A critical history of the SI from 1970 by two former members of its American section. Full title: "A Field Study in the Dwindling Force of Cognition, Where it is Expected Least: A Critique of the Situationist International as a Revolutionary Organization".
The seriousness of what is not serious
Early in November 1969, as members of the American section of the SI, we opposed the lack of participation in the projects of the section by the section's other half, [Jon] Horelick and [Tony] Verlaan (then in Europe). We sent them an ultimatum to make clear the seriousness and urgency of the matter. When we got Verlaan's "reaction," we excluded him, not over any failures of his regarding the ultimatum, but as the expression of the realization that there was no possibility of mutual agreement with him (he turned reality on its head). The [other] sections [of the SI] rejected the exclusion as following from the ultimatum (at least not recognizing the distinction which Verlaan's reaction had introduced). It was agreed that the whole matter, of the crisis in the American section, would be taken up and finally resolved at a meeting of the delegates.
Up to that point, we were in the midst of a confused situation that promised resolution. Then, out of the blue, the French section proceeded to exclude us. The act violated the agreement to resolve the matter at a delegates meeting, violated the "provisional statutes"1 of the organization on such matters, and abrogated direct democratic practice of the ensemble by taking upon itself , a section, the function of decision and execution for all. Pointing to these violations, we resigned in protest. By the time the matter reached the delegates meeting ([held] without us), the delegates bowed to the terms of practice dictated to them by the action of the French section by simply turning its act of exclusion into a proposition for exclusion. The linguistic juggle showed [the delegates] were aware of the violations (that, unless corrected, already assure the bases upon which the members came together no longer hold), and merely expresses their desire to conceal these violations, so the organization may continue to exist.
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This isn't a very serious affair from the point of view of its involving directly, after all, only a few individuals who became divided by what at first was merely a functional problem, aspects of which are at best ridiculous. And it is quite possible that some revolutionaries do not see -- may even deny -- the need for the kind of organization that was the SI (our document assumes that necessity; and we could not here deal with objections from such revolutionaries, if they exist). Finally, the elements of this problem -- being all from the internal functioning of the organization -- are, if not remote, at least not immediate to experience. It has the earmarks of an intramural squabble.
It is also possible -- even probable -- that not all of an organization's internal problems have external ramifications. What is serious is that as a result of this internal crisis, the SI no longer is what it appears to be, at any level, so that, continuing to exist, it must do so as a false revolutionary organization. Expressing a retardation in the organized opposition to the prevailing order, it introduces that retardation into the revolutionary moment developing before us.
It was necessary to make this public, to maintain clarity.
* * *
For completion, we have given a critical narrative of the formation and existence of the [American] section, together with some prefatory notes on the International. This document then is a history, largely, of the internal organization of the Situationist International, particularly as it existed here [in America].
Following the narrative, it has been our intention to print in appendix (aside from the provisional statutes which have been included here) at least all of the material relating to the "fall crisis." The material fell almost naturally into three parts: 1) the exchange within the American section, culminating in Verlaan's exclusion; 2) the exchange between us and the other sections, culminating in our resignation; and 3) the aftermath, [the] exchange of letters culminating in their demonstration of the logic of falsification. We added, in a prefatory note to the appendix: "It is an irony that perhaps [Gianfranco] Sanguinetti will appreciate: that there are over 40 documents here reflecting, in part, the incapacity to communicate." The appendix material was intended to include probably would have been a third again longer than the body of the narrative. Cost prevented us from carrying out this intention. We have decided that we will mimeograph these documents, and make them available, on request.
Here we rose to dance
The Situationist International was founded in 1957, the year following the workers councils in Hungary. It was not a body of workers nor one of the disillusioned communists, anarchists or others from the political Left. The first situationists were poets, painters, architects and urbanists who had concluded that the only possible creative act remaining was the construction of situations which would recreate daily life on a new basis; all that did not consciously elicit this only worked for the continuation of the show world which dominates.
While it could not have been predicted that this "cultural avant-garde" would pursue its radical implications through the rediscovery of history and of its agent, to a practical grappling with the question of revolutionary organization, it is nonetheless understandable that such a coherent revolutionary organization would first appear out of the "minor" tradition of dada, the surrealists and lettrists, rather than the more obvious revolutionary tradition of the parties and unions. The "cultural" tradition was not embroiled in the problem of the attempt -- or the successful seizure -- of the existing political power, the State. The old labor movement suffered the repercussions from the Social Democratic machine-guns in Germany, the Bolshevik coup in Russia, and the entrance of the anarchists into the Spanish government. (The council communists, who maintained the radical thread, were buried with the rest.) The "cultural" tradition, given its marginal nature and its "lack of seriousness," was incapable of more than daydreams of some "dictatorship of the poets," but with its group projects, continually posed the question of the nature of social production while the politicos posed with their portfolios.
At the start, the SI was a rough grouping with many tendencies, where the equality that existed was among these tendencies. This very traditional organizational practice was mitigated by the ascendency of revolutionary direction: by 1962, those who would not follow the radical implications of their coming together had, for the most part, left the organization to pursue happenings, Provo ideology and a return to the less-taxing world of anti-art art.
After 1962 the SI wrote that it considered itself one group, although several comrades were geographically dispersed in Europe, and the essential of the group's activity was in Paris, where the review was published. Starting from the bases reached by this "small, almost alchemical" coherent group (basically, the present French section, less members who came in after May 1968), the perspective was to re-form national sections having real autonomous activity. The first attempt (1967), in Britain, collapsed, just when that section was to begin its public existence. It was only in late 1968 and in 1969 (after the May events in France) that the SI again found itself formed of national sections -- American, French, Italian and Scandinavian. The struggle of the organization to reconstitute itself as an international on the basis of direct democratic practice finds acute expression in its evolution here [in America].
"Theses on the Paris Commune" -- published in 1962 -- marked the SI's engagement of revolutionary history. The Watts Rebellion of 1965 confirmed that proletarian revolution was returning to sight on the broadened basis elaborated in situationist theory. (It is ironic that the situationist analysis of this signal event -- written [by Guy Debord] in Paris -- stood alone in the world. Shades of Marx and the Commune.) The seizure of the UNEF chapter at the provincial University of Strasbourg (Autumn 1966) by pro-SI students and the publication of [Mustapha] Khayati's booklet -- Ten Days That Shook the University -- brought the SI to national headlines, and international gossip. Situationist writings became the vogue of the "student movement," which around the world has immediately preceded the return of the real thing.
The evolution from an equality of tendencies to an organization formed of the participation of individuals equal in their sharing of a common theory and practice was publicly marked -- before Strasbourg -- with the adoption of the "Minimum Definition of Revolutionary Organizations"2 at the 7th Conference in Paris .
The definition stated, in part, that the revolutionary organization refuses to reproduce within itself any of the prevailing hierarchical conditions and that "the only limit to participation in its total democracy is that each member recognize and appropriate for himself [sic] the coherence of its critique. The coherence has to be both in the critical theory and in the relationship between the theory and practical activity." Yet the SI was to create implicit hierarchical conditions: adhesion (becoming a member) did not imply mutual critical confidence but suggested merely the existing members had the confidence that incoming members had the possibility of appropriating not simply the critique but the relationship between it and practical activity. We were to insist that for our part becoming members was the expression of a mutual critical confidence, which itself implied the capacity for autonomous activity. (Naturally, critical confidence involves the necessity of its constant rediscovery and reaffirmation.)
This matter of capacity -- possessed by some, effectively pending in others -- was the condition through which hierarchical relations emerged: the presence of unequal individuals left the way open for some to have to assume the role of decision and execution for all. This we have identified, and will refer to, as the centralist practice of the SI, and against which, through evolving direct democratic practice, it struggled.
We will describe a little later the specific circumstances in which the organization, knowing of our general agreement, picked the moment which seemed to it to our "tactical" advantage to declare us members. We would refuse both the act and the conditions out of which it emerged. But it would take nearly a year before the contradiction -- an organization of equal individuals mitigated by centralist practice -- would be resolved for us. The SI was to accept the correctness of our position before we become members.
Parenthetically: those who became known in the SI as the Garnaultins -- certain members, [including Jean Garnault] largely in Strasbourg -- may have experienced this contradiction: but rather than face it openly, among many members, they formed the secret faction to build, as it were, an "independent power base" to wield against their selected arch-fiend (Debord). They degenerated into the ideology of equality to sustain themselves after they had been confronted with their debilitating practice, and were properly excluded.
There is obviously a distinction between critical confidence that necessitates constant rediscovery and a critical confidence that effectively remains to be established. Horelick claims that he was told by the French section that [Alain] Chevalier -- who was to be excluded in October 1969 -- had been "warned" before he was admitted that he might be excluded, presumably if he failed to reach the expected level in the appropriation of common theory and practice. If this is so, then we have here a situation in which Chevalier, by becoming a member, was not expressing his confidence in [the] other situationists (as well as they in him), so much as the situationists, by making him a member -- on the basis of a certain activity during May 1968 -- expressed their confidence that he would come around. It should be noted, in contradistinction to this, that Debord, in conversation, told [Robert] Chasse that Chevalier shared SI theory and practice, but was weak in the knowledge of historical data: since such data was one of the weapons of the organization, Chevalier would have to acquire [proficiency in] it. Finally, Debord was to write, while Chevalier was still a member, in August 1969 -- in a document internal to and critical of the French section -- that: "I do not believe that there are among us comrades who are not capable of . . . participation (and if by chance there were any among the new situationists, it is evident that we could not reach a conclusion on that point before having gone through the experience of a real collective activity)." We cannot object if the collective activity is the reaffirmation of a mutual confidence -- even if so for the first time as collective work -- rather than the first expression of its discovery.
We have brought in these comments and affairs to indicate the fine shadings that the question of participation -- and its possible hierarchization -- can assume. It is in the flux between conceptions and practice -- as they seek out one another -- that the centralist practice inserted itself, particularly, as we note later, when the organization was in a clutch.
In revolutionary perspective, the organizational question is nothing more than the question of the evolution of direct democratic practice. It is -- under the continuing domination of the commodity -- practically indistinguishable from the larger social question. During the revolutionary events in May 1968, the SI demonstrated that it could act at large in a non-hierarchical manner and acted at all points to show the importance of the organizational question to those swept into self-activity.
The "Minimum Definition [of a Revolutionary Organization]" announced the bases of accord around which a revolutionary organization must gather. With the formation of sections, the question of the structure that would maintain this content in the relations of individuals and sections geographically separated came forward in discussion between the French and Italian sections. Out of it, Debord proposed what would be adopted at the 8th Conference [in Venice in July 1969] (substantially unchanged) as the "provisional statutes." We prefer to call them groundrules or -- in a Fourierist twist -- anti-statutes. The importance of this document cannot be exaggerated: the evolution from centralist to direct democratic practice is -- properly understood -- also the evolution from informal association to formal commitment, from occult deliberation to public development. [The groundrules], of course, needed tightening and expanding, and they would always be "provisional": we had several suggestions for their improvement which we drew from our experiences after the 8th Conference. It may be more than accidental that those who remain in the SI found it adequate to postpone further discussion around the "statutes" until their next conference, meaning a year or more.
