1988 text published by the French group Encyclopedie des Nuisances in the aftermath of Chernobyl discussing the ongoing collapse of the "guaranteed survival" offered by spectacular society and the prospects for the reassertion of the revolutionary impulse in new conditions and "the revolutionary abolition of all forms of irresponsible hierarchy".
Aboutissement – Encyclopédie des Nuisances
No one doubts that modern history is on the verge of some kind of culmination. No one, however, says what this culmination is. The only real alternative posed is that between the concluding act of the long war for liberty, and the state of siege proclaimed by those who see their ultimate justification in the disaster they have unleashed.
One cannot obtain a faithful picture of the catastrophic decomposition of class society by means of a simple juxtaposition of all the calamities about which we are daily informed. And even if one adds all the calamities about which we know absolutely nothing, we would still be far behind the truth.
The most profound and genuine historical catastrophe, the one which in the last instance determines the importance of all the others, lies in the persistent blindness of the immense majority, in their resignation of any will to act upon the causes of so much suffering, and in their inability to even think lucidly about them.
This apathy will be more and more violently shaken in the coming years by the collapse of guaranteed survival in its entirety. And those who represent and uphold the latter, preserving a precarious status quo of tranquilizing illusions, will be swept aside. The emergency will be imposed upon everyone, and domination will be compelled to speak as loudly and as clearly as the facts themselves. It shall all the more easily adopt the terrorist tone which is so suitable for it the more it seeks its self-justification amidst effectively terrorist realities. A man suffering from gangrene is hardly disposed to discuss the causes of the infection, nor will he be opposed to the authoritarianism of amputation. Again we find ourselves faced with the insurmountable model of nuclear blackmail: first, an uncontrollable process is imposed, and immediately thereafter, as the threat proliferates, the necessity of confining the process is imposed by the specialists in power.
All the instances of “Modernization” now in progress, from one extreme of the planet to the other, are condemned to end up in the common grave of a nameless disaster, the sole perspective of economic development. The uninterrupted fabrication of pseudo-necessities (among which one must include the continuous creation of artificial nutritional needs) implies, together with the concentration of decision-making powers, a bureaucratization of existence which ignores, in an increasingly authoritarian way, individuals’ real needs and the objective necessities of the survival of the species. But when the reality of life’s exhaustion is imposed together with the consequences of so many delirious manipulations, the concentration of power will have probably reached such a level that the latter will enable its usurpers to reorient the whole system in view of the new situation, in which survival is reduced to the indispensable minimum, survival in extremis, to dictatorially mobilize the totality of social labor. According to this hypothesis, the cleverness of alienated history will provide the promoters of catastrophe, via the pursuit of very different objectives, the means of exorcising it or at least of controlling it, just enough to benefit from the consequent state of siege.
It is obviously not necessary to predict the precise order of the various ineluctable dysfunctions of the system, or the more or less rapid concatenation of their effects. A house of cards does not collapse due to the removal of any particular card, but because it is after all just a house of cards.
Whatever the pace of the irreversible rupture of natural and economic equilibria, the owning classes must take the authoritarian control of everything to ever greater lengths. The very logic of the means at their disposal obliges them to do so, and they will not have to confront any kind of organized opposition that could prevent them from doing so any time soon.
From now on, the obligatory program of all social organization, whatever its form, is the conservation, and as more time passes, the restoration of the biological foundations of human history. This historical undertaking can be partially realized, and consequently indefinitely perpetuated, by way of an authoritarian rationalization of domination carried out at the expense of certain factions of the owning classes, or it can be taken over and superseded through the revolutionary abolition of all irresponsible hierarchy. Posing this alternative does not rule out the possibility of a pure and simple annihilation of humanity, but merely suspends such a hypothesis, insofar as the latter outcome requires no kind of strategic reasoning.
The radical simplification of survival is the order of the day. The “liberation of the complexity of life”, as the aim of a revolutionary program, is tragically deprived of means for its realization. Instead, in its oppressive version, it has already witnessed a beginning of its implementation with the programmed pauperization which is practiced on a grand scale by those who control certain supply networks. These vanguard sectors, such as, for example, the most modern monopolists, tend to disconnect themselves from any kind of competitive reality of the market. They are harbingers of the only coherence to which this system of production can aspire: the guarantee of monopolized survival and forced dependence.
