Helpful notes on Guy Debord's seminal text, Society of the Spectacle, put together by translator Ken Knabb.
The following notes are partially based on a 1973 list that Guy Debord himself made of many of the quotations and
détournements in order to help translators of his book (Relevé
provisoire des citations et des détournements
de La Société
du Spectacle) a list that can be found in Debords Oeuvres (Gallimard Quarto, 2006, pp. 862-872). The
same list, in some cases with additions by others, has been reproduced in pamphlet form and at various online sites. I have included all the material from
Debords original list plus whatever additional items I have been able to
discover. I have not included others’ additions unless I have been able to
verify them. I have also added notes on some of the historical references.
Debord’s list is sometimes not very specific (e.g. “detourned from
Hegel”). For the convenience of readers who may want to examine the sources in
their original contexts, I have added more specific chapter or page references
when I have been able to locate them.
Debord almost always used French versions. In some cases the original texts
(e.g. the German of Hegel or Marx) have been differently translated into English, so the quotations
and détournements do not
always match perfectly. I have also sometimes chosen to render
passages slightly differently from the translations I quote here.
I hope these notes will help to clarify certain aspects of Debord's text and
give some idea of how he worked. I would appreciate being informed of any
errors or omissions.
References are to the numbered theses of the book, not to page numbers.
Chapter 1 epigraph: Ludwig Feuerbachs The Essence of
Christianity was published in 1841; the Second Edition appeared in 1843.
1. In societies . . . accumulation of spectacles: Cf. the opening
sentence of Marxs Capital: The wealth of societies in which the
capitalist mode of production prevails presents itself as an immense
accumulation of commodities.
2. the deceivers are deceived (literally: “the liar has lied to
himself”): Debord says this is detourned from Hegel: The truth verifies itself. an autonomous
movement of the nonliving:
Cf. Hegels First Philosophy of Spirit (Jenenser Realphilosophie,
Part I, 1803-1804): Money
is that materially existing concept, the unitary form or the possibility of all
objects of need. By elevating need and work to this level of generality a vast
system of common interest and mutual dependence is formed among a great people,
a self-propelling life of the dead, which moves hither and thither, blind and
elemental and, like a wild animal, it stands in constant need of being tamed and
kept under control.
3. The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as society itself, as a part of society,
and as a means of unification: The first example among many in this
chapter revealing that “the spectacle” is not some fixed, objective entity that
can be defined once and for all, but a multifaceted process or tendency within
the present society that must be seen and examined from different angles.
4. The spectacle is not a collection . . . mediated by images: Cf.
Capital (Vol. I, chap. 33): Capital is not a thing; it is a social relationship
between people that is mediated by things.
6. it is the very heart of this real society’s unreality: Cf. Marxs
Introduction to a Critique of Hegels Philosophy of Right: Religion is the sigh of the oppressed, the heart of a heartless
world, the spirit of spiritless conditions.
7-8. Debord says that several phrases in these two theses are detourned from Hegel.
9. the true is a moment of the false: Cf. the Preface to Hegels Phenomenology of
Spirit: The false (though no longer as false) is a moment
of the true.
This quotation follows the French translation used by
Debord. The various English translations are somewhat different (Miller
#39, p. 23; Baillie, p. 98; Kaufmann, p. 60). See Note 76 for information on these different editions.
12. What appears is good; what is good appears: Cf. the
Preface to Hegels
Philosophy of Right: What is rational is real, and what is real
13. the sun that never sets over the empire of modern
passivity: The phrase the empire on which the sun never sets was applied to the Spanish Empire of the
sixteenth century and later to the British Empire.
14. goals are nothing, development is everything: Cf. the
Conclusion of Eduard
Bernsteins Evolutionary Socialism: “To me that which is generally
called the ultimate aim of socialism is nothing, but the movement is
17. degradation of being into having: Cf.
the Private Property and Communism section of Marxs 1844 Manuscripts
(a.k.a. Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts): Private property has
made us so stupid and partial that an object is only ours when we have
it, when it exists for us as capital or when it is directly eaten, drunk, worn,
inhabited, etc., in short, utilized in some way. But private property
itself only conceives these various forms of possession as means of life,
and the life for which they serve as means is the life of private property
labor and creation of capital. Thus all the physical and mental senses
have been replaced by the simple alienation of all these senses the sense of
18. When the real world is transformed into mere images, mere
images become real beings: Cf. Marx and Engelss The Holy Family
(chap. VIII.3.a): For one to whom the sensuously perceptible world becomes a mere idea,
for him mere ideas are transformed into sensuously perceptible beings. The figments of
his brain assume corporeal form.
19. The spectacle
does not realize philosophy, it philosophizes reality: Cf. Marxs
Introduction to a Critique of Hegels
Philosophy of Right: you cannot
supersede philosophy without realizing it.”
20. This thesis contains several allusions to Feuerbachs The Essence of Christianity,
which among other things examines the projection of humanitys positive potentials
into an imagined heavenly realm.
21. As long as necessity is socially dreamed, dreaming will
remain necessary: Debord says this
is detourned from Marx. Perhaps he is alluding to Marxs distinction
between the realm of necessity and the realm of
freedom in Capital (Vol. III, chap. 48). The spectacle is the bad
dream . . . guardian of that sleep: Cf. Freuds The Interpretation of Dreams (chap. 5,
section C), which
contends that dreams reflect the wish for sleep and that dreams are the
guardians of sleep.
22. The fact that the practical power . . . in contradiction
with itself: Cf. Marxs Theses on Feuerbach: But the fact that the
secular basis detaches itself from itself and establishes itself as an
independent realm in the clouds can only be explained by the divisions and
contradictions within this secular basis.
23. The most modern . . . is thus also the most archaic:
Cf. the Introduction to Marxs Grundrisse: Some determinations will be
shared by the most modern epoch and the most ancient.
24. The fetishistic appearance . . . conceals their true character as relations between people
and between classes: Cf. Georg Lukácss
History and Class Consciousness (1923; translated by Rodney Livingstone, MIT Press,
p. 14): The fetishistic illusions enveloping all phenomena in capitalist
society . . . conceal the fact that they are the
categories of the relations of men with each other. Instead they appear
as things and the relations of things with each other. a second Nature,
with its own inescapable laws, seems to dominate our environment: Cf.
Lukács, op. cit., p. 128: For, on the one hand, men are constantly
smashing, replacing and leaving behind them the natural, irrational and
actually existing bonds, while, on the other hand, they erect around themselves
in the reality they have created and made, a kind of second nature which
evolves with exactly the same inexorable necessity as was the case earlier on
with irrational forces of nature (more exactly: the social relations which
appear in this form).
28. lonely crowds: allusion to David Riesmans book
The Lonely Crowd (1950).
29. In the spectacle, a part of the world presents itself
to the world and is superior to it: Cf. Marxs Theses on Feuerbach: It
thus tends to divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to
society. reunites the separated, but it reunites them only
in their separateness: Cf. Hegels Love (a fragmentary
text included in his
Early Theological Writings): In love, the separate still exists, but it
exists as unified, no longer as separate. This passage is quoted at
greater length in Debords dedication to his wife Alice Becker-Ho at the
beginning of his film The Society of the Spectacle (1973). See Guy Debord,
Complete Cinematic Works (AK Press, 2003, translated and edited by Ken Knabb), p. 43.
30-33. The alienation of the spectator . . .
The more he contemplates, the less he lives . . . Workers do not produce
themselves, they produce a power independent of themselves . . . The closer
their life comes to being their own creation, the more they are excluded from
that life: Cf. various passages of the Alienated Labor section of
Marxs 1844 Manuscripts, e.g. The worker is related to the product
of his labor as to an alien object. The more the worker exerts himself in
his work, the more powerful becomes the world of objects that he brings into
being over against himself, and the poorer his inner world becomes, and the less
he belongs to himself. . . . The greater his activity, the less he possesses.
What is embodied in the product of his labor is no longer his own. The
alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labor
becomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists outside
him, independently of him and alien to him, and begins to confront him as an
autonomous power; that the life he has bestowed on the object confronts him as a
hostile and alien force.
31. a map that is identical to the territory it represents: allusion to Alfred Korzybskis phrase, The map is not the territory, and
possibly also to Jorge Luis Borgess story On Exactitude in Science:
the Cartographers Guild drew a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the
Empire, coinciding point for point with it.
Chapter 2 epigraph: from Lukácss History and Class Consciousness (pp. 86, 89,
translation slightly modified).
35. In the spectacles basic practice . . . we recognize our old enemy:
Cf. Marxs Toast at the anniversary of the Peoples Paper (London, 1856):
In the signs that bewilder the middle class, the aristocracy and the poor
prophets of regression, we do recognise our brave friend, Robin Goodfellow, the
old mole that can work in the earth so fast, that worthy pioneer — the
Revolution. Marx is making two Shakespeare allusions: Robin Goodfellow is
a mischievous sprite in A Midsummer Nights Dream and the old mole is from
Hamlet (see Note 77). the commodity . . . metaphysical subtleties: Cf. the Fetishism of the Commodity section of
Capital (Vol. I, chap. 1, section 4):
“A commodity appears at first glance to be something very trivial and obvious.
