Analysis of the outbreaks of class struggle in Portugal, Spain, Italy and Poland that took place between 1974 and 1984, published by the Encyclopedie des Nuisances in 1985.
History of Ten Years – Encyclopédie des Nuisances
Outline for a Historical Depiction of the Progress Attained by Social Alienation
When we reflect upon these ten years and the form they have impressed upon the spirit of the times, and upon the plot they have woven, upon which the figures of unconsciousness have embroidered their predictable entanglements, what first comes to mind is powerlessness, then unrest. The powerlessness of the individuals whose entire lives are more than ever before subject to the delirious demands of the current system of production, and whose lamentable self-justifying charlatanry, false cynicism and feigned euphoria only make their impotence more obvious. The unrest that overcomes them when they see, and they see it almost every moment, that the compensations which they thought they could find in exchange for their renunciations turn out to be, even as minuscule material satisfactions, extremely precarious, because they are completely poisoned by the reality of the alienated labor from which they originated, and whose proliferation does nothing but spread misery and harm.
Despite this objective decomposition of the material basis of illusion, this unrest that corrodes the immense majority of our contemporaries, and particularly those false rich people who are the real “new poor” (those who are so denominated by the upside-down expression of the official lie are, instead, the poor who have always been with us), the employees of the system who have attained to its false wealth, this unrest by no means impels them towards revolt. It appears that, to the contrary, it causes them to cling ever more desperately to the synthetic realities distributed by commodity production, like the neurotic who clings to the symptoms of his illness, surrogates for a satisfaction that did not take place. Generally speaking, for the last ten years we have seen the bonds that keep men tied to their misfortune reinforced; these bonds, although they have not been broken anywhere, were momentarily loosened. And at the same time we have seen this misfortune, the historical misfortune of social alienation, universalized to the point that nothing of what at one time constituted immediate life, with its limited satisfactions, remains beyond its reach.
This world, then, has by no means made itself more lovable, but it has managed to restore the idea that it is the only possible world. In order to break the complicity of men with that which is killing them, their preference for what exists to their detriment, it is necessary for a practical alternative to exist and to be perceptible, a practical alternative that presents to each person the possibility of an increase of power, of directly experienced wealth. The fear of freedom is not a suprahistorical fate, it is determined by a particular situation in which that which has been liberated by the break with the neurotic adherence to the mechanism of misfortune has no direct use, due to the absence of a collective project that could crystallize the desires of the era, and therefore turns against the subject, separating him from the others, as madness. Dialectical thought lies beyond this madness, but, in order to negotiate this difficult road, the “dark night [punto nocturno] of the contradiction”, it is necessary for consciousness to know itself and to recognize itself in communication with other consciousnesses. Dialectical reason is, in principle, senseless in relation to the ruling reason: it has to unmask the partial character of the latter, and precisely formulate, in the context of the given situation, the project of its supersession in order to itself become fully reason. The victory of the old order consists precisely in preventing this, in containing critical thought within the unilateral status of pure denunciation or arbitrary interpretation, and in thereby contaminating it with its own unreality: positivity without a history and negativity without a future are presented then as two mirrors that endlessly reflect the vacuum that separates them, and fills them.
We shall consider the degradation of the subjective conditions for revolution, and the progress made by alienation that has thus been facilitated, focusing our analysis on a few decisive moments of this process in Europe. For it is here that this society has been confronted by the most advanced critical point of view, because it was here that was born, by way of urban conflicts and, later, those of modern class society, historical thought and its heir, the project for the total appropriation of history, for subjecting all existing conditions to the power of united individuals. It is therefore also in Europe that the victories of the dominant society take on ever more characteristic counterrevolutionary forms: Bonapartism, social democracy, fascism, Stalinism, State terrorism. The industries that distribute the most modern means of alienation may very well be located in California or Japan, but their power is measured in Europe, with Europe, because it is here that the most modern form of contestation has always been found, which it has attempted to neutralize and recuperate: the restoration of alienation follows the same road as the attempts at disalienation.
Thus, in the 1960s, the development of modernized alienation could be understood and fought from the European terrain of memory—the memory of the proletarian project for a classless society, the memory of the project of individual emancipation formulated by modern art—and not in that suburb of thought which is the American metropolis of the commodity spectacle. So true is this that the few partial critical formulations produced in the United States after World War Two were essentially results of the revolutionary Marxism of the 1920s confronted by exile in the reality of the most advanced class society, but as they were thus displaced and cut off from their living environment they were incapable of resisting academic recuperation. A critical theory of society cannot exist and develop its truth unless it precisely assesses its social use: it must fight against its integration and falsification by the dominant culture so as to be there in its integrity when the real movement of criticism in acts needs it and can use it. This is what no one knew how to do during those years, except for the Situationist International.
In the movement of May 1968, the social critique of the new conditions of modern capitalism succeeded, thanks to the coherent practice of its bearers, in joining with the subversion of these conditions by the autonomous action of the proletariat. But the merger of these two complementary aspects was not to last: they were present at the same time, mutually related through the communication made possible by the acts carried out during the revolutionary moment, but were still too separated, as a result of the essential success of the trade union bureaucracies in their efforts to isolate the workers in the factories. What was at stake in the era that began then was the realization of what had been left in suspense during the month of May, the appropriation by the real movement of “its own unknown theory”.
The revolution of May 1968 constituted for the world proletariat a new starting point of universal historical importance, and its failure was by no means sufficient to assure an enduring restoration of the old order: it was still necessary to defeat what had then begun. It is easy enough to point out that notable results have been obtained in this sense, but such an assertion is of interest only to those who are interested in understanding how it has achieved this: unlike all those ex-leftists who have unconditionally adhered to the objectivity of the existing world and do not want to see anything in their old critical vagaries except a youthful error or a subjective illusion, it is necessary to understand, from the point of view of the process itself, which opportunities have been lost, how certain possibilities have prevailed at the expense of others which could have been more effectively advocated, and what could have been attempted and with what different results. For anyone who considers, without succumbing to illusions, the history of these years, the first conclusion to be drawn is that the class in power has succeeded in reversing the tendential fall in its rate of control over society. And there is no remedy for this except to see that the obvious decomposition of society does not disprove this reinforcement of state and commercial control: it expresses it. To be pleased by this would be inappropriate, when it means the destruction of everything that still exists independently of the mediation of the spectacle and the State.
A little dispassionate consideration of the matter enables one to see that, during these years that the owning classes have devoted to reorganizing their rule, they have been neither sleeping nor fooling around. But before reflecting upon what they have done, how they have recovered the initiative, one must take into consideration what their enemies have not done, how they have allowed the owning classes to recover the initiative. For this has been above all the determining factor, and it is also the aspect that we can best understand, since we have been in close enough proximity to it. Therefore we must once again speak concerning the truth of power.
During the course of the years following the revolution of May 1968, many people believed that the sentence pronounced at that time against the existing social organization was about to be executed. But the truth is that the question of the means required for this execution had hardly been formulated: it was assumed that an unchecked autonomy and total freedom would take care of everything. This world would come to an end. The only reason why it had been able to last so long was that it existed. And this reason seemed weak compared to all the reasons that proclaimed otherwise. The revolt, born from a dissatisfaction that embraced the totality of life, became generalized; and all the prevailing conditions of existence were attacked as unreal. The leaders themselves spoke of nothing except changing them as quickly as possible.
In a confrontation of this nature, however, forces are measured in relative terms, and not from the point of view of an absolute knowledge that expends little enough effort by speaking of decline while perusing the historical dictionary. One can always satirize the faults of leaders; yet with all their faults they are still supported, they remain in power, and this is all that matters to them. This weak reason for persistence that the system’s own existence constitutes has turned out to be strong enough, since it must be admitted that the reasons with which it was opposed were revealed to be even weaker.
