paraphrasing the view of the utopians. did not include the awareness . . . reinforce it: Cf. Sombart, op. cit.: “So far as [Owen’s] followers assume that the present order of things is nothing other than a mistake, that only for this reason men find themselves in their present position, that misery rules in the world only because man has not known thus far how to make it better — that is false. The utopists fail to see, in their optimism, that a part of this society looks upon the status quo as thoroughly satisfactory and desires no change, that this part also has an interest in maintaining it, and that a specific condition of society always obtains because those persons who are interested in it have the power to maintain it.” Sorel: Georges Sorel’s Matériaux d’une théorie du prolétariat (1919) has not been translated into English, but a few selections are included in From Georges Sorel: Essays in Socialism and Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1976, ed. John L. Stanley).

84. “ideologization”: At the risk of oversimplification, it can be said that for both Marx and Debord ideology represents a rigidification of thought or theory into dogma. consciousness always comes too soon: Cf. the Preface to Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: “philosophy always arrives too late.” “History has shown . . . ripe”: quotation from Engels’s Introduction to the 1895 reprinting of Marx’s The Class Struggles in France (1850).

85. German working class . . . 1848: See Engels’s Revolution and Counterrevolution in Germany. Paris Commune (1871): See Marx’s The Civil War in France and Debord, Kotányi and Vaneigem’s “Theses on the Paris Commune” (SI Anthology, 314-317; Expanded Edition, pp. 398-401).

87. “either in a revolutionary transformation . . . contending classes”: quotation from the Communist Manifesto (Part 1). “Bonapartist” prototype . . . “condemned to the same political nullity as all the other classes”: See Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (chap. 4): “Accordingly, by now stigmatizing as ‘socialistic’ what it had previously extolled as ‘liberal,’ the bourgeoisie admits that its own interests dictate that it should be delivered from the danger of its own rule; that in order to restore tranquility in the country, its own bourgeois parliament must be brought to a halt; that in order to preserve its social power intact, its political power must be broken; that the individual bourgeois can continue to exploit the other classes and enjoy undisturbed property, family, religion and order only on the condition that their class be condemned to the same political nullity as all the other classes; that in order to save its purse, it must forfeit the crown.” Marx’s text analyzes the process in which the social instability following the French revolution of 1848 caused the bourgeoisie to support the 1852 coup d’état by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (nephew of the famous general Napoleon).

88. “immensity of its tasks”: Marx uses this phrase in several places, e.g. “Proletarian revolutions . . . recoil again and again before the immensity of their tasks, until a situation is finally created that goes beyond the point of no return” (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, chap. 1). embody its own new form of power: literally “itself be the power.” The sense is that in contrast to bourgeois (or bureaucratic) seizure of state power, the proletariat as a whole will form a new nonstate mode of social organization in which everyone (and therefore no one) is “in power” — what the situationists elsewhere referred to as “generalized self-management.” See Note 179. Jacobin-style seizure of the state: allusion to the Jacobin Club, the radical bourgeois party during the French Revolution that seized state power in 1793. disguise partial goals as general goals: i.e. as the bourgeoisie had done during previous revolutions (e.g. by demanding unrestricted economic freedom in the name of “Freedom”).

89. letter . . . accompanying an article reviewing Capital: More precisely, Marx’s letter included some suggestions for such a review, which he hoped that Engels would develop and submit.

90. theory of praxis is confirmed by becoming practical theory: Debord says this is detourned from Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness. The soviet . . . was not a theoretical discovery: The first soviet (Russian for “council”) was spontaneously formed by striking workers during the 1905 Russian revolution. No previous radical theorists had envisaged this form of popular self-organization, however obvious it may have seemed in retrospect. the most advanced theoretical truth . . . was its own existence in practice: Cf. Marx’s The Civil War in France (section 3): “The greatest social measure of the Paris Commune was its own working existence.”

91. First International: The International Working Men’s Association, founded in London in 1864 and dissolved in the 1870s following the split between the Marxist and Bakuninist factions. the conscious self-emancipation of the working class: Cf. the opening line of the Rules of the First International: “Considering that the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves . . .” “. . . invisible pilots guiding the revolution . . . through the collective dictatorship of our Alliance . . .”: quotation from Bakunin’s Letter to Albert Richard (August 1870), excerpted in Sam Dolgoff (ed.), Bakunin on Anarchy (Vintage, 1971, pp. 177-182). The “Alliance” was Bakunin’s secret organization, the International Alliance for Social Democracy. two ideologies of working-class revolution opposed each other . . . the result was very different from what had been sought: Cf. Engels’s Introduction to the 1895 reprinting of Marx’s The Civil War in France: “the Commune was consumed in unfruitful strife between the two parties which divided it, the Blanquists (the majority) and the Proudhonists (the minority), neither of which knew what was to be done.”

92. anarchism: For a good historical overview, see Daniel Guérin’s No Gods, No Masters: An Anthology of Anarchism (AK Press, 2010, translated by Paul Sharkey). Another more eclectic and thematically organized collection is Patterns of Anarchy (Anchor, 1966, ed. Leonard Krimerman and Lewis Perry). The anarchists strive to realize an ideal: Cf. Marx’s The Civil War in France (section 3): “The workers . . . have no ideals to realize.” puts everything on the same level and eliminates any conception of historical evil: In his Aesthetics (Part III, Section III, chap. 1.3(c)), Hegel describes the classic Flemish painters (Bruegel, etc.) as presenting “the Sunday of life which equalizes everything and removes all evil; people who are so whole-heartedly cheerful cannot be altogether evil and base.” “Historical evil” (mal historique), which could also be translated as “the bad side of history,” also refers to Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy (chap. 2, section 1, Observation 7) where, in response to the anarchist Proudhon’s simplistic distinctions between the “good” and “bad” sides of various historical phenomena, Marx notes that “it is the bad side that makes history by provoking struggles.” Jura Federation: anarchist-leaning section of the First International based in the Jura mountain region of France and Switzerland.

