Two former participants in the 1970s US situationist grouping Point Blank, Gina Rosenberg and Chris Shutes, critique the organisation.
Chris Shutes was a member of Point-Blank from its inception in 1971 up until May 1973. Gina Rosenberg was peripherally involved with Point-Blank in 1973, also until May. While it is only appropriate that the first section of this pamphlet, concerned with the critique of Point-Blank, be told from Chris’s perspective, the experiences of both of us, and a collaboration in writing, are reflected throughout. (G.R. & C.S.)
The time has come to crash this party, or more precisely, the fashion show of pro-situ ideology staged by the poseurs of the organization Point-Blank. Yes, it is indeed the fashion for Point-Blank and their imitators to peddle their wares (“theory”) hereabouts, and even as far away as in France — in Berkeley it has become as predictable as it is banal. Point-Blank’s activity, which, owing to its apparent novelty, was once able to arouse a smattering of interest from curious onlookers, has now revealed itself as pathetic, pure and simple. This advanced deterioration is hardly surprising, however (and it would be surprising only to those who were taken in by its mini-spectacle, of whom there are precious few) — the decline of Point-Blank is directly related to its development.
The task before me is a critique of this outfit, Point-Blank, of which I was a member from the spring of 1971 until May 13, 1973. It should be noted from the start that during the time I was a member of Point-Blank, I was in no way conscious of what Point-Blank was or of what was happening to me in it. I simply flowed with the tide, and if I was unable to see beyond the surface of things, it was because I was caught in the ebb too. If Point-Blank can be described as a thoroughly pro-situ organization, then I was thoroughly pro-pro-situ. Unable to participate in any more than a marginal capacity in the practice of the organization, I ended up agreeing with almost all of what was done by the other members, believing that I would eventually find the key to the apparent coherence of the two people (Jacobs, Winks) who always accounted for (and presumably still account for) the vast majority of the material produced by Point-Blank. In the meantime, I stalled, hedged, settled for occupying myself with banalities such as layout, hassling with printers, etc. I simply repressed, or forgot, or avoided the feelings of uneasiness, the awareness of separation, the recognition of alienation from the other members of the group and from the group as a whole, all of which appeared again and again, especially around the times projects were being composed. Rather than having the courage and the intelligence to critically view the wall I kept encountering, I just kept banging my head against it.
I have no intention of concealing my impotence in relation to Point-Blank’s practice, or of excusing it. What matters is to understand and supersede it, for the sake of myself first of all, but also for the benefit of others who undertake the task of situationist organization in the future.
When I resigned from Point-Blank in May, at the same time that Gina Rosenberg broke with Point-Blank, because, as she put it in her letter to them, “I no longer care to attempt to have relations with a group which at every turn has presented only obstacles in the way of my participation in it,” it was certainly not because we had developed a conscious critique of the organization, but because we could simply no longer ignore the immense accumulation of falsehood that permeated every aspect of Point-Blank’s activity. But we were getting there. We thought and talked about Point-Blank and about the future. Coming across Ken Knabb’s translation of J.P. Voyer’s Reich: How To Use and a poster entitled We’re Tired of Playing With Ourselves (Cronin, Smith, Hammer) in July, we were prompted to reread Knabb’s pamphlet Remarks on Contradiction and Its Failure. The first time I had read Voyer, I had ignored it; Gina had not seen it before. The first time each of us had read Knabb’s pamphlet, we had both curtly dismissed it as a product of misery. And no wonder! At the time of those first readings, we were still involved with Point-Blank, and having little inclination towards viewing ourselves critically, we certainly had no use for them. But once we allowed ourselves to question everything about Point-Blank, and had already started to do so, we recognized the importance of these pieces. Despite some disagreements we have with these pieces, their essential perspectives provided a focus for the formulations we had already arrived at during the summer. We realized that my practical impotence in Point-Blank was a product of my character. A total critique of Point-Blank follows from this basic realization.
* * *
“We hold that people can only dissolve their characters in contesting the entire society . . .; whereas, on the other hand, the function of character being accommodation to the existing state of things, its dissolution is a preliminary to the global critique of society. We must dissolve this vicious circle.”
When a person decides to become a revolutionary, i.e. consciously aims at opposing the spectacle in its totality, this implies, to begin with, opposing the accumulation of value in himself, that is, his character. Whether he calls it “character” or not is incidental (according to the motto: if there had never been a Wilhelm Reich, it would be necessary to invent one), but he’d better oppose it all the same, or all his good intentions will remain just that, at best. He lapses into the state of being merely pro-situ when he fears starting his critique of everything from himself. As a result, he becomes incapable of really criticizing anything, for no other reason than the fact that his critiques don’t proceed from his passion to liberate his own daily life, from his own subjectivity. His adhesion to the Situationist International’s theses become (or remain) essentially intellectual; his modus operandi? simulation. The pro-situ has not recognized his subjectivity in that of the S.I. or anyone else, because he doesn’t have the guts to be subjective. Nonetheless, the apparently avant-garde nature of his ideas appears to separate him from the milieu he emerged from (almost without exception, from his fellow students); his novelty, in turn, often combined with an abstract rejection of the Left (sacrifice and so on), he takes for his subjectivity. And because he is thus subjective, character doesn’t concern him, no sir! He appeals almost exclusively to those who are most like he was before his great metaphysical break — his abstractions are as far from ad hominem as could be imagined. He expects the subjectivity of others to emerge just like “his” did — precisely because of how he defines his own illusory subjectivity. The pro-situ is different than he was before he became a “situationist,” but only in the sense that the most important determinant of the pro-situ’s character is precisely his resistance to the practice of theory. Which is a big problem, seeing that the pro-situ’s major preoccupation is his desire to practice theory! It follows that his apparent novelty is itself the greatest barrier to his assaulting his character (and even to the recognition of the existence of his character). The pro-situ, who appears at first glance to be closest to the breakdown of character, is actually one of those furthest away.
The process described above is not necessarily absolute — the struggle against character can be partial, partially conscious. It may be that the seeds of subjectivity are there, but the necessary lucidity concerning it is limited, or sporadic. What then? Eventually one tendency must win out: coherence, or a relapse into the inauthentic. This process itself may take place over an extended period, and may develop unevenly.
From this, it is clear that for the pro-situ, the critique of his character and the critique of the pro-situ organization are inseparable. Both are preconditions to the supersession of the pro-situ stasis (the supersession itself can of course only take place in the organization of an ongoing revolutionary practice). But it is not enough to state in these critiques what one’s character and what the pro-situ organization are; it is crucial to understand how they got to be that way. To get to the root of this matter, one must go back to the origins. By understanding the process which led to the structuring of one’s character as a pro-situ, and to the structure and activity of the pro-situ organization, it becomes easy to understand the consequences. Otherwise, everything remains out of reach. Point-Blank always wanted to patch up the cracks without getting down to the rotten foundation — if I had to single out our greatest organizational weakness, I would say without hesitation that it lay in the fact that we never understood how to “interrupt ourselves constantly in our own course, come back to the apparently accomplished in order to begin it afresh” (Marx). Point-Blank’s major task remains to unplug their noses (an unlikely eventuality). My job is easier: to analyze the stench.