In France, the critical social current that had developed on the basis of the experience of rejection in May did not know how to organize in order to permanently break the spectacular monopoly of explanation. It is true that the theory of such an organization was as new as the revolutionary conditions that made it necessary. It was easy enough to recognize what no longer worked (parties, trade unions, militantism), but this rejection of intermediaries made the understanding of the necessary mediations even more vital. Those who had found in May a direct use for their rebelliousness in the course of the first wildcat general strike in history, now had to learn something for which they previously had neither the time nor the need to learn: how to effectively employ their forces, how to calculate the correct point of application, in short, how to think strategically. Most did not succeed in doing so, and many were those who not only lost the thread of historical intelligence, but also lost themselves in the diverse varieties of resignation. The continued practical implementation of what had been directly felt above all as the total will—quite unarmed—of subversion, but really understood in all its determinations, was certainly an immense task. But the program of the modern revolution, formulating the project of a total historical presence of individuals, cannot in any case be forwarded by means of abstention, not even then, when so many people everywhere tried to intervene against the conditions of existence that had been imposed upon them.
Ultimately, the principal weakness of the post-May radical current was that it did not know itself, with its limitations and its necessary tasks. By abstractly identifying itself with the “proletariat”, it also lost, in this radical indetermination of a night of the totality where the real difficulties of an activity that was still in its essentials a vanguard activity conveniently disappear, the intelligence of what it did and what it could do and of what the workers struggling against their autonomized representation were doing and what they could do. At that time when so many things were possible, those who found themselves in the most advanced revolutionary positions thus left in the hands of the various leftist fractions the terrain of the particular struggles being unleashed everywhere against each aspect of alienation. It is certainly true that these struggles often still spoke in mystified language, but the scorn for the “piecemeal”, of which the purists who proudly retire to the tent of the totality boast, was instead a scorn for the living totality, which is not a finished product but a practical process, a struggle by way of the particularity of each experienced contradiction, to achieve conditions of unity and general conclusions.
The States and the various forces of the counterrevolution, for their part, did not have, as is usual, any need to understand the whole historical scope of what they did, and easily found in their threatened situation the content and the material of their activity: all they had to do was to finish under the pressure of the contestation what they had begun in the euphoria of the social peace, and all their particular repressive tasks spontaneously merged in this enterprise of subjecting the whole of life to the imperatives of the self-developing economy. As long as the oppressive coherence of the commodity, as universal social relation, is not questioned, the cunning of commodity reason guarantees to its servants sufficient intelligence: realizing their interests produces that hidden other thing concerning which their consciousness was unaware and did not enter into their plans. See, for example, how the Stalinists, conscious enemies of the proletariat everywhere, by breaking the strikes to preserve their power, have cleared the way for the “industrial restructuring” that undermines the basis of that power!
The social movement that turned to the proletariat to combat its modernized misery and to rediscover its lost history could only derive its coherence from the consciousness of its project. Its road had to be long and difficult, since it was faced with the necessity of understanding itself and then of creating from scratch the practical means for this understanding. What thus became necessary was the autonomous organization of the proletariat, the workers councils, entirely redefined in light of its modern tasks, since the movement of the economy, ever more visibly becoming the negation of life, destroyed the illusion of a self-management built on the foundations of existing production. The radical current of the advocates of a modern social critique, principally developed among the youth, undoubtedly supported the idea of the councils. But, powerless before the task of clarifying its content through its own activity by effectively fighting against everything that the power of the Councils must definitely abolish (urbanism, culture, leisure, etc.), it was led to expect everything, with an increasing lack of realism that was sometimes comically manifested as critical spite, from workers struggles that it was nonetheless incapable of either supporting or understanding, magically denying that which separated it from them. In France, this separation was enhanced, together with the power of the trade union bureaucrats who were its guardians, by the fact that numerous young workers chose after 1968 to abandon the factories, over the doors of which they had written: “Here freedom ends”. Thus, the movement that in 1968 had stopped short of creating autonomous organizations that would have directed the anti-trade union struggle towards a positive project of total democracy, far from growing stronger as a result of the memory of the proletarian attempts of the past, is so weakened that it has forgotten what it did.
In Italy, the process of the struggles that were becoming more openly anti-trade union during the “Rampant May”, and were irresistibly approaching an open confrontation, was interrupted by the police bombs in Milan in December 1969. And everywhere, throughout a Europe that was riddled with wildcat strikes, the proletariat, after its first victory, after its reappearance as historical subject, was unable to extend its offensive. It was capable of causing a crisis in the existing system, but then it stopped, as if it was not convinced of its ability to reorganize the world in accordance with its desires. And with regard to such affairs it suffices for men to believe they cannot do something for them to be effectively rendered incapable of doing it.
It was in Portugal, more than anywhere else, that this subjective weakness was most clearly manifested as an internal limitation, since the revolutionary crisis that unfolded there from April 1974 to November 1975 witnessed an almost complete disappearance of the State and its powers of repression for which history offers few other examples of such duration. This extreme slowness of the revolutionary process is explained by the weakness of the opposing forces, that for quite a long time spared each other the obligation to conclude: If dual power lasted so long it was because it never finished crystallizing.
At first, the universal content of the revolution was obscured by the strangeness of its genesis, which concealed it to some extent from its principal protagonists, the workers, who had taken advantage of the breach opened up by the army, and this allowed it to be all the more easily hidden from its possible allies in Europe, and in Spain most of all. The power vacuum created by those soldiers who, when ordered to fight overseas so that nothing would change in Portugal, chose instead to change everything in Portugal so that they would not have to fight overseas, rapidly aggravated afterwards by proletarian subversion, explains why this revolutionary movement was so easily capable of going much further, in certain respects, than its Italian and French predecessors: critique of political parties, demand for direct democracy, rejection of manipulation of the assemblies, contempt for the State, critique in acts of private and state property, appropriation of the means of communication by the workers, and finally, an anti-hierarchical movement in the army, which became useless for the repressive schemes nurtured by the State. But this ease also explains the weakness of a revolution that owed its victories less to its organized consciousness as a practical force than to the inconsistency of its enemies and the benign neutrality of the leftist populist fraction of the army that was at that time the only power in the country. And, as one could see again on November 25, 1975, when the military left was finally eliminated by the moderate officers, nothing is as weak and unstable as the reputation of a power that does not rest on the foundation of its own force: this proletarian movement that had gone so far disappeared almost overnight, without having attempted even the least defensive struggle.
This conclusion was merely the last of a series of blows delivered within the army by the various projects to restore the State and to neutralize the proletariat. Finally, the open mutiny of the paratroopers on November 24 provided the legal pretext for the setting in motion of an operation that had been prepared for several months and had been ready for implementation for several weeks. With the help of only one military unit that was vastly outnumbered, but benefiting from decisive action, the moderate wing of the AFM (Armed Forces Movement) successively suppressed all the leftist or rebel formations, whose officers allowed themselves to be arrested without resistance, thereby demonstrating by this legalism that their leftism, although armed, was nothing but an anachronistic parody of Leninism. This pusillanimous defeat was also a defeat for the revolutionary workers to the precise extent that they were incapable of freeing their movement from the tutelage of its incompetent guardians and underwent a transition from the unrealism of an excess of confidence to an excess of discouragement. Obviously, any abstract criticism of this lack of fighting spirit would be ridiculous, but it must nonetheless be pointed out that when one ceases to be an actor in history one is not thereby protected from its blows: they are still received in a struggle that was not chosen.
If the Portuguese revolution was nevertheless, despite the archaism of the domination against which it arose, a modern revolution, this is because the autonomous organization without which the proletarians would be unable to begin to communicate their real needs was present and active. This autonomous intervention resulted in the fact that the principal struggle did not take place between the preservation of the past and its revolutionary transformation, but between two general conceptions of change. The one effective and positive, since it is the owners of society who apply it every day, constructing with ever greater means the necessary framework and preconditions for life for the development of the economy and the State; the other spontaneous, indecisive, negative, without a means of expression and without a project at the beginning, but pushed by the struggle itself against what it rejects to rediscover itself as the historic enemy of the economy and the State. The demarcation of these two conceptions of change never attained such a degree of clarity in Portugal, but came close enough that all the resources of spectacular confusion were mobilized against it. The modern character of the Portuguese revolutionary movement is thus revealed less by what it did than by what the forces raised against it did.