To the formation of a section
From mid-1966, situationist texts found some small distribution here [in America]: "The Decline and Fall of the Spectacular Commodity Economy" [translated into English by Donald Nicholson-Smith] and the "Address to Algerian Workers" and, most importantly, Vaneigem's The Totality for Kids. The critical import of these works struck home in small groups which were then sifting through critical traditions in search for the method (the way of thinking) that had practically disappeared from the social landscape. There was an interest in who the situationists might be, and there was some activity of independent translation of SI texts.
In March 1967, Tony Verlaan -- who had been involved in the Strasbourg scandal, and who was to take the part of the SI against the Garnaultin ideologues -- arrived in New York. From his arrival, the practical engagement of the SI here can be marked. He brought with him a letter signed by Debord and Vaneigem in the name of the SI: "Comrade Verlaan has all our confidence and can make in our name any useful contacts during his stay in the United States."
Verlaan was then outside the SI (he would not become a member until January 1968), yet he was mandated: he could speak in the name of the organization, make on the scene judgments for it, officially enjoying all confidence -- an "all" including the critical confidence which membership implied. The imperatives of establishing direct contacts here may have been obvious, but the manner in which the relationship was established to this end continued the centralist line of development that the SI was also attempting to surpass: the manner in which he was mandated was implicitly hierarchical and non-transparent, and stood in contradiction to the direct democratic practice the SI was developing.
Verlaan immediately took his mandate to include the opening of an SI post office box [Box 491, Cooper Station], and although [the] situationists were not consulted, they greeted the action with approval when they learned of it.
Knowing that British situationists were preparing a translation of Khayati's Strasbourg brochure -- but impatient with their progress -- Verlaan translated, rewrote and printed an edition of 10,000 [copies of] On the Poverty of Student Life in the name of the SI. This was also done without consulting [the] situationists anywhere along the line. The translation was bad, the rewriting to an American situation (of which he had only the first impressions) was somewhat off-center, and the printing was atrocious. The SI at first also acknowledged this [act by Verlaan] with approval. In Internationale Situationniste #11, the French section included the On the Poverty booklet in a photograph of the various editions of the Strasbourg text.
Verlaan's practical activity during his first six months in the US centered around Black Mask, which centered around Ben Morea. The first manifestation of Black Mask, [which was] the "closing" of the Museum of Modern Art in October 1966 had generated a certain interest. From afar [the] situationists saw in this act a possible revolutionary development. "But to what could be a clear beginning succeeds the show of opposition, centered around putting bodies in the street, street meetings, picket lines, going to the people, as the contemptuous saying goes" (Robin Hood3 ). Those in the socialist perspective would have called Black Mask adventurist, but adventure as playful unfolding was completely missing. Verlaan's participation in Black Mask was public: demonstrations, the printing of a section of On the Poverty first in its bulletin, a signed article and immediately preceding his break with Morea, a signature on an atrocious anti-art manifesto.
Although during this period Verlaan never -- to our knowledge -- openly stated he was a situationist, his speech and activity in its name led some (perhaps most who came in touch with him) to assume he was. His defacto membership in Black Mask could then, organizationally, be viewed as entrism (particularly identified in Ten Days as the enemy). At any rate, more mundanely, it was natural to assume association between Black Mask and the SI. It was also natural -- given the existence of Black Mask in that gossipy suburb of the mind called the "Left" -- that the impression of association would survive the termination of relationships [between Verlaan and Black Mask].
We had met Verlaan the night of his arrival in New York. Contact between the three of us [Chasse, Elwell and Verlaan] was at first limited, although there was in common a certain affinity for the SI (at least of its better known theories and of its critical method). By late summer 1967, when the three of us first talked at any length, an appreciation for the SI -- for its evolving apprehension of direct democratic practice on a coherent base -- was common.
From this point the attempt to form a coherent group -- to develop autonomous activity -- can be dated, although it was hardly articulated then. Personal relations between the three of us were not marked by strain, and although the different paths we had traveled to a common critical awareness still separated us (Verlaan remained with Morea, and with an activist outlook; Elwell remained a subculture anarchist [and Chasse remained a theoretician]), there was radical possibility in what we shared.
Verlaan took up printing activity in earnest in the early fall of 1967: editions of Ten Days That Shook the University, The Totality for Kids, "The Decline and Fall," etc. He broke with Morea over the latter's maneuvers to get [the] National SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] to support a "Zengakuren style" snake dance through the streets of Washington [DC] on October 15th , the day which would see the Pentagon "confrontation." This break, in retrospect, is seen as essentially tactical; it was not the activist approach that Verlaan effectively rejected, but what, in his judgment, were its excesses.
We published -- under the name of the Council for the Liberation of Daily Life -- three of Chasse's texts on the ghetto insurrections of the previous summer (as Hall of Mirrors4 ), appropriating an anarchist post office box to do so. There was talk of a collective booklet aimed at the so-called New Left.
* * *
Raoul Vaneigem arrived in New York in mid-November . Discussion with him cleared up for us all the role of the SI in the Strasbourg scandal and in the exclusion of the Garnaultins which followed. During his short stay, he declined to meet with Morea, a little fact that would to have some significance. Verlaan attended an SDS regional conference in New Jersey, finding many people of interest there. Chasse, Elwell and Vaneigem attended for an afternoon but found the bureaucratic stultification of the workshops to be an old story. It was clear to us that any people of interest in SDS could not be approached through their own apparatus. Murray Bookchin, anarcho-Bolshevik theoretician and former associate of ours (from whom we had separated organizationally -- with the "formation" of the Council -- although personal contacts were still maintained) returned from Europe at that point. He and Vaneigem debated the organizational practices of the SI (discussion which ranged from Morea and militantism to the role of subjectivity and the character of negation). There was particular emphasis on a recent break between [the] situationists and a group of young anarchists. Elwell, who was then in correspondence with one of these anarchists, found the revelations concerning the irresponsible practice of this [anarchist] group disturbing, but felt the need to verify this in the correspondence, and so stated.
Vaneigem asked Chasse and Elwell if they wished to become situationists, and they stated they did not -- at least in the moment. (Elwell was not asked [directly]. It was thought then that he was not quite on the same grounds, an impression especially conveyed in discussion over the nature of the proletariat and its existence as the negation of class society. The matter was to be quickly clarified.) Late in 1967 we were on SI grounds. To make our adhesion to the SI meaningful, we saw the necessity for writing at least one important text that would at once reveal the appropriation of the critical method and place our text in the same line as those of the SI. The point was not to express an exercise in theoretical writings, but to express our capacity for applying the critical method to specific[ally] American conditions. Our adhesion then would be simply the recognition of what existed, and the expression of a mutual critical confidence, rather than the adhesion expressing the confidence of the SI in the possibility of our capacities, a one-way approval.
In the weeks that followed Vaneigem's departure, Bookchin attempted a broad anarchist alliance, a dismal failure; he also accused Verlaan of attempting to bureaucratically manipulate [the] SDS into withholding support from the Stop-The-Draft Week. Elwell put his break with Bookchin's Bolshevik practices in writing. We were acting and reacting as a group; unevenness -- retardation -- was disappearing in the daily practice of a radical combination.
Meanwhile, Morea wrote to the SI, asking why Vaneigem had taken the words of the "shitheads Verlaan and Chasse" and refused to see him. The answer, signed by members of the French section and newly formed British one, was relatively mild in dealing with Morea's militantism, stressing instead his relations with an obvious mystic (whom Vaneigem had met). The letter also announced that Chasse and Verlaan were situationists and would act as members of the SI everywhere [and in everything they] did. A copy of this letter was sent to Chasse and Verlaan along with a letter (to them), recognizing them as situationists and making certain organizational directives, including the destruction of [Verlaan's edition of] On the Poverty (along with certain other texts printed by Verlaan in the name of the SI), and the holding of all further breaks -- if at all possible -- until the arrival of a delegate from Europe. The implicit critical confidence extended by virtue of making them members was withdrawn -- or at least put in doubt -- in the request to hold further action pending the arrival of a situationist from elsewhere.
The SI was only around that time beginning -- internationally -- to work out direct democratic practice. Its basis would be that the critical confidence in a member was ipso facto confidence in his [sic] capacity for autonomous activity as a member, and that sections -- groupings of such individuals -- would also have that capacity. In contradiction to this evolving practice was, when in a clutch -- when something had to be decided -- the organization's centralist practice, which is also the "practice" of daily life. In this practice, it came quite naturally that those at the "center" should think it necessary to check our decisions (to choose for us the "tactical" moment of our adhesion, to ask us to hold decisions until the arrival of a delegate).
Our reactions were as one, if somewhat confused. In the replay (signed by the three of us) we already rejected this move to undercut our autonomy and generally criticized the character of the measures taken, but with this confusion: we simultaneously argued as if we were members and as if we were not. This confusion can be seen as rooted in an implicit apprehension of the necessities of international organization and in our hedges that the SI was that organization. Though arguing both sides of the question, we concluded our reply formally outside the SI, signing it as the Council for the Liberation of Daily Life. The SI had previously made its stand against entrism public; if it was aware of the confusion created by these "contending memberships," it would not -- in reply to us -- take up the question directly (what struck the SI, rightly, was the unusualness of a non-member acting as a member; a situation it was at least partly responsible for by way of its mandate to Verlaan). Nine months later -- after Verlaan had become a situationist and at the point where we were planning a journal for the Council -- the SI stated that in view of our continued separate existence, Verlaan would have to choose one organization or the other, to avoid dual membership.
Parenthetically: in our reply, we agreed to the destruction of the texts, as requested, thus recognizing that these texts were in the name of the SI, and that they should have the say. Later, when we arrived to move Verlaan's belongings (he was then out of town) from an apartment he vacated, we discovered many boxes of On the Poverty and other texts, the destruction of which had been requested, so we simply carried out the SI's instructions. Verlaan was outraged on the discovery of this. His plans for destruction, it seems, consisted of a massive distribution on college campuses. (Many recognize the university as a key point of destruction of critical thought, but this recognition can come from different perspectives.) Before the destruction was requested -- before Vaneigem's arrival -- Verlaan himself had recognized the superiority of the British translation [by Christopher Gray] (published with introductory comment and postscript as Ten Days That Shook the University) and reprinted ad edition of it. In early 1969, following the formation of the American section, it was agreed that Verlaan would undertake from California the reprinting of Ten Days and the Vaneigem booklet. It was decided that the new edition of Ten Days would have certain comics (which he had done prior to the formation of the section) as foldout from the back cover, and that a panel from the same would be on the front cover. The new edition arrived in New York with panels from various situationist comics scattered throughout and with the title of his translation substituted for Ten Days. His unilateral decisions to make these changes were never mentioned in the process. (It had been agreed that the title of Vaneigem's booklet would be changed from The Totality for Kids to Fundamental Banalities; the new edition arrived bearing the old title. Again, with no stated reasons, nor any notification.
All of this is a matter of small incidents (the likes of which the ongoing activity of an organization is made) and is merely noted here to illustrate the fact that Verlaan's practical relation[s] with the revolutionary organization did not appreciably change with his formal adhesion to it, and that, for reasons which seemed perfectly valid to him -- and which he felt confident he did not have to explain -- he never hesitated to discard previous common decisions, without explanations of his reasons, and without notification.