* * *
Point-Blank (though that name was not adopted until July 1971) began at the University of California at Santa Cruz in the winter and spring of 1971. David Jacobs and I arrived at Santa Cruz in the fall of 1970 — confronted with the sordid spectacle of student poverty in its most hideous form, and a motley melange of Stalinists and eclectic leftists “opposing” it, we proceeded to compose an anarchist leaflet (“Black Flag Bulletin #1”) which included a short, somewhat confused but generally intelligent critique of the university, and a call for nonhierarchical revolution à la Murray Bookchin. David met Chris Winks in a class early on, and the three of us soon became known as “the anarchists” at Santa Cruz. We shared similar views of the university and the student life surrounding it — though we found going to school more tolerable than working. In combination with our political ideas, which did not hold any real conception of how revolution was to come about, we quickly developed a contempt for just about everything. We began assaults on whatever or whomever we could find to go after (whether via a leaflet, graffiti, a fire extinguisher, or just plenty of insults), having a great deal of fun all the while.
We had run across a copy of the Situationist International’s On the Poverty of Student Life, liked parts of it, integrated parts of it into our anarchist ideology, ignored the rest. Our first encounter with anyone who was prepared to defend On the Poverty in its entirety came about when Isaac Cronin (later a member of the organization Contradiction) looked us up, having by chance seen a copy of the “Black Flag Bulletin.” He criticized the Bookchinist tendencies and anarchism in general, and the leftist “issues” we had accepted in our leaflet (the War, ecology, racism), and talked with us about On the Poverty. He gave us a copy of Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, which David undertook to criticize from an anarchist-Marcusian perspective. Which led where it would. By December, David had accepted a situationist perspective (including its critique of anarchism) — Chris Winks and I soon did the same. It is worth noting, however, that beyond some initial general questions and ideas we had about situationist theory, we never really discussed it in any but a most occasional and haphazard way.
These origins of Point-Blank had a profound influence on our subsequent development, an influence which is ignored entirely by Point-Blank (see, for example, the article “The Practice of Theory” in Point-Blank! #1). To begin with, we were always anti-students. At Santa Cruz, and afterwards, we operated under the principle that because we were powerless over the use of our lives, we were proletarians, and therefore did not have to worry about the problems that would arise through our real differences from other proletarians, in terms of background, language, and immediate view of the world. We were isolated from the rest of the world at the university, though not in the ridiculous leftist sense of somehow existing outside society. In failing to consider our isolation, we in fact arrived at a position 180 degrees opposite that leftist mystification: we viewed Santa Cruz as though it was exactly like the rest of the world. In undertaking the work of the negative, the object of negation almost inevitably ended up being the university and student life; and when we attempted to speak to workers (or high school students, or even students at other universities), we treated their positions in society as though they were essentially the same as ours was at the university, that is, as it was at U.C. Santa Cruz. Hence, in confronting an extremely sophisticated pacification program at UCSC, the emphasis of which is on a personalized, humanized alienation, we lost sight of the obvious, admittedly archaic forms of conditioning and repression that the vast majority of people in bourgeois society are subjected to. It was as though capitalism had already reached the point where everyone was afforded the chance to organize his own alienation — this tendency was regarded as an almost universal fait accompli. The isolated quality of the hill outside the student-resort-rest home town of Santa Cruz compounded another problem, itself the product of our own backgrounds: a gross overestimation of the importance of the New Left. While the Movement was in 1971 already in a rapid state of decomposition all over the country, and was able to attract the attention of increasingly small numbers, the New Left found at Santa Cruz a haven for holdovers of its illusions. The ultraliberal structure of UCSC (itself largely in response to countrywide campus turmoil in the early sixties), and the mythology surrounding it, catered to a student body who could act out the paltry dreams of the Left and the counterculture. Every sort of communalized misery found its institutionalized realization there: for the atavistic, a garden and Renaissance “festivals”; for the enterprising, heavy into people’s survival, food co-ops to organize for five units’ credit; for the “artistic,” a whole college devoted to reified creativity; for the average student, lots of dope in the dorms, or in his mountain hovel; for the diehard militant, university facilities at his disposal, plus plenty of issues to protest and a whole city to “organize.” And so on. Combined with the fact that the Left had recently been such an important part of our lives (and with our zeal to make a clean break with it), it is hardly a wonder that, in the face of this spectacular onslaught, the New Left became the focus of the majority of our critical attention.
In light of this, it was only natural that student life and the Left were the targets of our first practical attempt to make our new ideas public.1 The Citadel and Other Sordid Tales, printed and distributed on five Bay Area campuses in the spring of 1971, was the product of our tenure at Santa Cruz as outlined above. We soon recognized numerous weaknesses of this piece: verbosity, a definite “in” joke quality of several graphics, and others. The major weakness of The Citadel, however, was its essentially abstract perspective. This abstraction did not come about because The Citadel “did not start from a specific situation” (Point-Blank! #1, p. 92); on the contrary, it started from the situation of student life at Santa Cruz, and abstracted that basically sound, and in parts very lucid critique, onto universities everywhere. The very genesis of The Citadel demonstrates this: it arose from the synthesis of two comics written about specific classes at UCSC, with some revisions and additions.
Directly tied to the abstractness of The Citadel was a pronounced negativism. This was largely a reflection of the fact that at UCSC a practical disruption was virtually impossible. The decentralized nature of the place made anonymity impossible; and even if the authorities didn’t get you straight off, there were always a couple of loyal little assholes to squeal on you. Our own nihilist past compounded this objective difficulty. The image of ourselves as different from everyone else at UCSC, which we had cultivated during our first few months there, led to an enforced isolation from just about everyone throughout the entire year, despite the fact that we also wanted to establish the basis for a radical dialogue with others who shared at least some of our disgust with the university. It may well have been the case that at Santa Cruz there was in fact no one worth talking to; the point, however, is that we scarcely even tried. We viewed each student only as part of a mass, abstractly condemning all individual students because of our critique of student life in general. It came to a point where it was considered incoherent, a subject for jokes and tease, to try to speak with anyone, other than to insult them. Our “faculty of encounter,” except among ourselves, died of loneliness. This cliquishness was never superseded, and remains right up to the present. As regards The Citadel, our negativism was reflected in the fact that we failed completely to place the positive aspect of our critique in the context of concrete possibilities at the university. Instead, we could only oppose the “right” situationist slogans about organization, ideology, and workers’ councils to the slogans of the Movement.
* * *
“It is said, for example, that a man ten times regrets having spoken, for the once he regrets his silence. And why? Because the fact of having spoken is an external fact, which may involve one in annoyances, since it is an actuality. But the fact of having kept silent! Yet this is the most dangerous thing of all. For by keeping silent one is relegated solely to oneself, no actuality comes to a man’s aid by punishing him, by bringing down upon him the consequences of his speech. No, in this respect, to be silent is the easy way. . . . And yet, by not venturing, it is so dreadfully easy to lose that which it would be difficult to lose even in the most venturesome venture, and in any case never so easily, so completely as if it were nothing . . . one’s self.”
—Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death
Our shortcomings in viewing the world were at once a product and producer of our lack of rigor in considering ourselves as an organization. Up till the time The Citadel was published, we hardly considered the matter of organization at all — to the degree that we did so, it was always in opposition to the Movement (rejection of sacrifice and hierarchy, etc.), but not for ourselves. We didn’t lay a clean groundwork for ourselves; we simply “did” things without discussing how we went about them, why we were doing them, or what we hoped to accomplish in a long-range perspective. Our organizational relations were in fact simply the continuation of the social relations we had had with each other since the beginning of the year. We were afraid to be precise and critical about each other as comrades out of fear of losing each other as friends, out of fear of breaking down the familiarity and informality that often made our day-to-day relations so interesting. The question of who was a member of “the organization” (when we finally, after being queried by Cronin on the matter, decided that was what we were) was never broached openly — it was given that it was the three of us. This was in spite of the fact that David had written most of The Citadel, and that Chris Winks and David had collaborated together much more effectively than I had been able to do with either or both of them (though I do take pride in the fact that I contributed to The Citadel the majority of what others found most exciting about it: the spontaneous and imaginative use of graphics). On many occasions, especially when we were working on a project, I would become flustered, at a loss for words. The question was not whether I had appropriated the theory, but rather the use of theory as a weapon — sifting through the ideas I found so invigorating and important (and there sure were lots of them!) and using them in analyzing real situations. Compounding the problem was the fact that it seemed so easy for the others to produce; I found myself constantly comparing my apparent inadequacy to the “ability” of the others, rather than considering first of all myself in relation to the spectacle. My desire to act radically became increasingly mediated by my image of what radicality was, i.e. to be like David and Chris. The fear that arose out of this mess only engendered further difficulties — I considered myself (how stupidly!) a tentative member of this phantom organization, not yet good enough to criticize or initiate anything until I had something to show for myself (and not clear enough about what we did and who we were to do so in any case). Halfway positions in organization are like flying across the ocean with half enough fuel.
The question of my character, or, as always formulated by Point- Blank, of unequal participation in organizational activity, first came to a head over a “scandal” we had prepared for distribution at Santa Cruz. Following its writing — by David and Winks — I took it to Berkeley to look after printing, and to San Francisco, where I showed it to Cronin and one of his comrades. They made obvious criticisms, to which I stammered a few words in reply; I could no more defend it than I had been able to help write it. Their criticisms were basically sound, however, which led me to question the point of the whole thing in the first place. I called Santa Cruz, and told David I thought we should jettison the project, or at least totally rework it. He said he could not discuss it on the phone, so I returned to Santa Cruz the next day.
The discussion that ensued was characterized by two major things: first, my inability to defend what I had done. I agreed that I had been unrigorous in performing my tasks, and especially that I should have written down the criticisms from S.F. and returned immediately to Santa Cruz to discuss them. The second characteristic of the discussion was David’s defensiveness over the content of the project itself. He took on an air of artificial formality, saying I had failed to carry out my “mandate” (a word which had never been used by any of us with regard to that or any other of our activities). In the course of the conversation, it came up that I had written almost none of the piece, a fact that we all recognized; thereafter, the focus was not on the whole affair, but only on my part in it. For half an hour I argued that my inability to perform was directly related to how we were living, that we were becoming engulfed by a stultifying, passionless routine (and had we considered the thing intelligently, it would have become equally evident that the negativist perspective of the piece was largely a direct product of our nihilist lifestyle). But the conversation was continually pushed away from our collective activity, and especially from the subject of our daily lives. Eventually I backed down, agreeing that what was at issue was solely my participation in the organization. My retreat itself is partially attributable to the fact that my character caused a block in my ability to argue my case. David proposed that we undertake practice exercises — playing together with comics and so on. The rest was left the same, although the project was abandoned.
What is important here is not the details of the incident, but the method used to approach it and “solve” it, and the precedent this method set. I was caught in a vicious circle — while we realized that I had not been able to defend our position, it is equally true that what I was supposed to defend was indefensible. My own resistance to participation was concretely reinforced by the resistances of David and Winks to criticism of what they had done. To overcome my own block necessarily entailed a collective, total re-evaluation of our collective activity; which, however, because it had not been really collective, left the solution on the terrain of my own personal difficulty. We approached the thing ass-backwards — formulated in this way, awareness of “my problem” (itself being awareness only of a symptom) served to maintain my stasis. I was placed more on the spot, in a more contrived situation, further convinced that there was something wrong with me and me alone. In such a situation, every simple act becomes an existential trauma, part of an ongoing battle; there is constant tension, and consequently chronic incapacity. Furthermore: inasmuch as I personally had to shoulder the product of the resistances of the others (to criticism), I developed a resistance to working with them. Our exercises, which left our relations and perspectives fundamentally intact, failed.
This contradiction between unequal participation in organizational activity and the way we went about attacking this inequality — a contradiction internalized in my character — remained permanently intact; but it was never again as accessible as it was in the discussion of the aborted Santa Cruz “scandal.” The sting of this contradiction, however, was ameliorated by the living situation that developed following our departure from Santa Cruz. In July ’71, David, Chris Winks, and Sara Chetin moved into a flat in Berkeley — I joined them in September. Francis Rubinstein, with whom we had been in contact from the beginning, was to work with us on a critique of high school, but was not to become a member until we felt capacities were more equal. After this initial decision in June ’71, Francis’s membership was never again openly discussed; Sara’s membership was never discussed in the first place. Eventually some time in the following spring, they, along with our friend Alan Alpert (who moved in with us in September ’72) became members, which meant in effect that they would sit around the table at our infrequent discussions, write a few letters (but not the important ones!), contribute money, help collect graphics, distribute material and so forth — they had no more shown autonomous critical capability than any of our correspondents. But they all had as much right to be members as I did, and one case of lack of rigor led to another. For Point-Blank, social acceptance meant organizational acceptance. And we lived with all our friends, excepting Francis, with whom we would have resided had it been possible for him, and Greg Dunnington, who entered the picture later. 2
In our social clique, all of the separations could be forgotten. In the womb of this apartment or the next, we could drink, joke, exhibit the lightness that should have been part of our organizational relations, but wasn’t. On the one hand, playfulness without content, on the other hand, content (of sorts) without playfulness.
After we left Santa Cruz, the relations that existed within Point-Blank never changed in their essential quality (which is to say, their lack of it), simply because those relations were predicated on the unsuperseded incoherence of previous experience. What has since transpired is merely the spectacular outgrowth of these consistently spectacular relations. There is no reason to delineate the particulars of our later intra-organizational activity, other than to point out that their excessive development led to my resignation in May 1973. Where quality is absent, the quantitative flourishes. But since the quantitative measures itself solely in terms of quantity, it reproduces itself endlessly. I leave Point-Blank to contemplate the quagmire of inauthenticity it has accumulated for itself — for everyone but themselves, interest is now elsewhere.
“To know things, one must not know the details. As it is finished, our understandings are sound”
* * *
A lack of rigor and transparency in internal matters invites the same in relations with other organizations. A reciprocal arrangement of this sort was inevitable in our relations with Contradiction, who had plenty of problems of their own. The process leading up to Contradiction’s break with us took place in an ideological environment, a whirl of confusion in which no one could escape being dizzy. Each group was demanding of the other; neither was demanding of itself. If we did not share all the illusions of Contradiction, ours were often at least related, in many cases fundamentally. Our development was in fact intricately connected to our relation to Contradiction — another fact conveniently overlooked by Point-Blank. An analysis of these relations can shed a great deal of light on the demise of each group.