On this occasion, it was possible to measure the progress achieved by the production of unconsciousness since the epoch when Rosa Luxemburg, on the eve of her assassination by the social democracy, discovered in that representation of the workers which had been turned against proletarian autonomy the secret of the new conditions in which the central question of the revolution could no longer be posed openly and honestly by means of an open struggle, the primitive accumulation of the modern spectacle that, having expropriated from men all historical intervention, can now provide them with the version chosen by it for their contemplation. The concealed international connections involved in the coup of November 25 (the moderate officers having inherited the support that Spínola had first received) had their visible counterpart, which was all the more visible insofar as this was all that was seen, in the universal collaboration of the agents of information and the monopoly of appearances (politicians, experts of the communications media, etc.) who demonstrated that they had learned some lessons from 1968 by breaking every record for falsification and censorship; this was so successfully accomplished that the profound movement of workers autonomy was barely discernable in the news reports while, on the other hand, the armed leftism of the captains, the main parasite of the Portuguese revolution, was bathed in the limelight. It is of course true that this Holy Alliance is not itself any more modern than the interests it serves, but its means, its procedures and its field of action are quite definitely more modern. They therefore define, ex negativo, what a revolutionary movement must do in order to break out of its isolation and find its allies. Spectacular information is not just the old bourgeois lie technically equipped, but a necessary moment in the construction of a reality that escapes control and understanding as well as historical correction. For the same reasons, this perspective must inform our understanding of the choice of modern states to avoid bloody repression as long as possible. This is because they are in a position to know that they need above all to dissimulate the lines drawn by the social war, to dissimulate the reality of the possible choices and interventions and to prevent this confrontation that concerns the totality of social practice from shattering the screened image of manipulated everyday life, where the reality of the facts is always that of the fait accompli, and the fait accompli is always the channel that leads back to the old hierarchical ways. Thus, the authorized commentators, driven mad by their own lies, have even spoken of the “surrealist” character of the Portuguese revolution, making its development perfectly incomprehensible from the very moment that the proletarian threat was hidden which determined the action of all the other actors.
Even in Portugal, however, the effect of the spectacle, the dispossession that causes men to see their own history as something alien, and that causes them, thinking in the language of power, to fail to see what they are doing against that power, weighs heavily upon the development of the autonomous movement of the workers. Those who should have been capable of fighting against this retreat of consciousness, the supporters of a program of total subversion, demonstrated to the point of caricature the revolutionist defect of a contemplative identification with the proletariat, whose absolute radicalism, postulated by its impotence, allowed them to spare themselves the effort of making their perspectives victorious. At the moment when the assembly movement was confronted with the necessity of inventing its own language to communicate what it was doing and what it was capable of doing, they did nothing to assist in its self-defense against the ideological bombardment to which it was subjected, from Stalinist falsification to leftist confusionism. This shameful resignation certainly influenced the unfolding events, although it does not by itself explain why the direct coordination sketched by the assemblies was so easily stifled and neutralized, thus leaving the movement increasingly dependent on outside news organizations (Radio Renascença y República) partially controlled by the workers and more vulnerable from every point of view; but above all by not formulating in their truth all the practical problems that came to confront the assembly movement, and which were the same problems that have always been posed to the entire proletarian movement, the inactive extremists allowed this movement to be defeated and to disappear without having left behind in its wake a maximum number of general conclusions that could be used by a more conscious struggle.
It is true of course that history is not made by theories and it is not theory that incites the proletarians to try to overthrow a social organization: the proletariat takes this upon itself because otherwise nobody can do it in its place. But when a few individuals engage in such an enterprise by attempting to combat a particular infamy, the fact that they possess a general historical conception, conceived and formulated for this purpose, can greatly facilitate their acquisition of access to the understanding of their own action. And the time thus gained can be decisive, in a confrontation where generally everything happens very suddenly. Meanwhile, whatever the outcome of the struggle, if the proletarian party has been capable of boldly proclaiming its goals and the universal interests at stake, it will have thereby achieved a considerable victory over the organization of passivity and historical amnesia. Otherwise, if it has not clearly asserted its autonomous perspective it will have to lose, together with the memory of what it has done, the consciousness of what was effectively possible.
The scope of the tasks faced by a modern proletarian movement was once again manifested in Spain in the social crisis whose depth was revealed by the exhaustion of Francoism and the policies of the transition. The assembly movement that became generalized between 1976 and 1978 by virtue of the strike wave signaled the autonomous intervention of the proletariat in the war of succession inaugurated by Franco’s death. This movement, although it rediscovered the best libertarian tradition of direct action in the class struggle, never managed to know itself by knowing all its enemies. It is true that it lacked the project of total emancipation and the organic experience that the libertarian movement possessed to the highest degree prior to the civil war. It is also true, however, that it was less disposed to rhetoric, less anti-intellectual and more demanding with respect to the leading comrades and the “prestigious militants”. In short, it was, for good and for ill, more modern: without ideology, but also without language and without memory.
From its inception, due to its very existence, the assembly movement refuted all the liars who, speaking in the name of the proletariat reduced to silence, took for granted that it would be subjected to the capitalist sectors that favored change—those which had recognized the fact that Francoism had lost its control over Spanish society—and who were only prepared to engage the proletarians in a discussion concerning their proper role in the new managerial team. It was thus verified in practice that representative democracy, in its perfected form, is not an approximation to real democracy, but its exact opposite: it is necessary for men to cease to speak directly of their own affairs in order for the political spectacle to occur, with the monopoly over speech which constitutes its precondition. The construction of its lie is accomplished by way of the destruction of the practical means of truth, where all the problems of society are posed in such a manner that they can be resolved.
Unlike their counterparts in Portugal, the Spanish proletariat did not benefit from a weakening of the State caused by a poorly conceived attempt at reform. The party of modern counterrevolution—those who by remaining in the State were ready to accept those who wanted to be part of it—had undoubtedly learned something from the misfortunes of their neighbors: it sacrificed as much as was necessary, but no more, and knew how to prevent its retreat from being turned into a defeat, withdrawing step by step to the point where equilibrium was reestablished, principally thanks to the dispersion of the proletarian forces. The assembly movement, however, because it had to advance against everyone and everything right from the start, provided evidence of notable decisiveness and determination. Since it opposed the modernization of the State at the very moment when the college-educated elements—who were in Spain even more dependent on the State than their counterparts in other countries, due to the weakness of that country’s private capitalism—were looking forward to the development of the administrative, political and cultural apparatus that would finally create the jobs they coveted, the workers struggles immediately aroused the ferocious hostility of this subaltern personnel of social control; the Stalinists, on the other hand, found in this milieu, as is to be expected, their most devoted supporters.
The offensive reached its high point in Vitoria (February-March 1976). If the Madrid strikes of January had convinced the bosses of the need for trade unions to control the workers, the general strike in Vitoria definitely torpedoed the Stalinist project of rehabilitating the vertical trade union and revealed the embryonic pact between the regime and the opposition. This marked the end of the relative tolerance with which the government sought to demonstrate the good faith of its promises of reform. The workers of Vitoria were machine-gunned, the opposition assuming responsibility for isolating its uprising. From that moment, with the failure of Francoist reform, the bourgeoisie, wherever it was not bound by its vital interests to the institutions of the dictatorship, had to accept the legalization of the parties and trade unions; and the opposition united in order to negotiate political reforms and a social pact with the new government that would liquidate the least appealing aspects of the Francoist legacy and begin preparations for elections.