Analysis reveals that it is in reality a very strange thing, abounding in
metaphysical subtleties and theological abstrusities.”
36. “imperceptible as well as perceptible things”: quotation
from the Fetishism of the Commodity section of Capital: A commodity
is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of
men’s labor appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product
of that labor; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their
own labor is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between
themselves, but between the products of their labor. This is the reason why the
products of labor become commodities, social things whose qualities are at the
same time perceptible and imperceptible by the senses.
40, 44, 47. survival: For in-depth analysis of
the situationists distinction between real life and mere survival, see
the opening sections of Raoul Vaneigems Basic Banalities in the Situationist
International Anthology (Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981, translated and
edited by Ken Knabb, pp. 89-95) or in the Revised and Expanded Edition of the
same book (2006; pp. 117-124). “Basic Banalities,”
incidentally, can be seen as a kind of preliminary draft for Vaneigems book, The
Revolution of Everyday Life (1967), a unique and essential work which examines the
same social system as does The Society of the Spectacle but in a more
lyrical and ``subjective'' manner. Get the new translation
by Donald Nicholson-Smith (PM Press, 2012).
41. remaining unknown precisely because it was so familiar:
Cf. the Preface to Hegels Phenomenology of Spirit (Miller #31, p.
Baillie, p. 92; Kaufmann, p. 48): What is familiarly known
is not really known, precisely because it is so familiar.
43. “political economy considers the proletarian only as a worker”
. . . and never considers him “in his leisure and humanity”: quotations from
the Wages of Labor section of Marxs 1844 Manuscripts: political economy regards the proletarian . . . as nothing
more than a worker. It can therefore advance the proposition that, like a
horse, he must receive just enough to enable him to work. It does not consider
him when he is not working, as a human being. total denial of man:
quotation from the Private Property and Labor section of Marxs
Manuscripts: Thus, although political economy, whose principle is
labor, appears to recognize man, it is in fact nothing more than the denial of
man carried to its logical conclusion.
44. The spectacle is a permanent opium war: allusion to
the Opium Wars of 1839-1842 and 1857-1860. The Chinese government wanted to ban the British opium
trade, which was debilitating large sections of the Chinese population. England
went to war against China to force it to accept that trade, which at the time
was one of the main sources of the British Empires wealth. England (joined by
France in the second one) won both wars and gained Hong Kong and several other
port districts as concessions or free trade areas.
46. condottiere . . . for its own sake:
Condottiere were mercenary leaders in Renaissance Italy who often ended up
taking over the small states they were hired to fight for.
47. decline of use value: Cf. the tendency of the
general rate of profit to fall (Capital, Vol. III, chap. 13).
51. The economy’s triumph . . . spells its own doom: Cf.
Marx’s Letter to Ruge (September 1843): “he will force this party to supersede
itself — for its victory is also its defeat.” Freud: Sigmund Freud
(1856-1939), founder of psychoanalysis. I have not been able to locate
the source of the quote.
52. The economic Id must be replaced by the I:
allusion to Freuds The Ego and the Id.
53. the commodity contemplates itself in a world of its
own making: Cf. the Alienated Labor section of Marxs
1844 Manuscripts: He contemplates himself
in a world that he himself has created.
Chapter 3 epigraph: Red Flag was the
official theoretical journal of the Chinese Communist Party from 1958-1988.
The citation is full of ironies, not only because of the fact that the Chinese
regime was itself part of the pseudo-opposition and actual unity of
global capitalism examined in this chapter, but also because its crude
(and very undialectical) ideological rhetoric unintentionally suggests the actual irreconcilable struggle
of the global proletariat against both forms of capitalism (the Chinese
Maoist-Stalinist form as well as the Western free enterprise form).
61. The admirable
people . . . attain greatness by stooping below the
reality of the most insignificant individual life: Cf. Hegels Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction
(Nisbet., p. 84): “the great individuals of history . . . are admirable
simply because they have made themselves the instruments of the substantial
63. The spectacle exists in a concentrated form or a
diffuse form: In chapter 4 of his 1988 book Comments on the
Society of the Spectacle (translated by Malcolm Imrie, Verso, 1990) Debord updated his analysis: In 1967 I
distinguished two rival and successive forms of spectacular power, the
concentrated and the diffuse. . . . The former, presenting an ideology
concentrated around a dictatorial personality, had accompanied the Nazi and
Stalinist totalitarian counterrevolutions. The latter, inciting wage-earners to
apply their freedom of choice to the vast range of new commodities now on offer,
had represented the Americanization of the world. . . . Since then a third form
has been established a calculated combination of the two preceding forms,
based on the victory of the form that had proven the stronger of the two: the
diffuse. This is the integrated spectacle, which has since tended to
impose itself globally. Debords Comments book is largely concerned with
examining the implications of this new form of spectacular power. an image of happy harmony surrounded by desolation
and horror, at the calm center of misery: Cf. Melvilles Moby Dick (chap.
87): And thus, though surrounded by circle on circle of consternations and
affrights, did those inscrutable creatures at the centre freely and fearlessly
indulge in all peaceful concernments; yea, serenely revelled in dalliance and
delight. But even so, amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still
ever centrally disport in mute calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning
revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal
mildness of joy.
64. bureaucratic capitalism (a.k.a. state
capitalism): Although Western free enterprise capitalism has also become
increasingly bureaucratized, when Debord uses the terms the bureaucracy,
bureaucratic capitalism, bureaucratic class, etc., he is referring to
the Communist parties evolution into a new type of totalitarian
bureaucratic ruling class. See Theses 103-113.
66. epic poem of this struggle . . . fall of Troy:
allusion to Homers Iliad. The spectacle does not sing of men and
Cf. the opening line of Virgils Aeneid: I sing of arms and of the man . .
. In this blind struggle each commodity . . . absolute realization: Cf.
Hegels Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction
(Nisbet, p. 89): Particular interests contend with one another, and some are
destroyed in the process. But it is from this very conflict and destruction of
particular things that the universal emerges. The universal Idea does not
itself enter into conflict and danger; it remains in the background, untouched
and unharmed, and sends forth the particular interests of passion to fight and
wear themselves out in its stead. With what we may call the cunning of
reason, it sets the passions to work in its service, so that the agents by
which it gives itself existence must pay the penalty and suffer the loss.
globalization of the commodity . . . commodification of the globe: Cf.
Marxs On the Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of
Nature (note to Part I, chap. 4): As the world becomes philosophical,
philosophy also becomes worldly.
67. accumulating commodity
indulgences — glorious tokens of the commodity’s real presence among the
faithful: This whole thesis plays on associations with classic
religious delusions, in this case the “indulgences” for forgiveness of sins
peddled by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages and
the doctrine of the “Real Presence” of Christ in the
70. Stalin: Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), totalitarian
leader of the USSR from the late 1920s till his death in 1953. Following his
death, his successors, who had slavishly followed him for decades, undertook a
de-Stalinization campaign, denouncing the excesses of his reign.
See Note 110.
71. Nothing stands still for it . . . inclination: Cf. Pascals
Pensées (Brunschvicg #72): “When we try to anchor ourselves to any point,
it wavers and leaves us; and if we pursue it, it continually eludes our grasp.
Nothing stands still for us. This is our natural condition, yet it is completely
contrary to our inclination.”
Chapter 4 title. The Proletariat as Subject and Representation:
Cf. Schopenhauers The World as Will and Representation.
Chapter 4 epigraph: Insurrection of March 18: i.e. the
Paris Commune (March 18-May 28, 1871). fearsome organization . . . army:
the parliamentary committees paranoically exaggerated characterization of the
73. The real movement that transforms existing conditions:
Cf. Marx and Engelss The German Ideology (Part I, chap. 2, section 5): Communism is for us
not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which
reality will have to adjust itself. What we call communism is the real movement
that is dissolving existing conditions.” all static order crumbled into dust:
Cf. Marx and Engelss Communist Manifesto (Part 1): “All that is solid melts into air, all that
is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face his
real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind, in a clear and
74. obliged to view their
relationships in a clear and disabused manner: See the previous Communist
Manifesto quotation. the final
unconscious metaphysical vision of the historical era: i.e. Hegels philosophy of
76. Hegel: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831),
Although it is possible to understand most of The Society of the Spectacle
without knowing anything about Hegel, some familiarity with his work is
useful to anyone who wishes to engage in the dialectical type of radical
practice initiated by Marx and further developed by the situationists. This
dialectical method, which Alexander Herzen called “the algebra of revolution,”
cuts through traditional logic, expressing the dynamic manner in which things
interact, how they divide, merge, grow, decay, and are transformed, sometimes
even into their opposites. Because most of Hegels work is quite difficult, commentaries and other secondary readings
are almost essential. A good starting place might be Peter Singer’s Hegel: A Very Short
Introduction. A more substantial work, which puts Hegel in his historical
context, is Herbert
Marcuses Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory. The Philosophy of History
is probably Hegel's most accessible book: the fact
that he is dealing with concrete historical events may help you to see how his ideas
play out in practice. The only translation of the complete work is rather old
and based on an outdated German edition,
but there is a good modern edition of the Introduction, published under the title
Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction (Cambridge
University Press, 1975, translated by
H.B. Nisbet). More difficult, but very rich, is The Phenomenology of
Spirit. I prefer the edition with that title (Oxford University Press, 1977, translated
by A.V. Miller with
commentary by J.N. Findlay) over the earlier translation by J.B. Baillie
titled The Phenomenology of Mind (Allen & Unwin/Humanities Press, 1949). Walter
Kaufmanns Hegel: Texts and Commentary (Anchor, 1966) contains an
annotated translation of the Preface. the point was no longer to
interpret the world, but to interpret the transformation of the world: Cf. Marxs Theses on
Feuerbach: The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways;
the point now is to change it. consciousness that always arrives too late:
Cf. the Preface to Hegels Philosophy of Right: As for trying to teach the world
what it ought to be, for this purpose philosophy always arrives too late. As the thought of the world,
it appears only when actuality is already there. bourgeois revolutions of
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: notably in England (1640-1660 and
1688), America (1775-1788) and France (1789-1799). Karl Korsch, Theses on
Hegel and Revolution: This short but very pithy text, published in 1931,
can be found in Douglas Kellner (ed.), Karl Korsch: Revolutionary Theory (University of
Texas Press, 1974, pp. 277-278) and online at
www.bopsecrets.org/CF/korsch.htm. the glorification of existing
conditions”: another quotation from Korschs text. absolute heroic force which has done what it willed and
willed what it has done: Cf. Hegels Encyclopedia (Vol. I, #140):
great men willed what they did, and did what they willed. only tribunal where truth could be judged is closed: Cf.