The backgrounds and basic orientations of Point-Blank and Contradiction were similar: like Contradiction, we represented “less the supersession than the most avant-garde self-expression of the ‘movement’ and the ‘counter-culture’.” The fact that we were introduced to situationist theory largely through the mediation of the organization that became Contradiction is itself of no small importance. For several months, they took on the stance of playing teacher to us. It was unavoidable that we would incorporate some of their mystifications — notably their vague concept of “the worker milieu” and (for a time anyway) their Manichean view of coherence/incoherence, which at least for me had a strong impact, reinforcing my sense of inadequacy. As we recognized the destructiveness of Contradiction’s initial demeanor towards us, our more permanent attitude towards them emerged: we rejected not only the end results of their organizational activity, but also denied the importance of what they were trying to do. In the process, we dismissed a lot that we would have done very well to make use of.
It is scarcely surprising that we were most defensive about Contradiction’s attempts to concretely place situationist theory in the context of their daily lives. In rejecting some of the excesses that their efforts in this realm reached — especially a tendency toward fetishizing sexual encounters, which we criticized fairly early on — we dismissed taking their basic intentions seriously at all. Any collective concern with the daily life of the revolutionary became in our view “daily lifist.” It was obvious that Contradiction’s failure to set their sights precisely in terms of their organizational activity left them with an empty ideology of pleasure, passion, etc., that became farcical as it was abstractly applied in their daily lives — however, we never even got as far as that ideology of pleasure. Our own rigid separation of total/fragmentary (which itself arose partially from our fear of confronting this sort of question that Contradiction was grappling with) led us to a position of separating organizational activity and daily life completely. Our reasoning (though not openly formulated) went something like this: life in capitalist society is boring, represses pleasure and so forth — so real pleasure is not possible until there is revolution, so talking about and collectively endeavoring to explore and expand our own desires, as part of our project, would be incoherent, etc., etc. (This whole framework is the result of an undialectical view of pleasure itself. It is not that making love, meeting interesting people, (or whatever) contain no pleasure — the point is that the internal logic of the pleasure afforded by them is broken off, interrupted, sooner or later, — and usually sooner! — by the constraints of the everyday. Left unextended, pleasure becomes a moment, negatively experienced, in the ongoing movement of despair. The point is to avoid that moment of rupture; but in trying to do so, one moves closer and closer to a revolutionary perspective. Each satisfied desire in turn creates new ones — to take one’s unfulfilled desires seriously is inseparably to take one’s pleasure seriously.) Our inability to understand the positions of the organization Contradiction resulted from the fact that we did not take seriously the contradictions we experienced within daily life. “The misery of daily life” did not form the basis of our activity simply because our collective daily life (at least in its essential aspects) was accepted as a given (and which, operating with the logic of an external fate, mitigated against any of us having any lives apart from what we did as a group). “The misery of daily life” was for us simply an ideology, a vague idea vaguely taken for granted, which served as a defense against our talking to one another as individuals. Isolated from ourselves at the same time we isolated ourselves from the rest of the world, we became enmeshed in a collective malaise, whose effects were most noticeable in our meetings with people who wrote us — we had little of ourselves to share with them, because we shared so little among ourselves (other than “banalities,” which there was no point in discussing, or which had been lumped into the category of “banalities” out of fear of discussing them). With our correspondents, we had only past and upcoming projects, and “theory” to discuss; when questioned by others regarding such things as the visible hierarchy within Point-Blank, or Sara’s role in the organization, we tried to pass it off quickly and move on to another, less ticklish subject. Is it really so surprising that almost all of those correspondents eventually disappeared?
If we used Contradiction’s lack of rigor in organization as an excuse to dismiss much of what was most radical about their activity, it is equally true that they gave us plenty of reasons to do so. It is not, as Knabb maintains in Remarks on Contradiction and Its Failure, that we did not make “practical decisions” about Contradiction — rather, we made decisions on the basis of the consistent abuse we suffered at their hands, and it was this very abuse that served to obscure more fundamental questions. In this respect, the summer of 1971 began on a bad note and got worse. David worked with Dan Hammer of Contradiction for a couple of weeks on an article about Weatherman (an article destined for Contradiction’s ill-fated journal) — an extended outline for this piece was left in the hands of Hammer for completion, inasmuch as David had contributed almost all the essential ideas and perspectives up till then. That article was never completed. David and Chris Winks were asked by Contradiction to write short pieces “for the journal” about Bookchin and about rock music — these were written, accepted by Contradiction as satisfactory, then unilaterally discarded when the form of Contradiction’s journal changed for the umpteenth time. Other articles written by David and Chris for the proposed “practice of theory” section of the phantom journal were returned with the semi-legible criticisms of five people scribbled all over them, in a manner that was just plain insulting, sometimes in content as well as form. By the time we had finished our high school critique, we were justifiably fed up with Contradiction — when a copy of that which we had given them was returned covered with the traditional Contradiction scrawl, we had pretty much had it. Bogged down in a “critique” that was already incapacitating them, they had nothing in the way of new formulations, of positive alternatives, to offer us. It is always easier to criticize than to come up with something original. We wrote an irate letter of defense of our position, leaving the next move up to them. They then broke with us.
It must be re-emphasized that behind all the debris that cluttered and confused the issues at hand, the content of Contradiction’s criticisms of our high school pamphlet (The End of High School) was for the most part valid. The End of High School was a pastiche of assertions about the life of the high school student that appeared with no references whatever to real examples of what we were talking about, excepting ten lines of a newspaper article about low classroom attendance. As usual, we gave capitalism far too much credit — we posited an orgy of humanist reform in high schools everywhere (e.g. “everything in the classroom is permitted except the thought that would reveal everything”!), a stance which reached the pinnacle of absurdity when we distributed our pamphlet at some of the most backward inner city schools. Only a year and a half before the publication of The End of High School, David, Sara and I had all been among the most radical participants in a movement of agitation at Palo Alto High School that shook the educational structure down to its very foundations (our struggle succumbed in the end only to New Left illusions; it was defused by the invasion of Cambodia only because those involved lacked consciousness of what had already been accomplished). But rather than using our own, often very exemplary experiences as a beginning point for the positive aspect of our critique, we treated the revolt in high schools by means of hollow formulas. Out of nowhere, “the nihilist” appears, who has “already rebelled against all schools.” Then, right alongside him, emerges the revolutionary (underlined) according to the principle Nihilist Consciousness = Revolutionary. At the end of the pamphlet, the situation in high schools has undergone a surprising transformation: the revolutionary struggle is now there, and had better watch out for recuperators!
The best part of The End of High School is to be found in its form. In several cases, comics and images were used in a very exciting way. However, these comics, which would have served as excellent clinchers to analysis of high school life, were left hanging for lack of that analysis.