Bookchin entered the fray as partisan of the "ill-treated" Morea, citing the reasons given to Morea for Vaneigem's refusal to see him as other than those given in New York by us. The British section answered him (with a copy to Morea), saying that someone was obviously lying -- a safe assumption in [a] broader context, but implying that this someone could be Vaneigem, in whom their critical confidence, presumably, was assumed.
Their hedging was apparently rooted to their belief that Verlaan wasn't of SI caliber. (It became clear that its real roots were in their view of Morea's utility in an "advanced" Anglo-American sphere of activity, where both Vaneigem and Verlaan were nothing.)
Before the end of 1967, the three British situationists [TJ Clark, Donald-Nicholson Smith and Christopher Gary] had been excluded from the SI for their refusal to break definitely with Bookchin and Morea. They were excluded, as it were, for their willful maintenance of the organizational confusion in which the SI found itself. The subsequent actions of those excluded would be -- as had been the case with the Garnaultins -- confirmation of the necessities of the exclusions. In IS #12 (September 1969)5 , the French section would make critical commentary on the affair of the British section, but it would not there -- or elsewhere -- publicly deal with the affair in its totality, as it related to the problem of centralization. The situation was apparently transcended with the exclusion of the British, who in the name of spheres of activity (!) had been the excessive force toward centralization. What matters in revolutionary organization is not simply the deletion of a problem (which can turn out to be a matter of suppressing an antagonism) but the conscious mastery of its own history. The American section, in Situationist International #1 (June 1969)6 made no reference to these matters at all.
Chris Gray, who was to have been the SI delegate, arrived in New York the day after his exclusion. Each of the three of us discussed the affair with him and drew our own conclusions. During the month Gray was in New York, Verlaan -- due to a crisis in his private life -- left for Europe, after distributing SI materials at an SDS National. In Paris, he reversed his previous common stand with us and became a member of the SI. (He would in recounting conversations in Paris stress that Chasse was a bit too formalist, a theme he would play in many variations in the next two years -- his becoming a member should have revealed to us the little matter that organizational questions were for him.) From Paris, he proceeded to London, staying with the ex-situationists there. He would, as a result, question the exclusion of the British; but the majority of the SI sharply rejected this and he dropped the matter. (His apprehension of organization, in many ways quite similar to that of the British, at that point, should have been accessible to the SI as a whole.) As for Gray, he would subsequently find a psychological critique a missing factor in the SI and would find such a critique in Norman O. Brown. [Gray] would eventually become -- as King Mob Echo -- British public relations front for that union of Morea and the mystic who had appalled Vaneigem: the Motherfuckers. An evolution with all the logic of dry rot.
* * *
By February 1968, the Council was an organization of two [Chasse and Elwell], separated from the SI (itself then six people, including Verlaan and -- in Denmark -- Martin [the others being Debord, Vaneigem, Khayati and Rene Vienet]) over what for us were the unresolved questions of critical confidence and autonomy.
Verlaan, the American situationist, was traveling during the rest of the winter and spring, to the West Coast and Florida. Chasse, not a member, handled the affairs of the SI during this period, and there began a refrain in letter from Paris that would continue up until the 8th Conference in Venice: "Where is Tony? . . . Any news from Tony? . . . No news from Tony." During the many months between Verlaan's becoming a member and the point where Chasse joined, Chasse was always [the] mediator between the majority of the SI in Paris and Verlaan, "active in the field."
Chasse wrote The Power of Negative Thinking, Or Robin Hood Rides Again7 in this period, and he and Elwell published it in April , under the name of the Council. Conceived as a necessarily common project -- as first expression of autonomous activity, first by Chasse and Verlaan, then by the three of us -- it was completed as a personal one with the incorporation of passing critical commentary by Elwell (and Verlaan when he was around).
Verlaan would -- from California -- request half the stock of Robin Hood for immediate distribution there. We refused, and our failure to send what he considered adequate numbers became a bone of contention. A year and a half later (November 1969), he would request -- from Amsterdam -- that we immediately send 100 copies each of Ten Days, Totality, Robin Hood, and the review of the section: "even if you must staple themselves yourselves!" (we would have had to), so that he could assume projects of his own that probably would have conflicted with our common projects (but this aspect, as ever, did not seem to have occurred to him: or if it did, [it] did not matter.
His "activity" during those months in California was to include soliciting reproduction of SI texts in the so-called underground press (and, in one case, writing original material -- as the SI -- directly for a commercial underground rag), and a continued infatuation with the sufferings of SDS. He would justify these and many other tactics in terms of getting the critique around. As his later ties around RAC would indicate, he never quite understood the denial of entrism as strategic, nor the flowing of tactics from strategy. Each tactic he used was, for him, subversive -- a detournement -- by virtue of his using it. In a moral outlook, it is the purity of motivation that counts.
* * *
We greeted news of the revolutionary events in May 1968 in France with an enthusiasm that surpassed our reaction to the 1967 insurrections here. The proletariat had returned to the streets (its absence from them had been judged its absence from history). On request from SI comrades in Paris we translated and mimeographed the CMDO [Council for Maintaining the Occupations] "Address to All Workers." With that was mailed out the "Minimum Definitions of a revolutionary Organization" and an original text, the story of which was to prove a variation on a theme. It was decided that the idiocies here around the May events should be countered with a short release of our own (the Council and the SI). We would each write out our thoughts and put together a collective piece. Chasse produced a piece tracing the general line of events (we had at that time little specific reportage from comrades, beyond the occupation of the Sorbonne); by the agreed time, neither Elwell nor Verlaan had produced anything. It was at that point decided that anything to be published should contain more details. Verlaan proceeded to collage sections of Chasse's piece into a literal translation he had made of a letter from Paris in mid-May, spiced with not a few randomly placed expletives -- the whole generally unreadable and certainly not useful in clarifying ground. We gave up. Chasse said Verlaan could use his material, but the piece as it stood should not be published with the Council signature. Verlaan mimeographed and mailed his collage, signed by the SI and the Council.
During the previous months, in spite of formal organizational separation and repeated geographic and (assumed) tactical differences, the attempt at a working group of three was at least maintained. During the RAC affair to follow, this too would for a while disappear.
The student occupation of Columbia University [New York City] in the Spring of 1968 would come to have a key position in the mythological scenario of spectacular opposition here (that opposition which in its awareness and supporting ideology expresses the devolution of Leninism): out of the occupation of the "least political" building (Feyerweather) came certain individuals who would form the Teachers College Strike Committee, which in turn would evolve into the Radical Action Cooperative (RAC). In contrast to the other ideological groupings drawing the "lessons" of Columbia, RAC had a twist: its active members were not SDS heavies, that is, politicos, well versed in the patterns of mystification. They discovered, from the occupation, daily life at the center of a possible radical separation from those ideologues and from ideology altogether. The possibility for them -- and through them -- would not emerge.
Verlaan was to engage certain members of RAC in discussion. Within a few weeks -- due to these and subsequent discussions, and a shift in his private life -- he was living in a RAC communal apartment, participating in that organization on a round-the-clock basis. He would maintain, on the few occasions we saw him and the matter [was] discussed, that he maintained an organizational separation from RAC, that he had not entertained a dual allegiance. This verbal insistence crumbled in the face of his daily participation in their communal existence which was their organizational existence: it was this participation -- not his words to the contrary -- that would naturally lead anyone, and first of all the members of RAC, to assume he was a member of that organization and answerable to it.
Verlaan's fascination with the communal -- and the debilitating effect this would have on his activity as a situationist -- did not begin with RAC and it would not end there. Horelick would write to us (November 5, 1969) that he was surprised that "Tony has still some special (I think displaced) enthusiasm for the communal." (Our objection, of course, is not to the communal as the survival form an individual may choose, rather it is to the illusions and pretensions that tend to flow from it.)
The form of this new separation between Verlaan and us was not itself new; it was simply the highest expression of a tendency that had previously expressed itself in his earlier relations with Black Mask and SDS. His disengagement from one was soon enough the engagement with the next. Each succeeding "field of agitation" was his withdrawal in [the] face of the common projects which our understanding implied. Each time, he separated those with whom he was in theoretical accord from those others with whom -- on another basis -- he was practically engaged. (In the Fall of 1969, this practice was again returning. In a letter to Horelick, [Verlaan] says, "As for our immediate activities in Holland" and then goes on to talk of immediate activities that lead him to work his "ass off," as he says, and, we add, despite his "our," on anything except that which had been commonly undertaken.) Altogether this was his particular refusal of organizational responsibility and was the expression of a retarded view of "practice" as something other than the practice of theory."
RAC was founded on a contradictory base: its communitarianism, with its inherent reproduction of mystifications, and its reach toward a critique of daily life. The realization of the latter was impossible without overcoming the former, and the weight of conditions (which are first of [all] daily life) made this impossible. RAC was made of those produced by university life, and they brought with them the entire catalogue of stupidities and insensibilities denounced by Khayati in the Strasbourg text (Ten Days).
RAC was at root mere reflection -- without the critical element that could have made it other [than that] -- of the disintegration of bourgeois values as they manifest themselves in family, individuality, private property. Its relationship to critical thought was always -- practically -- one of infatuation. Their separation from university life was [a] sham: even as they would formally put the question of reform of Teachers College, they daily recreated the ruling features of university life, "reformed" and in further decay.
In this environment it was only natural that Verlaan would assume -- whether he desired to or not -- the role of specialist of criticism: the critical distance between them and him would become yet another hierarchy in the name of democratic dialogue. It was determined that they would eventually revolt against him, and in so doing, revolt against the ideas he seemed to advance, [i.e.,] the theories of the SI. And it is further only natural that the revolt would be led by those whom he found "most advanced" within: in particular, King Collins. The appalling passivity of the whole business is underlined by the fact that this revolt would only follow Verlaan's separation from them.
Verlaan -- though it is a minor note -- gravitated to the only milieu he had experienced as radical: the student one. His desire to create "another Strasbourg" (where a student commune -- of which he was a part -- had its role) undoubtedly also caused him to gravitate toward the communal.
His defacto membership in RAC left the SI in ideological waters here. This was unknown to the rest of the SI in Europe, thanks to [Verlaan's] habit of never communicating anything to them. It stood in marked contrast to the positive turn the French section had taken during -- and after -- the revolutionary events in May . Our relationship to the SI had been one of agreement, short of the negative implications of centralist practice. In view of our possible adhesion, we did not wish to see the SI here be absorbed by the general spectacle of opposition. The tangle of events was such that even before being able to press to a conclusion our relations to the SI -- to be a part or separate from it -- it was necessary to intervene over RAC, to clarify the ground. Chasse, on the conviction that relations with Verlaan had reached an impasse, wrote to Vaneigem concerning RAC and Verlaan. The matter found its organizational resolution in Verlaan's formal separation from RAC. Chasse's letter had in effect forced [Verlaan's] hand. Over six months after his separation from RAC -- after months of inactivity on the West Coast -- [Verlaan] would bring up Chasse's "ill-treatment" of him around the RAC affair; it was rehashed and again resolved. In September 1969, when we met in Paris, he would again bring it up, maintaining that it had for him remained unresolved -- that he had only tired of talking of it and had thus allowed apparent resolution! We need only say here that we thought then, and with each subsequent "resolution," that Verlaan had recognized his error. It was not that. He was to show, over a year later that -- in his reversal of [situationist] history and in his moralist outlook -- he was on [RAC's] level. Were it not for a certain "looseness" that prevailed in our relations (as the negative side of trust), we could have known this before.