Of course, no political settlement could really satisfy a movement that was a critique in acts of politics and all separate representation. But in order to unify its forces it now had to unify its demands, and to summarize them in a simple slogan that, expressing the transcendence of dispersed struggles, would provide them with the form of a general goal that the vast majority of the workers would be able to recognize as an essential necessity, in order to impose their satisfaction. With their goal of really fighting for themselves, the assemblies had to fight against the opposition, apprehend all the consequences of what they had learned in the struggle and treat the political-trade union bureaucracy as an enemy, like Francoism. “Either the assemblies or the trade unions”, such was the alternative posed by the most conscious proletarians, and this was undoubtedly the tactical need that contained the seed of the possibilities for unification in a coherent revolutionary project. The necessity of self-organization was vividly experienced and, as a result, the trade unions were extensively boycotted, but serious coordination of these efforts only rarely spread beyond local struggles. The absence of an organized assemblyist current that would present itself as such by clearly formulating the critique of the trade unions that was on everyone’s mind, contributed to the trend towards dispersion and confusion. And the strikes of autumn 1976, although more organized and more militant, had no result except the demonstration of November 12 which, instead of providing a platform for the expression of the combative enthusiasm of the workers, saw the workers accepting the leadership of the trade union bureaucracies, thus transforming an anti-Francoist demonstration into a demonstration of trade union discipline. The resulting retreat of consciousness could no longer be remedied, and that which did not know how to make itself visible at the time was only repressed with increasing effectiveness by the organization of democratic appearances. The assembly movement had let that decisive moment pass when a bold initiative could have completely altered the correlation of forces, so that conditions would change from that moment for everyone, making the revolutionary perspective tangible by obliging each person to determine his or her self in relation to it.
This is not the proper place for a detailed analysis of the mechanism of the subsequent defeat and its principal results. Instead we have to discern how the modern forces of counterrevolution, which we already saw in action in Portugal, behaved in this instance.
In fact, men never engage in a lasting movement to overthrow a social organization only because they detest what exists: it is necessary for them to also have, in one way or another, a positive conception of the life they want to live. This is what the old revolutionary workers movement had, above all in its anarchist fraction, which is just the one that made the most progress, during the Spanish revolution of 1936, towards the liquidation of the old order. Of course, the proletarians can acquire this positive conception during the struggle itself, the community that serves as a means for the delineation of the contours of the end. But it is still necessary for the practical values thus produced to be transmitted in an autonomous language and to be unified in an historical project.
The various successes of those who during the 1980s obligingly broadcast to us the propaganda of commodities and States—successes which all merge in the deepening of separation and an over-abundant equipping of passivity—were made possible thanks to a more profound achievement concerning which, on the other hand, absolutely nothing is said, it is not even mentioned: the repression and concealment of the project of higher historical activity, the latent content of the proletarian movements after 1968. The crystallization of a collective project that would unify the revolutionary necessities of the era has always been a long-term undertaking, but now it is even more difficult because the theoretical or practical contributions to its formulation are immediately confronted by the unprecedented capacity for falsification and concealment acquired by class society. Not only does this lead to a situation where during normal times no problem can be socially posed and debated in its true terms, but also to one where should the latter be successfully achieved—and this outcome would require nothing less than a revolutionary movement—it is either prevented from being accurately portrayed or else caused to be quickly forgotten.
The assembly movement in Spain posed in its simple truth the question of an historical liquidation of Francoism that would truly connect with the will for revolutionary emancipation that was so characteristic of that country: obviously, such a liquidation can only be effective and irreversible with the abolition of the class rule that the opposition politicians aspired to serve, and of the means of State that they hoped to inherit for carrying out this task. Where such is lacking we once again witness one of those hybrid monstrosities spontaneously produced by a system of oppression that discourages critique by making it more unnameable with each passing day. This challenge went practically unnoticed in a Europe where, for almost forty years, leftist false consciousness had expatiated hypocritically on Francoism, and even more so, on the image of Francoism that could conveniently stand in for everything it did not fight at home. Even in Spain, the truth of which the assembly movement was the bearer was not able to impose itself irreversibly enough to provide a practical basis for the judgment of the world that must be pronounced by those who must fight it. While it is true that the replacement democracy installed in Spain is a particularly crude and repugnant lie, with its king, its Francoist military and police, its Stalinists and its socialists governing under the guardianship of the military as if they were ministers under Primo de Rivera, it is nonetheless also the case that, according to the principle that rules all the realities produced by the spectacular system, this replacement was not manufactured so much in order to be believed as in order to occupy all of the terrain of social expression. And in order to be accepted as such, without anything to compare it to, like any falsified food. This is when the truth becomes an extravagance and a scandal. If something is bitter it must be spit out: the anniversary of the 1936 revolution will be tranquilly commemorated by all its reconciled victors, and the attempt will be made to render it incomprehensible to the satisfied citizens of the neo-democracy, just like the qualities traditionally attributed to the Spanish people: pride, independence and courage.
To shatter the monopoly of appearance that reinforces the authoritarian production of the lie, it is not enough, as we see confirmed every day, for facts which refute the official truths to accumulate: it is also necessary for them to be presented in society, by all possible means, in a unified critical point of view and a transcendent perspective that can redirect people towards the true facts and therefore make the lies and the arrogant sophisms appear for what they are. As long as men do not venture to speak without intermediaries concerning their needs and aspirations, giving a new meaning to the facts by means of their dialogue, and by the historical possibilities that they will discover in that dialogue, the facts do not speak for themselves, except insofar as they repeat the unalterable postulates of submission. The new conception of real life that has constituted the latent content of all modern revolutionary risings is now compelled by the very development of the dominant mechanisms of falsification and obfuscation, either to show itself, or to be repressed in such a way that it will be utterly incapable of distinguishing itself from the coming barbarism of wealth.
With the disappearance of the old workers movement, which has been either broken or integrated, the proletarians also lost the ideological formulations of an autonomous project for the organization of society. But this loss was not enough to teach them to formulate this project on their own. When they have to reconstruct it without any illusion of an historical guarantee, they need, now and always, to derive it from the recognition of the total meaning of their own action, because this action is the only truth that they can possess that is truly theirs. And, because it is not a question of action for short-term goals, the need for which Lenin purported to provide an answer—with his model of the hierarchical party that was the depository of memory and accumulated experience—it cannot remain unsatisfied. The revolutionary movements of Portugal and Spain were, after May 1968, important practical contributions to the construction of a project of emancipation capable of attracting the immense majority by presenting to each person the possibility of a profound, immediate change. Its defeat in isolation, without having obtained through its struggle either general irreversible conclusions or new lines of demarcation with respect to the enemy—above all with the Stalinists and the whole political-trade union apparatus of the left—marks a threshold and a limit to the revolutionary offensive that began in 1968. The organization of an international revolutionary current did not occur, and the vast and amorphous party of subversion that is still active in Europe is, without being aware of it, losing the initiative over the course of the intervening years. Because “two armies in conflict can be equally disadvantaged; in this case the first to be informed of the condition of its enemy will be victorious” (Macchiavelli).
Proletarian subversion, whenever it has been deployed, has clearly demonstrated its ability to disorganize the system of survival, but not its ability to organize life. This weakness was already present at the inception of the new era, in 1968, but it was generally forgotten or underestimated. The occupations movement, however, only began to realize one of the two tasks of the proletarian revolution: the critique in acts of all aspects of alienated life. The other task, the reorganization of social life by the direct democracy of the workers assemblies, was hardly addressed, and then by only a few people. The May movement thus did not bequeath new practical principles to the revolutionary era which it had itself inaugurated, appropriate for the development of more complete needs and desires that would surpass all authorized satisfactions, but only the memory of a total rejection, not so easy to implement in itself. This seemed to be enough at the time: because even there at the beginning, present in the spirits and the hearts of so many people, is everything that shook the foundations of the established order. It was thought that the battle would soon pick up where it had left off. But with the passage of time it became more difficult to take advantage of the opportunity that once seemed to be just around the corner. The taste for criticism was lost, as its very use became insipid. What had been so intensely experienced receded into a depressing representation. And it was all the more depressing the more that contestation spread and a wave of rejection diffused through all aspects of life, which, in the absence of a perspective of supersession, had the principle effect of modernizing false consciousness and the roles allocated by commodity consumption, making resignation sophisticated. A moment of life was growing old, and could not be rejuvenated by the variegated colors of its spectacular recuperation.
