Internationale Situationiste #12

Submitted by libcom on September 1, 2005

Preliminaries on councils and councilist organization - René Riesel

René Riesel, left, with Daniel Cohn-Bendit.
René Riesel, left, with Daniel Cohn-Bendit.

A look at workers' councils and the historical contexts in which they were created. A useful analysis - which challenges some aspects of the standard anarchist analysis of the events in Spain during the 1936 Revolution.

Submitted by daniel on June 7, 2007


Preliminaries on councils and councilist organization
(René Riesel)

“The Workers and Peasants Government has decreed that Kronstadt and the rebelling ships must immediately submit to the authority of the Soviet Republic. I therefore order all who have revolted against the socialist fatherland to lay down their arms at once. Recalcitrants should be disarmed and turned over to the Soviet authorities. The commissars and other members of the government who have been arrested must be liberated at once. Only those who surrender unconditionally can expect mercy from the Soviet Republic. I am simultaneously giving orders to prepare for the suppression of the rebellion and the subjugation of the sailors by armed force. All responsibility for the harm that may be suffered by the peaceful population will rest entirely on the heads of the White Guard mutineers. This warning is final.”

—Trotsky, Kamenev, Ultimatum to Kronstadt

“We have only one answer to all that: All power to the soviets! Take your hands off them — your hands that are red with the blood of the martyrs of freedom who fought the White Guards, the landowners and the bourgeoisie!”

Kronstadt Izvestia #6

During the fifty years since the Leninists reduced communism to electrification, since the Bolshevik counterrevolution erected the Soviet State over the dead body of the power of the soviets, and since “soviet” ceased to mean council, revolutions have continued to fling the Kronstadt demand in the face of the rulers of the Kremlin: “All power to the soviets and not to the parties.” The remarkable persistence of the real tendency toward workers councils throughout this half-century of efforts and repeated suppressions of the modern proletarian movement now imposes the councils on the new revolutionary current as the sole form of antistate dictatorship of the proletariat, as the sole tribunal that will be able to pass judgment on the old world and carry out the sentence itself.

The essence of the councils must be more precisely delineated, not only by refuting the gross falsifications propagated by social democracy, the Russian bureaucracy, Titoism and even Ben-Bellaism, but above all by recognizing the insufficiencies in the fledgling practical experiences of the power of the councils that have briefly appeared so far; as well, of course, as the insufficiencies in councilist revolutionaries’ very conceptions. The council’s ultimate tendency appears negatively in the limits and illusions which have marked its first manifestations and which have caused its defeat quite as much as has the immediate and uncompromising struggle that is naturally waged against it by the ruling class. The purpose of the council form is the practical unification of proletarians in the process of appropriating the material and intellectual means of changing all existing conditions and making themselves the masters of their own history. It can and must be the organization in acts of historical consciousness. But in fact it has nowhere yet succeeded in overcoming the separation embodied in specialized political organizations and in the forms of ideological false consciousness that they produce and defend. Moreover, although it is quite natural that the councils that have been major agents of revolutionary situations have generally been councils of delegates, since it is such councils which coordinate and federate the decisions of local councils, it nevertheless appears that the general assemblies of the rank and file have almost always been considered as mere assemblies of electors, so that the first level of the “council” is situated above them. Here already lies an element of separation, which can only be surmounted by treating local general assemblies of all the proletarians in revolution as the ultimate, fundamental councils, from which any delegation must derive its power.

Leaving aside the precouncilist features of the Paris Commune that so enthused Marx (“the finally discovered political form through which the economic emancipation of labor can be realized”) — features which, moreover, can be seen more in the organization of the Central Committee of the National Guard, which was composed of delegates of the Parisian proletariat in arms, than in the elected Commune — the famous St. Petersburg “Council of Workers’ Deputies” was the first fledgling manifestation of an organization of the proletariat in a revolutionary situation. According to the figures given by Trotsky in his book 1905, 200,000 workers sent their delegates to the St. Petersburg Soviet; but its influence extended far beyond its immediate area, with many other councils in Russia drawing inspiration from its deliberations and decisions. It directly grouped the workers from more than 150 enterprises, besides welcoming representatives from 16 unions that had rallied to it. Its first nucleus was formed on October 13; by the 17th the soviet had established an Executive Committee over itself which Trotsky says “served it as a ministry.” Out of a total of 562 delegates, the Executive Committee comprised only 31 members, of which 22 were actually workers delegated by the entirety of the workers in their enterprises and 9 represented three revolutionary parties (Mensheviks, Bolsheviks and Social Revolutionaries); however, “the representatives of the parties had only consultative status and were not entitled to vote.” Although the rank-and-file assemblies were presumably faithfully represented by their revocable delegates, it is clear that those delegates had abdicated a large part of their power, in a very parliamentary way, into the hands of an Executive Committee in which the “technical advisors” from the political parties had an enormous influence.

How did this soviet originate? It seems that this form of organization was discovered by certain politically aware elements among the ordinary workers, who for the most part themselves belonged to one or another socialist fraction. Trotsky seems to be quite unjustified in writing that “one of the two social-democratic organizations in St. Petersburg took the initiative of creating an autonomous revolutionary workers’ administration” (moreover, the “one of the two” organizations that did at least immediately recognize the significance of this workers’ initiative was the Mensheviks, not the Bolsheviks). But the general strike of October 1905 in fact originated first of all in Moscow on September 19, when the typographers of the Sytine printing works went on strike, notably because they wanted punctuation marks to be counted among the 1000 characters that constituted their unit of payment. Fifty printing works followed them out, and on September 25 the Moscow printers formed a council. On October 3 “the assembly of workers’ deputies from the printers, mechanics, carpenters, tobacco workers and other guilds adopted the resolution to set up a general council (soviet) of Moscow workers” (Trotsky, op. cit.). It can thus be seen that this form appeared spontaneously at the beginning of the strike movement. And this movement, which began to in the next few days, was to surge forward again up to the great historic crisis when on October 7 the railroad workers, beginning in Moscow, spontaneously began to stop the railway traffic.

The council movement in Turin of March-April 1920 originated among the highly concentrated proletariat of the Fiat factories. During August and September 1919 new elections for an “internal commission” (a sort of collaborationist factory committee set up by a collective convention in 1906 for the purpose of better integrating the workers) suddenly provided the opportunity, amid the social crisis that was then sweeping Italy, for a complete transformation of the role of these “commissioners.” They began to federate among themselves as direct representatives of the workers. By October 30,000 workers were represented at an assembly of “executive committees of factory councils,” which resembled more an assembly of shop stewards (with one commissioner elected by each workshop) than an organization of councils in the strict sense. But the example nevertheless acted as a catalyst and the movement radicalized, supported by a fraction of the Socialist Party (including Gramsci) that was in the majority in Turin and by the Piedmont anarchists (see Pier Carlo Masini’s pamphlet, Anarchici e comunisti nel movimento dei Consigli a Torino). The movement was resisted by the majority of the Socialist Party and by the unions. On 15 March 1920 the councils began a strike combined with occupation of the factories and resumed production under their own control. By April 14 the strike was general in Piedmont; in the following days it spread through much of northern Italy, particularly among the dockers and railroad workers. The government had to use warships to land troops at Genoa to march on Turin. While the councilist program was later to be approved by the Congress of the Italian Anarchist Union when it met at Bologna on July 1, the Socialist Party and the unions succeeded in sabotaging the strike by keeping it isolated: when Turin was besieged by 20,000 soldiers and police, the party newspaper Avanti refused to print the appeal of the Turin socialist section (see Masini, op. cit.). The strike, which would clearly have made possible a victorious insurrection in the whole country, was vanquished on April 24. What happened next is well known.(1)

In spite of certain remarkably advanced features of this rarely mentioned experience (numerous leftists are under the mistaken impression that factory occupations took place for the first time in France in 1936), it should be noted that it contains serious ambiguities, even among its partisans and theorists. Gramsci wrote in Ordine Nuovo (second year, #4): “We see the factory council as the historic beginning of a process that must ultimately lead to the foundation of the workers’ state.” For their part, the councilist anarchists were sparing in their criticism of labor unionism and claimed that the councils would give it a renewed impetus.

However, the manifesto launched by the Turin councilists on 27 March 1920, “To the Workers and Peasants of All Italy,” calling for a general congress of the councils (which never took place), formulates some essential points of the council program: “The struggle for conquest must be fought with arms of conquest, and no longer only with those of defense (SI note: this is aimed at the unions, which the manifesto describes elsewhere as “organisms of resistance . . . crystallized into a bureaucratic form”). A new organization must be developed as a direct antagonist of the organs of the bosses’ government; for that task it must spring up spontaneously in the workplace and unite all the workers, because all of them, as producers, are subjected to an authority that is alien (estranea) to them, and must liberate themselves from it. . . . This is the beginning of freedom for you: the beginning of a social formation that by rapidly and universally extending itself will put you in a position to eliminate the exploiter and the middleman from the economic field and to become yourselves the masters — the masters of your machines, of your work, and of your life . . . ”

The majority of the Workers and Soldiers Councils in the Germany of 1918-1919 were more crudely dominated by the Social-Democratic bureaucracy or were victims or its maneuvers. They tolerated Ebert’s “socialist” government, whose main support came from the General Staff and the Freikorps. The “Hamburg seven points” (calling for the immediate dissolution of the old Army), presented by Dorrenbach and passed with a large majority by the Congress of Soldiers Councils that opened December 16 in Berlin, were not implemented by the “People’s Commissars.” The councils tolerated this defiance, and the legislative elections that had been quickly set for January 19; then they tolerated the attack launched against Dorrenbach’s sailors; finally, they tolerated the crushing of the Spartakist insurrection on the very eve of those elections. In 1956 the Central Workers Council of Greater Budapest, constituted on November 14 and declaring itself determined to defend socialism, demanded “the withdrawal of all political parties from the factories” while at the same time pronouncing itself in favor of Nagy’s return to power and free elections within a short time. It is true that this was during the time it was continuing the general strike despite the Russian troops’ having already crushed the armed resistance. But even before the second Russian intervention the Hungarian councils had called for parliamentary elections: that is to say, they themselves were seeking to return to a dual-power situation at a time when they were in fact, in the face of the Russians, the only actual power in Hungary.

Consciousness of what the power of the councils is and must be arises from the very practice of that power. But at an impeded stage of that power it may be very different from what one or another isolated member of a council, or even an entire council, thinks. Ideology opposes the truth in acts whose field is the system of the councils; and such ideology manifests itself not only in the form of hostile ideologies, or in the form of ideologies about the councils devised by political forces that want to subjugate them, but also in the form of an ideology in favor of the power of the councils, which restrains and reifies their total theory and practice. A pure councilism will inevitably prove to be an enemy of the reality of the councils. There is a risk that such an ideology, more or less consistently formulated, will be borne by revolutionary organizations that are in principle in favor of the power of the councils. This power, which is itself the organization of revolutionary society and whose coherence is objectively determined by the practical necessities of this historical task grasped as a whole, can in no case escape the practical problem posed by specialist organizations which, whether enemies of the councils or more or less genuinely in favor of them, will inevitably interfere in their functioning. The masses organized in councils must be aware of this problem and overcome it. This is where councilist theory and the existence of authentically councilist organizations have a great importance. In them already appear certain essential points that will be at stake in the councils and in their own interaction with the councils.

All revolutionary history shows the part played in the failure of the councils by the emergence of a councilist ideology. The ease with which the spontaneous organization of the proletariat in struggle wins its first victories is often the prelude to a second phase in which counterrevolution works from the inside, in which the movement lets go of its reality in order to pursue the illusion that amounts to its defeat. Councilism is the artificial respiration that revives the old world.

Social democrats and Bolsheviks are in agreement in wishing to see in the councils only an auxiliary body of the party and the state. In 1902 Kautsky, worried because the unions were becoming discredited in the eyes of the workers, wanted workers in certain branches of industry to elect “delegates who would form a sort of parliament designed to regulate their work and keep watch over the bureaucratic administration” (The Social Revolution). The idea of a hierarchized system of workers’ representation culminating in a parliament was to be implemented most convincingly by Ebert, Noske and Scheidemann. The way this type of councilism treats the councils was definitively demonstrated — for anyone who doesn’t have shit for brains — as long ago as 9 November 1918, when the Social Democrats combated the spontaneous organization of the councils on its own ground by founding in the Vorwärts offices a “Council of the Workers and Soldiers of Berlin” consisting of 12 loyal factory workers along with a few Social-Democratic leaders and functionaries.

Bolshevik councilism has neither Kautsky’s naïveté nor Ebert’s crudeness. It springs from the most radical base — “All power to the soviets” — and lands on the other side of Kronstadt. In The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government (April 1918) Lenin adds enzymes to Kautsky’s detergent: “Even in the most democratic capitalist republics in the world, the poor never regard the bourgeois parliament as ‘their’ institution. . . . It is the closeness of the Soviets to the ‘people,’ to the working people, that creates the special forms of recall and other means of control from below which must now be most zealously developed. For example, the Councils of Public Education — periodic conferences of Soviet electors and their delegates convoked to discuss and control the activities of the Soviet authorities in this field — deserve our full sympathy and support. Nothing could be sillier than to transform the Soviets into something congealed and self-contained. The more resolutely we have to stand for a ruthlessly firm government, for the dictatorship of individuals in certain processes of work and in certain aspects of purely executive functions, the more varied must be the forms and methods of control from below in order to counteract the slightest hint of any potential distortion of the principles of Soviet government, in order tirelessly and repeatedly to weed out bureaucracy.” For Lenin, then, the councils, like charitable institutions, should become pressure groups correcting the inevitable bureaucratization of the state’s political and economic functions, respectively handled by the Party and the unions. The councils are the social component that, like Descartes soul, has to be hooked on somewhere.

Gramsci himself merely cleanses Lenin in a bath of democratic niceties: “The factory commissioners are the only true social (economic and political) representatives of the working class because they are elected under universal suffrage by all the workers in the workplace itself. At the different levels of their hierarchy, the commissioners represent the union of all the workers in various levels of production units (work gang, factory department, union of factories in an industry, union of enterprises in a city, union of production units of mechanical and agricultural industries in a district, a province, a region, the nation, the world), whose councils and system of councils represent the government and the management of society.” (Article in Ordine Nuovo.) Since the councils have been reduced to economico-social fragments preparing the way for a “future Soviet republic,” it goes without saying that the Party, that “Modern Prince,” appears as the indispensable political mediation, as the preexisting deus ex machina taking care to ensure its future existence: “The Communist Party is the instrument and historical form of the process of internal liberation thanks to which the workers, from being executants become initiators, from being masses become leaders and guides, from being muscles are transformed into minds and wills” (Ordine Nuovo, 1919). The tune may change, but the song of councilism remains the same: Councils, Party, State. To treat the councils fragmentarily (economic power, social power, political power), as does the councilist cretinism of the Révolution Internationale group of Toulouse, is like thinking that by clenching your ass you’ll only be buggered half way.

After 1918 Austro-Marxism also constructed a councilist ideology of its own, in accordance with the slow reformist evolution that it advocated. Max Adler, for example, in his book Democracy and Workers Councils, recognizes councils as instruments of workers’ self-education which could end the separation between order-givers and order-takers and serve to form a homogenous people capable of implementing socialist democracy. But he also realizes that the fact that councils of workers hold some power in no way guarantees that they have a coherent revolutionary aim: for that, the worker members of the councils must explicitly want to transform the society and bring about socialism. Since Adler is a theorist of legalized dual power, that is, of an absurdity that will never be capable of lasting as it gradually approaches revolutionary consciousness and prudently prepares a revolution for later on, he inevitably overlooks the single really fundamental element of the proletariat’s self-education: revolution itself. To replace this irreplaceable terrain of proletarian homogenization and this sole mode of selection for the very formation of the councils as well as for the formation of ideas and coherent modes of activity within the councils, Adler comes to the point of imagining that there is no other remedy than this incredibly moronic rule: “The right to vote in workers council elections must depend on membership in a socialist organization.”

Leaving aside the social-democratic or Bolshevik ideologies about the councils, which from Berlin to Kronstadt always had a Noske or a Trotsky too many, councilist ideology itself, as manifested in past councilist organizations and in some present ones, has always had several general assemblies and imperative mandates too few. All the councils that have existed until now, with the exception of the agrarian collectives of Aragon, saw themselves as simply “democratically elected councils,” even when the highest moments of their practice, when all decisions were made by sovereign general assemblies mandating revocable delegates, contradicted this limitation.

Only historical practice, through which the working class must discover and realize all its possibilities, will indicate the precise organizational forms of council power. On the other hand, it is the immediate task of revolutionaries to determine the fundamental principles of the councilist organizations that are going to arise in every country. By formulating some hypotheses and recalling the fundamental requirements of the revolutionary movement, this article — which should be followed by others — is intended to initiate a genuine and egalitarian debate. The only people who will be excluded from this debate are those who refuse to pose the problem in these terms, those who in the name of some sub-anarchist spontaneism proclaim their opposition to any form of organization, and who only reproduce the defects and confusion of the old movement — mystics of nonorganization, workers discouraged by having been mixed up with Trotskyist sects too long, students imprisoned in their impoverishment who are incapable of escaping from bolshevik organizational schemas. The situationists are obviously partisans of organization — the existence of the situationist organization testifies to that. Those who announce their agreement with our theses while crediting the SI with a vague spontaneism simply don’t know how to read.

Organization is indispensable precisely because it isn’t everything and doesn’t enable everything to be saved or won. Contrary to what butcher Noske said (in Von Kiel bis Kapp) about the events of 6 January 1919, the masses did not fail to become “masters of Berlin on noon that day” because they had “fine talkers” instead of “determined leaders,” but because the factory councils’ form of autonomous organization had not yet attained a sufficient level of autonomy for them to be able to do without “determined leaders” and separate organizations to handle their linkups. The shameful example of Barcelona in May 1937 is another proof of this: the fact that arms were brought out so quickly in response to the Stalinist provocation says a lot for the Catalonian masses’ immense capacities for autonomy; but the fact that the order to surrender issued by the anarchist ministers was so quickly obeyed demonstrates how much autonomy for victory they still lacked. Tomorrow again it will be the workers’ degree of autonomy that will decide our fate.

The councilist organizations that will be formed will therefore not fail to recognize and appropriate, as indeed a minimum, the Minimum Definition of Revolutionary Organizations adopted by the 7th Conference of the SI (see Internationale Situationniste #11). Since their task will be to work toward the power of the councils, which is incompatible with any other form of power, they will be aware that a merely abstract agreement with this definition condemns them to nonexistence; this is why their real agreement will be practically demonstrated in the nonhierarchical relations within their groups or sections; in the relations between these groups and with other autonomous groups or organizations; in the development of revolutionary theory and the unitary critique of the ruling society; and in the ongoing critique of their own practice. Maintaining a unitary program and practice, they will refuse the old partitioning of the workers movement into separate organizations (i.e. parties and unions). Despite the beautiful history of the councils, all the councilist organizations of the past that have played a significant role in class struggles have accepted separation into political, economic and social sectors. One of the few old parties worth analysis, the Kommunistische Arbeiter Partei Deutschlands (KAPD, German Communist Workers Party), adopted a councilist program, but by assigning to itself as its only essential tasks propaganda and theoretical discussion — “the political education of the masses” — it left the role of federating the revolutionary factory organizations to the Allgemeine Arbeiter Union Deutschlands (AAUD, General Workers Union of Germany), a schema not far from traditional syndicalism. Even though the KAPD rejected the Leninist idea of the mass party, along with the parliamentarianism and syndicalism of the KPD (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands — German Communist Party), and preferred to group together politically conscious workers, it nevertheless remained tied to the old hierarchical model of the vanguard party: professionals of Revolution and salaried propagandists. A rejection of this model (in particular, a rejection of the practice of separating the political organization from the revolutionary factory organizations) led in 1920 to the secession of some of the AAUD members, who then formed the AAUD-E (the ‘E’ for Einheitsorganisation — Unified Organization). By the very working of its internal democracy the new unitary organization aimed to accomplish the educative work that had until then devolved on the KAPD, and it simultaneously assigned itself the task of coordinating struggles: the factory organizations that it federated were supposed to transform themselves into councils at the revolutionary moment and take over the management of the society. Here again the modern watchword of workers councils was still mixed with messianic memories of the old revolutionary syndicalism: the factory organizations would magically become councils when all the workers took part in them.