A formal separation is public; it acknowledges that a pre-existing relation has become entanglement, and dates its termination. This particular separation implied a change of residence; depressed by the thought of apartment-hunting in New York City, Verlaan left for California. It was an action that would be one more block to the immediate rediscovery of common ground [between us]. And, as with Morea, the relations with RAC would have us scraping our feet for some time to come. The break between RAC and Verlaan had, in practice, its ugly moment; a break with the family is rarely clean. Verlaan, in his letter of separation, maintained the option of continued contacts with individuals in RAC (and would exercise this option to the point of staying at the RAC commune for the first few days of his next stay in the East), and this would lead to continuing confusion. Later, as we were planning SI #1Situationist International8 , and dividing the tasks, Verlaan assumed responsibility for an analysis of the whole Columbia scene and of RAC in particular. He done nothing on this (had he, it would have probably revealed real differences between us at that point), and we did not pick up the task. A public presentation of the involvement and its termination would have defused a tactic Collins would employ in his eventual revolt [against Verlaan].
RAC effectively dissolved somewhere along the line, although as late as September 1969, there were still some using its name for their ideological enterprises. Having exhausted its poor possibilities in New York, the entire show migrated to Cambridge [Massachusetts] in late winter 1969, where Collins would gain some notoriety for his part in Harvard [University] disruptions. His infatuation with what was superior to him continued, as did our rebuffs. Finally, his thick hide was penetrated and his ideological forces regrouped: he, as the Council for Conscious Existence, launched his belated revolt. With the Council, Collins and his accomplices have extended his previous caricature of situationist theory into that of SI organizational practices.
The American section to the 8th conference
The texts we prepared and distributed in the early fall ('68) brought with them that mutual recognition -- or critical confidence -- which had been projected as the necessary base for organization. We began to talk seriously of, and eventually to plan, a journal for the Council for the Liberation of Daily Life. To conceive of it, we had already to be thinking seriously of continuation, of follow through, of a project. (What became Robin Hood had been likewise conceived, but not so clearly, and in finished form it was an individual projection. The magazine project can be seen as a concretization, a putting into practice of the projections made therein.)
To begin functioning as a revolutionary organization was to grapple again with the organizational question. What would be our relationship to those, elsewhere, who discovered in our work something common to them? More immediately, what was our relationship to the SI? Was the separation between us real? or had the SI's development surpassed our objections?
We knew that the international[ization] of capitalism demanded the international organization of its coherent opposition. The SI, in revolutionary May  and, less importantly, in correspondence between Debord and Chasse, had sufficiently committed itself to direct democratic practice to make unlikely the ascendency of centralist practices in the future. That this tendency would return decisively a year later -- and that its return would be protested by us alone -- could not then have been predicted. Such a return was of course possible, as was the attempt of any tendency fundamentally of the old world to achieve dominance, given the opening; but we found the SI actively engaged against such directions.
On the level of working relations, Verlaan was the only SI member in the US. His relationship with RAC had been an impediment to our relation[ship] to the SI (and to him as a member). But he had corrected himself by marking his separation from RAC. During his stay with RAC, personal relations with Elwell had all but come to an end, but he had agreed with Chasse that, were his criticisms of Elwell to prove true, they would do so for everyone concerned, in practice.
In view of all this, Chasse wrote to Paris on October 23 , declaring his adhesion to the SI, if the projects previously planned (the magazine) were acceptable as SI projects and if Council texts could be distributed in the name of the SI. He announced Elwell's accord with procedure, stating that resolution of the Elwell/Verlaan differences would be necessary for collaboration. [Chasse] notified Verlaan (then on the West Coast) of all this and of the positive response from Paris. There would be from Verlaan no immediate response.
The conditions were accepted from by the SI with the proviso that, if Verlaan did not then accept Elwell as a member, another third [fourth?] person on whom Chasse and Verlaan agreed should be found as quickly as possible. This, so that a working majority could at all time exist. While open to mechanistic interpretation, this provision was practically sound. We had found in our experience as the Council (and were to find again during Verlaan's absence and effective nonparticipation in the section during the winter and much of the spring, and yet again after our return from the Venice Conference and, of course, now, outside the SI) that two people make effective functioning extremely difficult, and not simply on the nonexistence of a numerical majority. Two is the smallest possible group in qualitative as well as quantitative terms; all tendencies are magnified.
Elwell had in preparation at the time of Chasse's joining the SI a rather long cartoon, "Address to New York City Public School Students."9 The trade union strike which we had spoke to in our September  leaflet was still unsettled, and many exemplary things were happening in the chaos that so unnerved all the bureaucrats. Chasse thought that this cartoon should appear as an SI text and informed Verlaan of same. There was no immediate response; the cartoon appeared under the name of the SI. And the working relations between us continued in [the] planning of the magazine.
Verlaan returned in late November and, in meeting with Chasse, agreed to Elwell's membership. The school cartoon existed as "proof" that Elwell was capable of activity, that Verlaan's previous criticisms -- as far as working, organizational relations went -- were invalidated. It must be noted, too, that there was no common -- open -- resolution of the personal relations between Elwell and Verlaan; there was instead an implicit understanding of the limits of these relations. Our coming together was in recognition of the need of formal -- that is, organizational -- ties. This sort of formality is the practice of transparency -- it is the knowledge that an organization to be revolutionary must be a public body. None of us at the time saw the necessity of a formal, common statement on the formation of the section, stating what previously divided us, the resolution of these separations, and the tasks which we set out for the section. Such a statement would have forced a common apprehension of our historical relations (giving us a clean sheet) and would have made this apprehension and the commitments we drew from it a matter of public record.
The SI and Council mailing lists were consolidated. A statement was prepared on the dissolution of the Council, and on the projected first issue of Situationist International10 . This was mailed out with the last three Council texts (the school strike leaflet, a piece on Bookchin's theories concerning the revolutionary events in May and a piece addressed to RAC and Columbia SDS) and Verlaan's cartoons (done while he was still in RAC) on the "international student conference" in New York in September . A draft statement that Chasse was preparing on [Herbert] Marcuse, for the magazine, was mimeographed, and we leafleted a Guardian benefit that he -- among others "stars" -- was addressing. We laid concrete plans for SI #1, including a preliminary division of tasks and work schedule. This was important because the magazine was the projected basis of our sustained activity in the months to follow. Verlaan was leaving again immediately for the West Coast (he had settled there) and any projects in which the three of us would engage would necessarily take a written form during the separation. He had in the past expressed dissatisfaction with journals on the format of the review of the French section, preferring broadsheets and other more easily reproducible forms. But the division of tasks was assumed voluntarily. All this was accomplished in the few weeks that Verlaan spent in the East, and was no mean achievement. It was practical evidence that previous retardations and separations were in the process of being surpassed.
Here as elsewhere, it happens that the greatest step forward is followed by a slow, steady retreat: the common activity of the American section halted just as it was beginning. Verlaan's departure for the Bay Area reintroduced a separation which would prove other than geographic. On his part, there was silence. He sent no letters -- but this had been anticipated, and with his distaste for epistolary communication in mind, we agreed to stay in close telephone communication. (In a letter to Horelick dated November 11, 1969, Verlaan quotes from a letter he wrote to Chasse during this period; he had a copy to quote from perhaps because the letter was never received [by Chasse].) The phone calls -- there were several -- were all placed by one of us. Chasse also wrote letters, follow-ups on phone conversations, letters as far from ultimatums in style and content as can be imagined. Finally, Chasse asked Verlaan if he wanted to be a part of the magazine. None of his promised writing had been produced, nor was it ever to be produced. An answer to Chasse's simple question would not come until Verlaan's eventual return to New York, and then it was again, yes -- with hedges to be seen.
[Verlaan's] activity in those four months on the West Coast consisted of the completion of one task he had undertaken: the reprinting of Totality and Ten Days, mentioned earlier. While his effective withdrawal from the autonomous activity of the section was initial and outstanding in this period, it was not singular. Elwell was overcome with a paralysis in [the] face of his assumed tasks concerning the magazine. Those pieces that had been promised which were eventually to be produced came tortuously and late; certain pieces were abandoned. In January , Elwell produced the Post Mortem Ante Facto11 wall poster; this was however individual production and a surrogate for participation.
Chasse produced what he had promised and more. He fell into the role of goad to the others during the dreary months to follow. Old individual patters, old separations were effectively reintroduced, and, coming as they did in light of what was commonly assumed, had a new negative significance. Verlaan found himself, by his own decision, in the gelatinous sea of Bay Area "oppositions," and was -- quite naturally -- alienated from it and resultingly sorely depressed. (That he would later maintain other factors -- factors from relations with us preceding the formation of the section and unexpressed at its formation -- at the root of his depression remains his problem, a profoundly ideological one.) With the practice of the section at the level of daily life reduced to two [people], Elwell re-found the manner of his relationship to the production of Robin Hood: that of editorial critic of the work of another. The general conditions of daily life which press toward an effective despair were known. But analyzing a failing, while a condition for its correction, can also be a part of its prolongation. Practically grasping the unity of decision and execution was an arduous process.
Verlaan returned East -- in late Spring  -- due to a crisis in his private life. The encounter over Chasse's letter to Vaneigem concerning Verlaan's activity with RAC -- leading to the second formal resolution between them on this question -- is dealt with [above]. Verlaan expressed the feeling that he could now write, but continued -- on the side -- to find other forms of activity or at least other forms of presentation of greater promise. Despite a somewhat disquieting atmosphere, things looked up: Elwell was writing, and Jon Horelick was clearly with us, if not yet formally.
Verlaan had met Horelick a year and a half previously in SDS; they had subsequently become friends. Horelick's critical evolution was steady and in the fall of 1968 he produced an attack on SDS idiocies that was excellent. At the time of the formation of the section, Verlaan mentioned that his friend might soon be with us; from that point our direct contact with Horelick began. Soon after Verlaan's return in the spring, he and Elwell would affirm that Horelick was on SI positions, had their critical confidence. Horelick would produce the statement on Baran and Sweezy that appears in SI #1. He was not formally asked if he considered himself a situationist until the night of Verlaan's departure for Europe in May .
Verlaan attempted work while here, on two pieces: a "Who's Who of the Ministars of the Minispectacle," and a signed piece on the New Left. He left for Europe -- all of a sudden -- with these pieces incomplete; the "Who's Who" was completed by the three of us who remained. The four pages of the other piece were judged by all of us to be incomprehensible -- even unintelligible -- and was not published. In September , when he would first see the published issue, he would express dismay to comrades of the French section that his "article" was not included. That he would have remembered his "article" as being [in] anything close to publishable form speaks much on how he remembers and how he thinks.
Anyway, his incompleted work for the magazine proved inconsequential compared to what had been -- unknown to us -- his work against it. Later, on the night of Verlaan's departure, Horelick recounted his hesitations about the SI, about us. It seems Verlaan had, despite declarations to the contrary, resulting from the second formal resolution over RAC, not "refound" critical confidence in us, that he was still pissed over incidents as far back as the destruction of On the Poverty and that he resultingly had conveyed to Horelick a different picture of the history of the section and of our relations, a "history" replete with manipulations of him and his projects. We remained in his view theoreticians with serious practical limits that Horelick should be aware of in [the] face of future work with us, and alternately wanted Horelick to join and not to join, as he (Verlaan) alternately found himself capable or incapable of assuming his responsibilities. The old ambivalence had been found sabotaging our common activity.