Friedrich Schillers poem Resignation (1786): World history is the
tribunal that judges the world, quoted in Hegels Philosophy of Right
77. this historical thought has not been forgotten: Cf.
Hegels History of Philosophy (Vol. III): Spirit often seems to have
forgotten and lost itself, but inwardly opposed to itself, it is inwardly
working ever forward as Hamlet says of the ghost of his father, Well done, old
mole until grown strong in itself it bursts asunder the crust of earth which
divided it from its sun, its Notion, so that the earth crumbles away.
that thought’s conclusion: i.e. Hegels idealistic philosophical
conclusion. its method: Hegels dialectical method.
78. Stirner: Max Stirner (1806-1856), German individualist
anarchist philosopher, author of The Ego and His Own. Bakunin:
Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876), Russian anarchist revolutionary, collaborator and then
opponent of Marx within the First International. Marx: Karl Marx
(1818-1883), German revolutionary. The literature on Marxs work is
immense, and most of it is unreliable. (Anything that implies that Marx had
anything to do with so-called Marxist or Communist
regimes is totally
unreliable.) An excellent general introduction is Karl Korschs Karl Marx
(1938). Korschs book is out of print, but it can be found online at
79. Bernstein: Eduard Bernsteins book Die
Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie (The
Prerequisites for Socialism and the Tasks of Social Democracy) was published
in 1899, and its revisionist positions provoked heated debates for many
years afterwards. It has been translated as Evolutionary Socialism and
more recently as The Preconditions of Socialism. 1847 Manifesto:
the Communist Manifesto. Engels: Friedrich Engels (1820-1895),
German revolutionary, lifelong collaborator with Marx.
80. “salvage” . . . by “transplanting”: Cf.
Korschs Theses on Hegel and Revolution: The attempt made by the founders
of scientific socialism to salvage the high art of dialectical thinking by
transplanting it from German idealist philosophy to the materialist conception
of nature and history, from the bourgeois to the proletarian theory of
revolution, appears, both historically and theoretically, as a transitory step
only. What has been achieved is a theory not of the proletarian revolution
developing on its own basis, but of a proletarian revolution that has just
emerged from the bourgeois revolution; a theory which therefore in every
respect, in content and in method, is still tainted with the birthmarks of
Jacobinism, that is, of the revolutionary theory of the bourgeoisie.
historical wounds leave no scars: Cf. Hegels Phenomenology of Spirit
(Miller #669, p. 407; Baillie, p. 676): The wounds of the Spirit heal, and leave no scars behind. Of
all the instruments . . . class itself: Quotation from Marxs The
Poverty of Philosophy (chap. 2).
81. “We recognize only one science: the science of history”:
quotation from Marx and Engelss The German Ideology
(Part I, chap. 1, section 1).
83. Utopian socialists: most notably
Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825), Charles Fourier (1772-1837) and Robert Owen
(1771-1858), whose theories were contrasted with the scientific socialism of
Marx and Engels (see Engelss Socialism: Utopian and Scientific).
unarmed prophets: Machiavelli compares armed prophets and unarmed prophets in
6 of The Prince.
Sombart: The quotation is from Chapter 2 of Werner Sombarts Socialism and the Social
Movement in the Nineteenth Century (1896). Sombart is not presenting his own
view, but ironically paraphrasing the view of the utopians. did not include the awareness
. . . reinforce it: Cf. Sombart,
op. cit.: So far as
assume that the present order of things is nothing other than a mistake, that
only for this reason men find themselves in their present position, that misery
rules in the world only because man has not known thus far how to make it
better — that is false. The utopists fail to see, in their optimism, that a part
of this society looks upon the status quo as thoroughly satisfactory and
desires no change, that this part also has an interest in maintaining it, and
that a specific condition of society always obtains because those persons who
are interested in it have the power to maintain it. Sorel: Georges Sorels Matériaux dune théorie du prolétariat
(1919) has not been translated into English, but a few
selections are included in From Georges Sorel: Essays in Socialism and
Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1976, ed. John L. Stanley).
84. ideologization: At the risk of
oversimplification, it can be said that for both Marx and Debord ideology
represents a rigidification of thought or theory into dogma. consciousness always comes too soon:
Cf. the Preface to Hegels Philosophy of Right:
philosophy always arrives too late. History has shown . . .
ripe: quotation from Engelss Introduction to the 1895 reprinting of Marxs
The Class Struggles in France (1850).
85. German working
class . . . 1848: See Engelss
Revolution and Counterrevolution in Germany.
Paris Commune (1871): See Marxs
The Civil War in France and Debord, Kotányi
and Vaneigems Theses on the Paris Commune (SI Anthology,
314-317; Expanded Edition, pp.
87. “either in a
revolutionary transformation . . . contending classes”:
quotation from the Communist Manifesto
(Part 1). Bonapartist prototype
. . . condemned to the same political nullity as all the other
classes: See Marxs The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
(chap. 4): Accordingly, by now stigmatizing as socialistic what it had
previously extolled as liberal, the bourgeoisie admits that its own
interests dictate that it should be delivered from the danger of its own
rule; that in order to restore tranquility in the country, its own bourgeois
parliament must be brought to a halt; that in order to preserve its social power
intact, its political power must be broken; that the individual bourgeois can
continue to exploit the other classes and enjoy undisturbed property, family,
religion and order only on the condition that their class be condemned to the
same political nullity as all the other classes; that in order to save its
purse, it must forfeit the crown.” Marx’s text analyzes the process in which the
social instability following the French revolution of 1848 caused the
bourgeoisie to support the 1852 coup d’état by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (nephew
of the famous general Napoleon).
88. immensity of its tasks: Marx uses this phrase
in several places, e.g. Proletarian revolutions . . . recoil again and again
before the immensity of their tasks, until a situation is finally created that
goes beyond the point of no return (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis
Bonaparte, chap. 1). embody its own new form of power:
literally “itself be the power.” The sense is that in contrast to bourgeois
(or bureaucratic) seizure of state power, the proletariat as a whole will form a
new nonstate mode of social organization in which everyone (and therefore no
one) is “in power” — what the situationists elsewhere referred to as
“generalized self-management.” See Note 179. Jacobin-style seizure of the state: allusion to the Jacobin
the radical bourgeois party
during the French Revolution that seized state power in 1793. disguise partial goals as general goals:
the bourgeoisie had done during previous revolutions (e.g. by demanding
unrestricted economic freedom in the name of Freedom).
89. letter . . . accompanying an article reviewing Capital:
More precisely, Marxs
letter included some suggestions for such a review, which he hoped that Engels
would develop and submit.
90. theory of praxis is confirmed by becoming practical
theory: Debord says this is detourned from Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness.
The soviet . . . was not a theoretical discovery: The
first soviet (Russian for council) was spontaneously formed by striking workers during the
1905 Russian revolution. No previous radical theorists had envisaged this form
of popular self-organization, however obvious it may have seemed in retrospect. the
most advanced theoretical truth . . . was its own existence in practice: Cf.
Marxs The Civil War in France (section 3): The greatest social measure of the
Paris Commune was its own working existence.