* * *
Of the remaining “practical” projects undertaken by Point-Blank before May 1973, two essential groups can be distinguished. The first includes “Out of Order” and “Still Out of Order” (summer 1971, the latter done in collaboration with Contradiction), “People’s Victory” (summer 1971), “All Students Are Junkies, All Teachers Are Cops” (fall 1971), “On Contradiction” (fall 1971), and a phony edition of the workerist newspaper AT&T Express (winter 1972); the second group includes a series of agitations done at and around the University of California, Berkeley, in the spring of 1972 (two phony questionnaires with Sociology and Psychology department letterheads; “Riot or Ritual”; the fake “7 Point Program of the P.R.G. [Provisional Revolutionary Government of Berkeley]”; a phony issue of the student newspaper, the Daily Californian; and the comic “He Who Laughs Last”). To the second group can be added an inconsequential agitation attempted at Stanford University in the autumn of 1972.
In their journal, Point-Blank, to their credit, state that the essential failure of the phone worker agitations (“Out of Order,” AT&T Express) arose due to a “contrived conception of practice.” This, however, is true of all the pieces I have placed in the first group above. More precisely, what was contrived in most of them was our conception of situations — in “People’s Victory,” AT&T Express, and “On Contradiction,” the “situations” we were “intervening” in were prefab manufactures on our part. In “Out of Order,” “Still Out of Order,” and “All Students Are Junkies,” what was contrived was the pretension that we were intervening in anything.
“People’s Victory” — distributed to workers at Stanford University, when we could find them — centered around a union (United Stanford Employees) that affected less than ten percent of Stanford workers; around the mini-Stalinists of Venceremos, who affected fewer still; and around a “radical” sit-in at the Stanford hospital in April 1971 that we knew next to nothing about.
The fake AT&T Express imputed the consciousness of a struggle that took place among a group of phone workers in New York onto phone workers everywhere. Hardly any workers in the phone company had even heard of the AT&T Express, and barely a handful had any concern with the various workerist groups that we tore into at length. We only succeeded in directing attention away from daily life towards a “false opposition” that did not even appear to oppose anything.
The pamphlet “On Contradiction” attempted to use what we ourselves called the “cheap sideshow” of the H. Bruce Franklin hearing at Stanford University as an opening for a critique of the university — since most Stanford students could not have cared less about Franklin (the majority of interest generated by this little Stalinist punk coming from other Stalinists, journalists, and professors, in that order), it is understandable that nobody took notice of us. And if “On Contradiction” went beyond The Citadel in that we used our own words to attempt to describe the real movement of the proletariat, we only showed that we could formulate abstractions “autonomously.”
The leaflet “All Students Are Junkies, All Teachers Are Cops” (intended as a preliminary to the more extensive End of High School) was actually better than The End of High School for the simple reason that it was specifically directed at a school (Palo Alto High) that we knew plenty about. The format of the piece was splendid; the graphics were shocking enough that we were quickly stopped by police and had many leaflets confiscated. The aspect of the critique that discussed the present order at Palo Alto High was quite adequate, if slightly stilted. The discussion of supersession, however, left everything to be desired: we could only announce that students had to “create a situation that goes beyond the point of no return” and exhort: “Don’t Be Students! Don’t Be Teachers! Be Revolutionaries!” How one was supposed to “be a revolutionary,” what had already been done in terms of radical struggle at Palo Alto High School, and what could be done by a revolutionary organization there in the present, was left to be discovered in the process of a struggle that didn’t exist yet, by an organization that didn’t exist yet either. In short, we failed to establish a beginning point for anyone or anything, consigning revolt to such time as someone understood everything we had said, and, endowed with our enlightened state, concocted ex nihilo a strategy for the concrete realization of our till then unrealizable abstractions.
“Out of Order” and “Still Out of Order” had the advantage of being directed at a visibly radical situation — as a result, our imposture was revealed all the more quickly. Our desire to say something to the workers involved in the wildcat against the phone company and against their union fell flat, because we ourselves could not imagine what we would have done had we been phone workers; this, in turn, was largely due to the fact that we didn’t have any idea what phone workers were up against (e.g. what would be involved in the occupation of a phone company building). And we lacked the creativity and the guts to find out. The fact that some members of Point-Blank and Contradiction snuck into an important union meeting in San Francisco during the strike and simply observed the show, and that we could only egg the workers on without demonstrating the slightest reason why their struggle posed the immediate question of self-management, were mirror reflections of our impotence. We were militant spectators at the same time we were spectacular militants. The comic strip form of the two agitations did serve to separate us somewhat from the militants of the bureaucratic Left; all we were lacking was content.
Of the second group of agitations — those done at and around U.C. Berkeley in the spring of 1972 — the fake edition of the Daily Californian stands out as by far the best, for the obvious reason that here, we were criticizing what we ourselves confronted daily. This piece could have gone a long way towards bringing the university to its knees. Could have, but didn’t, for reasons that were sent forms over the obvious even to administrators: “Spokesmen for the University said disciplinary measures were unlikely because the campus was not disrupted by Point-Blank activities” (Daily Cal, May 30, 1972). Our critique demanded an appropriate practice. But instead, we hoped to stir up some vaguely conceived movement of class disruptions by others, when we did not even begin this ourselves. Never once did we effectively disrupt a single class. We remained the ideological pretenders to a nonexistent current of agitation; while we gnashed our teeth and proclaimed how seriously we took our desires, we spent the last weeks of the quarter doing just what everyone else at the university did: “jerking off for our professors.”
The fake sociology and psychology questionnaires were intended to be preliminaries to our phony Daily Cal; through them, we hoped to prepare the ground for the sowing of more fertile seeds, and to find a few more new comrades to enable us to expand the scope of our game. Indeed, we could hardly have hoped for more: the questionnaires could not stand on their own. To those who were interested, we only offered the chance to write to us. But in writing us, all they could ask was who we were; there was no basis established whereby they could write and propose what radical activity we could undertake together. We were left to construct a “dialogue” out of nothing; all we could discuss was our ideas (i.e. pro-situ ideology).
The piece “Riot or Ritual?”, written in response to riots and looting in Berkeley that followed the mining of Haiphong harbor (May 1972), further demonstrated our position as pure “theorists.” We decided to “intervene” in — write a leaflet about — a situation that we did not feel was worth participating in. Along with the fake “7 Point Program of the P.R.G.,” “Riot or Ritual?” gave an exaggerated importance to the momentarily resurrected New Left; in taking two leaflets to define ourselves in opposition to the New Left (and it was for the most part through these that anybody in Berkeley first heard about us), we were largely [i] defined by the New Left.
The fake edition of the Daily Californian certainly had its moments. It was successfully concrete in analyzing student life in Berkeley; several parts contained extremely subjective approaches. Swiping and replacing a newspaper was an excellent subversion of unilateral communication, and the process of doing so was very exciting. Yet we allowed the very novelty of this to work against us; in the absence of other equally exemplary acts on our part, the theft of the Daily Cal became a spectacle by default. We let attention focus on the specific act of replacing a newspaper, rather than making it clear that this act was only one of many possibilities of subverting banalities at the university. After the fake paper was distributed, we were left with nothing more to say: later on during the day that we replaced the papers, we went back to watch people read them (i.e. consume our ideas). In simply waiting for “something to happen,” we became spectators of the spectacle we ourselves had created.
The comic “He Who Laughs Last,” distributed on campus a few days after the publication of our Daily Cal, attempted to “expose” our recuperation by the media, when we had in fact encouraged the media to recuperate us. The day the fake Daily Cal came out, we had attempted to cause a “scandal” by taking copies of our paper to newspapers and TV stations; now it was our turn to reveal the fact that we really had been scandalous. We voluntaristically posited that students were no longer doing their work and were insulting professors. Meanwhile, we called for class disruptions, while we, like scared little school kids, sat on our arses.