We found this intolerable and determined that, should Verlaan show up for the 8th Conference -- none of us were certain of this --, this hesitant confidence would have its definitive resolution. Through the summer, it was not clear whether Verlaan even considered himself a situationist. Following a postcard each to Chasse and Elwell during a brief visit with French comrades on his arrival in Europe, no situationist was to hear a word from him until early September, when it was the French section that initiated a search for him to inform him of the date and place of the Conference.
The magazine was finished and sent off to the printer without the participation of Verlaan. It was not the magazine initially planned 9 months previously, and in as much as the history of its making was the history of the section's attempt at autonomous activity, it was not the magazine it might have been. Many pieces which would have enlarged its scope were simply abandoned en route, and in the end (as an economy measure), the numerous illustrations we had chosen had to be omitted. Chasse had done the great majority of the work, including the shitwork of negotiating with the printer, etc. Given to the printer in mid-June with the agreement for delivery by the end of the month -- and with instructions he failed to follow and we failed to check on (assuming a competence he did not have) -- it was finally delivered in early August. It was a sorry sight. Every possible error that could have been made in its technical production was made. It was as if it each tortuous turn in the section's development found its expression in a printer's error.
The three of us had scattered for the summer, as had been our previous plans. There was correspondence (on the magazine, the proposed statutes and the Conference), and some discussions of two gathered at a time -- of these matters and of problems of personal relations. These last easily come to the fore whenever working relations -- for whatever reasons -- have slackened.
We regrouped in New York before leaving for Europe, dealing with the printer at that time, and laying plans for distribution of the magazine. As had been the case with Elwell and Verlaan at the formation of the section, the limits of present personal relationships between the three of us were implicitly understood, and this time with some discussion as background.
* * *
We three arrived in Paris in late September , as did Verlaan. The four of us met to discuss what separated us and to find if it would be possible to ever again work together. Discussion opened around what Horelick had reported to us in the spring. This moved -- and somewhat to our surprise -- to yet another discussion of the involvement with RAC, or, more particularly -- and as the previous resolution over this matter had been -- of Chasse's initial letter to Vaneigem and its practical implications. After much heated discussion, it was agreed by all that it would have been better had Chasse -- at the point of sending the letter -- made one last attempt to contact the SI member (Verlaan) whose practice it concerned. If, when history repeats itself a second time as farce, it should be noted that this was already the third resolution of a simple matter which had at that point been close to a year past. The four of us seemed satisfied with this "final" resolution on the matter. But it must be noted that the discussion of the practical problems of the past was largely displaced into this and a re-hash of previous points of irritation Verlaan had felt toward Chasse's conduct. Verlaan's complete failure to participate in the section (which we had determined to definitively resolve), his absolute lack of communication with any situationist during the summer, the problems of the Elwell/Verlaan relationship -- none of these were directly dealt with, thus making way for Verlaan's complete inversion of the history of the section (and of the resolutions taken in Paris) when we next irritated him, with our ultimatum.
We were to discover that this meeting had, for him, established us as guilty of what, to him, is one of the gravest errors -- crime? -- of all: questioning him. That, he would write to us, made us incoherent and "intransparent." The revolutionary movement cannot preserve us from imbeciles.
It was decided -- on the basis of the critical confidence refound in our resolutions -- that a section could be re-formed at four, even with the geographic separation. Horelick and Verlaan would travel and work together in Europe for a time -- and Horelick not having an antipathy to writing letters -- keeping in close written communication with us. (And again with Verlaan in mind -- though wider application was possible -- we decided that we could exchange taped recordings.) Horelick would make much of this "agreement to write" as an end in itself: even calling it one of the few unanimous decisions we took. We mention here the others. After effectively re-forming the section, it was agreed that the only activity in which the four of us could commonly engage for the duration was literary in nature, all else being simply precluded by the geographic separation. And there was a resolution on other forms of practice, wherein we agreed that there could naturally be no opposition to other forms, which -- once presented -- could be adopted by and carried through by the whole of the section, or, if that was not desirable, and there were no principled objections, by any part of the section. Naturally, new projects could not interfere or prevent those over which there had already been agreement. In such cases, the decision to drop -- or rearrange -- projects would have to be arrived at in common.
We also expressed our approval of the general content of notes Chasse had prepared for the Conference on the question of organization, in which, among other things, is stated: "Participation and rotation of tasks are assumed by the mere act of becoming a member. This requires that any member who is not now prepared to go on this minimum basis must immediately resign from the organization, on his own hook, for his own good (not to speak of the good of the rest of us). . . . This minimum, it seems to me, must be absolutely unquestionable for amy concerted action. Barring that, it is hopeless to get together."
Finally, we agreed -- a change from our "informal" past practice -- that future meetings of the section should be closed to non-members, to avoid confusion over membership. If only through this simple resolution, it is clear that we all sensed the need to establish relations on a more formal basis, but we did not generalize this need.
The SI as a whole was then in evolution from an "informal" to a "formal" organization. Debord's propositions for SI "statutes" clearly point to this, reflecting the evolution that each section was itself experiencing: slowly and unevenly there was coming to everyone the realization that to be effective, the revolutionary organization must make its resolutions and commitments formally before the ensemble -- and given our specific geographic separation, this meant in writing. This movement, viewed from another angle, is the evolution into public development. Unfortunately, the slowness of this realization and the unevenness with which it came to all would prove disastrous.
That the four of us constituted ourselves anew as the American section hardly have been assumed by [the] other situationists -- or by others in general -- on the basis of announced individual intentions of location: Horelick intended to be in Europe up to one year; Verlaan, while stating intentions of eventual return, was even less specific; and the two of us, as half the section, were returning immediately here [to New York].
It should be said that Horelick spoke neither Danish, nor French nor Italian, and this would naturally have militated against his effective participation in a European section; the same cannot be said for Verlaan [who was Dutch and was fluent in French]. To clarify these factors, and on the basis of our intentions, a formal written statement concerning the reconstitution of the section as four, was, in retrospect, absolutely necessary.
A statement of resolution taken, enabling the four of us to continue in common activity, would have entailed an exposition of the negative developments resolved: the real history of the section -- which was nothing other than the history of the individuals involved and of their attempts at common coherent activity -- would have been rendered transparent for the ensemble. This would have entailed naming names, and characterizing real activity in such a way that it would have either driven resolutions deeper or exposed them then and there as resolutions only formal [in nature], without content. The failure to demand that this be done -- and the American section was clearly not alone in [the] face of this necessity and the failure to respond to it -- was an error which made possible the "surprise" at our part in the events of the following months.
The 8th conference
The sections that came together in Venice [Italy] in late September 1969 were not quite a year old. The 8th Conference -- as exchange of detailed information and general advancement of the situationist project -- was a flop. It had not been prepared. What was valuable was the opportunity to meet each other personally (up to then most of us knew each other through letters) and to find ourselves -- despite different languages and the nexus of our individual experiences -- on common grounds. That was exhilarating.
But everything changed in the formal sessions of the Conference. Rather than begin from a position of trust, it was as though all began from a position of doubt. Yet each time the doubt found open expression, it was only a prelude to our making our way back laboriously to discovering ourselves on the same theoretical and practical grounds. Obviously no one individual (or even several) could be held responsible for a general unease, or for its debilitating effects. We spent the better part of two sessions hashing out principled objections and so on, on the seeming collaboration of [J.V.] Martin (of the Scandinavian section) with syndicalists: only to discover that it was all a misunderstanding over a detail. Similar time was spent discussing the established fact of [Mustapha] Khayati's resignation. On the other hand, ten or fifteen minutes perhaps were spent in session over the discussion and adoption of the "provisional statutes."
What particularly concerns us here is the way the sections presented -- or did not present -- matters relating to their internal functioning, bearing upon the real conditions of their existence.
The Scandinavian and Italian sections presented nothing of their internal functioning (a discussion over the latter was started, but became focused on [Gianfranco] Sanguinetti and the conditions of his life [he drove a Ferrari]). The American section presented a review of its past in such general -- and therefore, under the circumstances, vague -- terms that it equaled presenting nothing. The French section, to the degree that it presented problems, presented them as resolved. As the period before and after the Conference shows, the sections were not unaware -- for themselves -- of various internal retardations: they merely did not convey to each other an awareness of them at the Conference. These retardations -- all bearing naturally on the uncertainty of workability -- were not openly recognized as such, but found expression in the endless and, at the time, seemingly pointless doubt that could not find its object.
The sections surprised one another after the Conference by taking steps against old problems. The American and Italian sections did not except the French exclusion of Chevalier; we did not expect the positional and critical report of the Italian section (which accused itself -- in general terms -- of practically every possible mistake); we did not expect the reduction of the Scandinavian section from two (and a probable four) to, really, one; and events have shown that, perhaps least of all was expected the ultimatum in the American section. The reactions to the ultimatum produced almost immediate lack of trust -- if not open suspicion and distrust -- and the unfounded and unverified assumption that our actions were either meaningless or trite, attributing to us the most varied and fantastic -- if not phantasmagorical -- motives.
The question here of course is not that of foreseeing one or another event: but that of possessing an acute awareness which could only have been imparted by the sections, dealing transparently with each other.
Vaneigem has written that "from the first principles to their realization, there is the history of groups and individuals, which is also the history of their possible retardations. Only transparency in real participation stops the menace that weighs on coherence: the transformation of retardations into separation. Everything which still separates us from the realization of the situationist project holds to the hostility of the old world we live in, but the awareness of these separations already contains what will resolve them.
"Consequently, it is exactly in the struggle against separations that retardation appears in varying degrees; it is there that the non-awareness of the retardation obscures the awareness of separations, introduces incoherence. . . . "
The Fall crisis
We decided to be an American section of four, and to attempt to make it work despite the large geographic separation. This was quite a different problem from having one or members of a section absent from its affairs for a time, due to physical separation from its terrain. We must say now that although the arrangement seemed to be able to work, hypothetically, the loss of immediacy and personal contacts -- and not merely the history of the section -- militated against its working.
Along with writing, it was a prerequisite for maintaining a section that, as long as [Verlaan and Horelick] were both separated from the terrain of the section, they generally remain together, that is, in the same city or area. Otherwise, New York would become by default a central clearing house, with the time of decision and execution unworkably drawn out. (Horelick and Verlaan were to end up in separate countries [in Europe].)
Writing was the only means of conducting our affairs. It presupposed the simple necessity of having addresses where we could reach each other. At this preliminary level, Horelick furnished us an address over two weeks after we requested it of him; Verlaan furnished one over three weeks after the same request.
Participation involves at least the sharing and rotating of tasks, the taking of initiatives on common projects and responding to that of others. The distance prevented them from sharing -- or have rotated to them -- the tasks of the day-to-day affairs of the section. But it could be assumed -- as it had been -- that it prevented neither their initiative nor their response over those common projects that took this distance into account.
The projects we agreed to were 1) the preparation of the second issue of the review; 2) a work on workers councils (which might have been part of the review -- we were divided on this point); 3) in addition, prior approval at the Conference for a delegates meeting in January , involved preparation for it.