All that led where it would. After the crushing of the 1921 insurrection and the repression of the movement, large numbers of workers, discouraged by the waning prospect of revolution, abandoned factory struggle. The AAUD was only another name for the KAPD, and the AAUD-E saw revolution recede as fast as its membership declined. They were no longer anything but bearers of a councilist ideology more and more cut off from reality.

The KAPD’s evolution into terrorism and the AAUD’s increasing involvement in “bread and butter” issues led to the split between the factory organization and its party in 1929. In 1931 the corpses of the AAUD and the AAUD-E pathetically and without any sound or explicit bases merged in the face of the rise of Nazism. The revolutionary elements of the two organizations regrouped to form the KAUD (Kommunistische Arbeiter Union Deutschlands — German Communist Workers Union). A consciously minority organization, the KAUD was also the only one in the whole movement for councils in Germany that did not claim to take upon itself the future economic (or economico-political as in the case of the AAUD-E) organization of society. It called on the workers to form autonomous groups and to themselves handle the linkups between those groups. But in Germany the KAUD came much too late; by 1931 the revolutionary movement had been dead for nearly ten years.

If only to make them cry, let us remind the retarded devotees of the anarchist-Marxist feud that the CNT-FAI — with its dead weight of anarchist ideology, but also with its greater practice of liberatory imagination — was akin to the Marxist KAPD-AAUD in its organizational arrangements. In the same way as the German Communist Workers Party, the Iberian Anarchist Federation saw itself as the political organization of the conscious Spanish workers, while its AAUD, the CNT, was supposed to take charge of the management of the future society. The FAI militants, the elite of the proletariat, propagated the anarchist idea among the masses; the CNT did the practical work of organizing the workers in its unions. There were two essential differences, however, the ideological one of which was to bear the fruit one could have expected of it. The first was that the FAI did not strive to take power, but contented itself with influencing the overall policies of the CNT. The second was that the CNT really represented the Spanish working class. Adopted on 1 May 1936 at the CNT congress at Saragossa, two months before the revolutionary explosion, one of the most beautiful programs ever proclaimed by a revolutionary organization was partially put into practice by the anarchosyndicalist masses, while their leaders foundered in ministerialism and class-collaboration. With the pimps of the masses, García Oliver, Secundo Blanco, etc., and the brothel-madam Montseny, the antistate libertarian movement, which had already tolerated the anarcho-trenchist Prince Kropotkin, finally attained the historical consummation of its ideological absolutism: government anarchists.(2) In the last historical battle it was to wage, anarchism was to see all the ideological sauce that comprised its being into its face: State, Freedom, Individual, and other musty ingredients with capital letters; while the libertarian militians, workers and peasants were saving its honor, making the greatest practical contribution ever to the international proletarian movement, burning churches, fighting on all fronts against the bourgeoisie, fascism and Stalinism, and beginning to create a truly communist society.

Some present-day organizations cunningly pretend not to exist. This enables them to avoid bothering with the slightest clarification of the bases on which they assemble any assortment of people (while magically labeling them all “workers”); to avoid giving their semimembers any account of the informal leadership that holds the controls; and to thoughtlessly denounce any theoretical expression and any other form of organization as automatically evil and harmful. Thus the Informations, Correspondance Ouvrières group writes in a recent bulletin (ICO #84, August 1969): “Councils are the transformation of strike committees under the influence of the situation itself and in response to the very necessities of the struggle, within the very dialectic of that struggle. Any other attempt, at any moment in a struggle, to declare the necessity of creating workers councils reveals a councilist ideology such as can be seen in diverse forms in certain unions, in the PSU, or among the situationists. The very concept of council excludes any ideology.” These individuals clearly know nothing about ideology — their own ideology is distinguished from more fully developed ones only by its spineless eclecticism. But they have heard (perhaps from Marx, perhaps only from the SI) that ideology has become a bad thing. They take advantage of this to try to have it believed that any theoretical work — which they avoid as if it were a sin — is an ideology, among the situationists exactly as in the PSU. But their gallant recourse to the “dialectic” and the “concept” which they have now added to their vocabulary in no way saves them from an imbecilic ideology of which the above quotation alone is evidence enough. If one idealistically relies on the council “concept” or, what is even more euphoric, on the practical inactivity of ICO, to “exclude all ideology” in the real councils, one must expect the worst — we have seen that historical experience justifies no such optimism in this regard. The supersession of the primitive council form can only come from struggles becoming more conscious, and from struggles for more consciousness. ICO’s mechanistic image of the strike committee’s perfect automatic response to “necessities,” which presents the council as automatically coming into existence at the appropriate time provided that one makes sure not to talk about it, completely ignores the experience of the revolutions of our century, which shows that “the situation itself” is just as ready to crush the councils, or to enable them to be manipulated and coopted, as it is to give rise to them.

Let us leave this contemplative ideology, this pathetic caricature of the natural sciences which would have us observe the emergence of a proletarian revolution almost as if it were a solar eruption. Councilist organizations will be formed, though they must be quite the contrary of general staffs that would cause the councils to rise up on order. In spite of the new period of open social crisis we have entered since the occupations movement, and the proliferation of encouraging situations here and there, from Italy to the USSR, it is quite likely that genuine councilist organizations will still take a long time to form and that other important revolutionary situations will occur before such organizations are in a position to intervene in them at a significant level. One must not play with councilist organization by setting up or supporting premature parodies of it. But the councils will certainly have greater chances of maintaining themselves as sole power if they contain conscious councilists and if there is a real appropriation of councilist theory.

In contrast to the council as permanent basic unit (ceaselessly setting up and modifying councils of delegates emanating from itself), as the assembly in which all the workers of an enterprise (workshop and factory councils) and all the inhabitants of an urban district who have rallied to the revolution (street councils, neighborhood councils) must participate, a councilist organization, in order to guarantee its coherence and the authentic working of its internal democracy, must choose its members in accordance with what they explicitly want and what they actually can do. As for the councils, their coherence is guaranteed by the single fact that they are the sole power; that they eliminate all other power and decide everything. This practical experience is the terrain where people learn how to become conscious of their own action, where they “realize philosophy.” It goes without saying that their majorities also run the risk of making lots of momentary mistakes and not having the time or the means to rectify them. But they know that their fate is the product of their own decisions, and that they will be destroyed by the repercussions of any mistakes they don’t correct.

Within councilist organizations real equality of everyone in making decisions and carrying them out will not be an empty slogan or an abstract demand. Of course, not all the members of an organization will have the same talents (it is obvious, for example, that a worker will invariably write better than a student). But because in its aggregate the organization will have all the talents it needs, no hierarchy of individual talents will come to undermine its democracy. It is neither membership in a councilist organization nor the proclamation of an ideal equality that will enable all its members to be beautiful and intelligent and to live well; but only their real aptitudes for becoming more beautiful and more intelligent and for living better, freely developing in the only game that’s worth the pleasure: the destruction of the old world.

In the social movements that are going to spread, the councilists will refuse to let themselves be elected to strike committees. On the contrary, their task will be to act in such a way as to encourage the rank-and-file self-organization of the workers into general assemblies that decide how the struggle is carried out. It will be necessary to begin to understand that the absurd call for a “central strike committee” proposed by some naïve individuals during the May 1968 occupations movement would, had it succeeded, have sabotaged the movement toward the autonomy of the masses even more quickly than actually happened, since almost all the strike committees were controlled by the Stalinists.

Given that it is not for us to forge a plan for all time, and that one step forward by the real movement of the councils will be worth more than a dozen councilist programs, it is difficult to state precise hypotheses regarding the relation of councilist organizations with councils during a revolutionary situation. The councilist organization — which knows itself to be separated from the proletariat — must cease to exist as a separate organization in the moment that abolishes separations; and it will have to do this even if the complete freedom of association guaranteed by the power of the councils allows various parties and organizations that are enemies of this power to survive. It may be doubted, however, that it is feasible to immediately dissolve all councilist organizations the very instant the councils first appear, as Pannekoek wished. The councilists should speak as councilists within the council, rather than staging an exemplary dissolution of their organizations only to regroup them on the side and play pressure-group politics in the general assembly. In this way it will be easier and more legitimate for them to combat and denounce the inevitable presence of bureaucrats, spies and ex-scabs who will infiltrate here and there. They will also have to struggle against fake councils or fundamentally reactionary ones (e.g. police councils) which will not fail to appear. They will act in such a way that the unified power of the councils does not recognize such bodies or their delegates. Because the infiltration of other organizations is exactly the contrary of the ends they are pursuing, and because they refuse any incoherence within themselves, councilist organization will prohibit any dual membership. As we have said, all the workers of a factory must take part in the council, or at least all those who accept the rules of its game. The solution to the problem of whether to accept participation in the council by “those who yesterday had to be thrown out of the factory at gunpoint” (Barth) will be found only in practice.

Ultimately, the councilist organization will stand or fall solely by the coherence of its theory and action and by its struggle for the complete elimination of all power remaining external to the councils or trying to make itself independent of them. But in order to simplify the discussion right off by refusing even to take into consideration a mass of councilist pseudo-organizations that may be simulated by students or obsessive professional militants, let us say that it does not seem to us that an organization can be recognized as councilist if it is not comprised of at least 2/3 workers. As this proportion might pass for a concession, let us add that it seems to us indispensable to correct it with this rider: in all delegations to central conferences at which decisions may be taken that have not previously been provided for by imperative mandates, workers must make up 3/4 of the participants. In sum, the inverse proportion of the first congresses of the “Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party.”

It is known that we have no inclination toward workerism of any form whatsoever. The above considerations refer to workers who have “become dialecticians,” as they will have to become en masse in the exercise of the power of the councils. But on the one hand, the workers continue to be the central force capable of bringing the existing functioning of society to a halt and the indispensable force for reinventing all its bases. On the other hand, although the councilist organization obviously must not separate other categories of wage-earners, notably intellectuals, from itself, it is in any case important that the dubious importance the latter may assume should be severely restricted: not only by verifying, by considering all aspects of their lives, that such intellectuals are really councilist revolutionaries, but also by seeing to it that there are as few of them in the organization as possible.

The councilist organization will not consent to speak on equal terms with other organizations unless they are consistent partisans of proletarian autonomy; just as the councils will not only have to free themselves from the grip of parties and unions, but must also reject any tendency aiming to pigeonhole them in some limited position and to negotiate with them as one power to another. The councils are the only power or they are nothing. The means of their victory are already their victory. With the lever of the councils plus the fulcrum of the total negation of the spectacle-commodity society, the Earth can be raised.

The victory of the councils is not the end of the revolution, but the beginning of it.

September 1969


1. What happened next: i.e. Mussolini’s fascist coup (1922).

2. Olivier, Blanco and Montseny: anarchist leaders who became ministers in the republican government during the Spanish civil war. Anarcho-trenchists: Kropotkin and other anarchists who supported World War I.

Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).


9 years 7 months ago

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Is that danny the red on the right?

Reform and counterreform in the bureaucratic bloc: Czechoslovakia 1968

Article by the Situationist International about the Prague Spring, 1968.

Submitted by libcom on September 1, 2005

It could almost be said that the history of the last twenty years has set itself the sole task of refuting Trotsky's analyses concerning the bureaucracy. Victim of a sort of "class subjectivism," Trotsky refused throughout his life to recognize in Stalinist practice anything but a temporary deviation of a usurping stratum, a "Thermidorian reaction." As an ideologue of the Bolshevik revolution, he was unable to become a theorist of proletarian revolution at the time of the Stalinist restoration. By refusing to recognize the bureaucracy in power for what it is, namely a new exploiting class, this Hegel of the revolution betrayed rendered himself incapable of making a genuine critique of it. The theoretical and practical impotence of Trotskyism (in all its variants) is largely attributable to this original sin of the master.

In Enragés and Situationists in the Occupations Movement (chapter 1) we said, a month before the Russian invasion: "The bureaucratic appropriation of society is inseparable from a totalitarian possession of the state and from the exclusive reign of its ideology. The present rights of free expression and association and the absence of censorship in Czechoslovakia will in the very near future lead to one of these two alternatives: either a repression, which will reveal the sham character of these concessions; or a proletarian assault against the bureaucratic ownership of the state and the economy, which ownership will be unmasked as soon as the dominant ideology is deprived for any length of time of its omnipresent police. The outcome of such a conflict is of the greatest concern for the Russian bureaucracy, whose very survival would be threatened by a victory of the Czech workers." The first alternative was effected by the intervention of "Soviet" tanks. The basis of Moscow's total domination over the "socialist" countries was this golden rule proclaimed and practiced by the Russian bureaucracy: "Socialism must not go further than our army." Wherever that army has been the main force installing "Communist" parties in power, it has the last word each time its former protégés manifest any leanings toward independence that might endanger the totalitarian bureaucratic domination. The Russian socioeconomic system has been from the beginning the ideal type for the new bureaucratic regimes. But fidelity to this archetype has often conflicted with the specific requirements of the particular dominated societies; since the ruling-class interests of each satellite bureaucracy do not necessarily coincide with those of the Russian bureaucracy, interbureaucratic relations have always contained underlying conflicts. Caught between the hammer and the anvil, the satellite bureaucracies always end up clinging to the hammer as soon as proletarian forces demonstrate their desire for autonomy. In Poland or Hungary, as recently in Czechoslovakia, the national bureaucratic "revolt" never goes beyond replacing one bureaucrat with another.

As the first industrialized state conquered by Stalinism, Czechoslovakia has over the last twenty years occupied a "privileged" position in the international system of exploitation set up by the Russians after 1949, in the framework of the "socialist division of labor" directed by the Comecon. The naked totalitarianism of the Stalin era meant that upon their coming to power the Czech Stalinists could do nothing but servilely imitate the "universal socialist system." But in contrast to the other bureaucratic countries, where there was a real need for economic development and industrialization, the level of productive forces in Czechoslovakia was in complete contradiction with the objectives of the economic program of the new regime. After fifteen years of irrational bureaucratic management the Czech economy was on the brink of catastrophe, and its reform became a matter of life and death for the ruling class. This was the root of the "Prague Spring" and the adventurous liberalization attempted by the bureaucracy. But before going into the analysis of this "bureaucratic reform," let us orient ourselves by examining its origins in the purely Stalinist (or Novotnyist) period.

After the [1948] Prague coup, the integration of Czechoslovakia into the Eastern bloc's almost totally self-contained economic system made it the main victim of Russian domination. Since it was the most developed country it had to bear the costs of industrializing its neighbors, themselves yoked under a policy of superexploitation. After 1950 the totalitarian planning, with its emphasis on metallurgical and engineering industries, introduced a serious imbalance into the functioning of the economy which steadily grew worse. In 1966 investment in Czech heavy industry reached 47%, the highest rate in the world. This was because Czechoslovakia had to provide -- at ridiculously low prices that did not even cover the costs of production and the wear and tear of the machinery -- raw materials (in five years the USSR used up fifty years' worth of reserves from the Jachymov uranium deposits in Bohemia) and manufactured goods (machines, armaments, etc.) to the USSR and the other "socialist" countries, and later to the "Third World" countries coveted by the Russians. "Production for production's sake" was the ideology that accompanied this enterprise, the costs of which the workers were the first to bear. As early as 1953, in the wake of a monetary reform, the workers of Pilsen, seeing their wages decreasing and prices rising, revolted and were immediately violently repressed. The consequences of this economic policy were essentially: the Czech economy's increasing dependence on Soviet supplies of raw materials and fuel; an orientation toward foreign interests; a sharp decline in the standard of living following a decline in real wages; and finally a decline in the national income after 1960 (its growth rate fell from an average of 8.5% from 1950-1960 to 0.7% in 1962). In 1963, for the first time in the history of a "socialist" country, the national income fell rather than rose. This was the alarm signal for the new reform. Ota Sik estimated that investment would have to be quadrupled in order to attain in 1968 the same national income growth as in 1958. From 1963 on it began to be officially admitted that "the national economy of Czechoslovakia is going through a period of serious structural imbalance, with limited inflationary tendencies appearing in all sectors of life and society, notably in foreign trade, the home market and investments" (Czechoslovakian Foreign Trade, October 1968).

Voices began to be heard insisting on the urgency of transforming the economy. Professor Ota Sik and his team began preparing their reform plan, which was to be more or less adopted after 1965 by the upper echelons of the state. The new Ota Sik plan made a rather daring critique of the functioning of the economy over the preceding years. It questioned the Russian tutelage and proposed that the economy be freed from rigid central planning and opened to the world market. To do this it was necessary to go beyond simple reproduction of capital, to put an end to the system of "production for production's sake" (denounced as an antisocialist crime after having been glorified as a fundamental principle of socialism), and to reduce the cost of production and raise the productivity index, which had gone from 7.7% in 1960 to 3.1% in 1962 and had fallen even further in the following years.

This plan, a model of technocratic reform, began to be implemented in 1965 and took full effect from 1967 on. It required a clean break with the administrative methods that had crushed all initiative: giving the producers an "interest" in the results of their work, granting autonomy to the different enterprises, rewarding successes, penalizing failures, encouraging through appropriate technical measures the development of profitable industries and enterprises, and putting the market back on its feet by bringing prices in line with the world market. Resisted by the hidebound administrative cadres, this program was applied only in small doses. The Novotnyist bureaucracy began to see the dangerous implications of such a venture. A temporary rise in prices that was not matched by a corresponding rise in wages enabled this conservative stratum to denounce the project in the eyes of the workers. Novotny himself presented himself as the defender of working-class interests and openly criticized the new measures at a workers meeting in 1967. But the "liberal" wing, aware of the real interests of the bureaucratic regime in Czechoslovakia and sure of the support of the population, joined battle. As a journalist of Kulturni Tvorba (5 January 1967) put it, "For the people, the new economic system has become synonymous with the need for change" -- total change. This was the first link in a chain of developments that would inevitably lead to far-reaching social and political changes. The conservative bureaucracy, having no real support to rely on, could only admit its failings and gradually bow out of the political scene: any resistance on its part would have rapidly led to an explosion analogous to that of Budapest in 1956. The June 1967 Fourth Congress of Writers (though writers along with filmmakers had already been allowed a certain margin of artistic freedom) turned into a veritable public indictment of the regime. With their last strength the "conservatives" reacted by excluding a certain number of radical intellectuals from the Party and by putting their journal under direct ministerial control.

But the winds of revolt were blowing harder and harder, and nothing could any longer stem the popular enthusiasm for transforming the prevailing conditions of Czech life. A student demonstration protesting against an electricity shutdown, after being strongly repressed, turned into a meeting leveling accusations against the regime. One of the first discoveries of this meeting, a discovery which was to become the watchword of the whole subsequent oppositional movement, was the absolute insistence on telling the truth, in contrast to "the incredible contradictions between what is said and what is actually done." In a system based on the constant lies of ideology such a demand becomes quite simply revolutionary; and the intellectuals did not fail to develop its implications to the limit. In the bureaucratic systems, where nothing must escape the party-state totalitarianism, a protest against the slightest detail of life inevitably leads to calling in question the totality of existing conditions, to a human protest against the whole inhuman life that people are forced to lead. Even if it was limited to the Prague University campus, the student demonstration concerned all the alienated aspects of Czech life, which was denounced as unacceptable in the course of the meeting.