The “agitation” done at Stanford University in September 1972 was simply a bad joke. Since Francis Rubinstein was starting school at Stanford, we of course had to “do” something there. The result was mostly an attempt by David to delegate “autonomy” to Francis; Francis had no desire to do the pamphlet. The pamphlet was even more stupidly distributed than conceived; a farce from beginning to end.
* * *
Our “theoretical contribution” to the revolutionary movement, the journal Point-Blank! #1, was the accurate expression of our organizational existence: it combined an appropriately didactic style, a swarm of repetitions, a pattern of dryly applying “theory” to specific situations with all the imagination and variety of a pile driver, and a few interesting and important theoretical perspectives.
Most all of the worthwhile material contained in Point-Blank! #1 is to be found in the article The Changing of the Guard, which analyzes the structural crisis of bourgeois society resulting from its uneven development. The reform of the ersatz nature imposed by the bourgeoisie in its world — e.g. replacement of urban glut by a hygienic environment of exploitation, with the dutiful assistance of ecological and other ideologists — reflects the needs of the ruling class to bring the physical terrain of society up to date with overdeveloped modes of production. 3 The hierarchies formerly concentrated in the cities are being diffused; simultaneous to this geographic decentralization occur the increasing planification of all aspects of life. At the same time, the advanced technical apparatus of the modern spectacle is employed to develop a reified subjectivity on the part of the proletariat. Strictly unilateral communication is recognized by the spectacle’s most advanced functionaries as no longer adequate, and is giving way to a “bilateral monologue,” where the spectator’s response to images determine the next transmission (e.g. two-way television).
This article is the best in the journal precisely because it contains the fewest immediate implications for Point-Blank’s daily life. However, when daily life is discussed, Point-Blank’s poverty is once again revealed. Daily life is viewed only in terms of the spectacles that attempt to define it, avoiding consideration of how people (Point-Blank included) respond to daily life. Thus, for instance, Point-Blank mechanically passes off the subjective dynamic of rebellion in the sixties under the banal rubric that “the sterile vapidity of reified existence was all too easily seen through” (p. 21). Equally mechanical is Point-Blank’s conception of recuperation — it is as though hierarchical power has everything under control, and that no real problems lie between recognition of the problem and its alleviation, that it is only ceremony, a “changing of the guard.”
The remainder of Point-Blank’s journal is primarily concerned with “covering bases” — bringing the American proletariat up to date through a repackaged version of previous formulations. In trying to take in everything, we were taken in by everything; none of the remaining articles is adequate even in terms of what it sets out to do.
It is not that Point-Blank does not sometimes recognize what should be done. We recognized, for example, that very little theoretical elaboration had been made concerning problems that would confront future workers’ councils; the article The Power of the Councils was intended to renew discussion of this crucial issue. Yet the article in no way goes beyond “the psittaceous repetition of certain phrases and certain traditions in current ‘situationist’ texts” (p. 88); it only invents new phrases. The finished product is merely a drawn-out restatement of our ideas about what needed analysis and expansion; analysis and expansion themselves are lacking. This kind of reified language appears repeatedly elsewhere in the journal, just as it does in our “practical” projects.
The article Self-Management and the Spanish Revolution is much more concerned with the events of the Spanish Revolution and the ideologies which surrounded it than it is with self-management. Here, an essentially historicist perspective is combined with “critical” commentary, centering mostly around a critique of anarchism. The result is pretensions to criticism which in fact lead to several blatant contradictions as the article progresses — thus on page 74 we see that the “Spanish proletariat participated as much for itself as against Franco,” while on page 78 we read that the organs of the Spanish proletariat (councils) “failed to give positive practical and theoretical expression to their own existence.” On page 75, we note that the Spanish councils achieved a “qualitative supersession of the relations of capitalist production,” but on page 80 we are told that “the Spanish revolutionaries were never able to complete . . . the self-management of the means of production.” And so forth. Academic logic makes for strange commentary.
Our article on the American proletariat, “(Wo)men and Equipment Working,” exemplifies the same approach as the piece on Spain. It is preoccupied with vindicating the fact that the historical movement of the proletariat still exists (pure historians), refuting leftist and unionist ideologues, and exposing agents and modes of recuperation. On the positive side, it states merely what wildcat strikes and sabotage (in general) exhibit, not how a particular struggle marked an advance, or what specifically was notable about it.
The closer to home we get, the more miserable we look. Our article on the New Left, “The Storms of Youth,” while able to expose various isolated mystification and tendencies within the New Left, is extremely inconsistent in placing the New Left in perspective with relation to the spectacle as a whole. While we note from the start that “the New Left was a product of the American spectacle,” we end up viewing the New Left in spectacular terms, as a “false start in the process of genuine revolution.” What we expose as a fragment of the spectacle — apparently departing from the spectacle only in order to reform it — is eventually imputed a totality unto itself: the critique of the Movement becomes the last barrier to the critique of bourgeois society as a whole (“from now on, no one can have any illusions as to the meaning of real change” — p. 4l). 4 This confusion is simply the product of our unknowing proximity to the New Left and the counterculture. In attempting to lay bare spectacular “revolt,” we often lumped in with the Movement activity which was actually very radical (e.g. Civil Rights, Free Speech Movement), using the Movement rather than the spectacle as a whole as the primary reference point for this activity. This in turn arose from our inability to state just what was radical about, or what was missing in, these partial revolts — the New Left becomes the absolute recuperator of these absolutely “total” rebellions, which somehow concerned absolutely everybody. So the works is subsumed under the New Left and left to rot. After all this, all that remains for us to do is to reassert some banalities about the individual, subjectivity, etc. — and wait for all those ex-militants to rush to our ranks. The storms of ideology proceed in a self-perpetuating haze.
“The Work of Ideology” had the merit of starting from one of the more avant-garde modifications of bourgeois society: the reform of the labor process currently taking place all over the world at a very rapid clip. Yet most of the article was already out of date: the councilist ideologues we tore into had already received more than their due from the S.I. and others. And while we stated that these recuperators failed to consider the “subjective dynamic of revolution,” we left explanation of this for other articles, which in turn did not really explain it. Our article on “The Power of the Councils,” as mentioned above, only confused what was written in “The Work of Ideology” — our conception of councils does appear as an “idealized replacement” for the reified conception put forth by others.
As in “The Storms of Youth,” The Show Is Over accepts its subject matter as it is presented by the spectacle. The Cold War is depicted as simply an “ideological ruse,” a spectacle, which is described as being almost consciously planned by the rulers of various nations. We fail to uncover the internal dynamic of the various hierarchies in their respective countries: the fact that the end of the Cold War is primarily due to the fact that every bureaucracy must now fight for itself is concealed under the proposition that an international counterrevolutionary alliance, fully aware of all its implications, is now being formed. The ideologists of the world, and those served by them, no more recognize the false nature of their consciousness of society now than they did during the Cold War. They themselves believe in their own lie more than anyone else; they know only the exigencies of spectacular development, which is all they are defending by putting their resources in common. The second part of “The Show Is Over” is simply a chronicle of some of the proletarian struggles that had occurred recently in the world, with a few slogans about intervention and the like thrown in for form’s sake.