91. First International: The International Working Mens
Association, founded in London in 1864 and dissolved in the 1870s following the
split between the Marxist and Bakuninist factions. the conscious
self-emancipation of the working class: Cf. the opening line of the Rules of
the First International: Considering that the emancipation of the working
classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves . . . “. . . invisible pilots guiding the revolution
. . . through the collective dictatorship of our
Alliance . . .”: quotation from Bakunins Letter to Albert
Richard (August 1870), excerpted in Sam Dolgoff (ed.), Bakunin on Anarchy
(Vintage, 1971, pp. 177-182). The Alliance was Bakunins secret organization,
the International Alliance for Social Democracy. two ideologies of
working-class revolution opposed each other . . . the result
was very different from what had been sought:
Cf. Engels’s Introduction to the 1895
reprinting of Marx’s
The Civil War in France:
the Commune was consumed in unfruitful strife between the two parties which
divided it, the Blanquists (the majority) and the Proudhonists (the minority),
neither of which knew what was to be done.
92. anarchism: For a good historical overview, see Daniel
Guérins No Gods, No Masters: An Anthology of
Anarchism (AK Press, 2010, translated by Paul Sharkey). Another more eclectic and thematically
organized collection is Patterns of Anarchy (Anchor, 1966, ed. Leonard Krimerman
and Lewis Perry). The anarchists
strive to realize an ideal: Cf. Marxs The Civil War in
France (section 3): The workers . . .
have no ideals to realize. puts everything on the same level and
eliminates any conception of historical evil: In his Aesthetics (Part
III, Section III, chap. 1.3(c)), Hegel describes the classic Flemish painters
(Bruegel, etc.) as presenting the Sunday of life which equalizes
everything and removes all evil;
people who are so whole-heartedly cheerful cannot be altogether evil and base.” Historical evil (mal historique),
which could also be translated as the bad side of history, also refers to
Marxs The Poverty of Philosophy (chap. 2, section 1, Observation 7)
where, in response to the anarchist Proudhons simplistic distinctions between
the good and bad sides of various historical phenomena, Marx notes that
it is the bad side that makes history by provoking struggles. Jura Federation: anarchist-leaning section of the First International based in the Jura mountain region of France and Switzerland.
94. 1936 . . . social revolution: The Spanish Civil War
(1936-1939) between the fascist forces of General Francisco Franco and the
popularly elected Republic was accompanied by a massive anarchist-inspired
revolution in much of the Republics territory (particularly in Barcelona and
the regions of Catalonia and Aragon). supported from abroad:
Francos forces were supported by Hitler and Mussolini. the camp of the
Republic included various bourgeois forces and statist working-class parties:
The Republics Popular Front coalition included liberal bourgeois parties, a
large Socialist Party, a smaller revolutionary Marxist party (the POUM), and an
even smaller Communist Party. Its recognized leaders became government ministers: The
anarchists, though usually abstaining from electoral politics, had exceptionally
supported the Popular Front government, in part because it promised to release thousands of
anarchists and other political prisoners. Once the civil war had begun, the anarchists maintained an
uneasy alliance with the Republican regime until they were eventually stabbed in
the back by it (above all by the Stalinists, who had soon wormed their way
into positions of power within the government and in particular within the police
During a period of several months, four prominent anarchist leaders formed part
of the Republican government.
destroying the revolution even as it proceeded to lose the civil war:
The French text, pour perdre la guerre civile (literally, in order to lose the civil
war), mocks the Stalinist argument that it was necessary to destroy the
revolution in order to win the civil war. The Stalinists accomplished the first
part of that program, but not the second. Burnett Bollotens The Spanish
Revolution and The Spanish
Civil War are probably the best general histories. George Orwells Homage to
Catalonia is a good first-hand account. Sam Dolgoff (ed.), The Anarchist
Collectives: Workers Self-Management in the Spanish Revolution 1936-1939
documents the wealth of popular experimentation during the revolution. Several
other relevant books are listed in the revised edition of the SI Anthology
(p. 489, Note 358).
95: Second International (a.k.a. Socialist
International): Founded in 1889, it essentially broke up in 1916 when most of its
constituent parties abandoned their previous internationalist antiwar policy
and rallied to their respective governments during World War I. Fourier:
Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier (Beacon, 1971, ed. Jonathan Beecher and Richard
Bienvenu) or Harmonian Man: Selected Writings of Charles Fourier (Anchor,
Mark Poster). Finance
Capital: quotation from the Preface to Rudolf Hilferdings Das Finanzkapital
(1910). The quotation is discussed in more detail in Korschs Marxism and
Philosophy (1923; translated by Fred Halliday, NLB, 1970, pp. 54-58).
97. crushed the Spartakist revolutionaries: Following the
German defeat in 1918, there were mutinies and revolts throughout Germany. The
Kaisers regime was replaced by a Socialist government headed by Friedrich
Ebert, but revolts continued, culminating in a general strike and insurrection
in Berlin in January 1919 involving the Spartakist League, a revolutionary
socialist organization founded by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. Eberts
regime, with the assistance of the rightwing paramilitary Freikorps, crushed the
Spartakist revolt and murdered Liebknecht and Luxemburg. For an account of the
revolution in the context of the whole postwar period, see Richard M. Watts The Kings Depart:
Versailles and the German Revolution.
98. consistent Kautskyist . . . directing the
proletariat from outside: Debord is noting that the Russian
Bolshevik leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870-1924) and the German
social-democratic leader Karl Kautsky (1854-1938), though bitterly at odds in
respects, were fundamentally akin in many others, notably in promoting the notion of the
leading or vanguard role of a revolutionary organization. In What Is
To Be Done? (1903, chap. II.B) Lenin approvingly cited Kautskys statement
that revolutionary consciousness must be brought to the workers from outside:
The vehicle of science is not the proletariat, but the bourgeois
intelligentsia. . . . Thus, socialist consciousness is something introduced
into the proletarian class struggle from outside and not something that arises
within it spontaneously. Lenin himself stated (chap. II.A): We have said
that there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among
the workers. It would have to be brought to them from outside. The history of
all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is
only able to develop trade-union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is
necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the
government to pass necessary labor legislation, etc. As was noted in the
situationist pamphlet On the Poverty of Student Life (1966): The
1905 revolution and the Russian workers spontaneous self-organization into soviets
was already a critique in acts of [Lenins] baneful theory.
But the Bolshevik movement persisted in believing that working-class spontaneity could not
go beyond trade-union consciousness and was thus incapable of grasping
the totality. This amounted to decapitating the proletariat so that the Party
could put itself at the head of the revolution. Contesting the
proletariats historical capacity to liberate itself, as Lenin did so ruthlessly,
means contesting its capacity to totally run the future society. In such a perspective,
the slogan All power to the soviets meant nothing more than the conquest of
the soviets by the Party and the installation of the party state in place of the
withering-away state of the armed proletariat” (SI Anthology,
pp. 334-335; Expanded Edition, pp. 426-427). The Kautsky-Lenin kinship is discussed in more detail
in Korschs Marxism and Philosophy (pp. 102-103).
100. Bolshevism triumphed for itself in Russia and
social democracy fought victoriously for the old world: Expressed a
bit more fully: The triumph of the Bolshevik order coincided with the international
counterrevolutionary movement that began with the crushing of the Spartakists by German
Social Democracy. The commonality of the jointly victorious Bolshevism and
reformism went deeper than their apparent antagonism, for the Bolshevik order also turned
out to be merely a new variation on the old theme, a new guise of the old order.
. . . Capitalism, in its bureaucratic and bourgeois variants, won a new lease on
life, over the dead bodies of the sailors of Kronstadt, the peasants of the
Ukraine, and the workers of Berlin, Kiel, Turin, Shanghai, and finally
Barcelona (SI Anthology, p. 331; Expanded Edition, pp. 422-423).
101. Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919): Polish-German
Marxist revolutionary. Die Rote Fahne: The Red Flag,
newspaper of the Spartakist League. a few days before its destruction: i.e. before
the January 1919 defeat of the Spartakist revolt (see Note 97).
102. The repeated failure . . . the Hic Rhodus, hic salta of the 1918-1920 period:
Debords sense is that the European workers movement failed to take advantage of
the rare golden opportunities presented by that period. The
aftermath of World War I, including the fall of many governments, the shifting
of many national borders and other
extreme disruptions of people’s lives,
provoked widespread questioning of the whole social order. There were
mass protests and upsurges in many parts of Europe, but all of these were either
co-opted or crushed, leaving
the Russian Revolution as the only apparent “radical victory. Hic Rhodus, hic salta is a
Latin translation from the Greek of one of Aesops
fables: A traveler boasts that when he was at Rhodes he made an incredibly long
jump and there were many people there whom he could call as witnesses. One of
the bystanders says that there is no need for such witnesses since he should be
able to replicate the feat wherever he is: Lets suppose
that this is Rhodes: jump here! The phrase was modified by Hegel (in his
Preface to The Philosophy of Right) to mean Here is the rose, dance
here! and Marx in turn interpreted this latter sense to mean “Here is the
opportunity, seize it!” in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (chap. 1): proletarian revolutions . . . recoil again and
again before the immensity of their tasks, until a situation is finally created
that makes all turning back impossible, and the conditions themselves cry out:
Hic Rhodus, hic salta! — Here is the rose, here dance!
103. democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants:
an early Bolshevik slogan. theory of permanent revolution: The prevalent
notion among most socialists was that in underdeveloped countries such as
Russia one would first have to overthrow the monarchical or feudal system by
way of a purely, or at least predominantly, bourgeois revolution; only some time
afterwards, when capitalist development had created the necessary material
conditions (including a larger and more sophisticated industrial proletariat), would it be
possible to carry out a socialist revolution. Leon Trotsky and
Alexander Parvuss theory of permanent revolution (developed in the
aftermath of the 1905 Russian revolution) held that it would be possible
to proceed from the bourgeois to the proletarian stage in one continuous process (permanent” in
this context does not mean “eternal”; it means continuous, without stopping). Kronstadt soviet: In March 1921 the sailors
of Kronstadt, who had been among the most ardent participants in the 1917
revolution, revolted against the Bolshevik government, calling for a genuine
power of the soviets (democratic popular councils) as opposed to the rule of the “Soviet” state. Denounced as
reactionaries, they were crushed by the Bolsheviks (under the direct leadership
of Trotsky). See Ida Mett’s The Kronstadt Commune, Paul Avrich’s
Kronstadt, 1921, or Israel Getzler’s Kronstadt 1917-1921: The Fate of a
Soviet Democracy. Workers’ Opposition: The program of this
radical tendency within the Bolshevik Party, drafted by Alexandra
Kollontai, is included in
Kollontais Selected Writings (Allison & Busby, 1977, pp. 151-200). On the
1917 Russian Revolution in general, Trotsky’s The
History of the Russian Revolution is well worth reading, but it should be
supplemented with Voline’s The Unknown Revolution and Maurice Brinton’s
The Bolsheviks and Workers’ Control: 1917-1921 (included in the recent
AK Press collection of Brintons works,
For Workers Power).
104. state capitalism: i.e. a system in which the
state had become the dominant capitalist enterprise. New Economic
Policy (1921-1928): a temporary concession to the peasants that
included loosening certain aspects of state economic control, eliminating forced
grain requisitions and permitting the peasants to sell surplus production on the
open market. Third International (a.k.a. Communist International
or Comintern): The Third International, ostensibly created by the Bolsheviks to counteract the
degenerate social-democratic reformism of the Second International and to unite the
vanguard of the proletariat in revolutionary communist parties, was too
closely linked to the interests of its founders to ever bring about a genuine
socialist revolution anywhere. In reality the Third International was essentially a
continuation of the Second. The Russian model was rapidly imposed on the Western
workers organizations and their evolutions were thenceforth one and the same. The
totalitarian dictatorship of the bureaucracy, the new ruling class, over the Russian
proletariat found its echo in the subjection of the great mass of workers in other
countries to a stratum of political and labor-union bureaucrats whose interests had become
clearly contradictory to those of their rank-and-file constituents (SI
Anthology, p. 332; Expanded Edition, p. 423). Kuomintang regime in the China of 1925-1927:
At the very moment when radical workers were attaining significant victories in
the major cities of China, Stalin insisted that the Chinese Communist Party
subordinate itself to the Kuomintang, the nationalist party led by General
Chiang Kai-shek. When the workers of Shanghai had taken over the city in April
1927, the Communist leaders thus urged them to welcome Chiang Kai-shek’s army
and to turn in all their weapons. Once they did so, Chiang’s army entered the
city and massacred the radical workers by the thousands. See Harold Isaacs’s The
Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution. Popular Fronts in Spain and France:
The Russian alliance with the Spanish Popular Front government enabled the
Spanish Stalinists to attack and destroy anarchist collectives and rival radical groups such as the POUM. The Russian
alliance with the French Popular Front government led to the betrayal of the
anticolonial struggle in French Indochina (see Ngo Van's
In the Crossfire:
Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary, AK Press, 2010, translated by Ken
Knabb et al.).
subjecting the peasantry to a reign of terror: i.e. through the forced
collectivizations and Five Year Plans of 1928-1941.
Bruno Rizzi: author of The Bureaucratization of
the World (1939), which includes what can be considered the first in-depth
analysis of the class nature of the Soviet Union. Ante Ciliga
(1898-1992): Croatian revolutionary. Lenin and the Revolution was a pamphlet excerpted from
his book The
107. The description of Stalins power quotes or echoes
Hegels description of the power of the Roman emperors over their subjects
in The Phenomenology of Spirit (Miller ##481-482, pp. 292-293;
Baillie, pp. 504-506): This lord and
master of the world holds himself in this way to be the absolute person who
embraces within himself the whole of existence and for whom there exists no
superior spirit. He is a person, but the solitary person who stands over against
all the rest. . . . In this knowledge of himself as the sum and substance of all
actual powers, this lord and master of the world is the titanic
self-consciousness that thinks of itself as being an actual living god. But
since he is only the formal self which is unable to tame those powers,
his activities and self-enjoyment are equally monstrous excesses. The lord of the world becomes truly conscious of what he
is the universal power of the actual world through the destructive power
he exerts against the self of his subjects, the self which stands over against
him. For his power is not the union and harmony of Spirit in which
persons would recognize their own self-consciousness. . . . They exist,
therefore, in a merely negative relationship, both to one another and to him who
is their bond of connection and continuity.
108. The Napoleon quotation is from a conversation
reported in General de Caulaincourts memoir En traîneau
avec lEmpereur (chap. 4). Lysenko fiasco: Trofim Lysenko
(1898-1976) was a Ukrainian pseudoscientist whose anti-Mendelian theories and
new discipline of “agrobiology” became the official orthodoxy when Stalin put
him in charge of the USSR’s Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Under his
authority rival scientific positions were repressed, rival scientists were
persecuted, and the country’s agricultural policies and resources were oriented
toward his schemes, whose supposed successes were vaunted in the official media
(though scientists in other countries failed to replicate any of his claims).
His dominance weakened with the death of Stalin and eventually collapsed in the
early 1960s when massive crop failures revealed the fraudulence of his theories
and Russian scientists began to openly resist his rule.
110. denounces the Stalinism at its origin: Three years
after Stalins death (1953), the new Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev initiated a
de-Stalinization campaign, beginning with a secret report to the
Twentieth Party Congress in February 1956 entitled On the Cult of Personality
and Its Consequences. As the title suggests, Khrushchevs denunciation focused
on Stalin as an individual who had for some unknown reason succumbed to paranoia and megalomania and
dictatorial excesses, and never questioned the nature of the system in which
such enormities could arise. Although the de-Stalinization campaign engendered some
elements of thaw (many people were released from the concentration camps
and there was some loosening of censorship, etc.), the
superficial nature of the campaign was revealed later the same year when
Khrushchev sent Russian tanks to crush the Hungarian revolution.
111. public confrontation between the Russian lie and the
Chinese lie: See the opening paragraphs of The Explosion Point of Ideology
in China (SI Anthology, pp. 185-186; Expanded Edition, pp. 240-241): The so-called
socialist camp . . . had in any case never been socialist; now,
in spite of all sorts of attempts to patch it up, it has ceased even to be a camp.
The disintegration of the Stalinist monolith is already manifested in the
coexistence of some twenty independent lines, from Rumania to Cuba, from Italy
to the Vietnamese-Korean-Japanese bloc of parties. . . . In the Sino-Soviet
polemic, in which each power is led to impute to its opponent every conceivable
antiproletarian crime, being only obliged not to mention the real crime
(the class power of the bureaucracy), each side can only arrive at the sobering
conclusion that the other’s revolutionariness was only an inexplicable mirage. .
. . For the bureaucracy, internationalism could be nothing but an illusive
proclamation in the service of its real interests, one ideological
justification among others, since bureaucratic society is the total opposite
of proletarian community. Bureaucratic power is based on possession of a
nation-state and it must ultimately obey the logic of this reality, in
accordance with the particular interests imposed by the level of development of
the country it possesses. Its heroic age passed away with the ideological golden
age of socialism in a single country that Stalin was shrewd enough to maintain
by destroying the revolutions in China in 1927 and Spain in 1937. The autonomous
bureaucratic revolution in China  — as already shortly before in Yugoslavia
introduced into the unity of the bureaucratic world a dissolutive germ that has
broken it up in less than twenty years. workers of East Berlin . . .: reference to the East German revolt of 1953.
workers councils in Hungary: Although the 1956 Hungarian revolt against
Russian domination was ostensibly rallied around the liberalizing regime of Imry
Nagy, the country was in reality organized by nationally coordinated workers
councils. See Andy Andersons Hungary 56. See also the
situationists analysis of the 1968 “Prague Spring” (SI Anthology, pp.
256-265; Expanded Edition, pp. 326-336).
this crumbling of the global alliance based on the bureaucratic hoax is
also a very unfavorable development for the future of capitalist society:
In his Preface to the Third French Edition of The Society of the Spectacle
(1992; included in Donald Nicholson-Smiths translation of The Society of the
Spectacle, Zone Books, 1994, pp. 7-10), Debord noted that this process,
which scarcely anyone else had noticed at the time, had rapidly
accelerated since the
fall of the Berlin Wall” in 1989.