The time since our departure from Europe -- October 15th -- was only a matter of weeks. We had on other occasions waited for months for real participation. This time, our decision to overcome certain retardations in the past of the section required, to make the decision effective, to make participation real, that all of us adopt and maintain a certain rigor. (Parenthetically, this matter of rigor is not something we then -- or have since -- dreamed up. One of the positive developments of the Conference itself was that this necessity made itself felt by everyone: its first general expression would be the delegates meeting, scheduled a brief three months from the Conference.)
On the 7th of November -- having only by then received about a week before a note from Horelick that served to reassure us no harm had befallen them -- we concluded we could no longer assume the section was functioning. We didn't even know exactly where [Horelick and Verlaan] were. The alternatives closed to us were any that would reintroduce the former style of pleading with another to do what had been agreed upon. (Two days later, the 9th, in Milan, Horelick made the decision to return: at least partially we think on the grounds that he realized the existing conditions -- we here, he in Italy, and Verlaan no one quite sure where -- were unworkable.)
But on the 7th we were in the dark. We took the course of telling them how matters stood with us, and what conclusions we drew. We decided to send an ultimatum. The action would demonstrate the seriousness and the urgency attached to participation, and the necessity to settle the issue in a given time. We noted the main resolution (to be a section) from the Paris meeting. Then, that contacts necessary to this end were not maintained by them. And finally, if we could hardly demand that they initiate anything, we could and did demand that they respond to the initiatives we had taken.
The matter was to find itself almost immediately clarified and made more complicated.
On the 8th -- the next day -- we received a crucial letter from Horelick (plus two notes from Verlaan, with which we will deal later). The contents of Horelick's letter led us to decided not to retract the ultimatum we had just sent the day before, but to reaffirm it.
He wrote: "Tony and I need to coordinate our activity much better. We have intended to draw-up a criticism on the Chevalier exclusion within the framework of a general criticism of the Conference and the sections. This intention has been long standing. We have not completed still a simple task, and our research went on at the institute more separately than intelligently divided. Constant travel and petty conflict overflowed, I think, into our real practical activity. Rather than creating the usual inertia, unusual tense activity developed, thus the activity became a little painful. We have worked better separately so far, and it surprises me that Tony still has some special (I think displaced) enthusiasm for the communal. To prevent the destruction of our real activity, I think we will have to 'delimit' our daily relations. Otherwise I, for one, find myself in a position where I could despise a comrade violently! It is good for us all (here I mean) that he will be elsewhere, temporarily. We have gone through a typical automobile crisis to add to the general displeasure. It was equally enervating to discover strangers more pleasant than a friend. With the necessary adjustments on our daily relations, we can immediately sharpen our critical association.
"Guy suggested our making a criticism of the French section on the Chevalier exclusion, and of the sections in general since he is of the opinion that criticism was concealed at the Conference."
Later, on their relationship during this period, Verlaan wrote to Horelick: "Your 'sensitivity' to 'insults and bad jokes' make the 'insults' exist as insults. As I tried to get across to you, for me they don't have any truth as insults. Where I admit my unhandiness [authors' note: this word and another following it are unclear in the handwritten text], lack of positivity and of immediacy to be my problem, the maliciousness, the bad jokes, I hold to be clearly your problem. To an equal degree, as my sensitivity to you dealing with me as a sucker is my problem." The sophistry of most of Verlaan's verbiage aside, the situation they refer to didn't seem too pleasant.
Old problems had visibly come to [the] surface again (actually taking place a few days after our departure [from Europe], so that, in a sense, our meeting in Paris and the Conference, as well as Verlaan's absence during the entire summer, had been mere interruptions): his 'difficult' style with some comrades, his effective nonparticipation, his junking of his commitments (his own notes, as will be seen, reflect this), his critique of the SI that almost invariably found a parallel in the "crises" in his life.
On the other hand, [Horelick and Verlaan] they agreed to be half a section, functioning from over there. And if there were to be separations, it could definitely not be over unworkability: that would mean a parting of ways. We made the poor decision of dealing with them together, as half the section, rather than simply take note that the half section had itself split in half. In any case, the necessity lay in their drawing the conclusions, for it was, in the immediacy of the day-to-day, difficulties for them. The French section was later to accuse us of constituting a tribunal for dealing with a problem brought to our attention, elements of which were very familiar to us; elements against which the section had been effectively reformed.
So we reaffirmed our ultimatum. Three majors areas of our letter -- of the 8th -- were questioned : 1) the basis for our majority position; 2) the modification of the ultimatum, and 3) the "secret" tendency in Verlaan's critique of the SI.
On the first question, we said we affirmed the majority position "since what is in question is your failure to have carried the unanimous decision of the section. If, in drawing what to us are the conclusions from this, you believe we over-reach the basis from which we claim a majority position, we would naturally place the whole matter before the ensemble of the SI."
The point here is not whether we had a majority position, but whether it would be debated that we were over-reaching it. We thought this would be clear at least to two of the members of the American section. Horelick never mentioned it, and Verlaan -- characteristically -- wiped his ass with it. Sanguinetti -- on the basis of information he did not convey -- simply denied that there was any basis for our action. And the French section reduced the matter to the claim of their own invention that we constituted ourselves a majority by virtue of being the only two at a meeting. We will return to these things.
[Verlaan and Horelick] failed to carry their half over common projects. That, simply, was our majority position. We thought it followed from this -- but that Horelick and Verlaan might dispute it -- that if they were incapable of working together and if, in addition, the old story of Verlaan's critique of the SI was creating on the spot an atmosphere of suspicion with a member of the French section, it was necessary not only to demand immediate clarification of their incapacity to work together and with us, but to clear immediately the grounds on which suspicion among members might be nurtured. This was the "modification" of the ultimatum: not changed from what it was not, it was just made clearer, more precise, on the basis of new information that had been furnished us.
Finally, we did not say that Verlaan (or Horelick with him, but it is significant that they thought so) constituted a secret tendency. We said that, "Any tendency that remains unclarified before the ensemble is defacto secret." What we were asking [for] was the clarification. One of the statements immediately preceding this suggested that the critique might be accepted by the whole section. They did not say why we were not also part of the "secret" tendency they felt themselves in.
Much of this of course was a considerable joke in itself. Horelick was correcting his views of Verlaan, on the 10th and 13th, by "reassuring" us that in the time they spent at the institute, despite the unusual tense activity and the incapability of completing a simple task, Verlaan was working diligently, very hard and effectively. As for any suspicion Debord may have had, Horelick was also correcting that a little by saying he had "badly expressed" himself before and that "Guy invited us." By the time the matter reached Verlaan's way of expressing it, it came out that Debord made the comradely suggestion that they contribute to a general critique since such criticism would be advantageous.
In view of the information we had at the time -- neither unworkability nor suspicion could be endured -- we sent our letter. And in view of the seriousness with which we viewed these developments -- we wrote in the second paragraph of that letter, that we would only deal with questions, for the time being, related to the ultimatum.
* * *
Despite this, Horelick was to come up with criticism of us based on our "failure" to come through on materials we had promised prior to the ultimatum, as well as (although this is not too clear from his letters), our "failure" not to have answered his letters. We had, as soon as we received them. His criticism could only have some validity if he would have had us go on as though the very basis upon which we had agreed to work on common projects had not been put in question, and did not require its resolution before we could proceed. Curious logic. Our "failure" then was not to continue sending letters and documents after letters and documents we had already sent had gone unanswered.
Two days after we received [Horelick's] reply to the ultimatum, we answered every question he had ever raised and furnished him with every document we had ever promised. We did so because, overall, his letters of the 5th, 9th and 10th (the last two mailed and received together), indicated his desire to be of the section, and presented his contributions to that end. We merely noted that he had not dealt with the matter of their failure to participate.
On November 13th , he had received and answered the modified ultimatum we had sent on the 8th. We did not answer this letter of his. We merely indicated in mid-November (the 18th) that we found much to object to, and would deal with it later.
It is a sad letter. Over the crucial matter of participation, it contains circular, self-justifying statements like, "We could have written, but we did not write." And it reiterates the criticism of our "failure," the answers to which were accessible to him. The whole ground covered and gained by his letters of the 5th, 9th and 10th (which our replies of the 14th and 15th built upon) was simply discarded.
He states we do, but we never claimed that their failure had been not to "write" for a period of three weeks; we did claim they did not communicate over the section's affairs up to the time of the ultimatum; we do know they did not participate. And when they did communicate with us, without knowledge of the ultimatum, it was to justify and extend its validity. Yet, by this displacement of their real failure on to a question of having "truly failed to write" in general, and backing that up with it being one of the "few definitive decisions" we made, he introduced into the debate a distortion at the root.
Sanguinetti (of the Italian section) was to write on November 21st: "The only justification for the first ultimatum would be a formal and common agreement on a project Tony and Jon agreed on formerly." Such projects existed, and in that Sanguinetti denies it, it is obvious that he had to get the basis of his statement from sources other than us. (Horelick was with the Italian section for a while, as later he was to be with the French section.) Aside from our communication of material over projects, Sanguinetti himself -- as others -- should have recalled that, at the conference table, in the discussion around projects -- and specifically the project on workers councils -- the American section mentioned what it considered its particular approach to it. The argument that there were no common projects is not serious.
The French section -- on the other hand -- didn't claim there were no projects: but in referring to the question of participation stated flatly that there was no urgency, such as to motivate sending an ultimatum. It followed that, there being no urgency, the ultimatum was false. No matter how they cut it, however, the judgment that there was no urgency is the expression of an evolution of a problem the section could not then know as a whole, and therefore it could not adequately decide upon its practical ramifications (and urgency is nothing more than a practical ramification). Had it even accorded the shadow of validity to our claim to urgency -- and we were presumably in as good if not better position than [the members of the French section] to decide that -- they would have been led, as Sanguinetti before them, to want explanations, clarifications: they would have been led to want at least the establishment of a basis for a common decision.
Having deprived us in their minds of the only basis for our action, [the members of the French section] then presented reasons [for] their creation which they attributed to us. They took up Horelick's argument about truly failing to write in general for three weeks and turned it into: no one has ever been excluded for failing to give news of himself [sic] for even as much as three weeks. The section then proceeded to advance a corollary argument, which might be labeled "the conspiracy to exclude Verlaan." These theses have several defects. Weeks in any quantity have nothing to do with our stated reasons for excluding Verlaan. But were there any validity to their claim, it would mean we would have had to suddenly (somewhere between October 10 and November 7), and, for reasons they would also have to invent, formed the conspiracy to exclude him. An older conspiracy than that would have meant we passed up the long months of the winter and spring and summer of 1969, while the same was on a trip, did nothing and gave no "news" of himself, to wait until he had gone for even as long as three weeks to spring an exclusion on him. (Such an argument must have been particularly devastating in the eyes of the French section: in the years it had had to deal with Verlaan, it received perhaps one or two communications from him.) Were this not also imputing our integrity, it could be passed off entirely for the buffoonery it is.
It is in this letter of the 13th that Horelick completes the process of correcting his impressions of the period he and Verlaan worked together, and he tells us how he can say for sure that Verlaan at the institute worked very hard and effectively. A little further he adds that we have demanded of Verlaan -- O, insidious conspirators! -- to formally write up his criticism of the SI within a week. We had given Verlaan a month. It seems probable -- through Horelick's obvious attempts to defend Verlaan against us -- that we have here the source of the conspiracy thesis.
