The Fifth SI Conference in Göteborg

The Fifth SI Conference in Göteborg, Sweden. From Internationale Situationniste #7 (April 1962).

Submitted by libcom on September 8, 2005

Göteborg and surrounding waters

The 5th conference of the Situationist International was held in Göteborg, Sweden, 28-30 August 1961, eleven months after the London Conference. The situationists of nine countries were represented by Ansgar-Elde, Debord, J. de Jong, Kotányi, D. Kunzelmann, S. Larsson, J.V. Martin, Nash, Prem, G. Stadler, Hardy Strid, H. Sturm, R. Vaneigem, Zimmer.

At the first session, with Ansgar-Elde chosen as chairman, news is exchanged on the state of the SI's various sections, and on how people who approach the situationist movement should be treated. The common opinion is that all applications for membership ought subjected to strict examination, especially where already existing artistic groups are involved (as in England and Germany). Prem then proposes that it should be the relevant national sections alone who judge the quality of the situationist within their own country; this would apply not only to evaluating the intentions of newcomers, but also to the circumstances and the potential participation of those already belonging to the SI. This demand meets with several protests in the name of the situationists' very unity and internationalism. The situationists of Prem's tendency obviously call for this exorbitant power of control because their theses, which are a minority within the SI (cf. the debates at the IVth conference), still hold the majority in Germany, after having ruled there uncontested for so long. They propose the exclusion from the German section of opponents within it who support the SI's policies. The decision of the Conference is that the entire SI should be the judge for all countries — with this responsibility going to the CC between Conferences — after information and well-reasoned advice has been submitted to it by each particular section in the case of admissions and, more importantly, any dissent within a country.

Nash declares that the Scandinavians decided to amalgamate into a single section, at least for a year, because of their great geographical dispersion across four states with similar cultural conditions (one of them is even in Iceland). They then considered re-establishing the autonomy of the Danish section, which they initially attempted to maintain, but which found too little local support.

Cutting back just a liter of wine per day or one liter of liqueur for every fifteen frees up an amount corresponding to the cost of a refrigerator within a year. After three months, the savings already allow for the purchase of a vacuum cleaner, a record player or a radio. . . . Every year, the French drink the price of building a city the size of Arras or Brive.
— Elle, 15 September 1961

Next the Conference hears an orientation report by Vaneigem, who says notably:

The Situationist International finds itself, through present historical circumstances as much as its internal evolution, at such a level of development that the activity it considers itself in a position to deploy in a bureaucratic and reified world is predicated on the critical rigor it is capable of maintaining as a cohesive force. Its weakness in the face of the tasks to come, and the expected repression, can only become a strength if every one of its members becomes conscious of what endangers it and what endangers them, that is to say, of what the SI is and what it intends to be. The price of this is the autonomy of individual sections.

The organization of life in capitalist and supposedly anti-capitalist society takes the form of the spectacle. The point is not to elaborate the spectacle of refusal, but to refuse the spectacle. In order for their elaboration to be artistic in the new and authentic sense defined by the SI, the elements of the destruction of the spectacle must precisely cease to be works of art. There is no such thing as situationism, or a situationist work of art, or a spectacular situationist. Once and for all.

Such a perspective means nothing if it is not linked directly to revolutionary praxis, to the will to change the employment of life (an act that can in no way be reduced to merely changing the employers of existing works). The possibility of a new type of critical action, independent of current revolutionary movements, depends, furthermore, on the following.

Indeed, the above is the only context in which the situationists can even talk of a freedom of action. With this accomplished, everything remains to be done: a) to grasp, as an integrated group, the totality (the refusal of reformism) in an insufficient world (where every fragment is a totality, where there is only a fragmentary totality); b) to construct situationist bases in preparation for a unitary urbanism and a free life; c) to return real life to its pre-eminence, for a way of life opposed to all mythical, immutable and quantified worlds; d) to redefine desires in the meticulously explored field of real possibilities; e) to seize control of every technological means that is likely to assure the domination of every possibility.

These interrelated activities provide a preliminary sketch of the project of a permanent revolution.

Our position is that of combatants between two worlds — one that we don’t acknowledge, the other that does not yet exist. We must precipitate the crash; hasten the end of the world, the disaster in which the situationists will recognize their own.