112. Trotsky: Leon Trotsky (1879-1940), Russian Bolshevik
leader. Following Lenins death in 1924, he was gradually out-maneuvered by
Stalin, forced into exile, and later murdered by one of Stalins agents. Lenin’s famous “Testament”: a letter written during
Lenins last illness in December 1922 to the Russian Communist Party, stating
his views on how the regime should proceed following his death. The letter
featured a sharp attack on Stalins brutality and deceitfulness and urged his
removal from the position of General Secretary of the Party. It also criticized
Trotskys bureaucratic tendencies. The Testament was suppressed by the
Stalinists and officially acknowledged only in 1956 by Khrushchev. Fourth
International: an international alliance of Trotskyist parties founded in
1938 as an alternative to the Stalinist Third International. the second
Russian revolution: i.e. the 1917 revolution (the first being in 1905). During
the earlier period Trotsky maintained an independent position between the
Mensheviks and Bolsheviks; he only rallied to the
Bolshevik Party in 1917 (at the same time that Lenin, in turn, adopted Trotskys
theory of permanent revolution). Lukács, in 1923: in the last chapter of
History and Class Consciousness: Towards a Methodology of the Problem
of Organization. “a political party . . . party program”: quotation
from Lenin’s “The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion” (1909).
113. “underdeveloped” countries: See Mustapha Khayatis
Setting Straight Some Popular Misconceptions About Revolutions in the
Underdeveloped Countries (SI Anthology, pp. 219-222; Expanded
Edition, pp. 281-285).
as happened in Egypt: allusion to the military coup of 1952.
Algerian war of independence: 1954-1962. On its aftermath, see The Class Struggles in Algeria (SI
Anthology, pp. 160-168; Expanded Edition, pp. 203-212).
proletariat cannot truly recognize itself in any particular wrong . . . real
life: Cf. Marxs Introduction to a Critique of Hegels Philosophy of
Right, which describes the proletariat as a sector that has a general
character because its sufferings are general, a sector that does not claim any
particular right because the wrong it suffers is not any particular
wrong but a general wrong.
115. failure of the first proletarian assault against
capitalism: The assault of the first
workers movement against the whole organization of the old world came to an end
long ago, and nothing can bring it back to life. It failed. . . . The classical
workers movement can be considered to have begun a couple decades before the
official formation of the [First] International, with the first linkup of communist groups of several countries that Marx
and his friends organized from Brussels in 1845. And it was completely finished after the
defeat of the Spanish revolution, that is, after the
Barcelona May days of 1937 (SI Anthology, p. 84; Expanded Edition, pp. 109-110).
lost children (enfants perdus): old military term for soldiers or
scouts assigned to particularly dangerous missions; by extension, people who are
on the extreme cutting edge of a movement. Debord was obviously fond of this
term, with its multiple evocative associations: it also appears in several of
his other works, including three of his
films (see Debord’s Complete Cinematic Works, p. 227, note 35). rebellious
youth: See the analysis of the merits and limitations of various such
tendencies (delinquents, Provos, radical students, East European dissidents,
etc.) in chapter 2 of On the Poverty of Student Life (SI Anthology,
pp. 326-331; Expanded Edition pp. 416-422). “General Ludd”: mythical leader of the Luddite
revolts of the early nineteenth century. Just as the first organization of the classical proletariat was preceded, during the
end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, by a period of isolated
criminal acts aimed at destroying the machines of production that were
depriving people of their work, we are presently witnessing the first appearance of a wave
of vandalism against the machines of consumption that are just as
certainly depriving us of our life. In both cases the significance obviously
does not lie in the destruction itself, but in the rebelliousness which could
potentially develop into a positive project going to the point of reconverting
the machines in a way that increases people’s real power over their lives (SI
Anthology, pp. 82; Expanded Edition, p. 108). Examples of the new signs of negation and
of the vandalism against the “machinery of permitted consumption” in Italy,
France, Belgium and Germany are described in the same article (pp. 82-84;
Expanded Edition pp. 108-109). See also Debords remarks on vandalism and looting in his
analysis of the 1965 Watts riot, The Decline and Fall of the
Spectacle-Commodity Economy (SI Anthology, pp. 153-160; Expanded
116. “The long-sought political form . . . economic liberation: Marxs
characterization of the Paris Commune in The Civil War in France
Pannekoek: Anton Pannekoek (1873-1960), Dutch revolutionary, author of Workers
Councils (1947). See also Serge Bricianers Pannekoek and
the Workers Councils. conditions of unity: Cf. Marx and Engelss The German
Ideology (Part I, chap. 4, section 6): Communism . . . turns existing
conditions into conditions of unity.
117. This product is nothing other than the producers themselves,
whose goal has become nothing other than their own fulfillment: Cf. Hegels
Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction (Nisbet, pp. 83, 86): “World-historical individuals . . . derive the universal principle
whose realization they accomplish from within themselves; it is not, however,
their own invention, but is eternally present and is merely put into practice by
them and honored in their persons. But since they draw it from within
themselves, from a source which was not previously available, they appear to
derive it from themselves alone; and the new world order and the deeds they
accomplish appear to be their own achievement, their personal interest and
creation. . . . Since the innovation they brought into the world was their own
personal goal, they drew their conception of it from within themselves, and it
was their own end that they realized.”
118. The appearance of workers councils during the first quarter
of this century: See René Riesels Preliminaries on
Councils and Councilist Organization (SI Anthology, pp. 270-282;
Expanded Edition, pp.
348-362), which discusses the councils in Russia (1905), Germany
(1918-1919), Italy (1919-1920), Spain (1936-1939) and Hungary (1956).
119-121. These three theses substantially recapitulate the Situationist
Minimum Definition of Revolutionary Organizations (SI Anthology,
p. 223; Expanded Edition, pp. 285-286).
121. the combatants themselves
are the fundamental weapons: Cf. Hegels Phenomenology of Spirit
(Miller #383, p. 230; Baillie, p. 404): “What will be the outcome of this
conflict itself . . . must be decided by the nature of the living weapons borne
by the combatants. For the weapons are nothing else but the nature of the
combatants themselves, a nature which only makes its appearance for both of them
reciprocally. What their weapons are is already evident from what is implicitly
present in this conflict.”
122. it can no longer combat alienation by
means of alienated forms of struggle: Cf. Hegels Philosophy of History
(Part 4, Section 2, chap. 3): “The Church fought the battle against the
barbarism of sensuality in a manner equally barbaric and terroristic with that
of its antagonist.”
123. people without qualities: allusion to Robert
Musils novel The Man Without Qualities.
Chapter 5 epigraph: The quotation is from Shakespeares
King Henry IV, Part I (V.ii.81, 85).
125. Man . . . is identical with time: This
phrase appears in Kostas
Papaioannous Hegel: Présentation, choix
de textes, bibliographie (Seghers, 1962, p. 67). Papaioannou is simply summarizing
Hegel, however, so Debord may have got the idea directly from one of Hegels
works. “the negative being who is solely
to the extent that he suppresses Being”: quotation from Hegels
Phenomenology of Spirit. This translation follows the French translation
quoted by Debord. The standard English translations are somewhat different
(Miller #322, pp. 193-194; Baillie, p. 349).
History is itself . . . nature into man: quotation from the Private
Property and Communism section of Marxs 1844 Manuscripts. History has always
existed, but not always in its historical form: Cf. Marxs Letter to Ruge
(September 1843): Reason has always existed, but not always in its rational
126. The quotations are from the Private Property and
Communism section of Marxs 1844 Manuscripts.
127. the wandering . . . spaces: quotation from
Hegels Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction
(Nisbet, p. 156).
128. negative human restlessness:
Debord says this is an allusion to Hegels Encyclopedia:
[Man] is what he is not, and is not what he is.” Similar statements are found in various places in Hegel, but the
closest thing I have found to this in the
refers to time: Time . . . is that being which, inasmuch as it is, is not, and
inasmuch as it is not, is (Vol. II, #258).
131. Novalis (Friedrich Von Hardenberg): German poet and philosopher (1772-1801).
The quotation is from his collection of aphorisms, Blüthenstaub
133. Herodotus . . . the deeds of men: opening
sentence of Herodotuss History of the Persian Wars.
134. The divisions among the Greek communities: See
Thucydidess History of the Peloponnesian War.
136. The quotation is from Bishop Bossuets
Panégyrique de Saint Bernard (1653).
137. The quotations are from Marx and Engelss The
German Ideology (Part I, chap. 4, section 8).
138. the waning of the Middle Ages: title of a book by Johan
Huizinga (more recently and fully translated as The Autumn of the Middle Ages).
The Pursuit of the Millennium: Norman Cohns The Pursuit of the Millennium:
Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages was
published in 1957 (expanded edition, 1970). See also Raoul Vaneigem’s The Movement of the Free
Spirit (1986; translated by Randall Cherry and Ian Patterson, Zone Books,
1994) and Kenneth Rexroth’s Communalism: From Its Origins to the
Twentieth Century (Seabury, 1974). Rexroth’s book, which also examines
subsequent utopian communities, is out of print, but it can be found
online at www.bopsecrets.org/rexroth/communalism.htm.