What the new revolutionary movement initially lacked was not acquired in the course of further attempts. Its real defeat was not so much in its end as in the fact that it left in its wake nothing that could be used to re-impassion a program of total subversion by clarifying its qualitative means, the means which contain the movement’s goal because they are already an example of a more free use of life. Such a powerful force for exasperating its enemies must seek not to uselessly tire out its supporters. The main failure of a movement of social critique that could count on the contempt for work practiced by numerous proletarians is therefore that of not having convinced itself by its acts of its ability to organize life on other foundations, and in not having known how to show to the workers as a whole what they could gain by ceasing to be workers. It is true that, in order to possess the consciousness of a possible transformation of life, it is necessary to radically reject the existing organization. But to implement this rejection, it is also necessary to have the basis of an understanding of another possible way of life. What smashes this all-too formal circularity in real life, is the movement of supersession, revolutionary practice, “the bringing together of the transformation of circumstances and human activity or self-transformation”, which is simultaneously practical critique and production of the positive values upon which it is founded. This tension between apparently contradictory demands is the only thing that can constitute the qualitative force, the rationality but also the poetry, of an activity that must make apparent to all the existence in society of the material basis for a more complete life.
The supersession of the commodity economy indisputably assumed the highest priority due to its own objective crisis, both as a general form of social relations as well as a form of the appropriation of nature. It did not, however, become a subjective factor in a positive perspective in the practice of a revolutionary movement: the aspirations that were expressed in the rejection of work (by means of strikes, sabotage, etc.) never posed, in their own terms and on the basis of their own subversive truth, all the problems of society, in order to destroy the falsified terms that prevented their solution. They therefore remained prisoners on the terrain of the economic blackmail, in the confusion of this terrain. If the question concerning a new use of life is not violently posed by the workers, that of the use of the workers by the existing organization of life is there to repress it. This is how the famous “economic crisis”, the object of so much hype, must be understood, at its deepest level, as a moment of the social war, where the very foundation of the functioning of the laws of the economy is stripped bare: “The unconsciousness of those who form part of it.” It is the way that all the forces of unconsciousness, including those that operate in the heads of the proletarians, have sought the perpetuation of their world. It also therefore assumes the form of a neurotic fixation, the repetition of a past disgrace, destined to ward off the uncertainty of the present, the risks and the possibilities of an unknown reality.
This resistance of the social unconscious is, of course, above all the resistance of the owning classes and of all the managers of unconsciousness. At the very moment that society discovered, as a result of the struggles against commodity abundance emancipated from human needs, that the economy depended on it, it then became a matter of persuading it that it depended on the economy: in this way all leaders have become Marxists. Wherever the ego emerged, the subject of history that freely judges its action, it became necessary to restore the power of the economic id. The intelligence that those responsible for the economy could possess as a result of this necessity is obviously inscribed on the image of the spontaneous development which leads the fundamental tendency of capitalism to continuously increase the domination of dead labor over living labor. But this materialization of the autonomized economy, when it crosses a certain threshold, itself becomes the object of bureaucratic management that programs its development; a management that has a tendency to want to combine, by way of the contradictions and vagaries of local politics, the bureaucracy of the managers and the bureaucracy of the State, in a bureaucracy composed of varying proportions of each, but for which the Nazi technocrat of the Albert Speer type would be the ‘ideal type’. It is not that the bourgeoisie can no longer manifest the least degree of independence in relation to the State, but that it no longer needs to do so, because the logic of the market has integrally become the reason of the State.
This bureaucratic management, with the disastrous failures and catastrophic results that follow in its wake, is at the very least victorious insofar as it ceaselessly reproduces and spreads the material conditions of its domination, because no strategic calculation is necessary for this, it suffices for it to follow its natural tendency by always pushing its true reason for existence yet farther, the desertification of life. The system of commodity production, having experienced its fragility in the face of modern proletarian subversion, as it was confronted by the first struggles for generalized historical life, as well as by the ‘energy crisis’ that was only one particular effect of an aberrant management of natural resources, has reacted by accelerating the concrete construction of its independent reign. And, consequently, the proletarianization of real life. Capital is thus no longer the invisible Weltgeist that irresistibly drives men towards something they neither wanted nor understood, it is, directly, in the practical life of each individual, the fantastic autonomy of all material conditions, the ‘crushing of individuality by contingency’.
Nuclear power and information technology are at this moment the two most obvious aspects of the deterministic technological development adopted by an alienated production that has become strictly the production of alienation. Both artificially recreate the equivalent of those natural conditions that, with the need for irrigation, favored the birth and development of oriental despotism. What now irrigates the desertified society and constitutes the material foundation of the power of the specialists of monopolized survival is the circulation of energy and information, complementary preconditions for the mobilization of human labor in its last historical form. And in this sick society one must therefore admit that one can no longer survive except by submitting to the machinery that makes the heart of a heartless world beat, in every respect like those triumphs of modern medicine thanks to which the human organism is only the prosthesis of its prostheses. For it is not society that has been emancipated from the economy, but the economy that has been emancipated from society.
The fulfillment of this process by means of which commodity reification attains its concept by definitively expelling living activity, and reducing it to the pure contemplation of its circulation, first had to take the form of a profound reorganization of industrial labor, progressively introducing automation, simultaneously neutralizing the human energies thus liberated, planning the absence of the use of this freedom. The destruction of the labor milieu, that is, of the old practical base for autonomous proletarian self-affirmation, has for twenty years been the Delenda Cartago of all innovative discourses of technocratic capitalism; and, as openly and ideologically proclaimed as this has been (as the end of the proletariat and the class struggle), it corresponds no less clearly to a real necessity of capitalist rule, a necessity that finds its idyllic version in the mythology of integration. Capitalism extends its existence by ceaselessly revolutionizing the means of production, that is, the relations of production, or social conditions as a whole; by its bureaucratization, however, it is trying to program this permanent alteration and to plan, with the help of the trade unions and of all the agents of social control, its tolerance thresholds. It must be pointed out that, in western Europe, it has succeeded, for the present, in actively breaking up the labor milieu, demoralizing and dividing it, and the latter has been incapable of recovering its autonomous revolutionary tradition (Council organization), which, evidently, had been a model for all the workers, for the whole proletariat. The time thus lost for the revolution has allowed capitalism to continue to reorganize social labor as a whole as a function of the imperatives of its rule. Every instance of the progress of social alienation derives from this fact.
The workers revolts of the sixties were essentially the result of the arrival in the factories of a generation of young proletarians who were without any trace of ‘loyalty to their trade’ and a first response to the de-skilling of labor. In them could be traced the confluence of the traditional demands of the working class in its resistance to exploitation, and the modern refusal of brutalizing wage labor. The correlation of forces (the weakening of the trade unions, etc.) temporarily interrupted the continuity of capitalist rationalization, but, with the decline of the struggles, rationalization continued where it left off. One of its principal aspects is the transfer from Europe, homeland of the workers movement, of important sectors of industrial production, exported to places where bureaucratic or dictatorial regimes deliver over to exploitation enormous reserves of labor power without any tradition of struggle or historical consciousness. Another aspect is the institutionalization of turnover (1), extensively practiced by young workers, to some extent reversing the precariousness of subjection to an employer and the subjection to the precariousness of employment. There is no reason at this point to delve into a detailed elaboration of a trend whose principal result, as far as the relations of forces in the social war are concerned, was that unemployment was used to break up the strongholds of workers resistance; and, above all, the threatening prospect of the crisis of the economy as a crisis of life for all men, the consciousness of which was suppressed under the pressure of the crisis of survival imposed on the workers.