The ship is sinking: who benefits more, the captain or the mutineers? In this frantic race, whose outlook is that of a shipwreck, we are a little late, once we understand that we have to save the ship and liberate it at the same time. The only advantage we possess is a better understanding than most of domination’s executors concerning the nature of the abyss towards which we are heading and the speed of our progress in that direction. But we cannot avail ourselves of this lone advantage soon enough. We must respond to the same emergencies as our enemies, and to do so clearly as enemies we must first dispel once and for all the equivocations supported by ecological neo-reformism, which mixes a vague touch of libertarian protest with what is fundamentally nothing but a vanguard’s statist voluntarism, which demands of the state that it should be what it says it is: the guardian of the general interest. Those who ask this society to work better than it possibly can must be relentlessly denounced until they are definitively discredited.
Propaganda for the revolutionary approach to the problems accumulated by class society will be effective to the extent that it proves that the latter has not obtained any of the results which it claimed to secure: freedom of thought or behavior, individual autonomy, the mastery over nature. The old bonds have been severed, and with them the relative security they provided has been lost: the local community, the participation in an immutable harmony; and what have we received in exchange? Dependence without community, hierarchy without security, the end of tradition without creative invention, and above all a veritable proletarianization of nature, which rebels in a thousand different ways against its exploiters. People can clearly discern what kind of hoax this is, but hesitate to denounce it, since they know that they cannot recover what was lost and they prefer the hope of some kind of compensation, which is offered to them in many forms. We must therefore provide every positive reason for negation, demonstrating that the promises of bourgeois society, which are hardly ever fulfilled and even then are fulfilled in such a paltry fashion, are endangered by the irreversible bureaucratization of the world.
As for the strictly negative part of the critique, one need not fear painting too dark a picture. In this regard nothing is too excessive, since the excess is all on the side of the ruling arbitrariness. It is necessary, however, not due to any inappropriate scientific principles, but in the interests of such a denunciation’s effectiveness, to precisely distinguish oneself from everything which, by means of impotent assertions, renders the excessive insignificant. Predictions of catastrophe are more useless today than ever before for the party of consciousness. An unyielding critique, which seeks to employ its resources as effectively as possible, cannot waste any time with any kind of theoretical or aesthetic compensations, and certainly not with any apocalyptic lyricism, a useless reprise of the old romantic pathos which “submerges itself in the dual splendor of an eternal sorrow and an eternal and extravagant hope.” This emphasis on a despair consoled by its own melodious expression must be opposed, since no description of catastrophe measures up to the current situation, by the sober determination which, advancing beyond vain lamentations and vague aspirations, knows how to wait for the right moment to strike.
The conscious limitation of activity to the direct result of each moment of conflict without ever forgetting what is at stake, total engagement in a struggle whose partial character is not dissimulated; this is the prosaic road for everyone to participate in a revolution which does not need to magnify its own content, since nothing else can be so universal. “In the past the sentence overflowed its contents, now the contents overflow the sentence.” The mythology of the cataclysm—with its promise of starting from scratch, of resurrection—is the proletarian avatar of the “parallel time” of the bourgeois revolutions, whose protagonists carried out a particular historical task while laboring under the illusion of being its heroic founders in a vacant eternity where past and future are equally abolished. In reality, of course, men must reconstruct their world in its entirety, but cannot begin unless they lucidly recognize the limits of all historical action.
Attentive readers of this Encyclopedia will see that we absolutely reject the illusion that the collapse of class society, however brutal it may be, will assure the triumph of a project of total emancipation. Men will not organize their freedom under the reign of fear; consciousness is not born of panic. Rather the contrary: “if the weight of the tragedy should cause the bridge of time, over which historical consciousness progresses, to collapse, and throw action into the abyss of myth,” then once again “the proletarians, forced into revolt, will be defeated, victims of the beliefs and the impulses that will have overwhelmed them before their class could free itself by means of its own action” (Harold Rosenberg, “The Return of the Romans”, in The Tradition of the New).