Finally, a brief note on procedure. [Horelick] tells us -- still in this November 13th letter -- that he does not intend to communicate with us again. Yet, in that we were still members of the same organization, and given that the only way to resolve difficulties was to develop a serious exchange over them, his resolve to cut off communication strikes us as one of the more byzantine aspects of the situation. On the 17th we phoned him (we had not yet received his letter of the 13th); he spoke with us, failing to mention -- to remember? his previous resolve. By the 20th, he wrote again, saying, "Your phone call seemed to be a second modification of your ultimatum of exclusion, which you presently continue to sustain." It was not a second modification, and he had not sought to verify his impression during the call. By the 26th, he had to write again to reaffirm his resolve to stop communication. On December 13th, it was necessary for the French section to act as the mediator of his requests to us.
The best that can be said for Horelick -- if he was convinced that we were out to get Verlaan, unreal and unrealistic as that was -- is that he decided to adopt not so much a position of solidarity as one of fidelity. To that, in the end, we could only really object (we have no quarrel with friendship) that he did not present his argument forthrightly: for if we were not his brothers, or even perhaps his friends, we were certainly his comrades. [If the argument had been] presented forthrightly, [it] would have allowed us to deal with the argument on its own grounds. A reading of his letters shows [...], even after he returned here in late December  and had to write to us again, how much he was he was subject to an advanced state of confident confusion.
* * *
The first "news" directly from Verlaan came on the 8th of November , when we received two notes from him. On the part of our projects he was presumably concerned with -- workers councils -- he held out the promise of material to come. For the rest, the notes are devoted to requests he makes of us that, as it turns out -- except for his request that we send a collection of junk to the institute -- do not bear directly on our common projects but have to do with new projects he has taken upon himself (translation -- his or someone else's -- and distribution of SI material in Holland). He has done this without thought of its effect on our previously agreed upon projects, and without so much as giving a thought to the possibility that we might object -- for the present -- over his dividing his energies, with the deleterious effects this invariably would have on the projects he had agreed upon with us. On the 17th, we received another note from him in which he tells us of his new project: "I am thinking now of a Dutch translation of SI material, mainly of the American section (since I do like [issue] No. 1 a whole lot)." And, in a previous letter to Horelick, of which he sent us a copy: "As for our immediate activities in Holland, there will be [the] question of an edition of (1000 [copies]) [Rene] Riesel's article in Dutch, the Poverty pamphlet will appear as a brochure and in a student newspaper. Totality for Kids is under translation and so on and so forth. I am working my ass off."
Our common projects were in abeyance: the second issue of the review, the transmission of his work on workers councils, and the delegates meeting. On the workers councils, he had said he had discovered much, without a hint -- after five weeks -- of what that could be. On the delegates meeting and the review, he invented the pretext -- in the context of an insult, for emphasis -- that he simply could not read our "telegraphic style": this not only seemed to him an adequate reason for not dealing with any questions or propositions we made, but it also was obviously adequate to prevent him from initiating anything on these matters.
The 17th, however -- when we received the last of the notes referred to above -- was the deadline on the ultimatum. His note made clear that he had not seen the ultimatum letters, but that he knew through his brother that a letter was waiting for him, which he would be picking up on his way to Paris. Thinking him [to be] in transit, we phoned Horelick in Milan to tell him we knew Verlaan had not received the ultimatum and that naturally we would give him another week within which to deal with it.
It was all a waste of time. On the 17th, Verlaan had received and replied to the ultimatum. His reply was a series of counter-charges, baseless accusations and purely ideological justifications. For the first time -- despite any conspiracy thesis -- it became certain to us that there was no possibility of [reaching an] understanding with him, no mutual recognition, no transparency: we excluded him.
If it is true that the ultimatum situation set the scene for his turning to falsification, we made clear in our letter of exclusion that we were not excluding him for failing to respond to the ultimatum, but for his falsification of the history of our relations before and during the existence of the American section. We merely noted that he never did answer the terms of the ultimatum. We were surprised that no [other] section acknowledged the grounds for [the] exclusion as distinct from the ultimatum, but in their act of refusing it -- as they all did -- they merely seemed to assume it followed from the ultimatum. We even wrote a long letter in French, on the supposition that the English had eluded the translators. The reason, as will be seen later, lay elsewhere.
We committed here a breach of democratic practice. No one took note of it, except, after the fact, ourselves. Before excluding Verlaan, we should have notified Horelick of our view, and requested his. We should have done this since the American section still existed, and Horelick was still part of it, despite the fact that we knew he was then in transit, that he had stated he would no longer communicate with us, that he could probably not show us how Verlaan had not falsified the history of our relations (that [Horelick] had himself -- we thought perhaps through incomprehension of the circumstances -- distorted reference to those relations.) It was our obligation to give him the opportunity to state his position, even -- and no doubt especially -- if it turned out to be a minority position. It was our intention to bring up this breach of practice at the delegates meeting, the one we were never to attend.
We quote from Verlaan's letter the central passages we had to object to:
"The 'ultimatum' practice had been discussed in a pre-conference sectional meeting. It dealt with the same people now on the side of the ultimatum."
There was no ultimatum "practice," as the ultimatum he received was the first ever sent. He refers however -- once again -- to the RAC affair, which concerned him and Chasse, and not "the same people now on the side of the ultimatum." These are convenient distortions of a liar: so the facts will fit the case he is trying to make in what follows.
"We revealed the incoherence, intransparency, the lack of subjective/objective confidence and the catastrophical consequences this ultimately had on our practice of last winter. Myself not being able to point my finger on the roots got to be very disenchanted with the entire sectional practice."
What we revealed was that after he had been involved for about three months with RAC -- and after a stormy argument about two weeks before, and after Verlaan had done nothing to break with RAC -- Chasse should have tried one more time to bring Verlaan to his senses by showing him the letter to the SI, on the Verlaan/RAC affair, before sending it. What the liar does here is to seek not only to justify his inactivity -- his effective nonparticipation in the section -- with reference to a situation which was considerably resolved already "last winter," before the formation of the section, but to blame both of us for that inactivity: an inactivity which was characteristic of him before and after RAC, through the medium of his "other" -- his so-called practical -- involvement.
"After a critique, we reached an agreement in Paris, that such measures should be handled with care, in coherence. Now, only five weeks after you leave Paris, I have only seen one letter I don't understand for good reasons, and two letters containing ultimatums, which I for even mere practical reasons cannot respond to (I received the first ultimatum on its deadline, the second left me two days [to respond])."
Not knowing where to find him was, as he tells us in one of his letters, was our fault: we should have known he was in Amsterdam. Further[more], we called Horelick, precisely over such deadlines.
"Furthermore, it appears [from] the bullshit those ultimatums contain that we haven't agreed over the past two months on anything in practice. With the horrid tales of your behavior at the printer and during the vacation, it would mean that nowhere [near] two years progress in our practical relationships has been made."
At the beginning of the paragraph, the liar can't even count: he received, aside from the two letters containing the ultimatum, three letters, one telegram and two documents. On the other hand, elsewhere in this same letter, he gives a list of the things he has sent: with the exception of a couple of incidental notes, his activity -- his writing -- starts after he was informed by his brother that a "special delivery" letter from us was waiting for him. We do not say the knowledge of it was the spur, but the coincidence is interesting. By the end of the paragraph, the liar refers to some gossip about [the] printer and [the summer] vacation that we are not aware of. As for the rest, we agree: no progress was made, and he is in this letter telling us why -- for the first time -- he has always made it impossible.
"Therefore, Post Office or not, Central Office or not, I am not ready to tolerate these (almost cyclic) pseudo-organizational shows of coherence, without going to the roots."
The only thing cyclic is RAC, his invention entirely. [Earlier, in this text] we deal with the idea that he presents here as [the] 'Central Office.' A liar always finds it convenient to distort what others say.
We doubt that anyone -- except a falsifier -- could have twisted the RAC situation to make it come out that we had been incoherent and lacked transparency. Simply, Verlaan had made an error in becoming a defacto member of RAC. He had -- formally -- recognized the error by correcting it. The position of solidarity we were to take after that was not with his error, but with his correction of it. Yet, by its perpetual return, it is obvious that something of the situation, something in the reaction to his involvement, had been unacceptable to him. We think he gives his reasons, finally when he writes, right after saying he is "going to the roots":
"It might help toward clarification to know that I agreed with the criticism by Raoul (Vaneigem) and Guy (Debord) made to my request for explanations for the breach of a formal, voted-upon agreement at the Conference, not because I found myself to be moral or unauthorized to criticism, but because my question was inquisitorial, presumptuous, and disconfident, destroying the very basis of our equality as comrades."
We would rather say it is the right -- indeed, the duty -- of any comrade to request explanations for the breach of any formal agreement and that such a request is neither inquisitorial, presumptuous nor "disconfident." Vaneigem and Debord had objected not to his right to question, but precisely to the moral censure in his comments.
Membership in an organization such as the SI implies responsibility and accountability. What Verlaan is telling us here is that he is accountable to no one: it is to destroy the very basis of equality among comrades to question one another, that is, to demand of one -- should that occasion come up -- that he account for his actions as a member. His is a moral view of relationships: those who are right are right forever in each other's eyes. It also follows, no doubt, that he could only, in the end, reconcile Chasse's questioning of his involvement with RAC by reversing the responsibility for his error, or even by having us share it. Such a line was bound to bring him to have to lie to himself and to us.
The present SI though has vindicated Verlaan's outlook by rejecting the exclusion: not only assuming a position of solidarity with a falsifier, but doing so blindly, without having seen this letter from Verlaan, on which we based his exclusion. Apparently, he was right forever in their eyes.
* * *
The sections [of the SI] assimilated without distinction Verlaan's exclusion to the ultimatum: we judged that if that letter had been misunderstood, they must have been incapable of even reading the long and rather detailed ones we had sent. We wrote again, this time in French, on December 3rd, in order to reach directly both the French and the Italian sections. No dice.
We received -- several weeks after the French section had excluded us -- a letter from Riesel (of the French section), dated 13 December, sent by boat, arriving here the 14th of January . The requests in that letter show that everything done by the sections -- and by the French section in particular, which did more than the others -- was done without their having seen any of the letters that had been handwritten by Horelick and Verlaan, as well as having been unable to familiarize themselves with the content of the letters over RAC, as they no longer had copies. The handwritten letters include Horelick's of the 5th [December 1969], on which is based our modified ultimatum of the 8th, and all of Verlaan's letters, including, naturally, the one on which we had based his exclusion. We had assumed all correspondence had been read. We have not been told how the sections evaluated information they did not possess directly, nor why they did not ask for it, when it must have been clear to them that they did not possess it. It is -- in a way -- amusing that a request for information bearing upon a decision should be made after the decision has been formulated: and more amusing still that, in the light of all correspondence being exchanged by airmail, this one should be sent by boat (along with one other, incidental piece). By the time this December 13th letter was sent, the French section had already accused us of ignoring the realities of correspondence, as they called it.
On December 1st, Martin (of the Scandinavian section) wrote to say there was need for a complete explanation over the exclusion of Verlaan; he declared his agreement with the position taken by the Italian section on the matter. A few days later he wrote again: his anger made his English (not his native tongue) suffer considerably. We had asked him a simple question (about the composition of the editorial committee of the Scandinavian review), as a point of information. In conversation, he would no doubt have answered directly, easily. In writing, the question became an insult. He also decided to break off communication with us (byzantine was spreading).