The first effect of this pressure of unemployment was to break forever the alliance, which had been ephemerally concluded during the high points of the proletarian subversion, between the traditional workers sectors, generally more subject to the influence of the trade union bureaucracies and Stalinist ideology, and the younger or less integrated workers, who expressed a modern revolt. This reassertion of the prevalent separations (whether socio-professional, racial or ‘generational’) must not be taken, however, as a comprehensive explanation of the failure of a unifying project to crystallize: it is, instead, one of the principal manifestations of this failure. Only the consciousness of common perspectives, practically overcoming separations in order to attack the world in its totality, that is, the wage labor that constitutes its basis, is capable of preventing those who still had a job and were exploited from relapsing to defend it under the control of the trade unions, while those who did not have a job fell back, in a disastrous ideological flight forward, into all the illusions of that marginality more often imposed than chosen; and which, even when it was chosen, in no way endangered the system, but rather constituted a safety valve. These illusions, which varied from the alienated use of drugs to retail terrorism, and included as well all those attempts to build a new way of life on the foundation of misery, finally destroyed the consciousness of a rebel generation, who were twenty years old at the end of the sixties. This is why those who, in the factories, could directly encounter the means of their struggle, either did not use them or used them badly, and those who, outside the factories, wanting to struggle, only encountered alienated means to do so: the former, who did not know how to defend themselves, were defeated along with the latter, who did not know how to attack.
This result, expressed in this way, takes on the aspect of a schematic assertion, since, in fact, it is a general tendency whose realization still unevenly affects Europe; but it is nonetheless the principal and victorious tendency. We have seen the concrete deployment, in a society’s space-time, of the contradictions of the era in which the attempt to construct the project of a different life matched the speed of the effective transformation of the world attained by the autonomous movement of the economy and the State that serve it. This era is now on the verge of ending, because the transformation of the objective conditions, the commodity transmutation of every particular thing, that particular talent of the system thanks to which improvement of what is bad produces what is worse, obtains such monstrous results, that each individual is in his or her life obliged, with regard to the simplest necessities, to pass judgment on what exists and no longer on what could exist.
The last opportunity to proclaim a perspective of revolutionary change in western Europe, with enough force to counteract the opposed perspective of change, that of the owning classes, was produced in Italy. What was at stake in this first era of the modern proletarian revolution appeared there in a particularly clear form, with all the problems we just referred to being posed concretely by a much larger and more profound movement of subversion than ever seen anywhere else before. This movement, born in 1968 and briefly interrupted by the police bombs of 1969, only grew over the following years, leaving no aspect of everyday life untouched by its practical critique. It was finally defeated, largely by the artifice of terrorism. But one must not overestimate the role of such devious tactics in the conflicts, because they are only useful over the long term for the victors.
During the mid-seventies, the Italian State, which had never been very strong or cohesive, was even more weakened and corrupted by criminal maneuvers improvised by its secret services, following in the wake of the success achieved with the Milan bombings: those of the Italicus in 1970, Brescia and Bologna in 1974, conveniently attributed to the neo-fascists, because the neo-fascists were within the secret services, showing just how and with whom that State intended to continue to rule Italian society. Fortunately for this State it did not have only provocateurs to rely on to fight against the subversive party of the radical workers, but also, and with much more efficacy, the unfailing support of the Stalinists. The latter, unhesitatingly committing themselves in this bloody history by becoming ever more complicit in the official lie, sought to derive a few governmental posts, but, in order for this to happen, no matter what else took place, they had to fight on their own behalf against a movement that completely escaped their control. The vast informal party of subversion, powerful in the factories due to a rich experience of struggle and a social hatred that, stoked by the first attempts at capitalist restructuring, limited the possibilities of trade union recuperation, was swelled in the streets by all those who had been marginalized by unemployment and the repression of absenteeism and workers indiscipline. Advancing at the rate of their practical consciousness towards their radical means, towards posing the threat of a split in society even more unfavorable for the supporters of power insofar as the latter had become, as a result of its excesses, more hated than feared.
In such a process of pre-revolutionary offensive, everything that separated itself from the social movement in order to practice armed violence in hierarchical secrecy precipitated the arrival of the moment when the formation of the antagonistic parties ceased and only the destruction of the other mattered to each. For its part, the State had an interest in provoking the violent struggle sooner rather than later, because it has all its forces while the forces of its adversary had to increase. The Leninist vampire, which had not been sufficiently denounced and combated, favored the emergence of an easily infiltrated and manipulated terrorism, and providentially allowed the State to administer a dose of tension in order to test the ability of its enemy to respond and to prepare for a counter-offensive.
In 1977 the enemies of the State had one last opportunity to escape from this trap. The irreconcilable opposition of all the rebels who had produced ten years of social struggles was openly manifested, and the Stalinists were treated on this occasion for what they were: the most abject supporters of this disgusting society. This movement presented all the workers of Italy with the possibility of a decisive choice, through which they could have ceased to be merely bad workers, but, after a moment of uncertainty, they retreated: only they, however, could have, by means of the general strike, opened up the terrain of revolutionary action by permanently breaking with the everyday reproduction of brutalizing wage labor and creating the conditions of dialogue in which everything is subject to debate, beginning with the proper use of violence. The most unrealistic and desperate members of the movement also found themselves exposed on the streets. For the State, it was easy enough to hunt them down, but what it needed was to end any chance that the disturbances would recur. It accomplished this with its usual methods, the Stalinists and terrorism, which found in the failure of the movement and in the confusion that followed the conditions for their effectiveness.
In February of 1978, the trade unions, condemning the strikes and absenteeism, undertook to make the workers return to work. A pretext was needed to attack subversion everywhere outside the factories and to provide the Stalinists with the justification that would allow them to effectively fulfill their role as informers: this was the kidnapping and assassination in March of Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades. Moro’s assassination certainly took place at the instigation of a faction within the State, which could appear a posteriori to have been the most lucid faction due to the way they led the Stalinists down the garden path but no further, but this was useful not only to this faction: it was the power of the State as such, and none of its supporters was misled in this regard, which benefited from the recent escalation in the spectacle of a possible civil war, reducing the population to the status of a disgusted and skeptical, but above all passive public, watching a history that was outside its power. At this level, the question of the precise degree of manipulation of a group like the Red Brigades (whose activity, whatever may have been the role of the arch-Stalinist fanatics compared to that of the agents infiltrated by the State, is essentially counterrevolutionary) loses all interest: the most profound and most real manipulation is, on a completely distinct scale, that which controls all the news media, thanks to which only the explanation of reality authorized by the State appears. The manipulation of the representation of reality contains within it, however, the manipulation of reality itself as one of its necessary moments. In this respect, the number of ‘penitents’ among the fearsome brigadistas is enough to provide some idea about the security of their organization. They could even end up, when they did not return to the fold of the church, as technical advisers for a movie about the Moro case; which undoubtedly did not help what already seemed like a bad movie in reality from becoming any more convincing.
It is true that, with terrorism, the State did not get any positive support from the population, but at least it obtained the latter’s neutrality in the brutal struggle against subversion that constituted terrorism’s true purpose, and this was more than enough. For the price of a couple of hundred dead (the Bologna bomb conveniently came at the right moment to rejuvenate the spectacle of horror) and a few thousand political prisoners (the arrests that began with the Moro affair continued for four more years), the State not only succeeded in defeating the offensive that threatened it, but also paralyzed the workers’ capacity for resistance, thus clearing the way for the long awaited economic restructuring. As Moro himself said after his kidnapping: “After a while public opinion understands”; but for the spectacle any truth is better if it is spoken when its time has passed: it can then be integrated in the rewriting of history where it can rule over an eternal present. Since then in Italy, everything is known, about the P2 Lodge, the Mafia, the Vatican or the secret services, but this truth is useless because the only force that could have taken advantage of it in order to make it a practical truth, a conclusive demand concerning what is essential, has been defeated.