Our Reader’s Digest guide to the Situationist International — “Beyond the Point of No Return” — reveals more about us than perhaps any other piece in the journal. We state on page 57 that the S.I. was “able to elaborate the most radical theory possible” — as if some absolute radicality could exist. It is rather Point-Blank that presents themselves as absolutely radical: after their conception of the S.I., they want to be at “the center of the new revolutionary movement” because of their “absolute refusal to compromise with the ideologies and organizational forms of the old world.” They eat, drink, spit, and breathe “totally.” On page 58, it states: “In 1968 the modern revolutionary movement . . . became a social force and not a mere theoretical conjecture.” Contrast the S.I.: “Naturally we had prophesied nothing. We had only stated what was there” (I.S. #12). When Point-Blank speaks of the S.I carrying out “theoretical agitations,” they could not be more candid in describing their own impoverished attempts at practical activity. Aside from these stated stupidities, Point-Blank reveals by omission their own inability to understand revolutionary organization: they take no stand on the various exclusions and breaks in the S.I. after 1969, except for the case of Vaneigem, who, according to them, sat down one day and decided not to participate anymore. Nor do they attempt to explain the breakup of the S.I. as a whole — why it “turned in on itself” — except to state that various sections lacked “autonomy.” (Point-Blank also eats, drinks, spits, and breathes “autonomously.”) Thus Point-Blank goes beyond the S.I.
I have reserved for last the article which is the most incredible as far as outright blockheadishness goes: the piece “Of Sexual Poverty.” For Point-Blank, in their totalistic myopia, real sexuality is “absent” in this society — their purity becomes almost puritanical in their assertion that today, only the spectacle of sexuality exists, and that consideration of sexuality must be subsumed to “total” revolt. No more love, no more sex: stop loving, stop fucking! Point-Blank’s impotent ideology has them by the genitals.
At this point, nothing more need be said about Point-Blank’s article “The Practice of Theory.” Suffice it to say that they lack both revolutionary practice and revolutionary theory.
Bringing It All Back Home
The desire of each revolutionary to change life must now be situated more concretely — beginning with his own daily life. To posit the absolute “fact” that our daily lives in capitalist society must be totally “miserable,” is as much a submission to the terms of the old world as the voluntaristic attempt to transform one’s life in abstracto. Each revolutionary should at least be passionate, rigorous, imaginative, interesting, negative enough to create sufficient pleasure in living that he wants to expand it, to realize it. The question so often asked by people who have come into contact with situationist theory for the first time, “What do you situationists do in your daily lives, how do you have fun?” is one that every revolutionary would do well to frequently consider for himself, and act on accordingly. We can hardly expect to interest anyone in revolution if the process leading to it is boring. Equally, in his taste for the new, each of us must recognize and break the habits and routines which stifle his passions: first of all, we have to maintain our own interest!
All we are saying is, give chance a chance. Let’s face it: whether out of lethargy, or inexperience, stupidity or fear, vanity or activism, the “situationists” in this country have been caught with their pants down time after time. With very few exceptions, always the same story: too little too late. On an individual level, each of us can easily start improving our chances immediately, by actively exercising (and thus improving) his faculty of encounter. If every banality contains the possibility of a subversion, then it seems to us that the most humiliating type of banality of them all — the nonmeeting of people everywhere we go, the repulsion of human objects — should be the type with the most multifaceted and explosive potentialities. When we consider how artificial the whole setup is, we realize how ridiculous are our fears in the face of apparently lifeless people, in the face of their masks, their characters. Henceforth when we meet with an utterance of disgust made by another person in public, a defiant gesture, a smile, a stare, we should consider that as a possible beginning point for the creation of a situation, however small. Our ability to make use of these opportunities will depend on our capacity to come up with a one-liner, an insult, or a phrase that immediately reverses the perspective of that particular situation. The point is not to persuade — to engage in a political argument — but to invite.
We do not expect miracles from revolutionaries. It is to be expected that in this day-to-day struggle many mistakes will be made, many opportunities will be left unrealized. Yet, when we consider the immense amount of verbiage expended, the grandiose schemes concocted, in order to “cleverly” interest people in our project, isn’t the small risk involved in a spoken critique (so what if we get laughed at by some idiot?) a much better use of time and energy than most of the “practical” efforts of the past? Our success in making encounters is at once a very direct measure of our radicality and an incitement to new conquests. It is enough to recall how often written material has served as a defense against meeting people — and to recall how boring it is for each written project to “confirm” how colonized everyone else is, how “difficult” the struggle to destroy the spectacle is, and thus how “radical” you are — to realize how much fun a little guts can lead to! Extremism implies recognition; being “radical” by default is your own fault.
These daily struggles of individuals can in no way substitute for organization; they are presuppositions for collective activity, and they presuppose collective activity. On the one hand, it is precisely the individual, his desire to change life, and his ability to contribute to that project, that forms the beginning point for revolutionary organization. On the other hand, the very logic of the individual’s longing for authentic social contact, for genuine communication, leads him to seek others who share both his desire for realization and the critical capabilities which make it possible. It is not that a person acting on his own cannot be effective in developing revolutionary theory and commensurate practical activity, but that several individuals with a diversity of talents, acting together in a manner that affirms and enriches the achievements of each, and that provides a collective perspective for the solution of problems and failures — that this is so much more effective (and also lots more fun) than an isolated individual acting on his own, this is what makes us partisans of organization.
Up till now, revolutionary organization has been too little talked about and too little understood, especially by those who have created organizations, or have tried to. Perhaps least has been said about the formation of organizations, although it has become self-evident that this is not something to be taken lightly or to be discussed in passing. The formalist conception in which potential members of a potential organization undertake together some sort of “trial” project seems to us to be an inadequate prerequisite for effective organization, even if all the individuals involved were able to satisfactorily participate in such a project. What is needed is no less than an extensive discussion of organization itself prior to any actual formation of an organization. This must be in terms of organization generally (e.g. appropriation by everyone of the S.I.’s Minimum Definition of Revolutionary Organizations and other relevant texts), but must also specifically define what kinds of activity individuals want to pursue in this particular organization. In other words, given that revolutionary organization is essentially experimental in nature, the terrain of experimentation should be defined in advance (granted that this is itself tentative). In constructing such a foundation, the individuals involved will have already begun work on a designated practical task; those who have nothing to contribute to such a discussion can be eliminated from further activity. What remains will be precisely what is needed: an organization in which the desires, passions, and recognized abilities of each member of the group form — when taken together — the core of the organization’s basic perspectives. While there is never any guarantee of organizational efficacy, an organization formed in the manner outlined here will at least have a fighting chance at avoiding the purely abstract “democracy” of impotence which all those in the past who have merely imitated others have wallowed in.
Organization must be considered for what it is: a practical example of radical social relations. The method of an organization is as important as what is actually produced by the organization — after all, the method is at the root of those products. If the collective environment of an organization is to be historical, then it can only be one of historical consciousness — each member must “know what he is doing when he is doing it,” and must know that the others know and do the same. Contrariwise, an organization must know when it should be doing wha t: the method of the organization must situate organizational activity historically, i.e. it must be timely and must be conscious of its existence in time.