The neobureaucracy then took over the leadership of the movement and tried to contain it within the narrow framework of its reforms. In January 1968 an "Action Program" was adopted, marking the rise of the Dubcek team and the removal of Novotny. In addition to Ota Sik's economic plan, now definitively adopted and integrated into this new program, a certain number of political measures were proudly proclaimed by the new leadership. Almost all the formal "freedoms" of bourgeois regimes were guaranteed. This policy, totally unprecedented for a bureaucratic regime, shows how much was at stake and how serious the situation was. The radical elements, taking advantage of these bureaucratic concessions, were to reveal their real purpose as "objectively necessary" measures for safeguarding bureaucratic domination. Smrkovsky, the most liberal of the newly promoted members, naïvely expressed the truth of the bureaucratic liberalism: "Recognizing that even in a socialist society evolution takes place through constant conflicts of interest in the economic, social and political domains, we should seek a system of political guidance that permits the settling of all social conflicts and avoids the necessity for extraordinary administrative interventions." But the new bureaucracy did not realize that by renouncing those "extraordinary interventions," which in reality constitute its only normal manner of governing, it would be leaving its regime open to a merciless radical critique. The freedom of association and of cultural and political expression produced a veritable orgy of critical truth. The notion that the Party's "leading role" should be "naturally and spontaneously recognized, even at the rank-and-file level, based on the ability of its Communist functionaries to work and command" (Action Program) was demolished everywhere, and new demands for autonomous workers' organizations began to be raised. At the end of spring 1968 the Dubcek bureaucracy was giving the ridiculous impression of wanting to have its cake and eat it too. It reaffirmed its intention of maintaining its political monopoly: "If anticommunist elements attempt to attack this historic reality (i.e. the right of the Party to lead), the Party will mobilize all the forces of the people and of the socialist state in order to drive back and extinguish this adventurist attempt" (Resolution of the Central Committee, June 1968). But once the bureaucratic reform had opened participation in decisionmaking to the majority of the Party, how could the great majority outside the Party not also want to decide things for themselves? When those at the top of the state play the fiddle, how can they expect those at the bottom not to start dancing?

From this point on the revolutionary tendencies began to turn their critique toward denunciation of the liberal formalism and its ideology. Until then democracy had been, so to speak, "imposed on the masses" in the same way the dictatorship had been imposed on them, that is, by barring them from any real participation. Everyone knew that Novotny had come to power as a partisan of liberalization; and that a "Gomulka-type regression" constantly threatened the Dubcek movement. A society is not transformed by changing its political apparatus, but by overthrowing it from top to bottom. People thus came to the point of criticizing the Bolshevik conception of the party as leader of the working class, and to demanding an autonomous organization of the proletariat; which would spell a rapid death for the bureaucracy. This is because for the bureaucracy the proletariat must exist only as an imaginary force; the bureaucracy reduces it -- or tries to reduce it -- to the point of being nothing but an appearance, but it wants this appearance to exist and to believe in its own existence. The bureaucracy bases its power on its formal ideology, but its formal goals become its actual content and it thus everywhere enters into conflict with real goals. Wherever it has seized the state and the economy, wherever the general interest of the state becomes an interest apart and consequently a real interest, the bureaucracy enters into conflict with the proletariat just as every consequence conflicts with the bureaucracy's own presuppositions.

But the oppositional movement following upon the bureaucratic reform only went half way. It did not have time to follow out all its practical implications. The relentless theoretical critique of "bureaucratic dictatorship" and Stalinist totalitarianism had scarcely begun to be taken up autonomously by the great majority of the population when the neobureaucracy reacted by brandishing the specter of the Russian threat, which had already been present from May on. It can be said that the great weakness of the Czechoslovakian movement was that the working class scarcely intervened as an autonomous and decisive force. The themes of "self-management" and "workers councils" included in Ota Sik's technocratic reform did not go beyond the bureaucratic perspective of a Yugoslavian-style "democratic management." This is true even of the alternative project, obviously drafted by unionists, presented on 29 June 1968 by the Wilhelm Pieck factory. The critique of Leninism, presented by "certain philosophers" as being "already a deformation of Marxism since it inherently contains the logic of Stalinism," was not, as the asinine editors of Rouge would have it, "an absurd notion because it ultimately amounts to denying the leading role of the proletariat" (!), but the highest point of theoretical critique attained in a bureaucratic country. Dutschke himself was ridiculed by the revolutionary Czech students, his "anarcho-Maoism" being scornfully rejected as "absurd, laughable and not even deserving the attention of a fifteen-year-old."(1)

All this criticism, which obviously could only lead to the practical calling into question of the class power of the bureaucracy, was tolerated and even sometimes encouraged by the Dubcek regime as long as the latter could coopt it as a legitimate denunciation of "Stalino-Novotnyist errors." The bureaucracy does indeed denounce its own crimes, but always as having been committed by others: it detaches a part of itself and elevates it into an autonomous entity that can be blamed for all the antiproletarian crimes (since the most ancient times, sacrifice has been bureaucracy's favored method for perpetuating its power). In Czechoslovakia, as in Poland and Hungary, nationalism has been the best argument for winning the population's support of the ruling class. The clearer the Russian threat became, the more Dubcek's bureaucratic power was reinforced; his fondest desire would have been for the Warsaw Pact forces to remain indefinitely at the borders. But sooner or later the Czech proletariat would have discovered through struggle that the point is not to know what any given bureaucrat, or even the bureaucracy as a whole, momentarily represents as its goal, but to know what the bureaucracy really is, what it, in conformity with its own nature, will be historically forced to do. And the proletariat would then have taken appropriate action.

It was the fear of such a discovery that haunted the Russian bureaucracy and its satellites. Picture a Russian (or East German) bureaucrat in the midst of this "ideological" panic, how his brain -- as sick as his power -- is tortured, confused, stunned by these cries of independence, workers councils, "bureaucratic dictatorship," and by the conspiracy of workers and intellectuals and their threat to defend their conquests arms in hand, and you will understand how in this clamorous confusion of truth and freedom, of plots and revolution, the Russian bureaucracy could cry out to its Czech counterpart: "Better a fearful end than a fear without end!"

If ever an event had cast its shadow ahead of itself long before it happened, it was, for those who know how to read modern history, the Russian intervention in Czechoslovakia. It was long contemplated and, despite all its international repercussions, virtually inevitable. By bringing into question the omnipotence of bureaucratic power, Dubcek's adventurous -- though necessary -- effort began to imperil this same power wherever it was to be found, and thus became intolerable. Six hundred thousand soldiers (almost as many as the Americans in Vietnam) were sent to put a brutal stop to it. Thus when the "antisocialist" and "counterrevolutionary" forces, continually conjured up and exorcised by all the bureaucrats, finally appeared, they appeared not under the portrait of Benes(2) or armed by "revanchist Germans," but in the uniform of the "Red" Army.

A remarkable popular resistance was carried on for seven days -- "the magnificent seven" -- mobilizing virtually the entire population against the invaders. Paradoxically, clearly revolutionary methods of struggle were taken up for the defense of a reformist bureaucracy. But what was not carried out in the course of the movement could certainly not he carried out under the occupation: the Russian troops, having enabled the Dubcekists to brake the revolutionary process as much as possible while they were at the borders, also enabled them to control the whole resistance movement after August 21. They played exactly the same role the American troops do in North Vietnam: the role of ensuring the masses' unanimous support for the bureaucracy that exploits them.

The first reflex of the people of Prague, however, was to defend not the Palace of the Republic, but the radio station, which was considered the symbol of their main conquest: truth of information against organized falsehood. And what had been the nightmare of all the Warsaw Pact bureaucracies -- the press and the radio -- was to continue to haunt them for another entire week. The Czechoslovakian experience has shown the extraordinary possibilities of struggle that a consistent and organized revolutionary movement will one day have at its disposal. Equipment provided by the Warsaw Pact (in anticipation of a possible imperialist invasion of Czechoslovakia!) was used by the Czech journalists to set up 35 clandestine broadcasting stations linked with 80 emergency backup stations. The Soviet propaganda -- so essential for an occupation army -- was thus totally undermined; and the population was able to keep abreast of just about everything that was happening in the country and to follow the directives of the liberal bureaucrats or of the radical elements that controlled certain stations. For example, in response to a radio appeal aimed at sabotaging the operations of the Russian police, Prague was transformed into a veritable "urban labyrinth" in which all street signs and house numbers were removed and the walls were covered with May 1968-style inscriptions. Defying all the police, Prague became a home of freedom and an example of the revolutionary détournement of repressive urbanism. Due to exceptional proletarian organization, all the newspapers were able to be freely printed and distributed under the nose of the Russians who asininely guarded the newspaper offices. Several factories were transformed into printing works turning out thousands of papers and leaflets -- including a counterfeit issue of Pravda in Russian. The 14th Party Congress was able to meet secretly for three days under the protection of the workers of "Auto-Praha." It was this conference that sabotaged "Operation Kadar"(3) and forced the Russians to negotiate with Dubcek. Nevertheless, by using both their troops and the internal contradictions of the Czechoslovakian bureaucracy, the Russians were eventually able to transform the liberal team into a sort of disguised Vichy-type government. Husak, who was thinking of his own future, was the principal agent responsible for canceling the 14th Congress (on the pretext of the absence of the Slovak delegates, who had in fact apparently stayed away on his recommendation). The day after the "Moscow Accords" he declared, "We can accept this accord, which will enable sensible men (our emphasis) to lead the people out of the present impasse in such a way that they will have no call to feel ashamed in the future."

The Czech proletariat, as it becomes more revolutionary, will have nothing to be ashamed of except its mistake in having trusted Husak, Dubcek or Smrkovsky. It already knows that it can count only on its own forces; and that one after the other Dubcek and Smrkovsky will betray it just as the neobureaucracy collectively betrayed it by yielding to Moscow and falling in line with its totalitarian policy. The emotional attachment to one or another celebrity is a vestige of the miserable era of the proletariat, a vestige of the old world. The November strikes and the suicides somewhat slowed down the process of "normalization," which was not brought to completion until April 1969. By reestablishing itself in its true form, the bureaucratic power became more effectively opposed. The illusions all melted away one after the other and the Czechoslovakian masses' attachment to the reformist bureaucracy disappeared. By rehabilitating the "collaborators" the reformists lost their last chance for any future popular support. The workers' and students' revolutionary consciousness deepened as the repression became more severe. The return to the methods and "narrow, stupid mentality of the fifties" is already provoking violent reactions on the part of the workers and students, whose diverse forms of linking up constitute the main anxiety common to Dubcek, his successor and their joint masters. The workers are proclaiming their "inalienable right to respond to any extreme measures" with their "own extreme countermeasures" (motion by the workers of the CKD to the Minister of Defense, 22 April 1969). The restoration of Stalinism has shown once and for all the illusory character of any bureaucratic reformism and the bureaucracy's congenital inability to "liberalize" its management of society. Its pretense of a "socialism with a human face" is nothing but the introduction of a few "bourgeois" concessions into its totalitarian world; and even these concessions immediately threaten its existence. The only possible humanization of "bureaucratic socialism" is its suppression by the revolutionary proletariat, not by a mere "political revolution," but by the total subversion of existing conditions and the practical dissolution of the Bureaucratic International.

The riots of 21 August 1969 have revealed to what extent ordinary Stalinism has been reestablished in Czechoslovakia, and also to what extent it is threatened by the proletarian critique: ten deaths, 2000 arrests and the threats of expelling or prosecuting the puppet Dubcek have not stopped the national slowdown strike through which the Czech workers are threatening the survival of the economic system of their indigenous and Russian exploiters.

The Russian intervention succeeded in slowing down the objective process of change in Czechoslovakia, but only at a tremendous cost for international Stalinism. The bureaucratic regimes of Cuba and Hanoi, being directly dependent on the "Soviet" state, could only applaud their masters' intervention -- to the great embarrassment of their Trotskyist and surrealist admirers and the high-minded souls of the left. Castro, with a singular cynicism, justified the military intervention at great length as being necessitated by threats of a restoration of capitalism -- thereby unmasking the nature of his own "socialism." Hanoi and the bureaucratic Arab powers, themselves the victims of foreign occupation, push their absurd logic to the point of supporting an analogous aggression because in this case it is carried out by their self-styled protectors.

As for those members of the Bureaucratic International that shed tears over Czechoslovakia, they all did so for their own national reasons. The "Czechoslovakian affair," coming right after the heavy shock suffered by the French Communist Party in the May 1968 revolutionary crisis, dealt the latter another serious blow; now divided into old-fashioned-Stalinist, neo-Stalinist and orthodox-Stalinist fractions, it is torn between loyalty to Moscow and its own interest on the bourgeois political chessboard. If the Italian CP was bolder in its denunciation, the reason lay in the rising crisis in Italy, particularly the direct blow struck against its "Togliattism." The nationalist bureaucracies of Yugoslavia and Rumania found in the intervention an opportunity to consolidate their class domination, regaining the support of populations rendered fearful of a Russian threat -- a threat that is in their cases more imaginary than real. Stalinism, which has already tolerated Titoism and Maoism as other images of itself, will always tolerate one or another sort of "Rumanian independence" as long as it does not directly threaten its "socialist model" faithfully reproduced everywhere. There is no point in going into the Sino-Albanian critique of "Russian imperialism": in the logic of their "anti-imperialist" delirium, the Chinese in turn reproach the Russians for not intervening in Czechoslovakia like they did in Hungary (see Peking News, 13 August 1968) and then denounce the "odious aggression" perpetrated by "the Brezhnev-Kosygin fascist clique."

"The international association of totalitarian bureaucracies has completely fallen apart," we wrote in Internationale Situationniste #11. The Czechoslovakian crisis has only confirmed the advanced decay of Stalinism. Stalinism would never have been able to play such a great role in the crushing of the workers movement everywhere if the Russian totalitarian bureaucratic model had not been closely related both to the bureaucratization of the old reformist movement (German Social Democracy and the Second International) and to the increasingly bureaucratic organization of modern capitalist production. But now, after more than forty years of counterrevolutionary history, the revolution is being reborn everywhere, striking terror into the hearts of the masters of the East as well as those of the West, attacking them both in their differences and in their deep affinity. The courageous isolated protests expressed in Moscow after August 21 herald the revolution that will not fail to break out soon in Russia itself. The revolutionary movement now knows its real enemies, and none of the alienations produced by the two forms of capitalism -- private-bourgeois or state-bureaucratic -- can any longer escape its critique. Facing the immense tasks that lie before it, the movement will no longer waste its time fighting phantoms or supporting illusions.



1. Rudi Dutschke: leader of German SDS.

2. Eduard Benes: president of Czechoslovakia before the 1948 Communist takeover.

3. "Operation Kadar": i.e. an operation analogous to that carried out after the crushing of the 1956 Hungarian revolution, in which the Russians simply shot the Dubcek-type liberal bureaucrats and installed their puppet János Kádár.

Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).


9 years 5 months ago

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Here's a PDF version


6 years 10 months ago

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Great, thank!

Maitron the Historian (excerpts)

Submitted by libcom on September 1, 2005

[The article opens by describing how the "libertarian" historian Jean Maitron, in collaboration with a notorious Stalinist, put out a book on May 1968 (La Sorbonne par elle-même) containing, in addition to numerous erroneous assertions on the SI's activities, reproductions of CMDO texts that were knowingly falsified -- critiques of the Stalinists deleted with no indication of the omissions, completely fabricated passages sympathetic to the CGT added, etc.]

[...] On October 24 the SI wrote Maitron a letter that pointed out, with supporting proofs, the most gross falsifications concerning us in his book and demanded "a written apology." In two weeks he hadn't replied. Riesel and Viénet then went to his residence, insulted him as he merited, and in order to stress their point, smashed a soup tureen which according to this historian was an "heirloom." We thus showed this person that his specific dishonesty would not pass unobserved, and could even expose him to being disagreeably insulted; which may make others pause to reflect before committing similar falsifications. [...]

[The article then goes on to describe how this incident is soon afterwards ridiculously inflated in several public accounts -- that his typewriter was smashed, that his home was "ransacked" by "several" situationists, giving the impression that he was lucky to escape alive, etc.]

But beyond the comical aspects of this incident (the December 1968 issue of Révolution Prolétarienne rages about the "fascism" of our "massive trashing" of his home, and even calls for "counterviolence" against us) there is an important issue here. In our opinion, the number-one objective for the revolutionary movement that is presently taking shape -- even more important and urgent than elaborating a consistent theoretical critique or linking up with democratic rank-and-file committees in the factories or paralyzing the universities -- is giving practical support for an insistence on truth and nonfalsification. This is the precondition and the beginning of all the rest. Whoever falsifies must be discredited, boycotted, spit on. When it is a matter of systems of falsification (as in the case of Stalinist bureaucrats or of bourgeois) it is obviously those systems that must be destroyed by a large-scale social and political struggle. But this very struggle must create its own conditions: when one is dealing with individuals or groups aiming to establish themselves anywhere in the revolutionary current, one must not let them get away with anything.(1) By maintaining this insistence, the movement will fundamentally smash all the conditions of falsification that have accompanied and brought about its disappearance for the last half century. As we see it, all revolutionaries must now recognize it as their immediate task to denounce and discourage, by all means and whatever the price, those who continue to falsify. [...]

To reply in advance to those who will still say that the situationists always insult everyone to the same degree(2) and blame everything in the absolute, we will mention two books that devote a considerable space to our documents or to analyzing our action in May: Le projet révolutionnaire by Richard Gombin (Mouton, 1969) and The French Student Uprising by Alain Schnapp and P. Vidal-Naquet (Seuil, 1969). While we are in disagreement with the methods and ideas of these authors, as well as with virtually all of their interpretations and even on certain facts, we are quite willing to acknowledge that these books are put together honestly and that they accurately cite authentic versions of documents; and therefore that they contribute material that will be useful toward writing the history of the occupations movement.



1. It should be stressed that the SI made an example of Maitron because of his revolutionary pretensions and credibility as an "anarchist" historian -- and only after his refusing to make a public rectification of demonstrated falsehoods which any person of good faith would have readily granted. The situationists did not attack people physically merely because they disagreed with the SI. Even in the innumerable instances of deliberate falsification of the SI's positions or activities, they almost always confined themselves to publicly pointing out the falsification. In a related connection (apropos of the French government's banning of Maoist and Trotskyist groups in the aftermath of May 1968): "The SI's position on this issue is quite clear: we obviously defend, in the name of our principles, the right of these people to free expression and association -- a right they would refuse us in the name of their own principles if they were ever in a position to do so" (Internationale Situationniste #12, p. 98).

2. As Raspaud and Voyer have shown in the "Index of Insulted Names" of their book L'Internationale Situationniste, it is a gross exaggeration to say that the SI insulted everybody. Out of 940 persons mentioned in the twelve issues of Internationale Situationniste, only 540 were insulted -- less than 58%.

Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).


13 years 10 months ago

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full text, better translation


13 years 10 months ago

In reply to by

do you do any thing but advertise

well, let's see.

how about the contents of that very web site? as you no doubt saw before making your post, this site contains

1) never-before-translated works by the FHAR, Debord, Vaneigem, Sanguinetti, Riesel, the EdN, Castoriadis et. al

2) the collected works of the Surveillance Camera Players, a well-known anti-CCTV group

3) photos of squats, community gardens and eviction protests in the Lower East Side of Manhattan circa late 1990s

4) documentation of anti-gentrification struggles in Brooklyn NY in the late 1990s

5) shall I go on? the site is packed full of things lib-coms, situs, anarchos, council communists, etc might find interesting

PS. the name/address of my web site is not (an "org" is most def not a "com")

And what about you, Radical Graffiti? It would appear that, like me, you are a writer of graffiti?

The Organization Question for the SI

Submitted by libcom on September 1, 2005

1. Everything the SI has been known for until now belongs to a period that is fortunately over. (More precisely, it can be said that that was our "second period," if the 1957-1962 activity that centered around the supersession of art is counted as the first.)

2. The new revolutionary tendencies of present-day society, however weak and confused they may still be, are no longer confined to a marginal underground: this year they are appearing in the streets.

3. At the same time, the SI has emerged from the silence that previously concealed it. It must now strategically exploit this breakthrough. We cannot prevent the term "situationist" from becoming fashionable here and there. We must simply act in such a way that this (natural) phenomenon works more for us than against us. To me, "what works for us" is not distinct from what serves to unify and radicalize scattered struggles. This is the SI's task as an organization. Apart from this, the term "situationist" could be used vaguely to designate a certain period of critical thought (which it is already no mean feat to have initiated), but one in which everyone is responsible only for what he does personally, without any reference to an organizational community. But as long as this community exists, it will have to distinguish itself from whoever talks about it without being part of it.

4. Regarding the necessary tasks we have previously set for ourselves, we should now concentrate less on theoretical elaboration (which should nonetheless be continued) and more on the communication of theory, on the practical linkup with whatever new gestures of contestation appear (by quickly increasing our possibilities for intervention, criticism, and exemplary support).