139. Machiavelli: Nicolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), author
of The Prince and The Discourses. the exuberant life of the Italian cities: Near the
end of his Preface to the Fourth Italian Edition of The Society of the
Spectacle (1979), Debord says that a liberated society will be like the
reappearance of an Athens or a Florence from which no one will be excluded,
extended to all the reaches of the earth. “the very spirit of the
quotation and the excerpt from Lorenzo de Medicis song are from Jacob
Burckhardts The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (Part V,
140. the Fronde: a complex series of revolts and social
conflicts in France (1648-1653). See Oreste Ranums The Fronde: A French
Revolution. Debord frequently expressed great interest in the Fronde (and in
one of its major protagonists, the Cardinal de Retz) and even proposed to make a
film about it: Les aspects ludiques manifestes et latents dans la Fronde
(Visible and Hidden Playful Aspects in the Fronde). See Debord’s Complete
Cinematic Works, p. 247. Scottish uprising in support of Charles Edward: failed uprising of 1745-1746
in support of Charles Edward Stuart (“Bonnie Prince Charlie”). The world now had a new foundation: Cf. The
Internationale: The world shall rise on new foundations: we, who were
nothing, shall be all!”
141. this new fate that no one controls: Cf. Lukács’s
History and Class Consciousness (p. 129): From this it follows that the
powers that are beyond mans control assume quite a different character.
Hitherto it had been that of the blind power of a fundamentally irrational
fate, the point where the possibility of human knowledge ceased and where
absolute transcendence and the realm of faith began. Now, however, it appears as
the ineluctable consequence of known, knowable, rational systems of laws, as a
necessity which cannot ultimately and wholly be grasped.
143. Once there was history, but not any more:
quotation from Marxs The Poverty of Philosophy (chap. 2, section 1,
144. draped in Roman costume: Cf. Marxs The
Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (chap. 1): And just when they seem
engaged in revolutionizing themselves and things, in creating something that has
never yet existed, precisely in such periods of revolutionary crisis they
anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from
them names, battle cries and costumes in order to present the new scene of world
history in this time-honored disguise and this borrowed language. Thus Luther
donned the mask of the Apostle Paul, the Revolution of 1789 to 1814 draped
itself alternately as the Roman republic and the Roman empire . . . . Camille
Desmoulins, Danton, Robespierre, Saint-Just, Napoleon, the heroes as well as the
parties and the masses of the old French Revolution, performed the task of their
time in Roman costume and with Roman phrases, the task of unchaining and setting
up modern bourgeois society. Year One of the Republic: During the French
Revolution the calendar was revised to date from the beginning of the Republic
(September 22, 1792). Napoleon reverted to the traditional Christian calendar in
1806. “Christianity . . . most fitting form of religion”: quotation from Marxs Capital (Vol.
I, chap. 1, section 4).
Chapter 6 epigraph: The quotation is from #247 of
Gracián's Oráculo manual y arte de prudencia (1647), translated into
English as The Art of Worldly Wisdom.
147. The first quotation is from Marxs The Poverty of
Philosophy (chap. 1, section 2). terrain of human development:
quotation from Marxs Wages, Price and Profit (chap. 13).
149. maintain the backwardness of everyday life: See
Debords talk Perspectives for Conscious Changes in Everyday Life (SI
Anthology, pp. 68-75; Expanded Edition 90-99), where he discusses
how everyday life can be seen as colonized.
151. The quotation is from Marxs Capital (Vol.
chap. 7, section 1).
156. the past continues to dominate the present:
Cf. the Communist Manifesto (Part 2): In bourgeois society, the past dominates
the present; in communist society, the present dominates the past.
157. This individual experience . . . remains without
language: On the dialectics of language and poetry, see SI
Anthology, pp. 114-117, 170-175; Expanded Edition, pp. 149-153, 222-228.
159. In order to force the workers . . . violently
expropriate their time: Cf. the account of the original
expropriation and dispossession of workers from the common land in the Primitive Accumulation
chapters at the end of Volume I of Marxs Capital.
160. American way of death: allusion to the book of
that title about the funeral industry by Jessica Mitford (1963; updated edition, 1998).
163. withering away of the social measurement of time in
favor of a federation of independent times: allusion to Marxs notion
of the withering away of the state and to the anarchist notion of replacing the
state with federations of independent communities. “abolishes everything that
exists independently of individuals”: quotation from Marx and Engels’s The German Ideology
(Part I, chap. 4, section 6).
164. The world already dreams of such a time. . . . conscious of it: Cf. Marxs Letter to Ruge (September 1843):
The world has for a long time possessed the dream of a thing, of which it now
suffices to become aware so as to really possess it.
Chapter 7 epigraph: The Machiavelli quotation is from
chapter 5 of
165. This homogenizing power . . . walls of China: Cf.
the Communist Manifesto (Part 1): The cheapness of its commodities
is the heavy artillery that batters down all the walls of China.
169. Urbanism city planning: The French word
urbanisme means city planning, but it has perhaps a slightly more
impersonal and bureaucratic connotation.
170. “peaceful coexistence within space” . . . “the
restless becoming that takes place in the progression of time”: Perhaps quoted or adapted from Hegels The
Philosophical Propadeutic (translated by A.V. Miller, Blackwell, 1986, pp. 66, 92,
144): Space is the connection of the quiescent asunderness and
side-by-sideness of things; Time is the connection of their vanishing or
alteration. . . . In the spatial world the question is not of
succession but of coexistence. . . . As a restless Becoming [Time] is
not an element of a synthetic whole.
172. one-way system . . . keeping a population under
control: quotations from Lewis Mumfords The City in History
174. a formless mass . . . semi-urban tissue:
quotation from Mumfords The City in History (chap. 16.6).
176. subjected the country to the city: quotation
from the Communist Manifesto (Part 1). very air is liberating:
Stadtluft macht frei (Urban air makes one free) was a medieval German
saying, expressing that fact that serfs could free themselves by escaping to the
177. the country . . . isolation and separation:
quotation from Marx and Engels’s The German Ideology (Part I, chap. 4, section 2).
Oriental despotism: See Karl Wittfogels Oriental Despotism:
A Comparative Study of Total Power (1957), which examines
the social structure of the empires that Marx had referred to as the Asiatic
mode of production. A brief critique of Wittfogels book can be found in
Internationale Situationniste #10, pp. 72-73.
178. critique of human geography: For some of the
early ``psychogeographical'' explorations and visions that laid the groundwork
for Debord's analysis, see SI Anthology, pp. 1-8, 50-54, 65-67; Expanded
Edition, pp. 1-14, 62-66, 69-73, 86-89. life . . . understood as a journey: Cf. the epigraph
to Célines Journey to the End of the
Night: “Our life is a journey in winter and night, we seek our passage in a
sky without light.”
179. antistate dictatorship of the proletariat:
Although Marx and Engelss notion of a dictatorship of the proletariat
was totally different from the Stalinist state dictatorships over the proletariat that
emerged half a century later, some ambiguities remained regarding its nature
and duration which enabled the latter to pretend to have some connection with
the former. Debord’s phrase cuts through those ambiguities, making it clear that
he is envisaging a distinctly nonstate form of social organization, what the
situationists elsewhere referred to as “generalized self-management.” See Raoul Vaneigem’s “Notice to the Civilized Concerning Generalized
Self-Management” (SI Anthology, pp. 283-289; Expanded Edition, pp.
363-371) and “Total Self-Management” (the final chapter of Vaneigem’s book From Wildcat Strike to
Total Self-Management, online at
I have examined some of the problems and possibilities of such a
society in chapter 4 of The Joy of Revolution, which
can be found in Public Secrets (Bureau of Public Secrets, 1997, pp.
62-88) or online at www.bopsecrets.org/PS/joyrev4.htm.
Chapter 8 epigraph: As noted in the opening paragraph of
Debords article on the May 1968 revolt (The Beginning of an Era,
SI Anthology, p. 225; Expanded Edition, p. 288), this quotation was chosen
as “an amusing example of a type of historical unconsciousness constantly
produced by similar causes and always contradicted by similar results.” In this
particular case, a German revolution erupted in 1848, only five years after
Ruge’s glib dismissal of such a possibility.
180. The Difference . . . Schelling: an
early text by Hegel.
The complete Hegel sentence is quoted in Lukácss
History and Class Consciousness (p. 139), translated as When the power
of synthesis vanishes from the lives of men and when the antitheses have lost
their vital relation and their power of interaction and gain independence, it is
then that philosophy becomes a felt need.
182. “first condition of all critique”: Cf. Marxs
Introduction to a Critique of Hegels Philosophy of Right:
the critique of religion is the essential precondition for all criticism.
183. It is the meaning of an insufficiently meaningful world:
Cf. Marxs Introduction to a Critique of Hegels Philosophy of Right: Religion is the sigh of the oppressed, the heart of a heartless
world, the spirit of spiritless conditions.
188. When art becomes independent . . . the dusk of life:
Cf. the Preface to Hegels Philosophy of Right: When philosophy paints its
gray on gray, a form of life has grown old. Gray philosophy can understand it,
but it cannot rejuvenate it. The owl of Minerva [the goddess of wisdom] takes
flight only at dusk.