The Italian laboratory of counterrevolution has thus provided experimental proof concerning the immense field of application the techniques of the State lie, assayed in Stalinist Russia, have found in modern capitalism, where they are all the more effective due to the fact that passivity is not achieved here by means of police terror but by an abundance of commodities and information. The fact that there is no such thing today as democratic public opinion has been irrefutably proven by the Italian State, which has accumulated enough accusations against it and committed so many abuses so as to test the patience of even the least demanding citizens of a bourgeois democracy, and to provoke the electoral destruction of all the parties involved, that is, of all the parties. The enunciation of such a hypothesis suffices to demonstrate its implausibility and to shed light on the impunity enjoyed by the leaders of the State, the freedom of action offered to the arbitrary actions of the State by the decomposition of all powers of judgment and of all political debate. This lesson has not gone unnoticed, and we have since seen all the States compete with each other in their audacity to remind their subjects how modern democracy has so simplified the use of their rights, freeing them from the bother of having to take a stand on any important issues.
In the course of this Stalinization of the world we have also witnessed the shameful resignation of the intellectuals before the totalitarian development of the lie of unilateral communication. In a truly Orwellian fashion, their denunciation of an unreal Stalinist totalitarianism has constituted the ideological expression of their contribution to the real Stalinization. It was a heroic struggle that probed the most neglected historical nooks and crannies in search of the germs of the totalitarian plague: nobody and nothing was forgotten, and our doctors of anti-Stalinism established that all revolutionary thought or activity (or perhaps even any historical thought or activity) implies totalitarianism, the Gulag and the GPU as a necessary consequence. Plato, Saint-Just, Bakunin . . . they are all the same. The unbreakable foundation of all their syllogisms is the identification of the revolution with terrorism and therefore with Stalinism. And it could be said, in effect, that they never committed to the revolution, since they never publically expressed the least doubts on the origin of terrorism.
What is expressed in this variety of automatic writing of spectacular inversion is simply the fact that Stalinism—including its diverse exotic variants—has completely lost the ability to appear as a revolutionary model, or even as a rival of the western system of exploitation. Therefore, on the level of vulgar sociology, we may content ourselves with seeing, in the rise of a new generation of submissive intellectuals, the recycling of their careerism after the failure of leftism. Meanwhile, the ideological renovation in spectacular culture—with the recruitment of all those who hoped to rid themselves of their bad conscience by breaking with the image of the revolution in order to serve understudies of the lie—this confidence won by apology demonstrates on a deeper level that Stalinism, where it is not the owner of society, has ended up by fulfilling its counterrevolutionary function in this century by helping to defeat the first attempts at autonomous affirmation by the modern proletariat.
In all the countries where the capitalist transformation of the productive apparatus, and above all of the greatest productive force, the proletariat, is now underway, the representation of the worker that had in Stalinism its ideology and its model could only represent labor power in the process of liquidation. And although Stalinism must defend the condemned industrial sectors in order to preserve its social base, it cannot really fight against the economic rationality that presides over the whole process. As for the workers themselves who are being liquidated together with the factories, it seems impossible for them to organize a practical critique by opening new perspectives, when their desperate actions are more isolated than ever before. Their only chance lies in an autonomous alliance with the unemployed, that reserve army of the revolution, and with the workers in the modernized sectors; but the practical and theoretical foundations of such unity are now cruelly lacking.
The destruction of the labor milieu in the countries where the most modern capitalist conditions prevail does not signify, obviously, except for the discouraged old workerists, the disappearance of the proletariat: the expropriation of life continues, and so does the class struggle. The system of falsification simply proceeds with regard to this concrete side of the critique of the economy—the proletariat—as it does with the other, pollution: not being able to suppress it, it camouflages it, it seeks to make it invisible, and first of all, invisible to itself. In this process, the proletariat loses some of its illusions, but acquires others. It is the task of revolutionary critique to disabuse all those workers who are transferred from a machine to a computer screen of their illusions of having been promoted in the hierarchy (i.e., more often than not, when they are directly placed in positions of servitude to the machines of the independent economy where they lose, under the glare of these same computer screens, the relaxation of leisure as well as the activity of labor). So they are proletarians after all, these wage workers who have no power over the programming of their lives, although they do not know it. Here man has lost himself more radically than ever, but can still acquire the theoretical consciousness of this loss.
The Stalinist bureaucracies associated with the management of the first stage of modern capitalism have combated workers autonomy to the end; and as so often happens in these circumstances, they, too, would get their turn under the lash. Through one of history’s vagaries demonstrated by a particularly meaningful manifestation of the contradictions that continue to corrode the world of the commodity, it is there, where the bureaucratic class holds power as the local auxiliary of the planetary power of capital, that workers autonomy is still active and preserves its perspectives. But, as it stands, for the new protest to be rebuilt in the west on the basis of a program of the suspension of anti-historical production, the living memory of the revolutionary past that must be realized, can neither understand its own scope nor possess its total consciousness if it does not strive to extend the critique of the economy beyond the point where it has remained until today.
During the summer of 1980, the Polish workers began their revolution, which could only be pursued via the definitive destruction of bureaucratic power. The first such revolution in the history of all the countries subject to totalitarian rule which has succeeded in organizing autonomous communications media and clarifying its project without being immediately defeated in isolation, it has drawn an indelible line of demarcation in Polish society between the monologue of the State lie and the supporters of the truth obtained through social dialogue. Disarmed as always before the military power of the old Russian invader, surrounded as always by the hostility of the European States united in their support for the status quo, and more isolated from the proletarians of other countries than any Polish insurrection during the 19th century, the revolution of 1980-1981 represents the highest point reached by the proletarian subversion of our era in search of its means, located where it had the least chance of victory. Through the scandal of its sixteen months of existence, it showed the truth of bureaucratic usurpation, and the fragility of a system of oppression where arbitrariness is measured by the submission of those who are obliged to represent it. But the most beautiful victory of the Polish proletariat, was to have reestablished in our time the youth of the revolutionary project of a classless society, and to have refreshed the historical memory of all those involved in this project, which since 1956 was never lost. Nothing is final; the fate of this world is still undecided.
The magnificent chain reaction of the strikes of August 1980 had such an effect that within a few months the entire society rose against its bureaucratic representation. The freedom to discuss everything that deserved to be discussed was the minimum program of this social movement. It is this explicit program that made the Polish revolution a modern revolution, by situating at its very heart the demand for truth; and the means employed to realize this program, the organization of delegates of Solidarity, was what transformed it into the heir of all the proletarian revolutions of the past. Solidarity was the organization of the society in revolution, just like the CNT in Spain in 1936, for better and for worse. And the critiques directed at this organization must be directed at the proletariat that created it as it was and not otherwise.
In this revolution that they had themselves launched, the workers had to reinvent everything from scratch. At first, they only knew one enemy, the Stalinist bureaucracy, and they had to learn, over the course of the struggle, to identify all their false friends. One should therefore not be surprised that the advance of the Polish revolution could be stopped from within, but rather that, in spite of everything, it was able to go so far. It is true that the Church was always accepted as the guardian of the movement’s unity and that, from this position, it could lend its support, either directly or by way of its ‘experts’, to the reformist, i.e., defeatist, tendency in Solidarity. And it is also true that the intellectual opposition, organized since 1976 in the KOR (2), when the victory of 1980 had ushered in completely new conditions, persisted in advocating a perfectly unrealistic perspective of compromise. All of this was, however, subjected to continuous debate within Solidarity, where numerous delegates took more realistic and more radical positions. And the only way that the proletarians could acquire historical understanding was from the direct experience of a struggle that constantly confronted them with the consequences of their choices.