5. The movement that is hesitantly beginning is the beginning of our victory (that is, the victory of what we have been supporting and pointing out for many years). But we must not "capitalize" on this victory (with each new affirmation of a moment of revolutionary critique, at whatever level, any advanced coherent organization must know how to lose itself in revolutionary society). In present and forthcoming subversive currents there is much to criticize. It would be very poor taste for us to make this necessary critique while leaving the SI above it all.

6. The SI must now prove its effectiveness in a new stage of revolutionary activity -- or else disappear.

7. In order to have any chance of attaining such effectiveness, we must recognize and state several truths about the SI. These were obviously already true before; but now that we have arrived at a point where this "truth is verifying itself," it has become urgent to make it more precise.

8. We have never considered the SI as an end it itself, but as a moment of a historical activity; the force of circumstances is now leading us to prove it. The SI's "coherence" is the relationship, striving toward coherence, between all our formulated theses and between these theses and our action; as well as our solidarity in those cases where the group is responsible for the action of one of its members (a collective responsibility that holds good regarding many issues, but not all). It cannot be some sort of mastery guaranteed to someone who would be reputed to have so thoroughly appropriated our theoretical bases that he would automatically derive from them a perfectly exemplary line of conduct. It cannot be a demand for (much less a pretension of) an equal excellence of everyone in all issues or activities.

9. Coherence is acquired and verified by egalitarian participation in the entirety of a common practice, which simultaneously reveals shortcomings and provides remedies. This practice requires formal meetings to arrive at decisions, transmission of all information, and examination of all observed lapses.

10. This practice presently requires more participants in the SI, drawn from among those who declare their accord and demonstrate their abilities. The small number of members, rather unjustly selected until now, has been the cause and consequence of a ridiculous overvaluation "officially" accorded to everyone merely by virtue of the fact that they were SI members, even though many of them never demonstrated the slightest real capabilities (consider the exclusions that have occurred over the past year, whether of the Garnautins or the English). Such a pseudoqualitative numerical limitation both encourages stupidities and exaggeratedly magnifies the importance of each particular stupidity.

11. Externally, a direct product of this selective illusion has been the mythological recognition of autonomous pseudogroups, seen as gloriously situated at the level of the SI when in fact they were only feeble admirers of it (and thus inevitably soon to become dishonest vilifiers of it). It seems to me that we cannot recognize any group as autonomous unless it is engaged in autonomous practical work; nor can we recognize such a group as durably successful unless it is engaged in united action with workers (without, of course, falling short of our Minimum Definition of Revolutionary Organizations). All kinds of recent experiences have shown the coopted confusionism of the term "anarchist," and it seems to me that we must oppose it everywhere.

12. I think that we should allow SI members to constitute distinct tendencies oriented around differing preoccupations or tactical options, as long as our general bases are not put in question. Similarly, we must move toward a complete practical autonomy of national groups as soon as they are able really to constitute themselves.

13. In contrast to the habits of the excluded members who in 1966 pretended to attain -- inactively -- a total realization of transparency and friendship in the SI (to the point that one almost felt guilty for pointing out how boring their company was), and who as a corollary secretly developed the most idiotic jealousies, lies unworthy of a gradeschool kid, and conspiracies as ignominious as they were irrational, we must accept only historical relationships among us (critical confidence, knowledge of each member's potentials and limits), but on the basis of the fundamental loyalty and integrity required by the revolutionary project that has been defining itself for over a century.

14. We have no right to be mistaken in breaking with people. We will have to continue to be more or less frequently mistaken in admitting people. The exclusions have almost never marked any theoretical progress in the SI: we have not derived from these occasions any more precise determination of what is unacceptable (the surprising thing about the Garnautin affair was that it was an exception to this rule). The exclusions have almost always been responses to objective threats that existing conditions hold in store for our action. There is a danger of this recurring at higher levels. All sorts of "Nashisms" could reconstitute themselves: we must simply be in a position to demolish them.

15. In order to make the form of this debate consistent with what I see as its content, I propose that this text be communicated to certain comrades close to the SI or capable of taking part in it, and that we solicit their opinion on this question.

GUY DEBORD (April 1968)

Note added August 1969:

These notes of April 1968 were a contribution to a debate on organization that we were about to engage in. Two or three weeks later the occupations movement, which was obviously more pleasant and instructive than this debate, forced us to postpone it.

The last point alone had been immediately approved by the SI comrades. Thus this text, which certainly had nothing secret about it, was not even a strictly internal document. Toward the end of 1968, however, we discovered that truncated and undated versions of it had been circulated by some leftist groups, with what purpose I don't know. The SI consequently decided that the authentic version should be published in this journal.

When the SI was able to resume the discussion on organization in fall 1968, the situationists adopted these theses, which had been confirmed by the rapid march of events in the intervening months. The SI had meanwhile proved capable of acting in May in a manner that responded rather well to the requirements that these theses had formulated for the immediate future.

Since this text is now receiving a wider circulation, I think I should clarify one point, in order to avoid any misunderstanding regarding the relative openness proposed for the SI. I was not advocating any concession to "united action" with the semiradical currents that are already beginning to take shape; and certainly not any abandonment of our rigor in choosing members of the SI and in limiting their number. I criticized a bad, abstract use of this rigor, which could lead to the contrary of what we want. The admiring or subsequently hostile excesses of all those who speak of us from the viewpoint of excessively impassioned spectators should not be able to find a justification in a corresponding "situ-boasting" on our part that would promote the belief that the situationists are wondrous beings who have all actually appropriated in their lives everything they have articulated -- or even merely agreed with -- in the matter of revolutionary theory and program. Since May we have seen the magnitude and urgency this problem has assumed.

The situationists do not have any monopoly to defend, nor any reward to expect. A task that suited us was undertaken and carried out through good and bad, and on the whole it was carried out correctly, with the means available to us. The present development of the subjective conditions of revolution should lead toward formulating a strategy that, starting from different conditions, will be as good as that followed by the SI in more difficult times.


Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).

How Not To Understand Situationist Books (excerpts)

Situationist books

The Situationists reply to some misrepresentations and stupidities of their critics.

Submitted by libcom on September 1, 2005

How Not To Understand Situationist Books (excerpts) - 1969

If the SI's activity had not recently led to some publicly scandalous and threatening consequences it is certain that no French publication would have reviewed our recent books. Francois Chatelet ingenuously admits as much in the Nouvel Observateur (3 January 1968): "One's first impulse when confronted with such works is purely and simply to exclude them, to leave this absolutist point of view in the realm of the absolute -- the realm of the nonrelative and unmentioned." But having left us in the realm of the unmentioned, the organizers of this conspiracy of silence have within a few years seen this strange "absolute" fall on their heads and turn out to be not very distinct from present history, from which they themselves were absolutely separated. All their efforts were unable to prevent this "old mole" from making his way toward daylight. [...]

So it is that publications in France have felt obliged to devote several dozen articles to discussing our books. Nearly as many have appeared in the foreign press, the latter being somewhat more honest and informed. Some have even contained praises, which there is no point going into here. [...] In order to avoid tedious repetition, we will limit ourselves to examining (and incidentally noting the main motivations of) three typical attitudes, each one manifesting itself in relation to one of our books: the attitudes of an academic Marxist, a psychoanalyst, and an ultraleftist militant.

During the early 1950s Claude Lefort was a revolutionary and one of the main theorists of the journal Socialisme ou Barbarie -- regarding which we stated in Internationale Situationniste #10 that it had sunk to run-of-the-mill academic speculation on the level of Arguments and that it was bound to disappear (which it confirmed by folding a month or two later). By that time Lefort had already been separated from it for years, having been in the forefront of the opposition to any form of revolutionary organization, which he denounced as inevitably doomed to bureaucratization. Since this distressing discovery he has consoled himself by taking up an ordinary academic career and writing in La Quinzaine Littéraire. In the 1 February 1968 issue of that periodical this very knowledgeable but domesticated man makes a critique of The Society of the Spectacle. He begins by acknowledging that the book has some merits. Its use of Marxian methodology, and even of détournement, has not escaped him, though he fails to notice its debt to Hegel. But the book nevertheless seems academically unacceptable to him for the following reason: "Debord adds thesis upon thesis, but he does not advance; he endlessly repeats the same idea: that the real is inverted in ideology, that ideology, changed in its essence in the spectacle, passes itself off for the real, and that it is necessary to overthrow ideology in order to bring the real back into its own. It makes little difference what particular topic he treats, this idea is reflected in all the others. It is only due to his exhaustion that he has stopped at the 221st thesis." Debord readily admits that he found, at the 221st thesis, that he had said quite enough, and had accomplished exactly what he had set out to do: make an "endless" description of what the spectacle is and how it can be overthrown. The fact that "this idea is reflected in all the others" is precisely what we consider the characteristic of a dialectical book. Such a book does not have to "advance," like some doctoral dissertation on Machiavelli, toward the approval of a board of examiners and the attainment of a diploma. (And as Marx put it in the Afterword to the second German edition of Capital, regarding the way the dialectical "method of presentation" may he viewed, "This reflecting may make it seem as if we had before us a mere a priori construction.") The Society of the Spectacle does not hide its a priori engagement, nor does it attempt to derive its conclusions from academic argumentation. It is written only to show the concrete coherent field of application of a thesis that already exists at the outset, a thesis deriving from the investigations that revolutionary criticism has made of modern capitalism. In our opinion, it is basically a book that lacked nothing but one or more revolutions. Which were not long in coming. But Lefort, having lost all interest in this kind of theory and practice, finds that the book is an ivory tower world closed in on itself: "One would have expected this book to be a violent attack against its adversaries, but in fact this ostentatious discourse has no other aim than showing off. Admittedly it has a certain beauty. The style is flawless. Since any question that does not have an automatic response has been banished from the very first lines, one would search in vain for any fault." The misinterpretation is total: Lefort sees a sort of Mallarméan purity in a book which, as a negative of spectacular society (in which also, but in an inverse manner, any question that does not have an automatic response is banished at every moment), ultimately seeks nothing other than to overthrow the existing relation of forces in the factories and the streets.

After this general rejection of the book, Lefort still wants to play the Marxist regarding a few details in order to remind us that this is his specialty, the reason he gets assignments from intellectual periodicals. Here he begins to falsify in order to give himself the opportunity of introducing a pedantic reminder of what is well known. He solemnly announces that Debord has changed "the commodity into the spectacle," which transformation is "full of consequences." He ponderously summarizes what Marx says on the commodity, then falsely charges Debord with having said that "the production of the phantasmagoria governs that of commodities," whereas in fact the exact opposite is clearly stated in The Society of the Spectacle, notably in the second chapter where the spectacle is defined as simply a moment of the development of commodity production. [...]

We sink lower still with André Stéphane's Univers contestationnaire (Payot, 1969), the thirteenth chapter of which is a critique of Vaneigem's The Revolution of Everyday Life. The publisher announces that "Stéphane" is the pseudonym of "two psychoanalysts." Judging by their colossal ineptitude and parody of "orthodox Freudianism," they could just as well have been twenty-two, or the work could have been done by a computer programmed for psychoanalysis. Since the authors are psychoanalysts, Vaneigem is naturally insane. He is paranoid, this is why he has so perfectly expressed in advance the May movement and various distressing tendencies of the entire society. It's really only a matter of fantasies, delirium, rejection of the objective world and of the oedipal problem, fusional narcissism, exhibitionism, sadistic impulses, etc. They crown their monument of imbecilities by professing to admire the book "as a work of art." Unfortunately this book has fallen into bad hands: the May movement horrified our psychiatrists by its blind violence, its inhuman terrorism, its nihilist cruelty and its explicit goal of destroying civilization and perhaps even the planet. When they hear the word "festival" they reach for their electrodes; they insist that one get back to the serious, never doubting for a moment that they themselves are excellent representatives of the seriousness of psychoanalysis and of social life and that they can write about all that without making people laugh. Even the people who had the foolishness to be the customers of this Laurel and Hardy of mental medicine told them that after May they felt less depressed and dissociated. [...] For these psychoanalysts there is no doubt that this May movement, which they analyze with such brilliant penetration, consisted exclusively of students (these police dogs of the detection of the irrational have not for one moment found it abnormal and unexplainable that a mere outburst of student vandalism was able to paralyze the economy and the state in a large industrial country). Moreover, according to them all students are rich, living in comfort and abundance, without any discernable rational reason for discontent: they enjoy all the benefits and virtually none of the drawbacks of a happy society that has never been less repressive. Our psychoanalysts thus conclude that this socioeconomic happiness, evidently enjoyed by all the May rebels, has revealed the inner, existential misery of people who had an "infantile desire" for the absolute, people whose immaturity makes them incapable of profiting from the "benefits" of modern society, thus demonstrating "an incapacity of libidinal expression in the external world due to internal conflicts." [...]

At the end of 1966 Rector Bayen of Strasbourg declared to the press that we should be dealt with by psychiatrists. In the following year he saw the abolition of the "University Psychological Aid Centers" of Strasbourg and Nantes, and eighteen months later the crumbling of his whole fine university world along with a great number of his hierarchical superiors. Finally, though a bit late, the psychiatrists with which we were threatened have arrived, and made this critique of Vaneigem. They have probably disappointed those who were hoping for a final solution of the situationist problem.

René Viénet's book [Enragés and Situationists in the Occupations Movement] has not had the honors of psychiatry, but has been criticized in an article in issue #2 of Révolution Internationale, the journal of an ultraleftist group that is anti-Trotskyist and non-Bordigist, but scarcely disengaged from Leninism: it is still aiming at reconstituting the wise leadership of a true "party of the proletariat" which this time, however, promises to remain democratic once it manages to come into existence. This group's ideas are a bit too musty for it to be of interest to discuss them here. Since we are dealing with people who have revolutionary intentions, we will merely point out a few of their specific falsifications. Such falsification is in our opinion much more inconsistent with the activity of a revolutionary organization than the mere assertion of erroneous theories, which can always be discussed and corrected. Moreover, those who think they have to falsify texts in order to defend their theses thereby implicitly admit that their theses are otherwise undefensible.

Our critic says he is disappointed with the book, "especially since the several months' period of writing time should have made possible something better." In fact, although the book only appeared at the end of October 1968, it is clearly indicated in the introduction (p. 8) that it was completed July 26. It was then immediately sent to the publisher, after which no alterations were made apart from the addition of two short notes (pp. 20 and 209) explicitly dated October, concerning post-July developments in Czechoslovakia and Mexico.

Our critic then reproaches the book for "yielding to current fashion" -- that is, in fact, to our own style, since it adopts the same sort of presentation as the previous issues of Internationale Situationniste -- because it includes photos and comics; and he reproaches the situationists for being contemptuous of "the great infantile mass of workers" by aiming to divert them as do the capitalist press and cinema. He sternly notes that "it is above all the action of the Enragés and situationists that is described," only to add immediately: "which, moreover, is stated in the title." Viénet proposed to draw up an immediate report on our activities in the May period, accompanied with our analyses and some documents, considering that this would constitute a valuable documentation for understanding May, particularly for those who will have to act in future crises of the same type (it is with the same purpose that we have further taken up these questions in this issue). This experience may seem useful to some and negligible to others, depending on how they think and what they really are. But what is certain is that without Viénet's book this precise documentation would have been unknown (or known only fragmentarily and falsely) by many people. The title says clearly enough what it's about.

Without going so far as to insinuate that there is the slightest false detail in this report, our critic contends that Viénet has given too large a place to our action, that we have imagined it to have been "preponderant." "Reduced to its correct proportions, the place occupied by the situationists was certainly inferior to that of numerous other groups, or in any case not superior." We don't really know where the "certainty" of his comparison comes from, as if it were a matter of weighing the total amount of paving stones that each group threw in the same direction at the same building. The CRS and even the Maoists certainly had a "greater place" in the crisis than we had, a greater weight. The question is in what direction the force of one or another grouping was exerted. If we restrict ourselves to the revolutionary current, a great number of unorganized workers obviously had a weight so determinative that no group can even be compared with them; but this tendency did not become the conscious master of its own action. If -- since our critic seems more interested in a sort of race among the "groups" (and perhaps he is thinking of his?) -- we restrict ourselves to groups holding clearly revolutionary positions, we know very well that they were not so "numerous"! And in this case one would have to specify which groups one is referring to and what they did, instead of leaving everything in a mysterious vagueness, merely deciding that the specific action of the SI, in relation to these unknown groups, was "certainly inferior," and then -- what is a bit different -- "not superior."

In reality, Révolution Internationale reproaches the situationists for having said, for years, that a new setting out of the revolutionary proletarian movement was to be expected from a modern critique of the new conditions of oppression and the new contradictions those conditions were bringing to light. For RI fundamentally there is nothing new in capitalism, nor therefore in the critique of it; the occupations movement presented nothing new; the concepts of "spectacle" or of "survival," the critique of the commodity attaining a stage of abundant production, etc., are only empty words. It can be seen that these three series of postulates are all interlinked.

If the situationists were merely fanatics of intellectual innovation, Révolution Internationale, which knows everything about proletarian revolution since 1920 or 1930, would attach no importance to them. What our critic objects to is that we showed at the same time that these new developments in capitalism, and consequently the new developments in its negation, are also rediscovering their connections with the old truth of the previously vanquished proletarian revolution. This is very annoying to RI because it wants to possess this old truth without any newness mixed in, whether such newness arises within reality or in the theories of the SI or others. Here begins the falsification. RI excerpts a few sentences from pages 13 and 14 of Viénet's book, where he recapitulates these basic banalities of the unaccomplished revolution, and adds a bunch of marginal notes like a professor's red ink corrections: "It's really wonderful that the SI 'readily' affirms what all workers and revolutionaries already knew"; "what a marvelous discovery!"; "obviously"; etc. But the excerpts from these two pages are, if we may say so, rather artfully selected. One of them, for example, is quoted exactly as follows: "The SI knew well (...) that the emancipation of the workers still clashed everywhere with bureaucratic organizations." What are the words deleted by this opportune parenthesis? Here is the exact sentence: "The SI knew well, as did so many workers with no means of expressing it, that the emancipation of the workers still clashed everywhere with bureaucratic organizations." RI's method is as obvious as the existence of class struggle, which this group seems to imagine itself the exclusive owner of -- the class struggle to which Viénet was explicitly referring in response to "so many commentators" having the means of expressing themselves in books and newspapers who "agreed that the movement was unforeseeable."

And, always so as to deny that the SI has said in advance any truth on the nearness of a new period of the revolutionary movement, RI, which does not at all want this period to be new, asks ironically how the SI can claim to have foreseen this crisis; and why it didn't appear until exactly fifty years after the defeat of the Russian revolution -- "why not thirty or seventy?" The answer is very simple. Even leaving aside the fact that the SI followed rather closely the rise of certain elements of the crisis (in Strasbourg, Turin and Nanterre, for example), we predicted the content, not the date.

The Révolution Internationale group may very well be in total disagreement with us when it comes to judging the content of the occupations movement, as it is more generally at variance with the comprehension of its era and therefore with the forms of practical action that other revolutionaries have already begun to appropriate. But if we scorn the Révolution Internationale group and want no contact with it, it is not because of the content of its somewhat musty theoretical science, but because of the petty-bureaucratic style it is naturally led to adopt in order to defend that content. The form and content of its perspectives are in accord with each other, both dating from the same dismal years.

But modern history has also created the eyes that know how to read us.


Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).