What is most lacking today wherever the sense of urgency is gaining ground is the exact knowledge, enthusiastic and without illusions, of those practical measures experienced throughout history that could inspire a will, so often disarmed, for subversion and critique. This ignorance must be combated with the example of a positive reappropriation of the values and methods of the old revolutionary movement. Against the bureaucratized workers movement and all the ideological consequences of the failure of the first proletarian assault, it was necessary during the epoch which has just passed to emphasize precariousness as the hallmark of any authentic value; that is, to make the immediate practice of negation the primary criterion of truth, at the expense of any preoccupation with the cumulative historical continuity of subversion, a continuity which was believed to be safe enough, and whose deceptive image presented by the professionals of false contestation was the first thing that had to be denounced. A world of illusions had to be demolished. It falls apart at the first touch. Certain methods prove to be useless for this purpose. It is necessary to promote others. When the continuity and cumulative progression of historical consciousness are threatened with extinction, when the immediate practice of negation frequently loses itself in the reigning nihilism, which manifests itself in the temporal field by valuing the instant above the process, one must instead put the accent on consistency, the other side of the dialectical existence of real practical values. In this manner one discovers, going beyond the caricature-like remains which counterrevolutionary history has assumed the responsibility for sweeping away, the greatness of the old workers movement; a greatness which is reaffirmed for us by the stubborn struggle of the Polish proletariat.
Those groups which have come together for the purpose of practicing a social critique without concessions see themselves, now as before, confronted by the dual necessity of taking it easy, that is, rejecting the ultimatums of activism and its ideology of immediate efficacy; and of finding the space they need, their terrain of autonomous action, which is to say, of also rejecting the confusionist obstruction of more or less “theoretical” chatter. But this has never been so difficult. On the one hand, time is objectively running out, while the counterrevolution, after 20 years, is now able to see that “its moment has arrived”. On the other hand, the social terrain of critique has almost completely decomposed with the systematic destruction of the old sites of the practical community of the proletariat. The current situation is defined by the near impossibility and the absolute urgency of finding a point of application for the collective practice of critical judgment.
During the first stage of our activity, we were able to verify that our way of moving forward by assuring that every step was a fragile “point of time” that we wanted to suspend between two epochs coincided with the necessities which above all demanded of the dispersed revolutionary party, which is nonetheless present under the surface of society, that it reestablish its lines of communication and rediscover its self-confidence, its courage and its capacity for initiative. There was the fear of an enduring victory for atomization, which seemed so much more to be feared because of the fictitious individualism that rushed to its aid, that individualism said to be so subversive but which amounted to nothing more than disguising the impotence of the isolated individual as sovereignty, and deserves even more than Stirner’s individualism to be described as “the self-conscious essence of present-day society and today’s man, the final argument which this society can oppose to us, the flower and cream of all theory within the reigning stupidity” (Engels, letter to Marx dated November 19, 1844).
It has been demonstrated that the spectacular euphoria of the beginning of the 1980s, in part real, in part simulated, did not long endure the test of time: the new youthfulness of appearances was above all nostalgia for the epoch prior to 1968, when the commodity felt at home everywhere. From Bhopal to Chernobyl, class power has not failed to abound, in our sense of the word, with the only prodigality of which it is capable, that of dispensing continuously renewed evils. And its repressive successes have only permitted it to postpone the impending consciousness of its objective failures.
A diffuse dissatisfaction has reappeared among the youth. It does not run the risk, in any case, of being deprived of nourishment. It has already been collectively expressed on occasion, but in an impoverished way, largely because it does not know how to approach what is essential and much less how to transform itself into a positive project. It is only spontaneous, and for now only asks the State to re-absorb the conflicts and evils which it bears along with the greater part of society; however, how surprised it will be when, in the absence of any organized force representing the revolutionary interests of society, it turns out that the general interest has no other apparent existence than that which is incarnated in State representation. Dissatisfaction is easily confused by the recuperators and consensus-brokers, and cannot avoid the traps of the spectacle. Nonetheless, and without by any means wanting to dissimulate the immense difficulties which stand in the way of a revolutionary organization of society, he who said that whoever resigns himself to social decomposition will always get the worst of it can now be understood more clearly. That reflection of Machiavelli which we quoted in our History of Ten Years, according to which “two armies which fight against each other can leave the field with equal casualties; the victory in this case will go to the first which informs itself about the state of its enemy,” must be read without forgetting each one of the two sides in this battle. Everything will depend upon the revolutionaries’ ability to recognize the multiform crisis of domination, towards what type of solution it will tend and to oppose that unformulated solution with one of their own.
In general, we think that the latent forces of negation can find the point of application which they now seek and rediscover themselves in the critique of the “most ancient social specialization, the specialization of power, which is at the root of the spectacle” (Debord). This critique of politics is the only possible terrain for the unification of all particular grievances: its horizon is the direct appropriation of responsibility for the problems of real life, and its road the autonomous expression of the latter and, consequently, the denunciation of the various forms of separate representation.