94. 1936 . . . social revolution: The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) between the fascist forces of General Francisco Franco and the popularly elected Republic was accompanied by a massive anarchist-inspired revolution in much of the Republic’s territory (particularly in Barcelona and the regions of Catalonia and Aragon). supported from abroad: Franco’s forces were supported by Hitler and Mussolini. the camp of the Republic included various bourgeois forces and statist working-class parties: The Republic’s Popular Front coalition included liberal bourgeois parties, a large Socialist Party, a smaller revolutionary Marxist party (the POUM), and an even smaller Communist Party. Its recognized leaders became government ministers: The anarchists, though usually abstaining from electoral politics, had exceptionally supported the Popular Front government, in part because it promised to release thousands of anarchists and other political prisoners. Once the civil war had begun, the anarchists maintained an uneasy alliance with the Republican regime until they were eventually stabbed in the back by it (above all by the Stalinists, who had soon wormed their way into positions of power within the government and in particular within the police forces). During a period of several months, four prominent anarchist leaders formed part of the Republican government. destroying the revolution even as it proceeded to lose the civil war: The French text, pour perdre la guerre civile (literally, in order to lose the civil war), mocks the Stalinist argument that it was necessary to destroy the revolution in order to win the civil war. The Stalinists accomplished the first part of that program, but not the second. Burnett Bolloten’s The Spanish Revolution and The Spanish Civil War are probably the best general histories. George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia is a good first-hand account. Sam Dolgoff (ed.), The Anarchist Collectives: Workers’ Self-Management in the Spanish Revolution 1936-1939 documents the wealth of popular experimentation during the revolution. Several other relevant books are listed in the revised edition of the SI Anthology (p. 489, Note 358).

95: Second International (a.k.a. Socialist International): Founded in 1889, it essentially broke up in 1916 when most of its constituent parties abandoned their previous internationalist antiwar policy and rallied to their respective governments during World War I. Fourier: See The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier (Beacon, 1971, ed. Jonathan Beecher and Richard Bienvenu) or Harmonian Man: Selected Writings of Charles Fourier (Anchor, 1971, ed. Mark Poster). Finance Capital: quotation from the Preface to Rudolf Hilferding’s Das Finanzkapital (1910). The quotation is discussed in more detail in Korsch’s Marxism and Philosophy (1923; translated by Fred Halliday, NLB, 1970, pp. 54-58).

97. crushed the Spartakist revolutionaries: Following the German defeat in 1918, there were mutinies and revolts throughout Germany. The Kaiser’s regime was replaced by a “Socialist” government headed by Friedrich Ebert, but revolts continued, culminating in a general strike and insurrection in Berlin in January 1919 involving the Spartakist League, a revolutionary socialist organization founded by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. Ebert’s regime, with the assistance of the rightwing paramilitary Freikorps, crushed the Spartakist revolt and murdered Liebknecht and Luxemburg. For an account of the revolution in the context of the whole postwar period, see Richard M. Watt’s The Kings Depart: Versailles and the German Revolution.

98. consistent Kautskyist . . . directing the proletariat from outside: Debord is noting that the Russian Bolshevik leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870-1924) and the German social-democratic leader Karl Kautsky (1854-1938), though bitterly at odds in certain respects, were fundamentally akin in many others, notably in promoting the notion of the “leading” or “vanguard” role of a revolutionary organization. In What Is To Be Done? (1903, chap. II.B) Lenin approvingly cited Kautsky’s statement that revolutionary consciousness must be brought to the workers from outside: “The vehicle of science is not the proletariat, but the bourgeois intelligentsia. . . . Thus, socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from outside and not something that arises within it spontaneously.” Lenin himself stated (chap. II.A): “We have said that there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from outside. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is only able to develop trade-union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labor legislation, etc.” As was noted in the situationist pamphlet On the Poverty of Student Life (1966): “The 1905 revolution and the Russian workers’ spontaneous self-organization into soviets was already a critique in acts of [Lenin’s] baneful theory. But the Bolshevik movement persisted in believing that working-class spontaneity could not go beyond ‘trade-union consciousness’ and was thus incapable of grasping ‘the totality.’ This amounted to decapitating the proletariat so that the Party could put itself at the ‘head’ of the revolution. Contesting the proletariat’s historical capacity to liberate itself, as Lenin did so ruthlessly, means contesting its capacity to totally run the future society. In such a perspective, the slogan ‘All power to the soviets’ meant nothing more than the conquest of the soviets by the Party and the installation of the party state in place of the withering-away ‘state’ of the armed proletariat” (SI Anthology, pp. 334-335; Expanded Edition, pp. 426-427). The Kautsky-Lenin kinship is discussed in more detail in Korsch’s Marxism and Philosophy (pp. 102-103).

100. Bolshevism triumphed for itself in Russia and social democracy fought victoriously for the old world: Expressed a bit more fully: “The triumph of the Bolshevik order coincided with the international counterrevolutionary movement that began with the crushing of the Spartakists by German ‘Social Democracy.’ The commonality of the jointly victorious Bolshevism and reformism went deeper than their apparent antagonism, for the Bolshevik order also turned out to be merely a new variation on the old theme, a new guise of the old order. . . . Capitalism, in its bureaucratic and bourgeois variants, won a new lease on life, over the dead bodies of the sailors of Kronstadt, the peasants of the Ukraine, and the workers of Berlin, Kiel, Turin, Shanghai, and finally Barcelona” (SI Anthology, p. 331; Expanded Edition, pp. 422-423).

101. Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919): Polish-German Marxist revolutionary. Die Rote Fahne: The Red Flag, newspaper of the Spartakist League. a few days before its destruction: i.e. before the January 1919 defeat of the Spartakist revolt (see Note 97).