13 years 10 months ago

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Full translation, no excerpts:

Cinema and Revolution

Submitted by libcom on September 1, 2005

In Le Monde of 8 July 1969, the Berlin Film Festival correspondent J.P. Picaper is awestruck by the fact that "in The Gay Science (an ORTF-Radio Stuttgart production, banned in France) Godard has pushed his praiseworthy self-critique to the point of projecting sequences shot in the dark or even of leaving the spectator for an almost unbearable length of time facing a blank screen." Without seeking more precisely what constitutes "an almost unbearable length of time" for this critic, we can see that Godard's work, following the latest fashions as always, is culminating in a destructive style just as belatedly plagiarized and pointless as all the rest, this negation having been expressed in the cinema long before Godard had ever begun the long series of pretentious pseudoinnovations that aroused such enthusiasm among student audiences during the previous period.(1) The same journalist reports that Godard, through one of the characters in his short entitled Love, confesses that "revolution cannot be put into images" because "the cinema is the art of lying." The cinema has no more been an "art of lying" than has any of the rest of art, which was dead in its totality long before Godard, who has not even been a modern artist, that is, who has not even been capable of the slightest personal originality. This Maoist liar is in this way winding up his bluff by trying to arouse admiration for his brilliant discovery of a noncinema cinema, while denouncing a sort of ontological lie in which he has participated, but no more so than have many others. Godard was in fact immediately outmoded by the May 1968 movement, which caused him to be recognized as a spectacular manufacturer of a superficial, pseudocritical, cooptive art rummaged out of the trashcans of the past (see The Role of Godard in Internationale Situationniste #10). At that point Godard's career as a filmmaker was essentially over, and he was personally insulted and ridiculed on several occasions by revolutionaries who happened to cross his path.

The cinema as a means of revolutionary communication is not inherently mendacious just because Godard or Jacopetti has touched it, any more than all political analysis is doomed to duplicity just because Stalinists have written. Several new filmmakers in various countries are currently attempting to utilize films as instruments of revolutionary critique, and some of them will partially succeed in this. However, the limitations in their very grasp of present revolutionary requirements, as well as in their aesthetic conceptions, will in our opinion prevent them for some time still from going as far as is necessary. We consider that at the moment only the situationists' positions and methods, as formulated by René Viénet in our previous issue [The Situationists and the New Forms of Action Against Art and Politics], are adequate for a directly revolutionary use of cinema -- though political and economic conditions still present obvious obstacles to the realization of such films.

It is known that Eisenstein wanted to make a film of Capital. Considering his formal conceptions and political submissiveness, it can be doubted if his film would have been faithful to Marx's text. But for our part, we are sure we can do better. For example, as soon as it becomes possible, Guy Debord will himself make a cinematic adaptation of The Society of the Spectacle that will certainly not fall short of his book.



1. The lettrist films of the early 1950s, for example, frequently contained such blank-screen passages, culminating in Debord's first film, Hurlements en faveur de Sade (1952), which has no images whatsoever and only a sporadic soundtrack.

Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).

The Elite and the Backward (excerpt)

Submitted by libcom on September 1, 2005

The situationists are undoubtedly very criticizable. So far, unfortunately, almost no one has made any of these critiques -- that is, the intelligent and precise critiques, made without bad faith, that revolutionaries might make and will one day easily be capable of making regarding many of our theses and many aspects of our activity. But the manner in which many present-day revolutionaries spread inept objections or accusations, as if to repress the problem with the miserable reflexes acquired during their previous period of defeats and nonexistence, only reveals a persistent leftist sectarian poverty, or even miserable ulterior motives.

Let us say first of all that, just as we find it quite natural that bourgeois, bureaucrats and intellectual coopters hate us, we recognize that would-be revolutionaries who claim to be opposed on principle to any form of organization based on a precise platform, entailing the practical co-responsibility of its participants, will naturally condemn us completely since we manifestly have a contrary opinion and practice. But all the others? It is a clear demonstration of dishonesty and an implicit avowal of aims of domination to accuse the SI of constituting a dominating organization when we have gone to great lengths to make it almost impossible to become a member of the SI(1) (which seems to us to destroy at the roots any concrete risk of our becoming a "leadership" vis-Ã -vis even the slightest fraction of the masses); and considering, in addition, that it is quite clear that we have never exploited our "intellectual prestige," either by frequenting any bourgeois or intellectual circles (much less by accepting any of their "honors" or remunerations), or by competing with the multitude of little leftist sects for the control or admiration of the miserable student public, or by trying to exert the slightest secret influence, or even the slightest direct or indirect presence, in the autonomous revolutionary organizations whose existence we and a few others have predicted, and which are now beginning to take shape.

Those who have never accomplished anything apparently feel that they have to attribute the scandalous fact that we have been able to accomplish something to imaginary goals and means. In reality, it is because we shock certain people by refusing contact with them, or even their requests for admission to the SI, that we are accused of being an "elite" and of aspiring to dominate those whom we don't even want to know! But what "elitist" role are we supposed to have reserved for ourselves? A theoretical one? We have said that the workers must become dialecticians and themselves take care of all their theoretical and practical problems. Those who are concerned with running their own affairs need only appropriate our methods, instead of lapping up the latest rumors about us, and they will become that much more independent from us. [...]



1. Although the situationists could easily have accumulated numerous members had they been so inclined, the SI's membership was rarely more than a dozen. In all, 63 men and 7 women from 16 different countries were members at one time or another.

Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).

The Beginning of an Era (Part 1)

Submitted by libcom on September 1, 2005

"You believe that these Germans will make a political revolution in our lifetime? My friend, that is just wishful thinking," wrote Arnold Ruge to Marx in March 1844. Four years later that revolution had come. As an amusing example of a type of historical unconsciousness constantly produced by similar causes and always contradicted by similar results, Ruge's unfortunate statement was quoted as an epigraph in The Society of the Spectacle, which appeared December 1967. Six months later came the occupations movement, the greatest revolutionary moment in France since the Paris Commune.

The largest general strike that ever stopped the economy of an advanced industrial country, and the first wildcat general strike in history; revolutionary occupations and the beginnings of direct democracy; the increasingly complete collapse of state power for nearly two weeks; the resounding verification of the revolutionary theory of our time and even here and there the first steps toward putting it into practice; the most important experience of the modern proletarian movement that is in the process of constituting itself in its fully developed form in all countries, and the example it must now go beyond -- this is what the French May 1968 movement was essentially, and this in itself already constitutes its essential victory.

Later on we will examine this movement's weaknesses and deficiencies, which were the natural consequences of the ignorance and improvisation and of the dead weight of the past that was still felt even where this movement best asserted itself; the consequences, above all, of the separations that all the joint forces for the preservation of the capitalist order narrowly succeeded in defending, with the bureaucratic political and labor-union machines exerting themselves to this end more intensely and effectively than the police at this life-or-death moment for the system. But let us first enumerate the evident characteristics at the heart of the occupations movement, where it was freest to translate its content into words and acts. There it proclaimed its goals much more explicitly than any other spontaneous revolutionary movement in history; and those goals were much more radical and up-to-date than were ever expressed in the programs of the revolutionary organizations of the past, even at their best moments.

The occupations movement was the sudden return of the proletariat as a historical class, a proletariat now enlarged to include a majority of the salaried employees of modern society and still tending toward the real abolition of classes and of wage labor. The movement was a rediscovery of collective and individual history, an awakening to the possibility of intervening in history, an awareness of participating in an irreversible event. ("Nothing will ever be the same again.") People looked back in amusement at the strange existence they had led a week before, at their outlived survival. It was a passion for bringing everything and everyone together that included a holistic critique of all alienations, of all ideologies and of the entire old organization of real life. In this process property was negated, everyone finding themselves at home everywhere. The recognized desire for genuine dialogue, completely free expression and real community found their terrain in the buildings transformed into open meeting places and in the common struggle. The telephones (which were among the few technical means still functioning) and the wandering of so many emissaries and travelers around Paris and throughout the entire country, between the occupied buildings, the factories and the assemblies, manifested this real practice of communication. The occupations movement was obviously a rejection of alienated labor; it was a festival, a game, a real presence of people and of time. And it was a rejection of all authority, all specialization, all hierarchical dispossession; a rejection of the state and thus of the parties and unions; and of sociologists and professors, of the health-care system and repressive morality. Everyone awakened by the lightning chain-reaction of the movement (one of the graffiti, perhaps the most beautiful, simply said: "Quick") thoroughly despised their former conditions of existence and therefore those who had worked to keep them there, from the television stars to the urbanists. Many people's Stalinist illusions, in various diluted forms from Castro to Sartre, were torn apart, as all the rival and interdependent lies of an era crumbled. International solidarity spontaneously reappeared: numerous foreign workers flung themselves into the struggle and many European revolutionaries rushed to France. The extensive participation of women in all aspects of struggle was an unmistakable sign of its revolutionary depth. There was a significant liberation of mores. The movement was also a critique, still partially illusory, of the commodity system (in its lame sociological disguise as "consumer society"). And it already contained a rejection of art that did not yet recognize the historical negation of art (a rejection expressed in the poor abstract slogan, "Power to the imagination," which did not know how to put this power into practice, to reinvent everything; and which, lacking power, lacked imagination). Hatred of coopters was expressed everywhere, though it did not yet reach the theoretico-practical knowledge of how to get rid of them (the neoartists, political neoleaders and neospectators of the very movement that contradicted them). If the critique-in-acts of the spectacle of nonlife was not yet the revolutionary supersession of these coopters, this was because the "spontaneously councilist" tendency of the May uprising was ahead of almost all the concrete means (including theoretical and organizational consciousness) that will one day enable it to transform itself into a power by being the only power.

Let us spit in passing on the banalizing commentaries and false testimonies by sociologists, retired Marxists and all the doctrinaires of the old preserved ultraleftism or of the servile ultramodernism of spectacular society; no one who experienced this movement can deny that it contained everything we have said.

In March 1966, in Internationale Situationniste #10 (p.77), we wrote, "What might appear to be audacious speculation in several of our assertions, we advance with the assurance that the future will bring their overwhelming and undeniable historical confirmation." It couldn't have been put better.

Naturally we had prophesied nothing. We had simply pointed out what was already present: the material preconditions for a new society had long since been produced; the old class society had maintained itself everywhere by considerably modernizing its oppression, while developing an ever-increasing abundance of contradictions; the previously vanquished proletarian movement was returning for a second, more conscious and more total assault. Many people, of course, were already aware of these facts, so clearly demonstrated both by history and by present reality, and some people even stated them; but they did so abstractly and thus in a vacuum, without any echo, without any possibility of intervention. The merit of the situationists was simply to have recognized and pointed out the new focuses of revolt in modern society (focuses which do not at all exclude the old ones, but on the contrary bring them back to light): urbanism, the spectacle, ideology, etc. Because this task was carried out radically, it was able to stir up, or at least considerably reinforce, certain practical acts of revolt. If our enterprise struck a certain chord it was because uncompromising criticism was scarcely to be found among the leftisms of the preceding period. If many people put our words into action it was because we expressed the negative that had been lived by us and by so many others before us. What awakened in the spring of 1968 was nothing other than what had been sleeping in the night of the "spectacular society," whose spectacles presented nothing but an eternal positive façade. But we had "cohabited with the negative" in accordance with the program we formulated in 1962 (see Internationale Situationniste #7, p.10). We are not going into our "merits" in order to be applauded, but for the benefit of others who are going to act in similar ways.

Those who shut their eyes to this "critique within the mêlée" only saw an "immovable" force of modern domination which reflected their own renunciation. Their antiutopian "realism" was no more real than a police station or the Sorbonne were more real buildings before than after their transformation by arsonists or "Katangans."(1) When the subterranean phantoms of total revolution rose and extended their force over the entire country, it was all the forces of the old world that appeared as ghostly illusions dissipated in the daylight. After thirty miserable years that in the history of revolutions amounted to no more than a month, came this month of May that recapitulated thirty years.

To transform our desires into reality is a precise task, precisely the contrary of the function of the intellectual prostitution that grafts its illusions of permanence onto any reality that happens to exist. Take Henri Lefebvre, for example, whom we already quoted in the preceding issue of this journal (October 1967) because in his book Positions contre les technocrates (Gonthier) he ventured a categorical conclusion whose scientific validity was revealed scarcely more than six months later: "The situationists . . . do not propose a concrete utopia, but an abstract one. Do they really imagine that one fine day or one decisive evening people will look at each other and say, 'Enough! We're fed up with work and boredom! Let's put an end to them!' and that they will then proceed into the eternal Festival and the creation of situations? Although this happened once, at the dawn of 18 March 1871 [the Paris Commune], this combination of circumstances will not occur again." A certain intellectual influence has been attributed to Lefebvre for certain of the SI's radical theses that he surreptitiously copied (see in this issue the reproduction of our 1963 tract "Into the Trashcan of History"),(2) but he reserved the truth of that critique for the past, even though it was born out of the present more than out of his academic reflections on the past, and he warned against the illusion that any present struggle could ever again achieve those results. Don't jump to the conclusion that Lefebvre is the only former thinker the event has made a complete fool of: those who avoided committing themselves to such ludicrous declarations nevertheless had the same convictions. Overcome by their shock in May, all the researchers of historical nothingness have admitted that no one had in any way foreseen what occurred. We must acknowledge a sort of exception to this in the case of all the sects of "resurrected Bolsheviks," of whom it is fair to say that for the last thirty years they have not for one instant ceased heralding the imminence of the revolution of 1917. But they too were badly mistaken: this was not at all 1917 and they were not even exactly Lenin. As for the remains of the old non-Trotskyist ultraleft, they still needed at least a major economic crisis. They made any revolutionary moment contingent on its return, and saw nothing coming. Now that they have admitted that there was a revolutionary crisis in May they have to prove that some sort of invisible economic crisis was taking place in early 1968. As oblivious and complacent as always, they are earnestly working on this problem, producing diagrams of increases in prices and unemployment. For them an economic crisis is no longer that terribly conspicuous objective reality that was so extensively experienced and described up through 1929, but rather a sort of eucharistic presence that is one of the foundations of their religion.

Just as it would be necessary to reissue the entire collection of Internationale Situationniste journals in order to show how greatly all these people were mistaken before May, so it would require a thick volume to go through all the stupidities and partial admissions they have produced since then. We will limit ourselves to citing the picturesque journalist Frédéric Gaussen, who felt that he could reassure the readers of Le Monde on 9 December 1966 that the few situationist maniacs who perpetrated the Strasbourg scandal had "a messianic confidence in the revolutionary capacity of the masses and in their aptitude for freedom." Since then Gaussen's aptitude for freedom has not progressed one millimeter, but we find him in the same paper, 29 January 1969, panic-stricken at finding everywhere "the feeling that revolutionary aspirations are universal." "Highschoolers in Rome, college students in Berlin, 'enragés' in Madrid, 'Lenin's orphans' in Prague, radical dissidents in Belgrade, all are attacking the same world, the Old World." And Gaussen, using almost the same words as before, now attributes to all those revolutionary masses the same "quasi-mystical belief in the creative spontaneity of the masses."

We don't want to dwell in triumph on the discomfiture of all our intellectual adversaries; not that this "triumph," which is in fact simply that of the modern revolutionary movement, is not quite significant, but because the subject is so monotonous and because the reappearance of history, the reappearance of direct class struggle recognizing present-day revolutionary goals, has pronounced such a clear verdict on the whole period that came to an end in May(3) (previously it was the subversion of the existing society that seemed unlikely; now it is its continuation). Instead of going over what is already verified, it is henceforth more important to pose the new problems; to criticize the May movement and embark on the practice of the new era.

In all other countries the recent and up to now confused quest for a radical critique of modern capitalism (private or bureaucratic) had not yet broken out of the narrow base it had in the student milieu. In complete contrast, whatever the government, the newspapers and the ideologists of modernist sociology pretend to believe, the May movement was not a student movement. It was a revolutionary proletarian movement rising again after half a century of suppression and generally deprived of everything. Its unfortunate paradox was that it was able to concretely express itself and take shape only on the very unfavorable terrain of a student revolt: the streets held by the rioters around the Latin Quarter and the mostly university buildings occupied in the same area. Instead of dwelling on the laughable historical parody of Leninist or Maoist-Stalinist students disguising themselves as proletarians or vanguard leaders of the proletariat, it must be realized that it was, on the contrary, the most advanced segment of the workers, unorganized and separated by all the forms of repression, that found themselves disguised as students in the reassuring imagery of the unions and the spectacular news. The May movement was not some political theory looking for workers to carry it out; it was the acting proletariat seeking its theoretical consciousness.

The sabotage of the university by a few groups of young and notoriously antistudent revolutionaries at Nantes and Nanterre (we are referring here to the "Enragés" and not, of course, to the majority of the "March 22nd Movement" who later imitated their actions) presented the opportunity to develop forms of direct struggle that dissatisfied workers, mainly young ones, had already initiated in the early months of 1968 (at Caen and Redon, for example). But this circumstance was in no way fundamental and could do the movement no harm. What was both significant and unfortunate was the fact that the unions were eventually able to control the wildcat strike that had been launched against their will and despite all their maneuvers. They accepted the strike they had been unable to prevent, which is the usual tactic of a union faced with a wildcat, although this time they had to accept one on a national scale. And by accepting this "unofficial" general strike they remained accepted by it. They kept control over the factory gates, simultaneously isolating the vast majority of the workers from the real movement and each plant from all the others. Thus the most unitary action and the most radical critique-in-action ever seen was at the same time a sum of isolations and a pageant of banal, officially approved demands. Just as the unions had to let the general strike spread little by little, winding up in virtual unanimity, so they strove to liquidate the strike little by little, using the terrorism of falsification and their monopoly of communication to coerce the workers in each separate enterprise to accept the crumbs they had collectively rejected on May 27. The revolutionary strike was thus reduced to a cold war between the union bureaucracies and the workers. The unions acknowledged the strike on the condition that the workers tacitly acknowledged, by their practical passivity, that it would lead nowhere. The unions did not "miss an opportunity" to act revolutionarily, because there is nothing revolutionary about any of them, from the Stalinists to the bourgeoisified reformists. And if they did not even act to bring about substantial reforms, this was because the situation was too dangerously revolutionary to play around with, even to try to exploit it to their own advantage. They very clearly wanted it to be brought to a stop immediately, at any cost. In this exceptional moment the Stalinists -- admirably imitated in this hypocrisy by the semileftist sociologists (cf. Coudray in La Brèche, Éditions du Seuil, 1968) -- though usually of such a contrary opinion, suddenly feigned an extraordinary respect for the competence of the workers, for their wise "decision," presented with the most fantastic cynicism as having been clearly debated, voted in full knowledge of the facts and absolutely unequivocal: for once the workers supposedly knew what they wanted because "they did not want a revolution"! But all the obstacles and muzzles and lies that the panic-stricken bureaucrats resorted to in the face of this supposed unwillingness of the workers constitutes the best proof of their real will, unarmed but dangerous. It is only by forgetting the historical totality of the movement of modern society that one can blather on in this circular positivism, which thinks it sees a rationality everywhere in the existing order because it raises its "science" to the point of successively considering that order from the side of the demand and the side of the response. Thus the same Coudray [pseudonym of Cornelius Castoriadis] notes, "If you have these unions, a raise of 5% is the most you can get, and if 5% is what you want, these unions suffice." Leaving aside the question of their intentions in relation to their real life and their interests, what all these gentlemen lack at the very least is dialectics.

The workers, who as always and everywhere naturally had quite enough good reasons for being dissatisfied, started the wildcat strike because they sensed the revolutionary situation created by the new forms of sabotage in the universities and the government's successive mistakes in reacting to them. They were obviously as indifferent as we were to the forms and reforms of the university system; but certainly not to the critique of the culture, environment and everyday life produced by advanced capitalism, a critique that spread so quickly upon the first rip in that university veil.

By launching the wildcat strike the workers gave the lie to the liars who spoke in their name. In most of the factories they proved incapable of really speaking on their own behalf and of saying what they wanted. But in order to say what they want it is first necessary for the workers to create, through their own autonomous action, the concrete conditions that enable them to speak and act, conditions that now exist nowhere. The absence, almost everywhere, of such dialogue and of such linking up, as well as the lack of theoretical knowledge of the autonomous goals of proletarian class struggle (these two factors being able to develop only together), prevented the workers from expropriating the expropriators of their real life. Thus the advanced nucleus of workers, around which the next revolutionary proletarian organization will take shape, came to the Latin Quarter as a poor relative of a "student reformism" that was itself a largely artificial product of pseudoinformation or of the illusionism of the little leftist sects. This advanced nucleus included young blue-collar workers; white-collar workers from the occupied offices; delinquents and unemployed; rebellious highschoolers, who were often those working-class youth that modern capitalism recruits for the cut-rate education designed to prepare them for a role in developed industry ("Stalinists, your children are with us!" was one of the slogans); "lost intellectuals"; and "Katangans."