189. Eugenio dOrs: dOrss book Lo Barroco (1935) has been
translated into French (Du Baroque), but not into English. passage: Debord may
be playing on multiple connotations of this word, in the sense of movement or
transition or ephemerality (the passage of time) but perhaps also in the sense of a literary
or musical sequence (a musical passage).
190. Art in its period of dissolution — a movement of
negation striving for its own transcendence: This thesis and several others
in the first few pages of
this chapter recapitulate much more extensive analyses of art and its possible
supersession in many situationist articles, particularly during the early period
(ca. 1957-1962) when the situationists focused on that terrain. See, for
example, SI Anthology, pp. 143-147, 310-314; Expanded Edition, pp.
191. Dadaism sought to abolish art without realizing
it; Surrealism sought to realize art without abolishing it: Cf.
Marxs Introduction to a Critique of Hegels Philosophy of Right:
Philosophy cannot be realized without abolishing the proletariat, and the
proletariat cannot be abolished without realizing philosophy. For more
on Dadaism and Surrealism, see SI Anthology, pp. 18-20,
171-172; Expanded Edition, pp. 27-30, 224, and Raoul Vaneigems A Cavalier
History of Surrealism (1977; translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, AK Press,
This is the only mention of this
word in The Society of the Spectacle. As Debord noted in The Real Split in the
International (1972; translated by John McHale, Pluto Press, 2003, p. 120),
this very minimal reference was deliberate.
192. Riesman: David Riesman (1909-2002), author of The
Lonely Crowd (1950). Whyte: William H. Whyte (1917-1999), author of The Organization Man
193. Clark Kerr . . . previous century: In The Uses of the
University (1963) Kerr stated: “The production, distribution, and
consumption of ‘knowledge’ in all its forms is said to account for 29 percent of
the gross national product . . . and ‘knowledge production’ is growing at about
twice the rate of the rest of the economy. . . . What the railroads did for the
second half of the last century and the automobile for the first half of this
century may be done for the second half of this century by the knowledge
industry.” This reference had an additional pungency because Kerr was president
of the University of California at Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement of
1964, which among other things challenged the notion of universities as
195. conflict is at the origin of everything in its world:
Cf. Heraclitus: Conflict is the origin of all things. power that
is absolute . . . absolutely corrupted: Cf. Lord Actons famous remark,
Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
198. Those who denounce the affluent society’s incitement to
wastefulness: Probably an allusion to Vance Packards The Waste Makers (1960).
The Image: Daniel Boorstins The Image, or What Happened
to the American Dream was published in 1962. In later editions the title was
changed to The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America.
200. haunts modern society like a specter: Cf. the opening line of
the Communist Manifesto: A specter is haunting Europe . . .
202. In order to understand “structuralist” categories . . .
reflect forms and conditions of existence: Cf. the Introduction to Marxs A Contribution to
the Critique of Political Economy: Just as in general when
examining any historical or social science, so also in the case of the
development of economic categories it is always necessary to remember that the
subject in this context contemporary bourgeois society is presupposed both
in reality and in the mind, and that therefore categories express forms of
existence and conditions of existence — and sometimes merely separate aspects —
of this particular society. Just as one does not judge an
individual by what he thinks about himself . . . “We cannot judge . . .
contradictions of material life . . .”: paraphrase and quotation from the Preface to Marxs
A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Structure is the
daughter of present power: Cf. Jonathan Swifts Thoughts on Various
Subjects, Moral and Diverting (1706): Praise is the daughter of present
power. Structuralism does not prove the transhistorical validity . . .
frigid dream of structuralism: Cf. the Introduction to Marxs A Contribution to
the Critique of Political Economy: The example of labor strikingly
demonstrates how even the most abstract categories, despite their validity in
all epochs — precisely because they are abstractions — are equally a product of
historical conditions even in the specific form of abstractions, and they retain
their full validity only for and within the framework of these conditions.
203. ideas alone cannot lead beyond the existing spectacle .
. . practical force into motion: Cf. Marx and Engelss The Holy Family
(chap. VI.3.c): Ideas can never lead beyond an old world order but only
beyond the ideas of the old world order. . . . In order to carry out ideas men
are needed who can exert practical force. A similar statement can be
found in the Human Requirements section of Marxs 1844 Manuscripts:
In order to abolish the idea of private property, the idea
of communism is quite sufficient. But it takes actual communist action to
abolish actual private property. This theory does not expect
miracles from the working class: Cf. Marxs The Civil War in France
The working class did not expect miracles from the Commune.
204. zero degree of writing: title of a book by
Roland Barthes (translated into English as Writing Degree Zero). It means
writing totally stripped of substance and meaning, leaving nothing but the bare
skeleton: writing as such. Its reversal is thus writing that has the
fullest possible substance and significance.
205. The very style of dialectical theory . . . inevitable
destruction: Cf. Marxs Afterword to the Second German Edition of
Capital: In its rational form dialectics is a scandal and an abomination
to bourgeois society and its doctrinaire professors, because in comprehending
the existing state of things it simultaneously recognizes the negation of that
state, its inevitable destruction; because it regards every historically
developed social form as in fluid movement, and thus takes into account its
transitory nature as well as its momentary existence.
206. Truth is not like some finished product . . . made
it: quotation from the Preface to Hegels Phenomenology of Spirit
(Miller #39, p. 23; Baillie, p. 99; Kaufmann, p. 60).
reversal: The French word renversement can mean reversal or
inversion, but it also has a more active connotation of overthrowing or
overturning. détournement: The French word means deflection,
diversion, rerouting, misappropriation, hijacking, or otherwise turning
something aside from its normal course or purpose.
Like most other English-speaking people who have actually practiced
détournement, I have chosen to retain the
French spelling and pronunciation of the noun (day-toorn-uh-maw) and to anglicize
the verb (detourn). For more on détournement,
see SI Anthology, pp. 8-14, 55-56; Expanded Edition, pp.
67-68. answers “the philosophy of poverty” with “the poverty of philosophy”:
Marx critiqued Proudhons The
Philosophy of Poverty (1846) by writing The Poverty of Philosophy
(1847). But despite all your twists and turns . . . historical attire:
The two Kierkegaard quotations are from Philosophical Fragments, chap. 5.
Plagiarism is necessary . . .: This entire thesis is a verbatim
plagiarism from Ducasses Poésies
(Part II). Isidore Ducasse (1846-1870), a.k.a. Lautréamont,
was the mysterious author of Maldoror and Poésies,
both of which make extensive use of détournement. In his autobiographical work
Panegyric (1989; translated by James Brook
and John McHale, Verso, 2004, pp. 42-43) Debord described his experience of
storms in the mountainous region of central France: Just once, at night, I saw
lightning strike near me outside: you could not even see where it had struck;
the whole landscape was equally illuminated for one startling instant. Nothing
in art has ever given me this impression of an irrevocable brilliance, except
for the prose that Lautréamont employed in the programmatic exposition that he
208. Détournement has
grounded its cause on nothing but . . .: Cf. the opening of Max
Stirners The Ego and His Own: I have founded my cause on nothing.
Chapter 9 epigraph: The quotation is from Hegels
Phenomenology of Spirit (Miller #178, p. 111; Baillie, p. 229).
214. what Mannheim calls total ideology: See Karl
Mannheims Ideology and Utopia, Part II.
215. “expression . . . between
man and man”: quotation from the Alienated Labor section of
1844 Manuscripts. “as the quantity of objects increases
. . . man is subjected” and “The need for money . . . only need it
produces”: quotations from the Human Requirements section of Marxs
1844 Manuscripts (a.k.a. Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts). The quotation from
Jenenser Realphilosophie is from
the same passage detourned in Thesis 2.
217. False Consciousness: Joseph Gabel’s
La Fausse Conscience (1962); translated
by Margaret A. Thompson
Consciousness: An Essay on Reification (Harper, 1975). separation has built its own world: Cf. Proverbs
9:1: Wisdom has built her own house.
218. In clinical accounts . . . interrelated”:
False Consciousness, pp. 61-62
(translation slightly modified). “mirror sign” (signe du miroir):
referring to a patients obsessively looking at himself in the mirror
and/or to his confused belief that he has found interlocutors in the mirror images.
The term is rendered as mirror symptom in the English translation of Gabels book,
as for example in the following passage (which also includes two other phrases cited by
Debord): I can affirm
that behavior does exist on a societal level that is phenomenologically close to
the psychiatrists mirror symptom. This is when the State usually
totalitarian chooses a fictitious interlocutor
in order to have an act of violence or a territorial conquest ratified in the
form of a supposed negotiation. This is just like the clinical phenomenon in
question an illusion of encounter
with an artificial interlocutor; a behavior of schizophrenic structure (False
219. “the abnormal need .
. . edge of existence”: quotation from False Consciousness, p. 199.
221. “historic mission of establishing truth in the world”:
Cf. Marxs Introduction to the Critique of Hegels Philosophy of Right:
The task of history is thus to establish the truth about this world once
the otherworld has proved illusory. the class that is able to
dissolve all classes: Cf. the same text, which refers to the proletariat as
“a class that is the dissolution of all classes.” directly linked to
world history: quotation from Marx and Engelss The German
Ideology (Part I, chap. 2, section 5).