102. The repeated failure . . . the Hic Rhodus, hic salta of the 1918-1920 period: Debord’s sense is that the European workers movement failed to take advantage of the rare golden opportunities presented by that period. The aftermath of World War I, including the fall of many governments, the shifting of many national borders and other extreme disruptions of people’s lives, provoked widespread questioning of the whole social order. There were mass protests and upsurges in many parts of Europe, but all of these were either co-opted or crushed, leaving the Russian Revolution as the only apparent “radical victory.” Hic Rhodus, hic salta is a Latin translation from the Greek of one of Aesop’s fables: A traveler boasts that when he was at Rhodes he made an incredibly long jump and there were many people there whom he could call as witnesses. One of the bystanders says that there is no need for such witnesses since he should be able to replicate the feat wherever he is: “Let’s suppose that this is Rhodes: jump here!” The phrase was modified by Hegel (in his Preface to The Philosophy of Right) to mean “Here is the rose, dance here!” and Marx in turn interpreted this latter sense to mean “Here is the opportunity, seize it!” in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (chap. 1): “proletarian revolutions . . . recoil again and again before the immensity of their tasks, until a situation is finally created that makes all turning back impossible, and the conditions themselves cry out: Hic Rhodus, hic salta! — Here is the rose, here dance!”

103. “democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants”: an early Bolshevik slogan. theory of permanent revolution: The prevalent notion among most socialists was that in underdeveloped countries such as Russia one would first have to overthrow the monarchical or feudal system by way of a purely, or at least predominantly, “bourgeois” revolution; only some time afterwards, when capitalist development had created the necessary material conditions (including a larger and more sophisticated industrial proletariat), would it be possible to carry out a socialist revolution. Leon Trotsky and Alexander Parvus’s theory of permanent revolution (developed in the aftermath of the 1905 Russian revolution) held that it would be possible to proceed from the bourgeois to the proletarian stage in one continuous process (“permanent” in this context does not mean “eternal”; it means continuous, without stopping). Kronstadt soviet: In March 1921 the sailors of Kronstadt, who had been among the most ardent participants in the 1917 revolution, revolted against the Bolshevik government, calling for a genuine power of the soviets (democratic popular councils) as opposed to the rule of the “Soviet” state. Denounced as reactionaries, they were crushed by the Bolsheviks (under the direct leadership of Trotsky). See Ida Mett’s The Kronstadt Commune, Paul Avrich’s Kronstadt, 1921, or Israel Getzler’s Kronstadt 1917-1921: The Fate of a Soviet Democracy. Workers’ Opposition: The program of this radical tendency within the Bolshevik Party, drafted by Alexandra Kollontai, is included in Kollontai’s Selected Writings (Allison & Busby, 1977, pp. 151-200). On the 1917 Russian Revolution in general, Trotsky’s The History of the Russian Revolution is well worth reading, but it should be supplemented with Voline’s The Unknown Revolution and Maurice Brinton’s The Bolsheviks and Workers’  Control: 1917-1921 (included in the recent AK Press collection of Brinton’s works, For Workers’ Power).

104. state capitalism: i.e. a system in which the state had become the dominant capitalist enterprise. “New Economic Policy” (1921-1928): a temporary concession to the peasants that included loosening certain aspects of state economic control, eliminating forced grain requisitions and permitting the peasants to sell surplus production on the open market. Third International (a.k.a. Communist International or Comintern): “The Third International, ostensibly created by the Bolsheviks to counteract the degenerate social-democratic reformism of the Second International and to unite the vanguard of the proletariat in ‘revolutionary communist parties,’ was too closely linked to the interests of its founders to ever bring about a genuine socialist revolution anywhere. In reality the Third International was essentially a continuation of the Second. The Russian model was rapidly imposed on the Western workers’ organizations and their evolutions were thenceforth one and the same. The totalitarian dictatorship of the bureaucracy, the new ruling class, over the Russian proletariat found its echo in the subjection of the great mass of workers in other countries to a stratum of political and labor-union bureaucrats whose interests had become clearly contradictory to those of their rank-and-file constituents” (SI Anthology, p. 332; Expanded Edition, p. 423). Kuomintang regime in the China of 1925-1927: At the very moment when radical workers were attaining significant victories in the major cities of China, Stalin insisted that the Chinese Communist Party subordinate itself to the Kuomintang, the nationalist party led by General Chiang Kai-shek. When the workers of Shanghai had taken over the city in April 1927, the Communist leaders thus urged them to welcome Chiang Kai-shek’s army and to turn in all their weapons. Once they did so, Chiang’s army entered the city and massacred the radical workers by the thousands. See Harold Isaacs’s The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution. Popular Fronts in Spain and France: The Russian alliance with the Spanish Popular Front government enabled the Spanish Stalinists to attack and destroy anarchist collectives and rival radical groups such as the POUM. The Russian alliance with the French Popular Front government led to the betrayal of the anticolonial struggle in French Indochina (see Ngo Van's In the Crossfire: Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary, AK Press, 2010, translated by Ken Knabb et al.). subjecting the peasantry to a reign of terror: i.e. through the forced collectivizations and “Five Year Plans” of 1928-1941. Bruno Rizzi: author of The Bureaucratization of the World (1939), which includes what can be considered the first in-depth analysis of the class nature of the “Soviet” Union. Ante Ciliga (1898-1992): Croatian revolutionary. Lenin and the Revolution was a pamphlet excerpted from his book The Russian Enigma.

107. The description of Stalin’s power quotes or echoes Hegel’s description of the power of the Roman emperors over their subjects in The Phenomenology of Spirit (Miller ##481-482, pp. 292-293; Baillie, pp. 504-506): “This lord and master of the world holds himself in this way to be the absolute person who embraces within himself the whole of existence and for whom there exists no superior spirit. He is a person, but the solitary person who stands over against all the rest. . . . In this knowledge of himself as the sum and substance of all actual powers, this lord and master of the world is the titanic self-consciousness that thinks of itself as being an actual living god. But since he is only the formal self which is unable to tame those powers, his activities and self-enjoyment are equally monstrous excesses. The lord of the world becomes truly conscious of what he is — the universal power of the actual world — through the destructive power he exerts against the self of his subjects, the self which stands over against him. For his power is not the union and harmony of Spirit in which persons would recognize their own self-consciousness. . . . They exist, therefore, in a merely negative relationship, both to one another and to him who is their bond of connection and continuity.”