In early 1981 the bureaucratic regime, having had to renounce military intervention and being incapable of gaining any more time by making new concessions, decided to probe the status of the correlation of forces: this was the provocation at Bydgoszcz. In response, the workers actively prepared for an unlimited general strike scheduled to start on March 31. But Walensa succeeded at the last moment in having it cancelled. This retreat itself was not as serious a setback as the way it began, through secret negotiations and the abuse of power characteristic of a delegate acting without a mandate; and it did not matter so much that the workers thereby lost the initiative in their struggle against the bureaucracy, because they could always win it back, but that they lost it within their own organization. Walensa was, like all the moderates who incarnated that first moment of the euphoric unity of a revolution, both a transient good and a necessary evil that would have to be left behind sooner or later. When the moment of truth arrived on March 30, and he did not support the strike, by allowing him to make a mockery of the democratic rules that they had given themselves, the revolutionary workers allowed part of their power to fall into the hands of an uncontrollable delegation whose separate interests and resultant policy would later obscure the needs of the struggle.
Because everything continued: in the autumn, throughout Poland, various ‘social committees’ took responsibility for production and distribution, inaugurating a new legitimacy against the bureaucracy. And the delegates of Lodz announced that on December 21 all the workers in the region would carry out an active strike and would organize workers guards for their self-defense. This decision precipitated the test of force and the provisional conclusion of December 13: bureaucratic order was reestablished rather easily, because the confusion and bewilderment provoked by the delaying tactics of the majority of the leaders of Solidarity saved Jaruzelski’s coup from being immediately defeated, but with a minimal result, in view of everything that had to be reconquered. The workers chose the path of passive resistance, but continued to make progress, thanks to their organizations and clandestine publications, with regard to the consciousness of their unaltered historic task. Henceforth the fate of the Polish revolution depended more than ever on what the Russian proletariat did, but what it had already accomplished constitutes the most important instance of the construction of a generalized anti-bureaucratic movement.
As for France, that country where internationalism is so easy to practice, the Polish revolution has been the moment of truth for all those who proclaim their support for the modern revolution and for the ideas by means of which it has begun to enunciate its goals. It is true that most of them have only used these ideas to pass judgment on the Polish movement rather than for the purpose of giving it aid and support. But whatever their judgments, they have been reduced to reacting to every blow, without being capable of breaking enough of the spectacular mechanism of our day which is so well constructed to manipulate realities as stimuli, events that are contemplated with indignation, enthusiasm or rage, it does not matter, they are all contemplated as externals. This dependency vis-à-vis spectacular mediations has culminated in a kind of perfection and, when forgetfulness and silence have followed the conspiracy of noise, we may reflect upon the fact that once again there has been no cumulative process, that the ‘solidarity’ with the Polish revolution has produced no enduring lines of demarcation, no terrain of agreement for an anti-bureaucratic regrouping, whatever else may have occurred.
Just as the time and the opportunity passed, the possible confluence between the workers struggles of the past (the model outline of the autonomous means of the proletarian revolution) and the new revolt spontaneously born from the fate of the society of the spectacle (the critique of work, of the commodity and of all alienated life), a confluence that momentarily almost took place in some of the developed countries, could no longer be considered and expected as the inevitable result of the objective unfolding of the dominant conditions: it has now become, in memory and consciousness, the task of a new epoch where the global division of repressive labor stops at nothing to define what is desirable and what is possible. When the force of practical unification by “the real movement that dissolves existing conditions” disappears from social life, then the need for a unified critical theory reappears.
The current organization of confusion, amnesia and ignorance as a result of the bombardment of information, has successfully prevented the revolt commenced in youth from becoming a cumulative phenomenon or even from presenting a cyclical character; today’s adults, if they have not committed suicide or disintegrated in madness or drug abuse, are, for the most part, resigned. And for those who are not yet adults—if anyone can be an adult in this society of extended infantilism—are satisfied, in their overwhelming majority, with modes of expression programmed from dissatisfaction. On the other hand, and for the enemy this is a far-reaching victory, the intensified penetration of commodity production that determines and upholds all the above phenomena is on the verge of decomposing everything that in the life of individuals could still serve as a basis for the resumption of practical critique: language, customs, urban neighborhoods, memory, everything that was once a rearguard of the revolution in the clandestine refuge of everyday experience is methodically subjected to the withering crossfire of destruction and recuperation.
In this same process, however, the reason of the commodity, becoming totalitarian and therefore increasingly and obviously practically insane, inexorably sinks into the horror of its uncontrolled results. And, for those who already fought against it when its reputation was not so bad, for those who, deserting the factories and turning their backs on culture, now find themselves at this moment of universal history when the perspective of the social revolution has come to occupy the center of the world and serves as a measuring rod for everything, for those who saw the door half-open in the closed palace of time, and will never forget it, the ten years that have passed since the Portuguese revolution seemed to announce the extension to all of Europe of the subversion of 1968, will have been nothing but inevitable price of the conflict they chose to participate in personally, a price also paid, and more harshly, by those who did not choose to do so.
It was up to France, where this new springtime of revolt was born, to see its negation more explicitly realized. Mitterandism, presented as the “victory of May ‘68”, is effectively the victory of the most modern counterrevolution, which in 1968 had to resort to Gaullism for carrying out the task that it was not yet capable of fulfilling. In 1984, a recuperator of such standing as Attali is the official thinker of Mitterand, an old leftist bureaucrat like July directs the official newspaper of the technocratic left and an stale old leftover of Maoist confusionism like Castro is delegated the responsibility for humanizing the urbanistic leprosy of the suburbs (3). In 1984, the ‘situs’ are everywhere, but it is the computers that transmit the orders for the conditions of circulation in a destroyed Paris, thus realizing a program exactly the opposite of that of the derive proposed by other situs for the purpose of rebuilding the world. In 1984, the assassination of Gerard Lebovici, publisher of George Orwell, among others, and the campaign of slander launched afterwards against Guy Debord, shows that the liquidation of social critique is today’s agenda, and eventually assumes the form of the liquidation of its rare declared supporters. In this matter, as in those of food and housing, it is a question of destroying the poles of comparison, so that the restored monopoly of social expression does not have to fear a reactivation of that which momentarily confronted it.
With respect to this point, as with all those where it realizes its program, the enemy reveals enough to us, ex negativo, to show us what we have to do to defend the opportunities for free thought and life. If we have tried to write this "History of Ten Years", it was not for the purpose of ridding ourselves of the past, but to preserve the possibilities that it contained. Today, many individuals who had once recognized these possibilities wander, without having denied it, in the ‘labyrinth of perturbation and resentment whose random paths indefinitely prolong the suspension of an unfinished revolution’.
To escape from these labyrinths there are times when one can pass through the walls, and there are others when the walls are too solid, and require that memory should once again take up the thread of time, in order to recover the central point of view from which one can discern the road.
Beyond this labyrinth begins the reconquest of a capacity for critical judgment that responds, with respect to every verifiable fact, to the debasement of life, and which precipitates the split in society, preliminary to a revolution, on the historical question par excellence, the question of progress. It is undoubtedly true that we are shockingly incompetent when it comes to reestablishing the truth of the facts about all the aspects of a production that escapes our control, precisely because it is out of our control. But those who possess the necessary powers have offered sufficient proof by how they put them to use that we do not feel obliged to have too many scruples in this regard. We hope to bring to the world, by means of methodical research, the truth of the facts, a truth that is today totally scandalous, since there is no detail of material production concerning which it is not necessary to lie in order to more effectively conceal the fact that it by no means controls its consequences. Considering everything elucidated above, it will be understandable that we shall not exhibit the modesty of believing our task is of little importance.
Encyclopédie des Nuisances
(1) Anti-work tactic that consists in working just enough to pay expenses or to qualify for unemployment insurance, for the purpose of remaining unemployed for as long as possible. Job cuts and more restrictive labor legislation put an end to this.
(2) Workers Defense Committee.
(3) Jacques Attali, member of Mitterand’s cabinet; Serge July, director of the daily newspaper, Libération; Roland Castro, urbanist of power, responsible for the Mitterandist plan to remodel the suburbs of Paris, ‘Banlieues 80’.