This discourse meets no opposition. In the ensuing discussion on the degree to which this project might be realized in the near future, Vaneigem proposes, in the short term, the project of a potlatch of destruction of selected artistic values; and in the longer term, intervention against UNESCO and the foundation of a first situationist base (the "Château de Silling"). The primitive accumulation of means is a matter of "convincing artists that the SI defends the best of what they have to offer. This will reassure them, both as hostages and as refugees from the enemy camp." The SI, for whom "the refusal of reformism and the impossibility of creation ex nihilo delimit the field of action," aims to locate "bases of support in contemporary society likely to strengthen its future bridgehead, creating an opening from which the conquest of enemy territory may proceed. We will be the shop stewards of cultural production, in the broadest sense of the term."

The second session begins with reports from various sections, mainly on the publication and translation of SI texts. The Scandinavian section poses the additional problem of the production of experimental films in Sweden, in which several of its members have been collectively involved. The Swedes present in Göteborg discuss among themselves which of these films meet situationist requirements, then put the question to the conference. Debord responds that he himself has never made a situationist film, and thus cannot serve as a judge. Kunzelmann expresses a strong skepticism as to the powers the SI can muster in order to act on the level envisaged by Vaneigem.

Kotányi responds to Nash and Kunzelmann: "Since the beginning of the movement there has been a problem as to what to call artistic works by members of the SI. It was understood that none of them was a situationist production, but what to call them? I propose a very simple rule: to call them ‘antisituationist.’ We are against the dominant conditions of artistic inauthenticity. I don’t mean that anyone should stop painting, writing, etc. I don’t mean that that has no value. I don’t mean that we could continue to exist without doing that. But at the same time we know that such works will be coopted by society and used against us. Our impact lies in the elaboration of certain truths which have an explosive power whenever people are ready to struggle for them.

At the present stage the movement is only in its infancy regarding the elaboration of these essential points. The degree of purity characteristic of modern explosives has yet to be attained by the movement as a whole. We cannot count on the effects of our attitudes to everyday life, to the critique of everyday life, to be explosive until everyone has achieved this purity, that is to say, the necessary degree of clarity. Don't forget that this is a matter of anti-situationist production. The clarity that comes with this point is indispensable to the project of further clarification. If this principle is sacrificed, then Kunzelmann will be right, but in a negative sense: the SI will not even be able to attain a mediocre amount of power."

The responses to Kotányi’s proposal are all favorable. It is noted that would-be avant-garde artists are beginning to appear in various countries who have no connection with the SI but who refer to themselves as adherents of "situationism" or describe their works as being more or less situationist. This tendency is obviously going to increase and it would be hopeless for the SI to try to prevent it. While various confused artists nostalgic for a positive art call themselves situationist, antisituationist art will be the mark of the best artists, those of the SI, since genuinely situationist conditions have as yet not at all been created. Admitting this is the mark of a situationist.

With one exception, the Conference unanimously decides to adopt this rule of antisituationist art, binding on all members of the SI. Only Nash objects, his spite and indignation having become sharper and sharper throughout the whole debate, to the point of uncontrolled rage.

At the beginning of the third session, Jacqueline de Jong raises the issue of publishing an English language journal, The Situationist Times, approved during the CC's first session in November 1960, but about which nothing has been done. It is noted that the SI's finances are not sufficient to support so many journals at once, especially in terms of the foreseeable difficulty of the numerous translations that would be involved; and that the translation work done by the SI comrades when it comes to ensuring communication between section is itself not up to scratch. The argument for the sustainable publication of such a journal is repeated, but only the development of the British section's activity is going to create conditions that are healthy and natural enough for such an undertaking. The discussion returns to the realization of a situationist base. Sturm declares that he has no idea what sort of process is being discussed in terms of realizing this project. He sees in Kotányi's speech "abstract consciousness and pure didacticism." Prem resumes in more detail the objections of his friends to Kotányi’s perspectives. He agrees with calling our art antisituationist; and also with organizing a situationist base. But he does not think the SI’s tactics are good. There is talk of people’s dissatisfaction and revolt, but in his view, as his tendency already expressed it at London, "Most people are still primarily interested in comfort and conveniences." He believes that the SI systematically neglects its real chances in culture. It rejects favorable occasions to intervene in existing cultural politics, whereas, in his view, the SI has no power but its power in culture — a power which could be very great and which is visibly within our reach. The majority in the SI sabotages the chances for effective action on the very terrain where it is most possible. It castigates artists who would otherwise be able to succeed in doing something; it throws them out the moment they get the means to make a difference. Because of this, we are constantly being driven into the ground. This leads Prem to believe that "theoretical power these days is sterile, without the capacity to change things practically." Kotányi responds that "we have never for an instant given the impression that we accept such a peculiar theory of modern times," and that the situationist movement's importance lies entirely in the opposite principle. Prem adds that situationist theory is incomprehensible to say the least. Several comrades ask him what he's doing there. Debord quotes Mayakovsky: "No-one calls themselves intelligent simply because they don't understand mathematics or French; but anyone seems to be able to prove their intelligence by not understanding futurism in the least." Our advance on Mayakovsky is marked by the fact that while he was referring to the bourgeois audience, the SI is the first avant-garde whose theory has been found incomprehensible by one of its participants — a participant, moreover, who makes this admission after having been a member for over two years.