108. The Napoleon quotation is from a conversation reported in General de Caulaincourt’s memoir En traîneau avec l’Empereur (chap. 4). Lysenko fiasco: Trofim Lysenko (1898-1976) was a Ukrainian pseudoscientist whose anti-Mendelian theories and new discipline of “agrobiology” became the official orthodoxy when Stalin put him in charge of the USSR’s Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Under his authority rival scientific positions were repressed, rival scientists were persecuted, and the country’s agricultural policies and resources were oriented toward his schemes, whose supposed successes were vaunted in the official media (though scientists in other countries failed to replicate any of his claims). His dominance weakened with the death of Stalin and eventually collapsed in the early 1960s when massive crop failures revealed the fraudulence of his theories and Russian scientists began to openly resist his rule.

110. denounces the Stalinism at its origin: Three years after Stalin’s death (1953), the new Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev initiated a “de-Stalinization” campaign, beginning with a “secret” report to the Twentieth Party Congress in February 1956 entitled “On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences.” As the title suggests, Khrushchev’s denunciation focused on Stalin as an individual who had for some unknown reason succumbed to paranoia and megalomania and dictatorial “excesses,” and never questioned the nature of the system in which such enormities could arise. Although the de-Stalinization campaign engendered some elements of “thaw” (many people were released from the concentration camps and there was some loosening of censorship, etc.), the superficial nature of the campaign was revealed later the same year when Khrushchev sent Russian tanks to crush the Hungarian revolution.

111. public confrontation between the Russian lie and the Chinese lie: See the opening paragraphs of “The Explosion Point of Ideology in China” (SI Anthology, pp. 185-186; Expanded Edition, pp. 240-241): “The so-called ‘socialist camp’ . . . had in any case never been socialist; now, in spite of all sorts of attempts to patch it up, it has ceased even to be a camp. The disintegration of the Stalinist monolith is already manifested in the coexistence of some twenty independent ‘lines,’ from Rumania to Cuba, from Italy to the Vietnamese-Korean-Japanese bloc of parties. . . . In the Sino-Soviet polemic, in which each power is led to impute to its opponent every conceivable antiproletarian crime, being only obliged not to mention the real crime (the class power of the bureaucracy), each side can only arrive at the sobering conclusion that the other’s revolutionariness was only an inexplicable mirage. . . . For the bureaucracy, internationalism could be nothing but an illusive proclamation in the service of its real interests, one ideological justification among others, since bureaucratic society is the total opposite of proletarian community. Bureaucratic power is based on possession of a nation-state and it must ultimately obey the logic of this reality, in accordance with the particular interests imposed by the level of development of the country it possesses. Its heroic age passed away with the ideological golden age of ‘socialism in a single country’ that Stalin was shrewd enough to maintain by destroying the revolutions in China in 1927 and Spain in 1937. The autonomous bureaucratic revolution in China [1949] — as already shortly before in Yugoslavia [1946] — introduced into the unity of the bureaucratic world a dissolutive germ that has broken it up in less than twenty years.” workers of East Berlin . . .: reference to the East German revolt of 1953. workers councils in Hungary: Although the 1956 Hungarian revolt against Russian domination was ostensibly rallied around the liberalizing regime of Imry Nagy, the country was in reality organized by nationally coordinated workers councils. See Andy Anderson’s Hungary ’56. See also the situationists’ analysis of the 1968 “Prague Spring” (SI Anthology, pp. 256-265; Expanded Edition, pp. 326-336). this crumbling of the global alliance based on the bureaucratic hoax is also a very unfavorable development for the future of capitalist society: In his “Preface to the Third French Edition of The Society of the Spectacle” (1992; included in Donald Nicholson-Smith’s translation of The Society of the Spectacle, Zone Books, 1994, pp. 7-10), Debord noted that this process, which scarcely anyone else had noticed at the time, had rapidly accelerated since the “fall of the Berlin Wall” in 1989.

112. Trotsky: Leon Trotsky (1879-1940), Russian Bolshevik leader. Following Lenin’s death in 1924, he was gradually out-maneuvered by Stalin, forced into exile, and later murdered by one of Stalin’s agents. Lenin’s famous “Testament”: a letter written during Lenin’s last illness in December 1922 to the Russian Communist Party, stating his views on how the regime should proceed following his death. The letter featured a sharp attack on Stalin’s brutality and deceitfulness and urged his removal from the position of General Secretary of the Party. It also criticized Trotsky’s bureaucratic tendencies. The “Testament” was suppressed by the Stalinists and officially acknowledged only in 1956 by Khrushchev. Fourth International: an international alliance of Trotskyist parties founded in 1938 as an alternative to the Stalinist Third International. the second Russian revolution: i.e. the 1917 revolution (the first being in 1905). During the earlier period Trotsky maintained an independent position between the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks; he only rallied to the Bolshevik Party in 1917 (at the same time that Lenin, in turn, adopted Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution). Lukács, in 1923: in the last chapter of History and Class Consciousness: “Towards a Methodology of the Problem of Organization.” “a political party . . . party program”: quotation from Lenin’s “The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion” (1909).

113. “underdeveloped” countries: See Mustapha Khayati’s “Setting Straight Some Popular Misconceptions About Revolutions in the Underdeveloped Countries” (SI Anthology, pp. 219-222; Expanded Edition, pp. 281-285). as happened in Egypt: allusion to the military coup of 1952. Algerian war of independence: 1954-1962. On its aftermath, see “The Class Struggles in Algeria” (SI Anthology, pp. 160-168; Expanded Edition, pp. 203-212).

114. the proletariat cannot truly recognize itself in any particular wrong . . . real life: Cf. Marx’s Introduction to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, which describes the proletariat as “a sector that has a general character because its sufferings are general, a sector that does not claim any particular right because the wrong it suffers is not any particular wrong but a general wrong.”