The fact that a significant fraction of French students took part in the movement, particularly in Paris, is obvious; but this cannot be considered as constituting the essence of the movement, or even as one of its main aspects. Out of 150,000 Parisian students at most 10-20 thousand were present during the least difficult times of the demonstrations, and only a few thousand during the violent street confrontations. The sole moment of the crisis involving students alone -- admittedly one of the decisive moments for its extension -- was the spontaneous uprising of the Latin Quarter on May 3 following the arrest of the leftist leaders in the Sorbonne. On the day after the occupation of the Sorbonne nearly half the participants in its general assemblies, at a time when those assemblies had clearly taken on an insurrectional role, were still students worried about the conditions for their exams and hoping for some university reform in their favor. Probably a slight majority of the student participants recognized that the question of power was posed, but they usually did so as naïve constituents of the little leftist parties, as spectators of old Leninist schemas or even of the Oriental exoticism of Maoist Stalinism. The base of these little leftist groups was indeed almost exclusively confined to the student milieu; and the poverty that was sustained there was clearly evident in virtually all the leaflets issuing from that milieu (the vacuity of all the Kravetzes, the stupidity of all the Péninous). The best statements by the workers who came to the Sorbonne during the initial days were often stupidly received with a pedantic and condescending attitude by these students who fantasized themselves as experts in revolution, although they were ready to salivate and applaud at the stimulus of the clumsiest manipulator proclaiming some stupidity while invoking "the working class." Nevertheless, the very fact that these groups manage to recruit a certain number of students is one more symptom of the discontent in present-day society: these little groups are the theatrical expression of a real yet vague revolt that is bargain-shopping for answers. Finally, the fact that a small fraction of students really supported all the radical demands of May is another indication of the depth of the movement; and remains to their credit.

Although several thousand students, as individuals, were able through their experience of 1968 to break more or less completely with the position assigned to them in the society, the mass of students were not transformed by it. This was not in virtue of the pseudo-Marxist platitude that considers the student's social background (bourgeois or petty-bourgeois in the great majority of cases) as the determining factor, but rather because of his social destiny: the student's becoming is the truth of his being. He is mass-produced and conditioned for an upper, middle or lower position in the organization of modern industrial production. Moreover, the student is being dishonest when he pretends to be scandalized at "discovering" this reason for his education, which has always been proclaimed openly. It is evident that the economic uncertainties of his optimum employment, and especially the dubious desirability of the "privileges" present society can offer him, have played a role in his bewilderment and revolt. But it is precisely because of this that the student is such a perfect customer, eagerly seeking his quality brand in the ideology of one or another of the little bureaucratic groups. The student who dreams of himself as a Bolshevik or a swaggering Stalinist (i.e. a Maoist) is playing both sides: Simply as a result of his studies he reckons on obtaining some modest position managing some small sector of the society as a cadre of capitalism, should a change in power never arrive to fulfill his wishes. And in case his dream of such a power change were to become a reality, he sees himself in an even more glorious managerial role and a higher rank as a "scientifically" warranted political cadre. These groups' dreams of domination are often clumsily revealed in the contempt their fanatics have the nerve to express toward certain aspects of workers' demands, which they often term "mere bread-and-butter issues." In this impotence that would be better advised to keep silent one can already glimpse the disdain with which these leftists would like to be able to respond to any future discontent among the same workers if these self-appointed specialists in the general interests of the proletariat ever managed to get their little hands on state power and police (as in Kronstadt, as in Beijing). But leaving aside the perspective of these germ-carriers of ruling bureaucracies, nothing serious can be recognized in the sociologico-journalistic contrasts between rebellious students, who are supposedly rejecting "consumer society," and the workers, who are supposedly still eager to participate in it. The consumption in question is only a consumption of commodities. It is a hierarchical consumption and it is increasing for everyone, but in a way that becomes increasingly hierarchical. The modern commodity's decline and falsification of use-value is experienced by everyone, though to differing degrees. Everyone experiences this consumption of both spectacular and real commodities within a fundamental poverty, "because this poverty is not itself beyond privation; it is only enriched privation" (The Society of the Spectacle). Like everyone else, the workers spend their lives passively consuming the spectacle and all the lies of ideologies and commodities. But they have fewer illusions than anyone about the concrete conditions imposed on them, about the price they have to pay, every moment of their lives, for the production of all that.

For all these reasons the students considered as a social stratum -- a stratum itself also in crisis -- were in May 1968 nothing but the rear guard of the whole movement.

The deficiency of almost all the students who expressed revolutionary intentions was, considering all their free time which they could have devoted to elucidating the problems of revolution, certainly deplorable, but quite secondary. The deficiency of the vast majority of workers, constantly leashed and gagged, was in contrast quite excusable, but decisive. The situationists' description and analysis of the main stages of the crisis have been set forth in René Viénet's book Enragés and Situationists in the Occupations Movement (Gallimard, 1968). We will merely summarize here the main points related in that book, which was written in Brussels during the last three weeks of July on the basis of then-existing documentation, but of which, it seems to us, no conclusion needs to be modified.

From January to March the Enragés group of Nanterre (whose tactics were later taken up in April by the March 22nd Movement) successfully carried out the sabotage of classes and university departments. The Paris University Council's bungling and too-belated repression, together with two successive shutdowns of Nanterre College, led to the spontaneous student riot in the Latin Quarter on May 3. The university was paralyzed by both the police and the strike. There was fighting in the streets throughout the following week. Young workers joined in, the Stalinists discredited themselves each day by incredible slanders, the leaders of SNESup [National Union of University Employees] and the little leftist groups revealed their lack of imagination and rigor, and the government responded successively and always at the wrong moment with force and inept concessions. On the night of May 10 the uprising that took over the neighborhood around Rue Gay-Lussac, set up sixty barricades, and held it for more than eight hours aroused the entire country and forced the government into a major capitulation: it withdrew the police forces from the Latin Quarter and reopened the Sorbonne that it could no longer keep running. From May 13-17 the movement irresistibly advanced to the point of becoming a general revolutionary crisis, with the 16th probably being the crucial day, the day the factories began to declare themselves for a wildcat strike. The single-day general strike decreed for the 13th by the big bureaucratic organizations, with the aim of bringing the movement to a rapid end and if possible turning it to their own advantage, was in fact only a beginning: the workers and students of Nantes attacked the prefecture and those who occupied the Sorbonne opened it up to the workers. The Sorbonne immediately became a "club populaire" that made the language and demands of the clubs of 1848 seem timid by comparison. On the 14th the workers of Sud-Aviation at Nantes occupied their factory and locked up their managers. Their example was followed by two or three enterprises on the 15th and by several more after the 16th, the day the rank and file imposed the Renault strike at Billancourt. Virtually all the enterprises in the country were soon to follow;(4) and virtually all institutions, ideas and habits were to be contested in the succeeding days. The government and the Stalinists made feverish efforts to bring the crisis to a halt by breaking up its main power: they came to an agreement on wage concessions that they hoped would be sufficient to lead to an immediate return to work. On the 27th the rank and file everywhere rejected these "Grenelle Accords." The regime, which a month of Stalinist devotion had not been able to save, saw itself on the brink of destruction. On the 29th the Stalinists themselves had to recognize the likelihood of the collapse of the de Gaulle regime and reluctantly prepared, along with the rest of the left, to inherit its dangerous legacy: a social revolution that would have to be disarmed or crushed. If, in the face of the panic of the bourgeoisie and the wearing thin of the Stalinist braking force, de Gaulle had stepped down, the new regime would only have been a weakened but officialized version of the preceding de facto alliance: the Stalinists would have defended a Mendès-Waldeck [i.e. Socialist-Communist coalition] government, for example, with bourgeois militias, party activists and fragments of the army. They would have tried to play the role not of Kerensky, but rather that of Noske.(5) De Gaulle, however, being more steadfast than the staff of his administration, relieved the Stalinists by announcing on the 30th that he would strive to maintain himself in power by any means necessary; that is to say, by calling out the army and initiating a civil war in order to hold or reconquer Paris. "The Stalinists, delighted, were very careful not to call for a continuation of the strike until the fall of the regime. They immediately rallied around de Gaulle's proposal of new elections, regardless of what it might cost them. In such conditions, the immediate alternative was either the autonomous self-affirmation of the proletariat or the complete defeat of the movement; councilist revolution or the Grenelle Accords. The revolutionary movement could not settle with the PCF [French Communist Party] without first having got rid of de Gaulle. The form of workers' power that could have developed in a post-Gaullist phase of the crisis, finding itself blocked both by the old reaffirmed state and by the PCF, no longer had any chance to hold back its onrushing defeat." (Viénet, op. cit.) The movement began to ebb, although the workers for one or more weeks stubbornly persisted in the strike that all their unions urged them to stop. Of course the bourgeoisie had not disappeared in France; it had merely been dumbstruck with terror. On May 30 it reemerged, along with the conformist petty bourgeoisie, to demonstrate its support for the state. But this state, already so well defended by the bureaucratic left, could not be brought down against its will as long as the workers had not eliminated the power base of those bureaucrats by imposing the form of their own autonomous power. The workers left the state this freedom and naturally had to suffer the consequences. The majority of them had not recognized the total significance of their own movement; and nobody else could do so in their place.

If, in a single large factory, between May 16 and May 30, a general assembly had constituted itself as a council holding all powers of decision and execution, expelling the bureaucrats, organizing its self-defense and calling on the strikers of all the enterprises to link up with it, this qualitative step could have immediately brought the movement to the ultimate showdown, to the final struggle whose general outlines have all been historically traced by this movement. A very large number of enterprises would have followed the course thus discovered. This factory could immediately have taken the place of the dubious and in every sense eccentric Sorbonne of the first days and have become the real center of the occupations movement: genuine delegates from the numerous councils that already virtually existed in some of the occupied buildings, and from all the councils that could have imposed themselves in all the branches of industry, would have rallied around this base. Such an assembly could then have proclaimed the expropriation of all capital, including state capital; announced that all the country's means of production were henceforth the collective property of the proletariat organized in direct democracy; and appealed directly (by finally seizing some of the telecommunications facilities, for example) to the workers of the entire world to support this revolution. Some people will say that such a hypothesis is utopian. We answer: It is precisely because the occupations movement was objectively at several moments only an hour away from such a result that it spread such terror, visible to everyone at the time in the impotence of the state and the panic of the so-called Communist Party, and since then in the conspiracy of silence concerning its gravity. This silence has been so total that millions of witnesses, taken in once again by the "social organization of appearances" which presents this period to them as a short-lived madness of youth (perhaps even merely of student youth), must ask themselves if a society is not itself mad if it could allow such a stupefying aberration to occur.

In such an eventuality, civil war would naturally have been inevitable. If armed confrontation had no longer hinged on what the government feared or pretended to fear concerning the supposed evil designs of the "Communist" Party, but had actually faced the consolidation of a direct, industrially based proletarian power (we are, of course, referring here to a total autonomous power, not to some "workers' power" limited to some sort of pseudocontrol of the production of their own alienation), then armed counterrevolution would certainly have been launched immediately. But it would not have been certain of winning. Some of the troops would obviously have mutinied; the workers would have figured out how to get weapons, and they certainly would not have built any more barricades -- a good form of political expression at the beginning of the movement, but obviously ridiculous strategically. (And those like Malraux who claimed afterwards that tanks could have taken Rue Gay-Lussac much more quickly than the state troopers did are certainly right on that point; but could they have afforded the political expense of such a victory? In any case, the state held its forces back and did not risk it; and it certainly didn't swallow this humiliation out of humanitarianism.) Foreign intervention would have inevitably followed, whatever some ideologues may think (it is possible to have read Hegel and Clausewitz and still be nothing more than a Glucksmann), probably beginning with NATO forces, but with the direct or indirect support of the Warsaw Pact. But then everything would once again have hinged on the European proletariat: double or nothing.

Since the defeat of the occupations movement, both those who participated in it and those who had to endure it have often asked the question: "Was it a revolution?" The general use in the press and in daily conversation of the cowardly neutral phrase, "the May events," is nothing but a way of evading answering or even posing this question. Such a question must be placed in its true historical light. In this context the journalists' and governments' superficial references to the "success" or "failure" of a revolution mean nothing for the simple reason that since the bourgeois revolutions no revolution has yet succeeded: not one has abolished classes. Proletarian revolution has so far not been victorious anywhere, but the practical process through which its project manifests itself has already created at least ten revolutionary moments of historic importance that can appropriately be termed revolutions. In none of these moments was the total content of proletarian revolution fully developed; but in each case there was a fundamental interruption of the ruling socioeconomic order and the appearance of new forms and conceptions of real life: variegated phenomena that can be understood and evaluated only in their overall significance, including their potential future significance. Of all the partial criteria for judging whether a period of disruption of state power deserves the name of revolution or not, the worst is certainly that which considers whether the political regime in power fell or survived. This criterion, much invoked after May by the Gaullist thinkers, is the same one that enables the daily news to term as a revolution the latest Third World military coup. But the revolution of 1905 did not bring down the Czarist regime, it only obtained a few temporary concessions from it. The Spanish revolution of 1936 did not formally suppress the existing political power: it arose, in fact, out of a proletarian uprising initiated in order to defend that Republic against Franco. And the Hungarian revolution of 1956 did not abolish Nagy's liberal-bureaucratic government. Among other regrettable limitations, the Hungarian movement had many aspects of a national uprising against foreign domination; and this national-resistance aspect also played a certain, though less important, role in the origin of the Paris Commune. The Commune supplanted Thiers's power only within the limits of Paris. And the St. Petersburg Soviet of 1905 never even took control of the capital. All the crises cited here as examples, though deficient in their practical achievements and even in their perspectives, nevertheless produced enough radical innovations and put their societies severely enough in check to be legitimately termed revolutions.

As for judging revolutions by the amount of bloodshed they lead to, this romantic vision is not even worth discussing. Some incontestable revolutions have involved very little bloodshed -- including even the Paris Commune, which was to end in a massacre -- while on the other hand numerous civil confrontations have caused thousands of deaths without in any way being revolutions. It is generally not revolutions that are bloody, but the reaction's subsequent repression of them. The question of the number of deaths during the May movement has given rise to a polemic that the temporarily reassured defenders of order keep coming back to. The official version is that there were only five deaths, all of them instant, including one policeman. Those who claim this are the first to admit that this was an unexpectedly low number. Adding considerably to its improbability is the fact that it has never been admitted that any of the very numerous seriously wounded people could have died in the following days: this extraordinary good luck was certainly not due to rapid medical assistance, particularly on the night of the Gay-Lussac uprising. But if an easy coverup in underestimating the number of deaths was very useful at the time for a government up against the wall, it remained useful afterwards for different reasons.

But on the whole, the retrospective proofs of the revolutionariness of the occupations movement are as striking as those that its very existence threw in the face of the world at the time: The proof that it had established its own new legitimacy is that the regime reestablished in June has never, in its striving to restore internal state security, dared to prosecute those responsible for overtly illegal actions, those who had partially divested it of its authority and even of its buildings. But the clearest proof, for those who know the history of our century, is still this: everything that the Stalinists did ceaselessly and at every stage in order to oppose the movement confirms the presence of revolution.

While the Stalinists, as always, represented antiworker bureaucracy in its purest form, the little leftist bureaucratic embryos were straddling the fence. They all openly catered to the major bureaucratic organizations, as much out of calculation as out of ideology (except for the March 22nd Movement, which limited itself to catering to the manipulators who had infiltrated its own ranks: JCR [a Trotskyist group], Maoists, etc.). Locked in their delusory "left-right" schemas, they could envisage nothing more than "pushing to the left" both a spontaneous movement that was much more extremist than they were and bureaucratic apparatuses that could not possibly make any concessions to leftism in such an obviously revolutionary situation. Pseudostrategical illusions flourished: Some leftists believed that the occupation of one or another ministry on the night of May 24 would have ensured the victory of the movement (but other leftists maneuvered to prevent such an "excess," which did not enter into their own blueprint for victory). Others, prior to their later, more modest dream of maintaining a cleaned up and "responsible" administration of the university buildings in order to hold a "Summer University," believed that those buildings would become bases for urban guerrilla warfare. (All of them, however, were surrendered after the end of the workers' strike without being defended; and even the Sorbonne at the very time when it was the momentary center of an expanding movement could, on the crucial night of May 16 when all the doors were open and there were hardly any people there, have been retaken in less than an hour by a riot-police raid.) Not wanting to see that the movement had already gone beyond a mere political change in the state, or in what terms the real stakes were posed (a total, coherent awakening of consciousness in the enterprises), the little leftist groups worked against that perspective by disseminating moth-eaten illusions and by everywhere presenting bad examples of the bureaucratic conduct that all the revolutionary workers were rejecting in disgust; and finally, by the most pathetic parodying of all the forms of past revolutions, from parliamentarianism to Zapata-style guerrilla war, without their poor dramatics having the slightest relation to reality. Fervent admirers of the errors of a vanished revolutionary past, the backward ideologists of the little leftist parties were naturally very ill-prepared to understand a modern movement. The March 22nd Movement, an eclectic aggregate of these old ideologies spiced up a few fragments of modern incoherence, combined almost all the ideological defects of the past with the defects of a naïve confusionism. Coopters were installed in the leadership of the very people who expressed their fear of "cooption," which was for them a vague and almost mystical peril since they lacked the slightest knowledge of elementary truths about either cooption or organization, or about the difference between a mandated delegate and an uncontrollable "spokesman" -- a spokesman [Daniel Cohn-Bendit] who was their de facto leader, since the main prestige and influence of the March 22nd Movement stemmed from its communication with reporters. Its laughable celebrities came before the spotlights to announce to the press that they were taking care not to become celebrities.(6)

The "Action Committees," which were spontaneously formed just about everywhere, were on the ambiguous borderline between direct democracy and infiltrated and coopted confusionism.(7) This contradiction created internal divisions in almost all of them. But there was an even clearer division between the two main types of organization that went by the same label. On one hand, there were committees formed on a local basis (neighborhood or enterprise ACs, occupation committees of certain buildings that had fallen into the hands of the revolutionary movement) or that were set up in order to carry out some specialized task whose practical necessity was obvious, notably the internationalist extension of the movement (Italian AC, North African AC, etc.). On the other hand, there was a proliferation of professional committees: attempts to revive the old trade-unionism, but usually for the benefit of semiprivileged sectors and thus with a clearly corporatist character; these committees served as tribunes for specialists who wanted to join the movement while maintaining their separate specialized positions, or even to derive some favorable publicity from it ("Congress of Cinema Workers," Writers Union, English Institute AC, etc.). The methods of these two types of AC were even more clearly opposed than their goals. In the former, decisions were executory and prefigured the revolutionary power of the councils; in the latter, they were abstract wishes and parodied the pressure groups of state power.

The occupied buildings, when they were not under the authority of "loyal labor-union managers" and insofar as they did not remain isolated as exclusive pseudofeudal possessions of their usual university users, constituted one of the strongest points of the movement (for example, the Sorbonne during the first few days, the buildings opened up to the workers and young slum-dwellers by the "students" of Nantes, the INSA taken over by the revolutionary workers of Lyon, and the Institut Pédagogique National). The very logic of these occupations could have led to the best developments. It should be noted, moreover, how a movement that remained paradoxically timid at the prospect of requisitioning commodities did not have the slightest misgivings about having already appropriated a part of the state's fixed capital.

