A poster by the American section of the Situationist International critiquing the translation of "Society of the Spectacle" produced by Radical America/Black & Red.
[photo montage (barricade de la Commune de Paris et des têtes au bout de piques : Mao Zédong, Moshe Dayan, Yasser Arafat, Hafez el-Assad ?, Léonid Brejnev, XX ? & Elvis Presley ?) ; ]
text in montage:
Proletarian revolution depends entirely on the condition that, for the first time, theory as intelligence of human practice be recognized and lived by the masses.
It requires workers to become dialecticians and to inscribe their thought into practice.
To nonsubscribers of Radical America
In the reproduction of Guy Debord’s situationist text Society of the Spectacle, by Radical America1 , the spectacle of spectacles is achieved. The contradiction between the reproducers and the object reproduced is glaring. This reproduction, however, is not an absurdity in abstracto, even if its passage into the absurd escapes the recognition of its inventors. The absurdity has become real, and it can acquire, without denunciation, the force of historical confusion.
If the critical fragment discovers itself ultimately within the alien totality, this Pop Front For the Liberation of Radical Appearances goes a step further. It brings every conceivable ideological fragment, independently incapable of more putrefaction, together as the totality itself. Its dream is the encirclement of revolutionary theory with its name to make it seem as if it is its milieu; the ideologization of that which is absolutely opposed to ideology.
Revolutionary theory finds itself buried alive in the coffin of Radical America between the cadavres of State surrealism and bureaucratic councilism.
Rosemont, self-disciplined necrophiliac holding his revivalist rites over the thirty-five-year-old grave of surrealism, moves from literary reification of the former significance of the critical automatism to sordid identification with determinism. — after Aragon. "Our unreserved adherence to the fundamental principles of marxism-leninism, our active participation in concrete political struggles and on militant demonstrations, should be sufficient proof that our conception of poetry does not end with the poem" (it ends with the bureaucratic class). — Radical. America, Jan. 1970, p. 62. Note the more than slight contrast with this: "Dadaism wanted to suppress art without realizing it; surrealism wanted to realize art without suppressing it" (Society of the Spectacle, thesis 191).
CLR James, unlike Jesse, does not recognize the actual influence of men on events. Borrowing from the old evolutionary model of Bernstein, he conceals the subjective aspect in the Bolshevik counter-revolution under the seemingly harmless heading of "underdevelopment." Impossible for James to see from within his nondialectical perspective, the Bolshevism of Lenin played its own part in underdevelopment, in its role as factor of retard and regression for that central part of productive forces, which is revolutionary class consciousness. Toward the end of his anarcho-trotskyist career in critical underdevelopment, James vindicates even that bureaucratic excess, stalinism, which he once opposed. "The countries known as underdeveloped have produced the greatest statesmen of the twentieth century, men who have substantially altered the shape and direction of world civilization in the last 50 years. There are four in number: Lenin, Gandhi, Mao-tse-tung, and Nkrumah" (Radical America, CLR James, p. 97).
Our comrade adequately defrocks the new priests of dead time: "If all the bureaucrats taken together decide everything, the cohesion of their own class can only be assured by the concentration of their terrorist power in a single person. In this person resides the only practical truth of falsehood in power: the indisputable permanence of its constantly adjusted frontier" (Society of the Spectacle, thesis 107).
If Radical America can hide behind the senile, and apparently harmless activity of a clearing home, the anti-theoretical function it accomplishes cannot escape even its own modernist eyes. In this world nobody is innocent. To introduce revolutionary theory into the domain of muted perspective blurs its own total transparence, and transforms it into a mere appendix to the imposture of speculation. The category of "situationist-type" texts (see again, if you dare, the CLR James edition, p. 104) marks the limit of their flat world. There, at the point of necessary return, we find Perlman’s Revolutionary Struggle in Yugoslavia, an anti-bureaucratic collage, made by way of mere citation and information, thus realizing it-self in the voice of the bureaucracy. "In its very style, the exposition of dialectical theory is a scandal and an abomination in terms of the rules of the dominant language and for the taste which they have educated, be-cause in the positive use of existing concepts it at the same time includes the knowledge of their rediscovered fluidity, of their necessary destruction" (Society of the Spectacle, thesis 205).
At the same time that Radical America has re-enforced the theory of the peaceful co-existence of revolutionary ideology and revolutionary theory, it has also de-mystified it, despite itself, in its direct mutilation of Society of the Spectacle. The petit-specialists of radical contradictions cannot escape them in turn; the mutilator mutilates himself. The actual distortion of the text, in the translation (thanks to the metaphysical assistance of the at once existing and nonexisting Black and Red) follows logically from the entire displacement of Society of the Spectacle under the banner of reified thought. Nevertheless the consequences always multiply the horror of bad premises.
Against the backdrop of a myriad of linguistic as well as stylistic errors, the crucial falsification occurs blatantly in the realm of the revolutionary concept: "dépassement" becomes "overcoming" instead of supersession; "renversement" becomes "overturning" instead of reversal; "détournement"becomes "displacement" instead of diversion. This partial apprehension of the dialectic and absolute captivation of the degree zero of writing reaches its summit there where the distorted words are themselves distorted: "Critical theory must be communicated [communicate itself from the french "se communiquer"] in its own language. This is the language of contradiction, which must be dialectical in its form as in its content. It is not a ’zero degree of writing’ but its overcoming ["It is not a ’degree-zero of writing’ but its reversal," as in the original is written, "II n’est pas un ’degré zéro de I’écriture’ mais son renversement.’"] It is not a negation of style, but the style of negation" (Debord, thesis 204).
Finally, the repeated introduction of unresolved esthetic images, in spite of some other excellent images (which cannot redeem them), is the excess of this spectacle. The Situationists can draw only one conclusion by which the truth of this moment of revolutionary theory can be restored: the authentic reproduction, funded and distributed by Radical America, of Society of the Spectacle and brought back under its own organizational name, Situationist International. If the situationists are not the only theoreticians in the revolutionary movement today, it is equally true that the only revolutionary theory is situationist.
Situationist International, PO Box 491, Cooper Station, New York, New York 10003.
This poster was subsequently reprinted by Black & Red (below) including a letter signed by [Jonathan] Horelick and [Tony] Verlaan of the Situationist International.