Other German situationists strongly oppose Prem, some of them accusing him of having expressed positions in their name that they do not share (but it seems, rather, that Prem simply had the frankness to clearly express the line that dominates in the German section). Finally the Germans come around to agreeing that none of them conceives of theory as separate from its practical results. With this the third session is adjourned in the middle of the night, not without violent agitation and uproar. (From one side there are shouts of “Your theory is going to fly right back in your faces!” and from the other, “Cultural pimps!”).

The fourth session begins with the reading of communications sent to the Conference by two absent situationists, George Keller1 and Uwe Lausen.

On behalf of several members of the German section, Lausen denounces the conformism of life, and even the limitation of the concept of artistic experimentation to a few traditional areas. Instead, he propounds the total freedom demanded by the situationist experiment, aware of how much this is conditioned by the methods of combat against society. "Everyday life," he concludes, "is the last chance for the art of the future. That is where the radical allies we seek are to be found. The old guard say they were radical in their youth, and who can deny it? But they're living in the past. They've forgotten what they wanted. They've fallen asleep. They've had it. We have to rally the waking, wake the sleeping, bury the dead — we have to get going."

Keller writes: "No-one can deny that any new invention is situationist. New inventions belong to us alone, not only because they can be of service to us, but because we are the new inventions in all their multiplicity. This is our world." He requests "a mastery of the dynamic unity of the dérive and a complete knowledge of equivalents for the creation of real disequilibriums, the point of departure for all games." He also suggests unifying the SI's publications where there are divergences that end up developing into specializations — the central journal, in French, being theoretical to the point of studying absolute boredom, while publications in Italy, Scandinavia and Germany generally content themselves with a primarily ludic character. In terms of the SI, this conventional division between seriousness and play is a weakness.

Declaring that the ongoing divergences and undeniable retardations that made themselves known the previous day confirm its currency, the Belgian section supports Keller's proposal in the form of the unified publication of a journal in four editions: English, French, German and Swedish. The German situationists who publish the journal Spur agree to the project in principle, but prefer to postpone its implementation until the time is right; such that the majority of the Conference abstains from voting on a question rejected by the situationists most directly concerned. They stress the urgency, already made evident by the Conference, for them to unify their positions and projects with the rest of the SI. Kunzelmann declares that this discussion could advance quickly on the basis of Vaneigem's report, which would be studied more closely in Germany.

Nonetheless, the Germans commit themselves to propagating and elaborating situationist theory as soon as possible, as they have begun doing with issues 5 and 6 of Spur. On their request, the Conference adds Attila Kotányi and J. de Jong to the editorial committee of Spur in order to verify this process of unification. (But in January this decision is flouted by their putting out, without Kotányi and de Jong’s knowledge, an issue #7 marking a distinct regression from the preceding ones — which leads to the exclusion of those responsible.)

The new Central Council elected by the Conference is composed of Ansgar-Elde, Debord, Kotányi, Kunzelmann, Lausen, Nash and Vaneigem. Meanwhile, Zimmer is assigned to the Bureau of Unitary Urbanism in Brussels. It is voted to hold the 6th Conference at Anvers, after the rejection of the Scandinavian proposal to hold it secretly in Warsaw. The Conference does decide, however, to send a delegation of three situationists to Poland to develop our contacts there.

At the close of the last session, the Conference ends with a far more constructive celebration, for which, unfortunately, no minutes are taken. This celebration turns into a dérive from The Sound crossing all the way to the port of Frederikshavn; and, for others, continues on to Hamburg.

The situationists fraternize with Swedish workers at the conclusion of the Göteborg Conference

Edited from translations by Ken Knabb and Reuben Keehan. From

  • 1Pseudonym of Asger Jorn, who had officially resigned from the SI four months earlier.