On the 26th of November, accompanying a letter from Sanguinetti which we have already mentioned, was one from the Italian section. They demanded, essentially, three things: 1) that all resolutions on the problem of the American section be put off to the delegates meeting; 2) that, before then, a solid and thorough discussion be taken up by letter; [and] 3) that we annul the exclusion.
The Italian section has difficulties with French syntax and vocabulary: it is possible -- since they wrote to us in French -- that they did not really intend to use the word annul. At any rate, we obviously refused to annul an exclusion that was in question and up for discussion. We approved of their demand for a prior discussion, by letter, and went further: we demanded that documents be prepared for the delegates meeting that would oppose or contradict either the ultimatum or the exclusion or those tow things together.
It was the last that we were to hear from the Italian section. Although they had "above all defended reasons of principle and method" over what had been their false appreciation of what impelled us: they were silent when the French section directly violated:
their proposals for the handling of the problem within the American section, to which Martin had adhered, and which we had approved in part;
as well as the "provisional statutes" ("each national section is master of its exclusions. . . . In the case where the facts would be disputed by the excluded comrades, or in the case where another section of the SI would ask for a new discussion on the very basis of the debate, those exclusions would be suspended until a general conference of the SI (or a meeting of delegates) which would take the final decision");
as well as the French section having abrogated direct democratic practice by taking upon itself the function of decision and execution for all.
Finally, the Italian section had taken the formal, general position that: "A proposed exclusion that would not be accepted does not necessarily lead to the exclusion of those who formulated it . . . but creates a situation which must be radically clarified." It is noteworthy that in proceeding against us, the French section did not meet the resistance of the Italian section when the former acted as though it did not have to take into consideration the positions of the latter in a matter which, according to the French section itself, was unprecedented.
When the French section first intervened in the "debate in the American section," it was to attempt, it seems, to be helpful: to furnish whatever information it had, which was felt to bear upon the situation. Riesel -- on the 13th of November -- and then Debord and Riesel (on the 14th) told us our letter of the 30th had been forwarded and noted that we would no doubt have to take into consideration these delays to explain in part, perhaps, the delays of Horelick and Verlaan. They had learned through the Italian section of Horelick's address. As for Verlaan, he "seems presently to be in Holland, at an address unknown to us." Around the same time, Horelick was himself speculating that Verlaan could be in Denmark or Holland, but that he was "probably in England." Verlaan must have assumed, naturally, that it was obvious to everyone that he was in Amsterdam.
The problem, however, was never one of the lost letters (Horelick entertained this particular fantasy once), or even their delay, to us or from us.
On November 25th, Riesel, having received the notice of exclusion of Verlaan, referred to the statutes and wrote to say that the French section "has charged me to inform you" that in such a case it demands a discussion on the roots of the problem at the meeting of the delegates, which will have to decided on the affair. The [French] section not only never acknowledged receipt of Verlaan's letter on which we based his exclusion, but in its subsequent speculations, it was never even so much as to acknowledge the existence of the letter. It is at this point that we judged our English had perhaps eluded the translators.
On December 3rd (the day we were writing our letter in French), the French section composed its position on the ultimatum and Verlaan's exclusion.
Stating that there was never an exclusion of this sort or "even vaguely resembling it," [the French section] passes in silence over the grounds for [the] exclusion: falsification and incoherence; grounds that were far from vaguely known in the exclusions of the past. Then it proceeds to give reasons for rejecting the exclusion as a measure following from the ultimatum.
We are accused of forming a majority by virtue of being the only ones at a meeting (this in context is not a reference to our not having notified Horelick prior to excluding Verlaan, but to the majority position that made the ultimatum possible). They list two reasons for sending an ultimatum: "in the case where the SI would appear compromised by public errors, where the demand would be made to correct them publicly," as was the case with the English [situationists], for example; "or else in practical, dramatically urgent cases, to demand their participation without further delay," as was the case with Horelick and Verlaan. Yet, despite facts to the contrary, the French section simply states: "Neither of these two conditions existed in the recent crisis of the American section." We are accused of not taking into account "dates" in the realities of communication. And that "a real majority engaged in a real conflict still has the absolute obligation to take into account the objections or justifications of the comrades who have been put into question." This is said as though we had not answered Horelick in detail; or as though, after Verlaan had deployed his lies and incoherence, we were still in the "obligation" of dealing with anything else. We are accused of using a "bureaucratic tone," and "artificial precipitation," and constituting a "tribunal" to judge the absent with heavy-handed partiality.
Finally -- unless for the French section the accusation is already the proof -- as though it had proven something by a series of unfounded or verifiably false accusations, we are told that "outside of these indisputable evidences, the French section simply refuses to admit that a situationist could ever be excluded for having stayed even up to three weeks without giving news of himself to his section, while it is known and admitted that he is on a "trip." Here then is the first official reason for Verlaan's exclusion. It is as little related to the real stated reasons as everything else, but it nevertheless opens the way for: "It is easy to see that it is precisely because there was no sustainable motive for an exclusion that this technique of the ultimatum -- itself unsustainable in this case -- was used to bring these futilities to the level of exclusion." The pettiness of these conceptions is almost beyond imagining: but the conspiracy thesis found its home.
Having accused us of so many distortions, manipulations, lack of honesty and seriousness, of conspiracy to undo a comrade, and presented all these things as "indisputable evidence," we were surprised that [the members of the French section] did not see the logic of their position and find themselves compelled, in the light of their pseudo-knowledge, to propose our exclusion.
Ten days later, as mediator for Horelick, Riesel was to address to us his request for copies -- for sending to [the] other sections -- of all of Horelick's and Verlaan's letters written by hand, plus two letters sent to Vaneigem -- for the SI -- concerning Verlaan and RAC. Given the delays in the transmission of mail that do exist around this time of year, it is doubtful that even if this letter had been sent by air, we would have had the time to make the copies and return them, even directly to the sections, before what was to follow [their exclusion].
On the 19th [of December, 1969], the French section moved to assume its role as the deciding and executory section. After throwing in a few false facts (for example, that we threatened the Italian section), it gets to the point: "The ensemble of the International has already refused the exclusion of comrade Verlaan by qualifying it a false exclusion. It goes without saying that those who have pronounced a false exclusion are excluded by virtue of that fact alone. Everything that was discussible has been discussed; this is no longer." We are then told that the "American section" [Horelick and Verlaan] will contact us for turning over of SI property to them.
We had effectively nothing to discuss with an executory section. Our letter of resignation was sent on the 28th [of December, 1969], four days after received their notice. Everyone else, all being in Europe, probably received the exclusion letter before we did. It gave any section -- or individual -- ample time to protest, as our resignation did, the many violations which the act of the French section constituted. No one protested.
The logic of falsification
The SI, having advanced to the perception and statement of groundrules for the internal functioning of an international revolutionary organization formed of those not directly engaged in the process of production, at the first test of their international application, was in capable of overcoming its negative history: its centralist practice [of its early years]. There was then, in fact, no trust in the methods of direct democratic practice.
Our resignation marked publicly our refusal to brook these violations, and their consequent return to the rules of the old world; violations which at least after receipt of our resignation the SI became aware of. The only revolutionary alternative then was for the organization to publicly correct itself: censure the French section, cancel its action, and therefore accept our resignation as the mark for the organization of the public and practical rejection of centralist practice and its implicit hierarchical relations. These actions probably would have left the organization healthy enough to recognize the falsifier [Verlaan] -- on the basis of accessible information: his letters -- and to exclude him.
Instead the SI has already taken steps toward the longer and more painful destructive process both for its part in the revolutionary development as a whole, and for the members of the SI as individuals (since one is not a voluntary slave without serious consequences): it has resorted to falsification.
The executory section has excluded us with a final "everything that was discussable has been discussed; this is no longer." Apparently, however, all the [French] section had meant by its definitive pronouncements was merely to "propose" that we be excluded.
The delegates of the four sections, on January 19th , sent us a copy of a second letter of exclusion. They take note, they say, of the propositions to exclude us made by Verlaan (he had threatened it, although it might be argued that the threat was already the proposition), by Martin (he sent us a hostile letter, where it is implied that an exclusion will take place, but not necessarily ours -- he had previously indicated he was not aware of all the facts -- but this becomes, in the requirements of the moment, a proposition for our exclusion), and by the French section (which had hardly proposed it, it had done so). The executory section will be displeased to learn that Horelick, when he had again to deal directly with us in early January, was out of step with the latest imperatives and referred to its letter as that of our exclusion.
A way the ensemble of the SI could have effectively transformed the action of the French section into a proposition, would be for someone -- other than in the form of our resignation -- to have questioned the very basis of the action: the same process that met in fact the exclusion of Verlaan. The logic of such a situation, however, would have led the ensemble to notify us that the reasons (the violations) leading to our resignation had been put in question. Verlaan's exclusion, for the ensemble, would have still been in question. No such thing was done. And the delegates, meeting someplace in [East] Germany (not in Luxembourg, where we would have gone, in the original set-up) of course are not proceeding secretly against us on the basis of "propositions" and a situation we are unaware of: we are already out of it (and this second letter of exclusion is addressed appropriately not to us but to the sections). They are merely making the internal picture of direct democracy consistent with the imperatives of those who decide.
If not already so, it will become obvious that these four delegates (Martin, [Claudio] Pavan, Riesel, Verlaan) merely manufactured on paper a solution to the violations of the executory section. [The delegates'] letter is written in English: they should have chosen a language more familiar to them. As it is, rather than proceed to pronounce our exclusion on the basis of these "propositions," they declare that they "agree" with the exclusion. This little subtlety -- which no doubt escaped them -- reveals the true relationship: they are placing their rubber-stamp on the actions already executed.
This done, the delegates reassert themselves as though they had pronounced the exclusion in the name of their sections, by giving a second official reason for the exclusion: the exclusion of Verlaan is no longer for our conspiracy involving his not having given news of himself for even so long as three weeks, but that we had a more subtle goal: to attempt to exclude him in order to reorganize the SI along our bureaucratic rules. Verlaan savior! A fitting role.
When adherence to agreements, to established practice, to accepted groundrules is called "bureaucratic rules," we have proceeded so far into the domain of the false that all of reality has merely become a moment of it.
We know that it is in the logic of falsification, yet it is a pain to see reappear a defense of every twist and turn the center that dominates [the situationists] imposes -- and in the end inflicts -- upon them. Voluntary surrender to the master is the worst form of slavery: it condones [the master], it assumes his right, and assures it.
* * *
The SI as it is now organized is already of the old world. As we said at the start, what is serious is that as a result of this internal crisis, the organization no longer is what it appears to be, at any level, so that, continuing to exist, it must do so as a fake revolutionary organization. Expressing a retardation in the organized opposition to the prevailing order, it introduces that retardation into the revolutionary moment developing before us.
We have placed the SI before its unawareness of its own image.
Edited by Not Bored! Text from https://www.notbored.org/field-study.html
[Editor's note: Jon Horelick eventually responded to this text in The Practice of Truth: The Crisis of the Situationist International, published in Diversion #1, June 1973.]
- 1These are referred to throughout the text and are available courtesy of Not Bored! here.