If this example was ultimately prevented from spreading to the factories, it should also be said that the style created by many of these occupations left much to be desired. Almost everywhere the persistence of old routines hindered people from seeing the full scope of the situation and the means it offered for the action in progress. For example, Informations, Correspondance Ouvrières #77 (January 1969) objects to Viénet's book -- which mentioned their presence at Censier -- by declaring that the workers who had been with ICO for a long time "did not 'set up quarters' at the Sorbonne or at Censier or anywhere else; all were engaged in the strike at their own workplaces" and "in the assemblies and in the streets." "They never considered maintaining any sort of 'permanent center' in the university buildings, much less constituting themselves as a 'workers coordinating committee' or a 'council,' even if it were for 'maintaining the occupations' " (ICO considering this latter as tantamount to "participating in parallel organizations that would end up substituting themselves for the worker"). Further on, ICO adds that their group nevertheless held "two meetings a week" there because "rooms were freely available at the university departments, particularly at Censier, which was calmer." Thus the scruples of the ICO workers (whom we are willing to assume to be quite capable as long as they modestly limit themselves to striking at their own workplaces or in the nearby streets) led them to see in one of the most original aspects of the crisis nothing more than the possibility of switching from their usual café hangout by borrowing free rooms in a quiet university department. With the same complacency they also admit that a number of their comrades "soon stopped coming to ICO meetings because they did not find any response there to their desire to 'do something'." Thus, for these workers, "doing something" has automatically become a shameful inclination to substitute oneself for "the worker" -- for a sort of pure, being-in-himself worker who, by definition, would exist only in his own factory, where for example the Stalinists would force him to keep silent, and where ICO would have to wait for all the workers to purely liberate themselves on the spot (otherwise wouldn't they risk substituting themselves for this still mute real worker?). Such an ideological acceptance of dispersion defies the essential need whose vital urgency was felt by so many workers in May: the need for coordination and communication of struggles and ideas, starting from bases of free encounter outside their union-policed factories. But the ICO participants have never, in fact, either before or since May, consistently followed out the implications of their metaphysical reasoning. Through their mimeographed publication a few dozen workers resign themselves to "substituting" their analyses for those that might spontaneously be made by the several hundred other workers who read it without having participated in writing it. Their issue #78 in February informs us that "in one year the circulation of ICO has risen from 600 to 1000 copies." But the Council for Maintaining the Occupations [CMDO], for example, which seems to shock the virtue of ICO by the mere fact that it occupied the Institut Pédagogique National, was able (to say nothing of its other activities or publications at the time) to get 100,000 copies of various of its texts printed for free, through an immediate agreement reached with the strikers of the IPN press at Montrouge. The vast majority of these texts were distributed to other striking workers; and so far no one has tried to show that the content of these texts could in the slightest way threaten to substitute itself for the decisions of any worker. And the strikers' participation in the link-ups established by the CMDO in and outside Paris never contradicted their presence at their own workplaces (nor, to be sure, in the streets). Moreover, the striking typesetters who were members of the CMDO much preferred working elsewhere where there were machines available rather than remaining passive in "their" usual workplaces.

If the purists of worker inaction certainly missed opportunities to speak up and make up for all the times they have been forced into a silence which has become a sort of proud habit among them, the presence of a mass of neobolshevik manipulators was much more harmful. But the worst thing was still the extreme lack of homogeneity of the assembly, which in the first days of the Sorbonne occupation found itself, without having either wished it or understood it clearly, in the position of an exemplary center of a movement that was drawing in the factories. This lack of social homogeneity stemmed first of all from the overwhelming preponderance of students, in spite of the good intentions of many of them, a preponderance which was made even worse by the large number of visitors with merely touristic motivations. This was the objective base that made possible the most gross maneuvers on the part of bureaucrats like Péninou and Krivine. The ambiguity of the participants added to the essential ambiguity of the acts of an improvised assembly which by force of circumstances had come to represent (in all senses of the word, including the worst) the councilist perspective for the entire country. This assembly made decisions both for the Sorbonne (and even there in a poor and mystified manner: it never even succeeded in mastering its own functioning) and for the whole society in crisis: it wanted and proclaimed, in clumsy but sincere terms, unity with the workers and the negation of the old world. While pointing out its faults, let us not forget how much it was listened to. The same issue #77 of ICO reproaches the situationists for having sought in that assembly an exemplary act that would "enter into legend" and for having set up some heroes "on the podium of history." We don't believe we have ever built up anybody as a star on a historical tribune, but we also think that the superior irony affected by these lofty workerists falls flat: it was a historic tribune.


1. "Katangans": nickname given to mercenaries and other toughs who rallied to the May movement.

2. In 1960 the SI initiated a boycott of anyone who collaborated with the journal Arguments, "in order to make an example of the most representative tendency of that conformist and pseudoleftist intelligentsia that has up till now laboriously organized a conspiracy of silence regarding us, and whose bankruptcy in all domains is beginning to be recognized by perceptive people" (Internationale Situationniste #5, p. 13). The SI noted various evidences of this bankruptcy and predicted the journal's imminent demise from sheer incoherence and lack of ideas; which was precisely what happened in 1962. It so happened that the last issue of Arguments contained an article by Henri Lefebvre on the Paris Commune that was almost entirely plagiarized from the SI's "Theses on the Commune." The SI issued a tract, "Into the Trashcan of History," calling attention to the contradiction that the lead article of a guest writer himself far above the general level of this journal -- a journal pretending that the SI was of so little interest as to not be worth mentioning -- was merely a watered-down version of a text three situationists had written in a few hours. This tract was reprinted in Internationale Situationniste #12 in response to the numerous commentators who attributed to Lefebvre an important influence on the May 1968 movement due to "his" theses on the festive nature of the Commune, etc.

3. "Those who spoke of Marcuse as the 'theorist' of the movement didn't know what they were talking about. They didn't even understand Marcuse, much less the movement itself. Marcusian ideology, already ridiculous, was pasted onto the movement in the same way that Geismar, Sauvageot and Cohn-Bendit were 'designated' to represent it. But even these latter admitted that they knew nothing about Marcuse. If the May revolutionary crisis demonstrated anything, it was in fact precisely the opposite of Marcuse's theses: it showed that the proletariat has not been integrated and that it is the main revolutionary force in modern society. Pessimists and sociologists will have to redo their calculations, as will the spokespeople of underdevelopment, Black Power and Dutschkeism." (René Viénet, Enragés et situationnistes dans le mouvement des occupations, pp.153-154.)

4. By May 20 six million workers were on strike; within a few days the number had risen to ten or eleven million.

5. Alexander Kerensky: head of Russian provisional government between the February 1917 revolution and the Bolsheviks' October 1917 coup. Evoked here as representative of devious counterrevolutionary maneuvering, as contrasted with Gustav Noske, the German socialist leader responsible for crushing the Spartakist insurrection in 1919.

6. "The March 22nd Movement was from the beginning an eclectic conglomeration of radicals who joined it as (supposedly) independent individuals. They all agreed on the fact that it was impossible for them to agree on any theoretical point, and counted on 'collective action' to overcome this deficiency. There was nevertheless a consensus on two subjects, one a ridiculous banality, the other a new requirement. The banality was anti-imperialist 'struggle,' the heritage of the contemplative period of the little leftist groups that was about to end (Nanterre University, that suburban Vietnam, resolutely supporting the just struggle of insurgent Bolivia, etc.). The novelty was direct democracy within the organization. This was only very partially realized in the March 22nd Movement because of the participants' divided allegiance -- the discreetly unmentioned or ignored fact that the majority of its members were simultaneously members of other groups. . . . The sociologists' and journalists' trumpeting of the 'originality' of the March 22nd Movement masked the fact that its leftist amalgam, while new in France, was a direct copy of the American SDS, itself equally eclectic and democratic and frequently infiltrated by various old leftist sects." (Viénet, pp. 37-39.) "Cohn-Bendit himself belonged to the independent semitheoretical anarchist group that publishes the journal Noir et Rouge. As much from this fact as because of his personal qualities, he found himself in the most radical tendency of the March 22nd Movement, more truly revolutionary than the rest of the group whose spokesman he was to become and which he therefore had to tolerate. (In a number of interviews he has increased his concessions to Maoism, as for example in the May 1968 issue of Le Magazine Littéraire: 'Maoism? I don't really know all that much about it! I've read some things in Mao that are very true. His thesis of relying on the peasantry has always been an anarchist thesis.') Insufficiently intelligent, informed confusedly and at second hand regarding present-day theoretical problems, skillful enough to entertain a student audience, frank enough to stand out from the arena of leftist political maneuvers yet flexible enough to come to terms with its leaders, Cohn-Bendit was an honest revolutionary, but no genius. He knew much less than he should have, and did not make the best use of what he did know. Moreover, because he uncritically accepted the role of a star, exhibiting himself for the mob of reporters from the spectacular media, his statements, which always combined a certain lucidity with a certain foolishness, were inevitably twisted in the latter direction by the deformation inherent in that kind of communication." (Viénet, pp. 38-39.)

7. Roger Grégoire and Fredy Perlman's booklet Worker-Student Action Committees: France May '68 (Black and Red, 1969) gives a good account of some of these committees, while at the same time exemplifying some of their confusions (e.g. praise of the March 22nd Movement).

End of Part 1 of "The Beginning of an Era."

The Beginning of an Era (Part 2)

Submitted by libcom on September 1, 2005

With the defeat of the revolution, the sociotechnical mechanisms of false consciousness were naturally reestablished, virtually intact: when the spectacle clashes with its pure negation, no reformism can succeed in winning an increase, not even of 7%, in the spectacle's concessions to reality. To demonstrate this to even the most casual observer it would suffice to examine the some 300 books on May that have appeared in France alone in the year following the occupations movement. It is not the number of books in itself that merits being scoffed at or blamed, as certain people obsessed with the perils of cooption have felt obliged to declare (people who, moreover, have little to worry about on that score since they generally haven't come up with anything the coopters would be interested in). This huge quantity reflects the fact that the historic importance of the movement has been deeply sensed, in spite of all the incomprehension and interested denials. What is deplorable is the fact that out of three hundred books there are scarcely a dozen that are worth reading: a few accounts or analyses that don't follow laughable ideologies, and a few collections of unfalsified documents. The misinformation and falsification prevalent everywhere are particularly evident in almost all the accounts of the situationists' activities. Leaving aside those books that limit themselves to remaining silent on this question, or to a few absurd accusations, we can distinguish three main styles of falsification. The first pattern consists in limiting the SI's activity to Strasbourg, eighteen months before, as a remote initial triggering of a crisis from which it would later seem to have disappeared (this is also the position of the Cohn-Bendits' book, which even manages not to say a word about the existence of the Nanterre "Enragés" group). The second pattern, presenting a positive lie and no longer merely a lie by omission, asserts, in spite of all indications to the contrary, that the situationists accepted some sort of contact with the March 22nd Movement; and many even go so far as to claim that we were an integral part of it. The third pattern presents us as an autonomous group of irresponsible maniacs springing up by surprise, perhaps even armed, at the Sorbonne and elsewhere in order to stir up disorder and shout extravagant demands.

It is difficult, however, to deny a certain continuity in the situationists' action from 1967-1968. This very continuity, in fact, seems to have been felt as an annoyance by those who through their quantity of ostentatious interviews or recruitments strove to be recognized as leaders of the movement, a role the SI has always rejected for itself: their stupid ambition leads some of these people to hide certain facts that they are a bit more aware of than are others. Situationist theory had a significant role in the origins of the generalized critique that gave rise to the first incidents of the May crisis and that developed along with that crisis. This was not only due to our intervention against the University of Strasbourg. Two or three thousand copies each of Vaneigem's and Debord's books [The Revolution of Everyday Life and The Society of the Spectacle], for example, had already been circulated in the months preceding May, particularly in Paris, and an unusually high proportion of them had been read by revolutionary workers (according to certain indications it also appears that these two books were the most frequently stolen from bookstores in 1968, at least relative to their circulation). By way of the Enragés group, the SI can flatter itself with not having been without importance in the very origin of the Nanterre agitation, which was to have such far-reaching effects. Finally, we don't think we remained too far behind the great spontaneous movement of the masses that dominated the country in May 1968, both in what we did at the Sorbonne and in the various forms of action later carried out by the Council for Maintaining the Occupations. In addition to the SI itself and to a good number of individuals who acknowledged its theses and acted accordingly, many others defended situationist perspectives, whether unconsciously or as a result of direct influence, because those perspectives were to a large extent objectively implied by the present era of revolutionary crisis. Those who doubt this need only read the walls (those without this direct experience can refer to the collection of photographs published by Walter Lewino, L'imagination au pouvoir, Losfeld, 1968).

It can thus be said that the systematic minimization of the SI is merely a detail corresponding to the current (and, from the dominant viewpoint, natural) minimization of the whole occupations movement. But the sort of jealousy felt by certain leftists, which strongly contributes to this minimization, is completely off base. Even the most "extreme-left" of the little groups have no grounds for setting themselves up as rivals to the SI, because the SI is not a group of their type, competing on their terrain of militantism or claiming like they do to be leading the revolutionary movement in the name of the "correct" interpretation of one or another petrified truth derived from Marxism or anarchism. To see the question in this way is to forget that, in contrast to these abstract repetitions in which old conclusions that happen still to be valid in class struggles are inextricably mixed in with a mass of conflicting errors and frauds, the SI had above all brought a new spirit into the theoretical debates about society, culture and life. This spirit was assuredly revolutionary. It entered to a certain extent into a relation with the real revolutionary movement that was recommencing. And it was precisely to the extent that this movement also had a new character that it turned out to resemble the SI and partially appropriated its theses; and not at all by way of the traditional political process of recruiting members or followers. The largely new character of this practical movement is easily discernable in this very influence the SI exerted, an influence completely divorced from any directing role. All the leftist tendencies -- including the March 22nd Movement, which included in its hodgepodge Leninism, Chinese Stalinism, anarchism and even a dash of misunderstood "situationism" -- relied very explicitly on a long history of past struggles, examples and doctrines that had been published and discussed a hundred times. It is true that these struggles and publications had been smothered by Stalinist reaction and neglected by bourgeois intellectuals. But they were nevertheless incomparably more accessible than the SI's new positions, which had never had any means to make themselves known except our own recent publications and activities. If the SI's few known documents found such an audience it was obviously because a part of the advanced practical critique recognized itself in this language. We thus now find ourselves in a rather good position to say what May was essentially, even in its latent aspects; to make conscious the unconscious tendencies of the occupations movement. Others lyingly say that there was nothing to understand in this absurd outbreak; or describe, through the filter of their ideology, only a few older and less important aspects of the movement as if that was all there was to it; or simply draw from it new topics for their academic "studies" and consequenceless "conferences" and "debates." They have the support of major newspapers and influential connections, of sociology and mass-market circulation. We don't have any of that and we draw our right to speak only from ourselves. Yet what they say about May will inevitably fade in indifference and be forgotten; and what we say about it will remain, and will ultimately be believed and taken up again.

The influence of situationist theory can be read not only on the walls, but in the diversely exemplary actions of the revolutionaries of Nantes and the Enragés of Nanterre. In the press at the beginning of 1968 one can see the indignation that was aroused by the new forms of action initiated or systematized by the Enragés, those "campus hooligans" who one day decided that "everything disputable must be disputed" and ended up shaking up the whole university.

In fact, those who at that time met and formed the Enragés group had no preconceived idea of agitation. The only reason they had signed up as "students" was in order to get grants. It simply happened that broken-down streets and slums were less odious to them than concrete buildings, thickheaded self-satisfied students and smooth-tongued modernist professors. In the former terrain they saw some vestiges of humanity, whereas they found only poverty, boredom and lies in the cultural soup where Lefebvre and his honesty, Touraine and his end of class struggle, Bourricaud and his strongarms and Lourau and his future were all splashing about in unison. Furthermore, they were familiar with the situationist theses and they knew that these thinkers of the university ghetto also were aware of them and used them to modernize their ideologies. They decided to let everyone know about this, and set about unmasking the lies, with the expectation of finding other playgrounds later on: they reckoned that once the liars and the students were routed and the university was destroyed, chance would weave them other encounters on another scale and that then "fortune and misfortune would take their shape."

Their avowed pasts (predominantly anarchist, but also surrealist and in one case Trotskyist) immediately worried those they first confronted: the old leftist sects, CLER Trotskyists, Daniel Cohn-Bendit and other anarchist students, all wrangling over the lack of future of the UNEF [national student union] and the function of psychologists. By making numerous exclusions without useless leniency they guarded against the success they rapidly encountered among a couple dozen students, as well as warding off various stupid would-be followers seeking a situationism without situationists in which they could express all their obsessions and miseries. As a result, the group which sometimes had as many as fifteen members more often consisted of a mere half-dozen agitators. Which turned out to be enough.

If the methods used by the Enragés -- particularly the sabotage of lectures -- are commonplace today in both universities and high schools, at the time they profoundly scandalized the leftists as well as the good students; the former sometimes even organized squads to protect the professors from the hails of insults and rotten oranges. The spread of the use of deserved insults and of graffiti, the call for a total boycott of exams, the distribution of leaflets on university premises, and finally the simple daily scandal of their existence drew upon the Enragés the first attempt at repression: Riesel and Bigorgne were summoned before the dean on January 25; Cheval was expelled from the campus at the beginning of February; Bigorgne was expelled from the university grounds later that same month and then banned from all French universities for five years at the beginning of April. Meanwhile the leftist groups began a more narrowly political agitation.

The old apes of the intellectual reservation, lost in the muddled presentation of their "thought," only belatedly started to get worried. But they were soon forced to drop their masks and make fools of themselves, as when Edgar Morin, green with spite amidst the hooting of students, screamed, "The other day you consigned me to the trashcan of history . . ." (Interruption: "How did you get back out?") "I prefer to be on the side of the trashcans rather than on the side of those who handle them, and in any case I prefer to be on the side of the trashcans rather than on the side of the crematories!" Or Alain Touraine, foaming at the mouth and howling: "I've had enough of these anarchists and more than enough of these situationists! Right now I am in command here, and if one day you are, I will go somewhere else where people know what it means to work!" A year later these profound perceptions were further developed in articles by Raymond Aron and René Étiemble protesting the impossibility of working under the rising tide of leftist totalitarianism and red fascism. From January 26 to March 22 violent class disruptions were almost constant. The Enragés participated in this continuous agitation while working on several projects that proved abortive, including the publication of a pamphlet projected for the beginning of May and the invasion and looting of the administration building with the aid of some revolutionaries from Nantes at the beginning of March. But even before having seen that much, Dean Grappin, speaking at a press conference on March 20, denounced "a group of irresponsible students who for several months have been disrupting classes and examinations and practicing guerrilla methods in the University. . . . These students are not connected with any known political organization. They constitute an explosive element in a very sensitive milieu." As for the pamphlet, the Enragés' printer did not progress as fast as the revolution. After the crisis they had to abandon the idea of publishing this text, which would have seemed intended to demonstrate retrospectively their prophetic accuracy.

All this explains the interest the Enragés took in the evening of March 22, however dubious they already were about the other protesters. While Cohn-Bendit, already a star in the Nanterre skies, was debating with the less decided, ten Enragés took the initiative of occupying the Faculty Council room, where they were only joined 22 minutes later by the future "March 22nd Movement." Viénet's book describes how and why they withdrew from this farce.(1) In addition, they saw that the police were not coming and that with such people they could not carry out the only objective they had planned for the night: the complete destruction of the exam files. In the early hours of the 23rd they decided to exclude five of their number who had refused to leave the room out of fear that they would be "cutting themselves off from the masses" of students!

It is certainly piquant to find that the origin of the May movement involved a settling of accounts with the two-faced thinkers of the old Arguments gang. But in attacking this ugly cohort of state-appointed subversive thinkers, the Enragés were doing more than settling an old quarrel: they already spoke as an occupations movement struggling for everyone's real occupation of all the sectors of a social life governed by lies. And by writing "Take your desires for reality" on the concrete walls, they were already destroying the cooptive ideology of the "Power to the imagination" slogan that was pretentiously launched by the March 22nd Movement. They had desires, while the latter had no imagination.

The Enragés scarcely returned to Nanterre in April. The vague fancies of direct democracy ostentatiously proclaimed by the March 22nd Movement obviously could not be realized in such bad company, and they refused in advance the small place that would readily have been granted them as extremist entertainers to the left of the laughable "Culture and Creativity Commission." On the other hand, the taking up of some of their agitational techniques by the Nanterre students, even if within a confused "anti-imperialism" perspective, meant that the debate was beginning to be placed on the terrain the Enragés had wanted to establish. This was also demonstrated by the Parisian students' May 3 attack on the police in response to the university administration's latest blunder. The Enragés' violent warning leaflet, Gut Rage, distributed on May 6 chimed so perfectly with the real movement that the only people it outraged were the Leninists it denounced; in two days of street fighting the rioters had discovered its relevance. The Enragés' autonomous activity culminated as consistently as it had begun. They were treated as situationists even before entering the SI, since the leftist coopters picked up on some of their ideas while imagining that they could conceal the existence of their source through lavish performances in front of the reporters whom the Enragés had naturally rebuffed. The very term "Enragés," by which Riesel had given an unforgettable touch to the occupations movement, was later for a while given a spectacular "Cohn-Bendist" meaning.