On the other hand, it is evident that a critique of the economy which remains on the terrain of the economy, disconnected from the search for the practical means of debate concerning the need for the market economy, does not make way for the passionate return of the social question in our time. The untimely reassertion of the best theses concerning the “logic of the commodity” is instantly suffocating, except of course for those who attribute the victory of the revolutionary program to this immanent logic. This latter point of view supposes that the proletarians are somehow doomed to acquire consciousness by sinking into the growing dispossession that the autonomous development of the economy brings in its wake. But this is by no means certain, because as their technical content assumes an ever more hierarchical form, the means of radical change which the workers had in their hands with the means of production move away into an uncontrollable abstraction. Re-appropriation cannot be achieved unless it is based upon the will to consciously reorient material production in its entirety; the simple seizure of the existing productive forces cannot be its instrument.
“At the moment when society discovers that it depends on the economy, the economy, in reality, depends on society.” The terms of spectacular explanation must be reversed. The State’s leaders and statesmen, all Marxists in their repentant modesty, have hidden for almost twenty years behind the economy, its laws, and its ineluctable objectivity; they present politics, however, as the residual part where a certain kind of democratic freedom can be exercised. In fact, if a “factor which in the last instance determines” the forms of social evolution exists, it is of course state and para-statist hierarchy, the only unalterable reality in this world, orienting economic development and universal change to the necessities of its perpetuation. In this way freedom is exercised, in a truly catastrophic form, where they tell us that it is impossible, and it must be conquered where they tell us that we already possess it.
Putting the accent on the antipolitical program of direct democracy, we simultaneously clearly propose principles which can serve as the basis for discussion with the eventual deserters from the camp of the ignominy in power. A scientists’ manifesto has recently circulated (“Controlling Science”) which contains some sensible observations, such as the one according to which “the identification of scientific production with progress, and even with happiness, is a complete mystification” (Le Monde, March 19, 1988). These honorable sages remain curiously disarmed before the small truths which they have ended up admitting, and by way of conclusion they sigh: “it is certainly difficult to go backwards in respect to technological advances, the final results of scientific activities, which lead to the creation of new necessities to go along with an industrial spiral which neither the researchers nor the consumers control” (Ibid.). This real difficulty is, however, transformed into an absolute impossibility from the moment when no one ever refers to the possibility of a social movement capable of stopping antihistorical production, and never clearly denounces those directly responsible for such a leap forward into nothingness. Since Giscard (“We are heading for an uncontrollable world…”) there has been no lack of modest promoters of dispossession who announced that they rowed in the same unrecognizable boat as we, although they occupy better accommodations in this disastrous fleet. And it cannot be doubted that unconsciousness will not save them. But in this equality of dispossession it is no less certain that some are more equal than others. To appeal, like those learned petitioners, to “reflection . . . of a philosophical character” which must be carried out “among many disciplines and open to all citizens” is something too dependent not only on scientific specializations, the same ones which have been accused of nourishing the “myopia” of the “researchers”, but above all also on a specialization of power opened for the occasion, due to the need for some kind of “ethics committee”, open to “all citizens”, that is, to those who speak in their name. Instead, the real question for scientists consists of satisfactorily proving their critical will so that those who cease to be passive “citizens” will open up their assemblies to them. They run the risk of hearing that the revolution has no need for learned men of their kind.
The revolutionary self-organization of society is more than that enthusiasm which, like a pistol shot, begins immediately with the abolition of everything which exists and frees itself of practical difficulties, declaring that it does not want to know anything about them. The critique of politics is inseparable from the practical investigation of the means by which society will be able to become aware of its real problems, discuss them and resolve them. And the failure of such an investigation will be the authentic historical catastrophe that will render all the others possible. The old counterrevolutionary argument about the dangers to which a total democracy would subject the organization of survival loses much of its force as blackmail now that many other experiments conducted in such an authoritarian manner are incomparably more dangerous for the survival of the species. The task we set ourselves is that of assisting in the imposition of this truth, continuing the detailed denunciation of harmful phenomena [nuisances] and expounding the project of their positive supersession.
The results of the first moment of our work are therefore only provisional: the best is yet to come.
Encyclopédie des Nuisances
*Article from No. 13 of the journal Encyclopédie des Nuisances, published in July 1988. The Spanish translation of this article was formerly located at the website of the Spanish autonomist group “Maldeojo”:
This website link and the group “Maldeojo” are now defunct. The Spanish translation was downloaded from the internet in 2001.