115. failure of the first proletarian assault against capitalism: “The assault of the first workers movement against the whole organization of the old world came to an end long ago, and nothing can bring it back to life. It failed. . . . The classical workers movement can be considered to have begun a couple decades before the official formation of the [First] International, with the first linkup of communist groups of several countries that Marx and his friends organized from Brussels in 1845. And it was completely finished after the defeat of the Spanish revolution, that is, after the Barcelona May days of 1937” (SI Anthology, p. 84; Expanded Edition, pp. 109-110). lost children (enfants perdus): old military term for soldiers or scouts assigned to particularly dangerous missions; by extension, people who are on the extreme cutting edge of a movement. Debord was obviously fond of this term, with its multiple evocative associations: it also appears in several of his other works, including three of his films (see Debord’s Complete Cinematic Works, p. 227, note 35). rebellious youth: See the analysis of the merits and limitations of various such tendencies (delinquents, Provos, radical students, East European dissidents, etc.) in chapter 2 of On the Poverty of Student Life (SI Anthology, pp. 326-331; Expanded Edition pp. 416-422). “General Ludd”: mythical leader of the “Luddite” revolts of the early nineteenth century. “Just as the first organization of the classical proletariat was preceded, during the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, by a period of isolated ‘criminal’ acts aimed at destroying the machines of production that were depriving people of their work, we are presently witnessing the first appearance of a wave of vandalism against the machines of consumption that are just as certainly depriving us of our life. In both cases the significance obviously does not lie in the destruction itself, but in the rebelliousness which could potentially develop into a positive project going to the point of reconverting the machines in a way that increases people’s real power over their lives” (SI Anthology, pp. 82; Expanded Edition, p. 108). Examples of the “new signs of negation” and of the vandalism against the “machinery of permitted consumption” in Italy, France, Belgium and Germany are described in the same article (pp. 82-84; Expanded Edition pp. 108-109). See also Debord’s remarks on vandalism and looting in his analysis of the 1965 Watts riot, “The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy” (SI Anthology, pp. 153-160; Expanded Edition, pp. 194-203).

116. “The long-sought political form . . . economic liberation”: Marx’s characterization of the Paris Commune in The Civil War in France (section 3). Pannekoek: Anton Pannekoek (1873-1960), Dutch revolutionary, author of Workers’ Councils (1947). See also Serge Bricianer’s Pannekoek and the Workers’ Councils. “conditions of unity”: Cf. Marx and Engels’s The German Ideology (Part I, chap. 4, section 6): “Communism . . . turns existing conditions into conditions of unity.”

117. This product is nothing other than the producers themselves, whose goal has become nothing other than their own fulfillment: Cf. Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction (Nisbet, pp. 83, 86): “World-historical individuals . . . derive the universal principle whose realization they accomplish from within themselves; it is not, however, their own invention, but is eternally present and is merely put into practice by them and honored in their persons. But since they draw it from within themselves, from a source which was not previously available, they appear to derive it from themselves alone; and the new world order and the deeds they accomplish appear to be their own achievement, their personal interest and creation. . . . Since the innovation they brought into the world was their own personal goal, they drew their conception of it from within themselves, and it was their own end that they realized.”

118. The appearance of workers councils during the first quarter of this century: See René Riesel’s “Preliminaries on Councils and Councilist Organization” (SI Anthology, pp. 270-282; Expanded Edition, pp. 348-362), which discusses the councils in Russia (1905), Germany (1918-1919), Italy (1919-1920), Spain (1936-1939) and Hungary (1956).

119-121. These three theses substantially recapitulate the Situationist International’s “Minimum Definition of Revolutionary Organizations” (SI Anthology, p. 223; Expanded Edition, pp. 285-286).

121. the combatants themselves are the fundamental weapons: Cf. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (Miller #383, p. 230; Baillie, p. 404): “What will be the outcome of this conflict itself . . . must be decided by the nature of the living weapons borne by the combatants. For the weapons are nothing else but the nature of the combatants themselves, a nature which only makes its appearance for both of them reciprocally. What their weapons are is already evident from what is implicitly present in this conflict.”

122. it can no longer combat alienation by means of alienated forms of struggle: Cf. Hegel’s Philosophy of History (Part 4, Section 2, chap. 3): “The Church fought the battle against the barbarism of sensuality in a manner equally barbaric and terroristic with that of its antagonist.”

123. “people without qualities”: allusion to Robert Musil’s novel The Man Without Qualities.

Chapter 5 epigraph: The quotation is from Shakespeare’s King Henry IV, Part I (V.ii.81, 85).

125. Man . . . is identical with time: This phrase appears in Kostas Papaioannou’s Hegel: Présentation, choix de textes, bibliographie (Seghers, 1962, p. 67). Papaioannou is simply summarizing Hegel, however, so Debord may have got the idea directly from one of Hegel’s works. “the negative being who is solely to the extent that he suppresses Being”: quotation from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. This translation follows the French translation quoted by Debord. The standard English translations are somewhat different (Miller #322, pp. 193-194; Baillie, p. 349). “History is itself . . . nature into man”: quotation from the “Private Property and Communism” section of Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts. History has always existed, but not always in its historical form: Cf. Marx’s Letter to Ruge (September 1843): “Reason has always existed, but not always in its rational form.”

126. The quotations are from the “Private Property and Communism” section of Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts.

127. “the wandering . . . spaces”: quotation from Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction (Nisbet, p. 156).

128. negative human restlessness: Debord says this is an allusion to Hegel’s Encyclopedia: “[Man] is what he is not, and is not what he is.” Similar statements are found in various places in Hegel, but the closest thing I have found to this in the Encyclopedia refers to time: “Time . . . is that being which, inasmuch as it is, is not, and inasmuch as it is not, is” (Vol. II, #258).

131. Novalis (Friedrich Von Hardenberg): German poet and philosopher (1772-1801). The quotation is from his collection of aphorisms, Blüthenstaub (“Pollen”).

133. “Herodotus . . . the deeds of men”: opening sentence of Herodotus’s History of the Persian Wars.

134. The divisions among the Greek communities: See Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War.

136. The quotation is from Bishop Bossuet’s Panégyrique de Saint Bernard (1653).

137. The quotations are from Marx and Engels’s The German Ideology (Part I, chap. 4, section 8).

138. the waning of the Middle Ages: title of a book by Johan Huizinga (more recently and fully translated as The Autumn of the Middle Ages). The Pursuit of the Millennium: Norman Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages was published in 1957 (expanded edition, 1970). See also Raoul Vaneigem’s The Movement of the Free Spirit (1986; translated by Randall Cherry and Ian Patterson, Zone Books, 1994) and Kenneth Rexroth’s Communalism: From Its Origins to the Twentieth Century (Seabury, 1974). Rexroth’s book, which also examines subsequent utopian communities, is out of print, but it can be found online at www.bopsecrets.org/rexroth/communalism.htm.