By “method” we mean here not simply how an organization goes about dividing and accomplishing tasks, but also how it arrives at those tasks in the first place. Much previous “practical activity” has been not so much the expression of organization as it has been merely organized activity; the origin of projects has been essentially individual, and only the execution has been collective. As we see it, this can be reversed only when organizational practice is placed at the level of the daily lives of the organization’s members; it is from the daily relations of its membership that an organization must draw its poetry. The recognition that in the daily life of each and of all is to be found the source of subversion (its immediate objects and its subjectivity); and the putting in common of all rebellions, ideas, desires, talents — it is these that should determine collective projects, not the other way around.
What defines what is appropriate subject matter for discussion and debate in an organization? Its use to the organization. While what is useful to the collectivity is obviously tied to specifics, we can state generally, from our own experiences and what we understand to be the experiences of others, that the scope of organizational discussion has often been harmfully narrow. Many nascent ideas, formulations, and critiques have remained sequestered in the individual’s subconscious, for a diversity of reasons: their seemingly far-fetched, unusual, or undeveloped nature; their seemingly “personal” nature; lack of self-confidence or lack of confidence in others; inertia; fear of making mistakes. Organization should help to liberate these subjective insights, not keep them locked up! Organization implies taking risks. But the risks involved are almost never the romantic type that occur on the barricades, those ultra-dramatic moments we read and dream about. These risks are much more mundane — they occur daily. They are the kind of risk involved in pointing out something new in something which is long familiar and apparently old — the risk of being original, and proving it. The same absence of fear, the willingness to be daring, is what makes informal meetings with comrades exciting, and allows the element of chance to run an unfettered course throughout the spectrum of intra-organizational encounters. Without abandoning lightness, comrades should take their informal meetings more seriously, try to draw more theory out of their mutual enjoyment, surprise each other, meeting frequently, but never out of lack of something better to do.
As “situationist” activism and active situationism proliferate (notably now in the Bay Area), and pro-situ mystifications are flying every which way, particularly in the form of supposed “interventions,” we need to be more precise about the nature of our actions with relation to other proletarians and to the proletariat as a whole. The quality essential to our practical activity, and this is exactly what the active pro-situs’ “practical activity” lacks, is practicality: i.e. it must be useful. People can read the pro-situs’ tracts, and sometimes even agree with them, but always, it’s the same conclusions: “So what?” or “So what should I do?” The pro-situ, who inevitably possesses too much useless and pointless knowledge for his own damn good, has taken out a mortgage on words. In an effort to add interest to his investment, he spices up his rhetoric with subversions of phrases from his favorite authors. But it is not enough to use words in such a way that they reverse perspective with regard to other words! Our words must reverse perspective of situations . Practical-critical activity implies that written words leap out of the page: the division between ideas and acts dissolves when words themselves are not just the description of what is really happening and what has to happen, but are — in their very mode of presentation — already the beginning of the form in which their content can be realized. Our critique will not penetrate the masses solely on the basis of its theoretical validity, but because we know how to express it and because it helps others to know how to fight better. The dadaists, those eloquent anti-economists of language, showed so well how a few words, deployed at the proper moment, could alter the course of history; for us, the question is not simply the specialized mastery of a particular style, but the style of mastery, the ability to affirm subjective truth when it counts. This comes right down to the moment of attempted intervention in a (potentially) radical situation — the “situationist” who can only passively distribute his posters, tracts, slogans, etc., and leave the “next move” up to others, may as well pack it up and head for home. When dialogue is not an immediate possibility — and this goes straight back to the revolutionary’s faculty of encounter — nothing is accomplished. A day, an hour, five minutes into the future is already too late. Interventions in history must divert the present or they are ideology (and not really interventions).
We must emphasize that intervention is not the sole practical task of organization. Intervention is not an end in itself; it is simply a means towards the principal practical goal of establishing an ongoing rapport, directed towards coherence, with other proletarians — and beyond that, of course, the councils. (Those pro-situs who consider their central practical task to be “intervention” only conceal their absolute dread of talking with anyone, with the possible exception of potential pupils; one consequence of this is that their “interventions” are tailor-made never to succeed.) While situationist activity can by no means be confined to any one aspect of social life, or geared exclusively towards any particular sector of the proletariat, the most important task facing any situationist organization remains the establishment of a radical dialogue with workers in key areas of production, distribution, and vital services. No doubt, the process of establishing contacts will most likely be a long one. But now that workers’ struggles are visibly proliferating in this country, the fog is lifting from before our eyes. If we now know how to ditch the anchor of our characters, then our fate rests squarely in our own hands. Surely there is no excuse to delay beginning our journey into a new life, to find our selves, and to finally find ourselves a home.
Gina Rosenberg & Chris Shutes
Berkeley, February 1974
By Ken Knabb
I have not reproduced this text in order to revive a polemic about the long-disbanded group Point-Blank, but because I believe its original publication was an exemplary act. It takes courage to publicly examine your own mistakes and illusions; but such revelations can have a healthy effect, deflating the fantasies that people often have about radical practice, undermining the intimidating mystiques that keep them in the position of admiring spectators. Readers who discover that subversive projects are more down to earth than they had imagined, and that they are not carried out by superheroes but by people not much different from themselves, may be encouraged to try their own hand at the game.
It also often happens that by really confronting some particular situation, however dated or limited or trivial it might seem, you end up shedding light on more general matters. Chris and Gina may not have been right in every detail (in an afterword for a later reprinting of the pamphlet they themselves noted several places where their analysis had not been sufficiently rigorous), but the issues they raised remain important for anyone trying to engage in collective radical activity.
Taken from Ken Knabb's excellent Bureau of Public Secrets
- 1 The imprecision of describing our initial practice with such a vague expression is largely due to the fact that we didn’t stop and think very much about what practice entailed. The Citadel can hardly be called an agitation — we printed it more out of response to criticism by Cronin and his comrades (later, Contradiction) for “failing to print your comix” than anything else.
- 2Dunnington: the most proficient opportunist in Point-Blank’s coterie — cashes in on Point-Blank’s “prestige,” but knows that if he were working regularly with his idol Jacobs, then it would become obvious to everyone what he really is — Jacobs’s vassal. His interest in something is directly proportional to its ability to allow him to avoid confronting his own misery — in his monk’s retreat of Isla Vista he imbibes huge quantities of liquor and Point-Blank, in that order. He has organized a few situationist groupies who conscientiously mimic the style, if not the words, of Point-Blank. This is his conception of autonomy.
- 3This formulation is lacking in precision, owing to the fact that Point-Blank disregards a fundamental aspect of the problem. While Point-Blank examines the reform of the physical terrain of society, the necessary alterations in capitalist production itself are left unaccounted for. “The recent appearance within the spectacle of a flood of moralist speeches and promises for direct remedies concerning what governments and their mass media call pollution, wishes to conceal that evidence which it is simultaneously forced to reveal: capitalism has finally proven that it can no longer develop the productive forces” (Guy Debord and Gianfranco Sanguinetti, Theses on the Situationist International and Its Time).
- 4Cf. also Point-Blank’s addition to a reprint of On the Poverty of Student Life: “In the wake of Nixon’s visit to China, no one can maintain any illusions as to what constitutes a genuine revolutionary opposition to capitalism.”