139. Machiavelli: Nicolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), author of The Prince and The Discourses. the exuberant life of the Italian cities: Near the end of his Preface to the Fourth Italian Edition of “The Society of the Spectacle” (1979), Debord says that a liberated society will be like “the reappearance of an Athens or a Florence from which no one will be excluded, extended to all the reaches of the earth.” “the very spirit of the Renaissance”: The quotation and the excerpt from Lorenzo de’ Medici’s song are from Jacob Burckhardt’s The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (Part V, chap. 8).

140. the Fronde: a complex series of revolts and social conflicts in France (1648-1653). See Oreste Ranum’s The Fronde: A French Revolution. Debord frequently expressed great interest in the Fronde (and in one of its major protagonists, the Cardinal de Retz) and even proposed to make a film about it: Les aspects ludiques manifestes et latents dans la Fronde (“Visible and Hidden Playful Aspects in the Fronde”). See Debord’s Complete Cinematic Works, p. 247. Scottish uprising in support of Charles Edward: failed uprising of 1745-1746 in support of Charles Edward Stuart (“Bonnie Prince Charlie”). The world now had a new foundation: Cf. “The Internationale”: “The world shall rise on new foundations: we, who were nothing, shall be all!”

141. this new fate that no one controls: Cf. Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness (p. 129): “From this it follows that the powers that are beyond man’s control assume quite a different character. Hitherto it had been that of the blind power of a — fundamentally — irrational fate, the point where the possibility of human knowledge ceased and where absolute transcendence and the realm of faith began. Now, however, it appears as the ineluctable consequence of known, knowable, rational systems of laws, as a necessity which cannot ultimately and wholly be grasped.”

143. “Once there was history, but not any more”: quotation from Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy (chap. 2, section 1, Seventh Observation).

144. draped in Roman costume: Cf. Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (chap. 1): “And just when they seem engaged in revolutionizing themselves and things, in creating something that has never yet existed, precisely in such periods of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle cries and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honored disguise and this borrowed language. Thus Luther donned the mask of the Apostle Paul, the Revolution of 1789 to 1814 draped itself alternately as the Roman republic and the Roman empire . . . . Camille Desmoulins, Danton, Robespierre, Saint-Just, Napoleon, the heroes as well as the parties and the masses of the old French Revolution, performed the task of their time in Roman costume and with Roman phrases, the task of unchaining and setting up modern bourgeois society.” Year One of the Republic: During the French Revolution the calendar was revised to date from the beginning of the Republic (September 22, 1792). Napoleon reverted to the traditional Christian calendar in 1806. “Christianity . . . most fitting form of religion”: quotation from Marx’s Capital (Vol. I, chap. 1, section 4).

Chapter 6 epigraph: The quotation is from #247 of Gracián's  Oráculo manual y arte de prudencia (1647), translated into English as The Art of Worldly Wisdom.

147. The first quotation is from Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy (chap. 1, section 2). “terrain of human development”: quotation from Marx’s Wages, Price and Profit (chap. 13).

149. maintain the backwardness of everyday life: See Debord’s talk “Perspectives for Conscious Changes in Everyday Life” (SI Anthology, pp. 68-75; Expanded Edition 90-99), where he discusses how everyday life can be seen as “colonized.”

151. The quotation is from Marx’s Capital (Vol. I, chap. 7, section 1).

156. the past continues to dominate the present: Cf. the Communist Manifesto (Part 2): “In bourgeois society, the past dominates the present; in communist society, the present dominates the past.”

157. This individual experience . . . remains without language: On the dialectics of language and poetry, see SI Anthology, pp. 114-117, 170-175; Expanded Edition, pp. 149-153, 222-228.

159. In order to force the workers . . . violently expropriate their time: Cf. the account of the original expropriation and dispossession of workers from the common land in the “Primitive Accumulation” chapters at the end of Volume I of Marx’s Capital.

160. “American way of death”: allusion to the book of that title about the funeral industry by Jessica Mitford (1963; updated edition, 1998).

163. withering away of the social measurement of time in favor of a federation of independent times: allusion to Marx’s notion of the “withering away of the state” and to the anarchist notion of replacing the state with federations of independent communities. “abolishes everything that exists independently of individuals”: quotation from Marx and Engels’s The German Ideology (Part I, chap. 4, section 6).

164. The world already dreams of such a time. . . . conscious of it: Cf. Marx’s Letter to Ruge (September 1843): “The world has for a long time possessed the dream of a thing, of which it now suffices to become aware so as to really possess it.”

Chapter 7 epigraph: The Machiavelli quotation is from chapter 5 of The Prince.

165. This homogenizing power . . . walls of China: Cf. the Communist Manifesto (Part 1): “The cheapness of its commodities is the heavy artillery that batters down all the walls of China.”

169. Urbanism — “city planning”: The French word urbanisme means “city planning,” but it has perhaps a slightly more impersonal and bureaucratic connotation.

170. “peaceful coexistence within space” . . . “the restless becoming that takes place in the progression of time”: Perhaps quoted or adapted from Hegel’s The Philosophical Propadeutic (translated by A.V. Miller, Blackwell, 1986, pp. 66, 92, 144): “Space is the connection of the quiescent asunderness and side-by-sideness of things; Time is the connection of their vanishing or alteration. . . . In the spatial world the question is not of succession but of coexistence. . . . As a restless Becoming [Time] is not an element of a synthetic whole.”

172. “one-way system . . . keeping a population under control”: quotations from Lewis Mumford’s The City in History (chap. 16.8).

174. “a formless mass . . . semi-urban tissue”: quotation from Mumford’s The City in History (chap. 16.6).

176. “subjected the country to the city”: quotation from the Communist Manifesto (Part 1). “very air is liberating”: “Stadtluft macht frei” (“Urban air makes one free”) was a medieval German saying, expressing that fact that serfs could free themselves by escaping to the towns.

177. “the country . . . isolation and separation”: quotation from Marx and Engels’s The German Ideology (Part I, chap. 4, section 2). “Oriental despotism”: See Karl Wittfogel’s Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power (1957), which examines the social structure of the empires that Marx had referred to as the “Asiatic mode of production.” A brief critique of Wittfogel’s book can be found in Internationale Situationniste #10, pp. 72-73.

178. critique of human geography: For some of the early ``psychogeographical'' explorations and visions that laid the groundwork for Debord's analysis, see SI Anthology, pp. 1-8, 50-54, 65-67; Expanded Edition, pp. 1-14, 62-66, 69-73, 86-89. life . . . understood as a journey: Cf. the epigraph to Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night: “Our life is a journey in winter and night, we seek our passage in a sky without light.”

179. antistate dictatorship of the proletariat: Although Marx and Engels’s notion of a “dictatorship of the proletariat” was totally different from the Stalinist state dictatorships over the proletariat that emerged half a century later, some ambiguities remained regarding its nature and duration which enabled the latter to pretend to have some connection with the former. Debord’s phrase cuts through those ambiguities, making it clear that he is envisaging a distinctly nonstate form of social organization, what the situationists elsewhere referred to as “generalized self-management.” See Raoul Vaneigem’s “Notice to the Civilized Concerning Generalized Self-Management” (SI Anthology, pp. 283-289; Expanded Edition, pp. 363-371) and “Total Self-Management” (the final chapter of Vaneigem’s book From Wildcat Strike to Total Self-Management, online at www.bopsecrets.org/CF/selfmanagement.htm). I have examined some of the problems and possibilities of such a society in chapter 4 of The Joy of Revolution, which can be found in Public Secrets (Bureau of Public Secrets, 1997, pp. 62-88) or online at www.bopsecrets.org/PS/joyrev4.htm.

Chapter 8 epigraph: As noted in the opening paragraph of Debord’s article on the May 1968 revolt (“The Beginning of an Era,” SI Anthology, p. 225; Expanded Edition, p. 288), this quotation was chosen as “an amusing example of a type of historical unconsciousness constantly produced by similar causes and always contradicted by similar results.” In this particular case, a German revolution erupted in 1848, only five years after Ruge’s glib dismissal of such a possibility.

180. The Difference . . . Schelling: an early text by Hegel. The complete Hegel sentence is quoted in Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness (p. 139), translated as “When the power of synthesis vanishes from the lives of men and when the antitheses have lost their vital relation and their power of interaction and gain independence, it is then that philosophy becomes a felt need.”

182. “first condition of all critique”: Cf. Marx’s Introduction to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: “the critique of religion is the essential precondition for all criticism.”

183. It is the meaning of an insufficiently meaningful world: Cf. Marx’s Introduction to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed, the heart of a heartless world, the spirit of spiritless conditions.”

188. When art becomes independent . . . the dusk of life: Cf. the Preface to Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: “When philosophy paints its gray on gray, a form of life has grown old. Gray philosophy can understand it, but it cannot rejuvenate it. The owl of Minerva [the goddess of wisdom] takes flight only at dusk.”

189. Eugenio d’Ors: d’Ors’s book Lo Barroco (1935) has been translated into French (Du Baroque), but not into English. passage: Debord may be playing on multiple connotations of this word, in the sense of movement or transition or ephemerality (the passage of time) but perhaps also in the sense of a literary or musical sequence (a musical passage).

190. Art in its period of dissolution — a movement of negation striving for its own transcendence: This thesis and several others in the first few pages of this chapter recapitulate much more extensive analyses of art and its possible supersession in many situationist articles, particularly during the early period (ca. 1957-1962) when the situationists focused on that terrain. See, for example, SI Anthology, pp. 143-147, 310-314; Expanded Edition, pp. 183-188, 393-397.

191. Dadaism sought to abolish art without realizing it; Surrealism sought to realize art without abolishing it: Cf. Marx’s Introduction to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: “Philosophy cannot be realized without abolishing the proletariat, and the proletariat cannot be abolished without realizing philosophy.” For more on Dadaism and Surrealism, see SI Anthology, pp. 18-20, 171-172; Expanded Edition, pp. 27-30, 224, and Raoul Vaneigem’s A Cavalier History of Surrealism (1977; translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, AK Press, 1999). Situationists: This is the only mention of this word in The Society of the Spectacle. As Debord noted in The Real Split in the International (1972; translated by John McHale, Pluto Press, 2003, p. 120), this very minimal reference was deliberate.

192. Riesman: David Riesman (1909-2002), author of The Lonely Crowd (1950). Whyte: William H. Whyte (1917-1999), author of The Organization Man (1956).

193. Clark Kerr . . . previous century: In The Uses of the University (1963) Kerr stated: “The production, distribution, and consumption of ‘knowledge’ in all its forms is said to account for 29 percent of the gross national product . . . and ‘knowledge production’ is growing at about twice the rate of the rest of the economy. . . . What the railroads did for the second half of the last century and the automobile for the first half of this century may be done for the second half of this century by the knowledge industry.” This reference had an additional pungency because Kerr was president of the University of California at Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement of 1964, which among other things challenged the notion of universities as “knowledge factories.”

195. conflict is at the origin of everything in its world: Cf. Heraclitus: “Conflict is the origin of all things.” power that is absolute . . . absolutely corrupted: Cf. Lord Acton’s famous remark, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

198. Those who denounce the affluent society’s incitement to wastefulness: Probably an allusion to Vance Packard’s The Waste Makers (1960). The Image: Daniel Boorstin’s The Image, or What Happened to the American Dream was published in 1962. In later editions the title was changed to The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America.

200. haunts modern society like a specter: Cf. the opening line of the Communist Manifesto: “A specter is haunting Europe . . .”

202. In order to understand “structuralist” categories . . . reflect forms and conditions of existence: Cf. the Introduction to Marx’s A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy: “Just as in general when examining any historical or social science, so also in the case of the development of economic categories it is always necessary to remember that the subject — in this context contemporary bourgeois society — is presupposed both in reality and in the mind, and that therefore categories express forms of existence and conditions of existence — and sometimes merely separate aspects — of this particular society.” Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself . . . “We cannot judge . . . contradictions of material life . . .”: paraphrase and quotation from the Preface to Marx’s A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Structure is the daughter of present power: Cf. Jonathan Swift’s Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting (1706): “Praise is the daughter of present power.” Structuralism does not prove the transhistorical validity . . . frigid dream of structuralism: Cf. the Introduction to Marx’s A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy: “The example of labor strikingly demonstrates how even the most abstract categories, despite their validity in all epochs — precisely because they are abstractions — are equally a product of historical conditions even in the specific form of abstractions, and they retain their full validity only for and within the framework of these conditions.”

203. ideas alone cannot lead beyond the existing spectacle . . . practical force into motion: Cf. Marx and Engels’s The Holy Family (chap. VI.3.c): “Ideas can never lead beyond an old world order but only beyond the ideas of the old world order. . . . In order to carry out ideas men are needed who can exert practical force.” A similar statement can be found in the “Human Requirements” section of Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts: “In order to abolish the idea of private property, the idea of communism is quite sufficient. But it takes actual communist action to abolish actual private property.” This theory does not expect miracles from the working class: Cf. Marx’s The Civil War in France (section 3): “The working class did not expect miracles from the Commune.”

204. “zero degree of writing”: title of a book by Roland Barthes (translated into English as Writing Degree Zero). It means writing totally stripped of substance and meaning, leaving nothing but the bare skeleton: writing “as such.” Its “reversal” is thus writing that has the fullest possible substance and significance.

205. The very style of dialectical theory . . . inevitable destruction: Cf. Marx’s Afterword to the Second German Edition of Capital: “In its rational form dialectics is a scandal and an abomination to bourgeois society and its doctrinaire professors, because in comprehending the existing state of things it simultaneously recognizes the negation of that state, its inevitable destruction; because it regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and thus takes into account its transitory nature as well as its momentary existence.”

206. “Truth is not like some finished product . . . made it”: quotation from the Preface to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (Miller #39, p. 23; Baillie, p. 99; Kaufmann, p. 60). reversal: The French word renversement can mean reversal or inversion, but it also has a more active connotation of overthrowing or overturning. détournement: The French word means deflection, diversion, rerouting, misappropriation, hijacking, or otherwise turning something aside from its normal course or purpose. Like most other English-speaking people who have actually practiced détournement, I have chosen to retain the French spelling and pronunciation of the noun (day-toorn-uh-maw) and to anglicize the verb (detourn). For more on détournement, see SI Anthology, pp. 8-14, 55-56; Expanded Edition, pp. 14-21, 67-68. answers “the philosophy of poverty” with “the poverty of philosophy”:  Marx critiqued Proudhon’s The Philosophy of Poverty (1846) by writing The Poverty of Philosophy (1847). “But despite all your twists and turns . . . historical attire”: The two Kierkegaard quotations are from Philosophical Fragments, chap. 5.

207. Plagiarism is necessary . . .: This entire thesis is a verbatim plagiarism from Ducasse’s Poésies (Part II). Isidore Ducasse (1846-1870), a.k.a. Lautréamont, was the mysterious author of Maldoror and Poésies, both of which make extensive use of détournement. In his autobiographical work Panegyric (1989; translated by James Brook and John McHale, Verso, 2004, pp. 42-43) Debord described his experience of storms in the mountainous region of central France: “Just once, at night, I saw lightning strike near me outside: you could not even see where it had struck; the whole landscape was equally illuminated for one startling instant. Nothing in art has ever given me this impression of an irrevocable brilliance, except for the prose that Lautréamont employed in the programmatic exposition that he called Poésies.”

208. Détournement has grounded its cause on nothing but . . .: Cf. the opening of Max Stirner’s The Ego and His Own: “I have founded my cause on nothing.”

Chapter 9 epigraph: The quotation is from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (Miller #178, p. 111; Baillie, p. 229).

214. what Mannheim calls “total ideology”: See Karl Mannheim’s Ideology and Utopia, Part II.

215. “expression  . . . between man and man”: quotation from the “Alienated Labor” section of Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts. “as the quantity of objects increases . . . man is subjected” and “The need for money . . . only need it produces”: quotations from the “Human Requirements” section of Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts (a.k.a. Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts). The quotation from Hegel’s Jenenser Realphilosophie is from the same passage detourned in Thesis 2.

217. False Consciousness: Joseph Gabel’s La Fausse Conscience (1962); translated by Margaret A. Thompson as False Consciousness: An Essay on Reification (Harper, 1975). separation has built its own world: Cf. Proverbs 9:1: “Wisdom has built her own house.”

218. “In clinical accounts . . . interrelated”: quotation from False Consciousness, pp. 61-62 (translation slightly modified). “mirror sign” (signe du miroir): Psychiatric term referring to a patient’s obsessively looking at himself in the mirror and/or to his confused belief that he has found interlocutors in the mirror images. The term is rendered as “mirror symptom” in the English translation of Gabel’s book, as for example in the following passage (which also includes two other phrases cited by Debord): “I can affirm that behavior does exist on a societal level that is phenomenologically close to the psychiatrists’ ‘mirror symptom.’ This is when the State — usually totalitarian — chooses a fictitious interlocutor in order to have an act of violence or a territorial conquest ratified in the form of a supposed negotiation. This is — just like the clinical phenomenon in question — an illusion of encounter with an artificial interlocutor; a behavior of schizophrenic structure” (False Consciousness, pp. 258-259).

219. “the abnormal need . . . edge of existence”: quotation from False Consciousness, p. 199.

221. “historic mission of establishing truth in the world”: Cf. Marx’s Introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: “The task of history is thus to establish the truth about this world once the otherworld has proved illusory.” the class that is able to dissolve all classes: Cf. the same text, which refers to the proletariat as “a class that is the dissolution of all classes.” “directly linked to world history”: quotation from Marx and Engels’s The German Ideology (Part I, chap. 2, section 5).

From http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/debord/notes.htm