The rapid succession of street struggles in the first ten days of May had immediately brought together the members of the SI, the Enragés and a few other comrades. Their accord was formalized on May 14, the day after the occupation of the Sorbonne, when they federated as an "Enragés-SI Committee" which began that very day to publish texts thus signed. In the following days we carried out a more widespread autonomous expression of situationist theses within the movement. But this was not in order to lay down particular principles in accordance with which we would have claimed to shape or guide the real movement: in saying what we thought we also said who we were, while so many others were disguising themselves in order to explain that it was necessary to follow the correct line of their central committee. That evening the Sorbonne general assembly, which was effectively open to the workers, undertook to organize its own power, and René Riesel, who had expressed the most radical positions on the organization of the Sorbonne itself as well as on the total extension of the struggle that had begun, was elected to the first Occupation Committee. On the 15th the situationists in Paris addressed a circular to persons elsewhere in France and in other countries: To the members of the SI and to the comrades who have declared themselves in agreement with our theses. This text briefly analyzed the process that was going on and its possible developments, in order of decreasing probability: exhaustion of the movement if it remained limited "to the students before the antibureaucratic agitation has extended more deeply into the worker milieu"; repression; or finally, "social revolution?" It also contained an account of our activity up till then and called for immediate action to "publicize, support and extend the agitation." We proposed as immediate themes in France: "the occupation of the factories" (we had just learned of the Sud-Aviation occupation that had taken place the night before); "the formation of workers councils; the definitive shutdown of the universities; and the complete critique of all forms of alienation." It should be noted that this was the first time since the SI was formed that we ever asked anyone, however close they were to our positions, to do anything. All the more reason why our circular did not remain without response, particularly in the cities where the May movement was asserting itself most strongly. On the evening of the 16th the SI issued a second circular recounting the developments of the day and anticipating "a major confrontation." The general strike interrupted this series, which was taken up in another form after May 20 by the emissaries that the CMDO sent throughout France and to various other countries.

Viénet's book describes in detail how the majority of the members of the Sorbonne Occupation Committee, which was reelected en bloc by the general assembly on the evening of the 15th, soon after slunk away, yielding to the maneuvers and attempts at intimidation of an informal bureaucracy (UNEF, MAU, JCR, etc.) that was striving to underhandedly recapture the Sorbonne. The Enragés and situationists thus found themselves with the responsibility for the Occupation Committee on May 16-17. When the general assembly of the 17th ended up neither approving the acts by which this Committee had carried out its mandate nor even disapproving them (the manipulators having prevented any vote in the assembly), we announced our departure from the played-out Sorbonne. Those who had grouped themselves around this Occupation Committee departed with us, and formed the core of the Council for Maintaining the Occupations. It is worth pointing out that the second Occupation Committee, elected after our departure, maintained its glorious bureaucratic existence without any turnover until the return of the police in June. Never again was there any question of the assembly daily electing revocable delegates. This Committee of professionals soon even went so far as to suppress the general assemblies altogether, which from their point of view were only a cause of trouble and a waste of time. In contrast, the situationists can sum up their action in the Sorbonne with the single formula: "All power to the general assembly." It is thus amusing to hear people now talking about the situationists' having "taken power" in the Sorbonne, when the reality of this "power" was to constantly insist on direct democracy there and everywhere, to constantly denounce the coopters and bureaucrats, and to demand that the general assembly fulfill its responsibilities by making its own decisions and by seeing that they were carried out.

By its consistent attitude our Occupation Committee had aroused the general indignation of the leftist manipulators and bureaucrats. If we had defended the principles and methods of direct democracy in the Sorbonne, we nevertheless had no illusions as to the social composition and general level of consciousness of that assembly. We were quite aware of the paradox of delegates being more resolute in their desire for direct democracy than were their mandators, and we saw that it couldn't last. But we were more than anything striving to put the not inconsiderable means with which the possession of the Sorbonne provided us at the service of the wildcat strike that had just started. Thus the Occupation Committee issued a brief communiqué at 3:00 p.m. on the 16th calling for "the immediate occupation of all the factories in France and the formation of workers councils." All the other reproaches against us were almost nothing in comparison to the scandal provoked everywhere -- except among the "rank-and-file" occupiers -- by this "reckless" commitment of the Sorbonne. Yet at that very moment two or three factories were already occupied, some of the NMPP truckdrivers were trying to block the distribution of newspapers and (as we were to learn two hours later) several Renault shops were successfully beginning to stop work. In the name of what, we wonder, could unauthorized individuals claim the right to manage the Sorbonne if they did not support the workers' right to seize all the property in the country? It seems to us that the Sorbonne, by declaring itself for such occupations, was making its last response that still remained at the level of the movement that the factories were fortunately to carry on, that is to say, at the level of the response the factories themselves had made to the first limited struggles in the Latin Quarter. This appeal certainly did not run counter to the intentions of the majority of people who were at the Sorbonne and who did so much to spread it. Moreover, as the factory occupations spread, even the leftist bureaucrats changed their minds and expressed their support of a fait accompli on which they had not dared to take a stand the day before, though they continued to vehemently oppose the idea of councils. The occupations movement did not really need the approval of the Sorbonne in order to spread to other factories. But beyond the fact that at that moment every hour counted in linking up all the factories with the action initiated by a few of them, while the unions were stalling everywhere in order to prevent a general work stoppage; and beyond the fact that we knew that such an appeal, coming from the Sorbonne Occupation Committee, would immediately be widely disseminated, even by radio -- beyond all this, it seemed to us above all important to show the maximum toward which the struggle that was beginning should aim right away. But the factories did not go so far as to form councils, and the strikers who began to come to the Sorbonne certainly did not discover any exemplary model there.

It seems likely that this appeal contributed here and there to opening up perspectives of radical struggle. In any case, it certainly figured among the events of that day that awakened the greatest fears. At 7:00 in the evening the Prime Minister issued an official statement declaring that "in view of the various attempts announced or initiated by extremist groups to provoke a generalized agitation," the government would do everything possible to maintain "public peace" and republican order, "since university reform is turning into a mere pretext for plunging the country into disorder." At the same time, 10,000 state trooper reservists were called up. "University reform" was indeed merely a pretext, even for the government, which masked its retreat in the face of the Latin Quarter riot behind this suddenly discovered respectable necessity.

The Council for Maintaining the Occupations, which at first occupied the IPN on Rue d'Ulm, did its best during the remainder of the crisis, to which, from the moment the strike became general and came to a defensive standstill, none of the then-existing organized revolutionary groups any longer had the means to make a notable contribution. Bringing together the situationists, the Enragés and some thirty to sixty other councilist revolutionaries (of whom less than a tenth could be considered students), the CMDO established a large number of linkups both within and outside France, making a special effort, toward the end of the movement, to communicate its significance to revolutionaries of other countries, who could not fail to be inspired by it. It published a number of posters and texts -- around 200,000 copies of each in some cases -- of which the most important were "Report on the Occupation of the Sorbonne" (May 19), "For the Power of the Workers Councils" (May 22) and "Address to All Workers" (May 30). The CMDO, which had been neither directed nor organized by anyone for the future, "decided to dissolve itself on June 15. . . . The CMDO had not sought to obtain anything for itself, not even any sort of recruitment in view of a continued existence. Its participants did not separate their personal goals from the general goals of the movement. They were independent individuals who had grouped together for a struggle on determined bases at a specific moment; and who again became independent after its dissolution." (Viénet, op. cit.) The Council for Maintaining the Occupations had been "a bond, not a power."

Some people have reproached us, during May and since then, for having criticized everybody and for thus having presented the situationists' activity as the only acceptable one. This is not true. We approved the mass movement in all its depth and the remarkable initiatives of tens of thousands of individuals. We approved of the conduct of several revolutionary groups that we knew of in Nantes and Lyon, as well as the acts of all those who were in contact with the CMDO. The documents quoted in Viénet's book clearly demonstrate that we also partially approved of a number of statements issued by some of the Action Committees.(2) It is certain that many groups or committees that were unknown to us during the crisis would have had our approval if we had been aware of them -- and it is even more obvious that in being unaware of them we could in no way have criticized them. On the other hand, in regard to the little leftist parties or the March 22nd Movement, or people like Barjonet or Lapassade, it would indeed be surprising if anyone expected some polite approbation from us, considering our previous positions and the activity of these people during May.

Neither have we claimed that certain forms of action that characterized the occupations movement -- with the possible exception of the use of critical comic strips -- had a directly situationist origin. On the contrary, we see the origin of all these forms in "wildcat" workers' struggles; and for several years our journals have pointed them out as they developed and clearly specified where they came from. Workers were the first to attack a newspaper building to protest against the falsification of news concerning them (Liège, 1961); to burn cars (Merlebach, 1962); to begin writing on the walls the formulas of the new revolution ("Here freedom ends," on a wall of the Rhodiaceta factory, 1967). On the other hand, we can point out, as a clear prelude to the Enragés' activity at Nanterre, the fact that on 26 October 1966 in Strasbourg a university professor was for the first time attacked and driven from his podium: that was the fate to which the situationists subjected the cybernetician Abraham Moles at his inaugural lecture.

All the texts issued by the situationists during the occupations movement show that we never spread any illusions as to the chances for a complete success of the movement. We knew that this objectively possible and necessary revolutionary movement had begun from a subjectively very low level: spontaneous and fragmented, unaware of its own past and of its overall goals, it was reemerging after a half century of repression and in the face of its still firmly entrenched bureaucratic and bourgeois vanquishers. A lasting revolutionary victory was in our eyes only a very slim possibility between May 17 and May 30. But the moment this chance existed, we showed it to be the maximum that had come to be at stake as soon as the crisis reached a certain point, and as something certainly worth risking. From our point of view the movement was already a historic victory, regardless of where it might go from there, and we thought that even half of what had already happened would already have been a very significant result.

Nobody can deny that the SI, in contrast in this regard, too, to all the leftist groups, refused to make any propaganda for itself. The CMDO did not raise any "situationist banner" and none of our texts of the period mentioned the SI except in the one instance when we responded to the impudent invitation for a common front issued by Barjonet the day after the Charléty meeting. And amid all the brand-name initials of groups pretending to a leadership role, not a single inscription mentioning the SI was to be found on the walls of Paris, even though our partisans were undoubtedly the best and most prolific writers of graffiti.

It seems to us -- and we present this conclusion first of all for the comrades of other countries that will experience crises of this nature -- that these examples show what can be done in the first stage of reappearance of the revolutionary proletarian movement by a few basically coherent individuals. In May there were only ten or twelve situationists and Enragés in Paris and none in the rest of France. But the fortunate conjunction of spontaneous revolutionary improvisation with a sort of aura of sympathy that existed around the SI made possible the coordination of a rather widespread action, not only in Paris but in several large cities, as if there had been a preexisting nationwide organization. Even more far-reaching than this spontaneous organization, a sort of vague, mysterious situationist menace was felt and denounced in many places; those who embodied this menace were some hundreds or even thousands of individuals whom the bureaucrats and moderates called situationists or, more often, referred to by the popular abbreviation that appeared during this period, situs. We consider it an honor that this term "situ," which seems to have originated as a pejorative term among certain student milieus in the provinces, served not only to designate the most extremist participants in the occupations movement, but also tended to evoke an image of vandals, thieves or hoodlums.

We do not think we avoided making mistakes. It is again for the benefit of comrades who may later find themselves in similar situations that we will enumerate them here.

On Rue Gay-Lussac, where we came together in small spontaneously assembled groups, each of these groups met several dozen acquaintances or people who merely knew us by sight and came to talk with us. Then everyone, in the wonderful disorder found in that "liberated neighborhood," split up toward one or another "front line" or battle preparation long before the inevitable police attack. As a result, not only did all those people remain more or less isolated, but even our own groups were unable to keep in contact with each other most of the time. It was a serious mistake on our part not to have immediately asked everyone to remain grouped together. In less than an hour a group acting in this way would have inevitably snowballed and gathered together everyone we knew among the barricade fighters -- among whom each of us ran into more friends than one chances to meet in Paris in a whole year. In this way we could have formed a band of two or three hundred people who knew each other and acted together, which was precisely what was most lacking in that dispersed fight. Of course, the vastly unequal forces (there were more than three times as many police surrounding the area as rioters, to say nothing of their superior arms) would have doomed this struggle to defeat in any case. But such a group would have made possible a certain freedom of maneuver, either by counterattacking at some spot or by extending the barricades to the east of Rue Mouffetard (an area rather poorly controlled by the police until very late) in order to open a path of retreat for all those who were caught in the dragnet (several hundred escaped only by chance, thanks to the precarious refuge of the École Normale Supérieure).

In and with the Sorbonne Occupation Committee we did virtually everything we could have done, considering the conditions and hurriedness of the moment. We cannot be reproached for not having done more to alter the architecture of that dismal edifice, which we didn't even have the time to scout out. It is true that a chapel remained there (closed), but our posters -- and also Riesel in his statement in the general assembly on May 14 -- had appealed to the occupiers to destroy it as soon as possible. As for "Radio Sorbonne," it had no transmitter so we cannot be blamed for not having used it. It goes without saying that we neither considered nor prepared for setting the building on fire on May 17, as was rumored at that time following some obscure slanders on the part of certain leftist groups: the date alone suffices to show how ill-advised such a project would have been. Neither did we spread ourselves thin in routine details, however useful we may recognize them to have been. It is thus a pure fantasy when Jean Maitron states, "The Sorbonne restaurant and cooking . . . remained under the control of the 'situationists' until June. There were very few students among them, but many unemployed youth." (La Sorbonne par elle-même, Éditions Ouvrières, 1968, p. 114.) We must, however, reproach ourselves for this error: from May 16, 5:00 p.m. on, the comrades in charge of sending the leaflets and declarations of the Occupation Committee to be printed replaced the signature "Sorbonne Occupation Committee" with "Occupation Committee of the People's Free Sorbonne University" and no one thought anything about it. This was certainly a lapse of some importance because in our eyes the Sorbonne was of interest only as a building seized by the revolutionary movement, and this signature gave the impression that we acknowledged it as still having some legitimacy as a university (albeit a "people's free" one) -- something we despise in any case and which was all the more unfortunate to seem to accept at such a time. A less important slip was made on May 17 when a leaflet composed by rank-and-file workers who had come from the Renault factory was circulated with the "Occupation Committee" signature. The Occupation Committee was quite right to provide these workers with means of expression without any censorship, but it should have been specified that this text was written by them and merely printed by the Occupation Committee; all the more so as these workers, while calling for a continuation of the "marches on Renault," still accepted the unions' phony argument according to which the factory gates should be kept closed so that the police could not derive from their being open a pretext or advantage for an attack.

The CMDO forgot to add to each of its publications the note "Printed by striking workers," which certainly would have been exemplary and in perfect accord with the theories those publications expressed, and which would have been an excellent reply to the usual union printshop label. A more serious error: while an excellent use was made of telephones, we completely overlooked the possibility of using the teletype machines, which would have enabled us to get in touch with a number of occupied buildings and factories in France and to transmit information throughout Europe. In particular, we neglected the network of astronomical observatories, which was accessible to us at least by way of the occupied Meudon Observatory.

But everything considered, we do not see how the SI's activities during the May movement merit any significant blame.

Let us now list the main results of the occupations movement so far. In France this movement was defeated, but in no way crushed. This is probably its most notable point and the one that presents the greatest practical interest. Probably never before has such a severe social crisis ended without a repression crippling the revolutionary current for a substantial period -- a seemingly inevitable price that previously had to be paid for each moment of radical historical experience. Although of course numerous foreigners were administratively expelled from the country and several hundred rioters were convicted in the following months for various "common law" misdemeanors, there was no political repression properly speaking. (Although more than a third of the members of the CMDO had been arrested during the various confrontations, none of them were caught in this later roundup, their retreat at the end of June having been very successfully carried out.)(3) All the political leaders who were not able to escape arrest at the end of the crisis were set free after a few weeks and not one of them was ever brought to trial. The government was forced to accept this new retreat merely to obtain a semblance of a calm reopening of the universities and a semblance of exams in fall 1968; this important concession was obtained as early as August by the mere pressure of the Medical Students Action Committee.

The depth of the revolutionary crisis has seriously thrown off balance "what was frontally attacked . . . the well-functioning capitalist economy" (Viénet), not so much, of course, because of the wage increases, which the economy can easily bear, nor even because of the total paralysis of production for several weeks, but primarily because the French bourgeoisie has lost confidence in the stability of the country. This -- in conjunction with other aspects of the present international monetary crisis -- led to the massive exodus of capital and the crisis of the franc as early as November 1968 (the French reserves of foreign currency dropped from 30 billion francs in May 1968 to 18 billion one year later). After the delayed devaluation of 8 August 1969 Le Monde began to notice that "May 1968 'killed' the franc as well as the General."

The "Gaullist" regime was nothing but a trivial detail in this general calling into question of modern capitalism. Nevertheless, de Gaulle's power also received a mortal blow in May. We have previously shown how it was objectively easy for de Gaulle to reestablish himself in June, since the real struggle had already been lost elsewhere. But in spite of his reinstatement, de Gaulle, as the leader of the state that had survived the occupations movement, was unable to wipe out the blemish of having been the leader of the state that had been subjected to the scandal of such a movement's existence. De Gaulle, who in his personal style only served as a cover for anything that might occur -- specifically, for the normal modernization of capitalist society -- had claimed to reign by prestige. In May his prestige was subjected to a definitive humiliation that was subjectively felt by him as well as objectively expressed by the ruling class and the voters who always support that class. The French bourgeoisie is now searching for a more rational form of political power, one that is less capricious and dreamy and that will be more intelligent in defending it from the new threats whose emergence so dumbfounded it. De Gaulle wanted to wipe out the persistent nightmare, "the last phantoms of May," by winning on 27 April 1969 the referendum announced on 24 May 1968 but canceled that very night by a riot. He sensed that his tottering "stable power" had not recovered its equilibrium and he imprudently insisted on being quickly reassured by a factitious rite of reaffirmation of his cause. The demonstrators' slogans on 13 May 1968 [e.g. "Ten years is enough"] turned out to be right: de Gaulle's reign did not endure to its eleventh anniversary; not, of course, due to the bureaucratic or pseudoreformist opposition, but because after the Gay-Lussac uprising everyone realized that Rue Gay-Lussac opened on to all the factories of France.

A generalized disorder, calling in question the very foundations of all institutions, has taken hold of most of the university departments and especially the high schools. If the state, limiting itself to the most vital sectors, succeeded in largely reestablishing the functioning of the scientific disciplines and the elite professional schools, elsewhere the 1968-1969 academic year has been a complete loss and diplomas have been devalued, though they are still far from being despised by the mass of students. Such a situation is in the long run incompatible with the normal functioning of an advanced industrial country, triggering a fall into underdevelopment by creating a qualitative bottleneck in secondary education. Even if the extremist current has in reality only retained a narrow base in the student milieu, this seems to be enough to maintain a process of continual deterioration: the occupation and sacking of the rectorate of the Sorbonne at the end of January, and a number of serious incidents since then, have shown that merely maintaining some sort of pseudoeducation constitutes a subject of considerable concern for the forces of order.

In the factories, where the workers have learned how to carry out wildcat strikes and where there is an implantation of radical groups more or less consciously opposed to the unions, the sporadic agitation has, despite the efforts of the bureaucrats, led to numerous partial strikes that easily paralyze the increasingly concentrated enterprises in which the different operations become increasingly interdependent. These tremors do not allow anyone to forget that the ground under the enterprises is still shaky, and that in May the modern forms of exploitation revealed both their interrelatedness and their new fragility.

With the deterioration of the old orthodox Stalinism (discernable even in the losses of the CGT in recent union elections), it is now the turn of the little leftist parties to lose their credibility through bungling maneuvers: almost all of them would have liked to mechanically recommence the May process in order to repeat their errors there. They easily infiltrated what remained of the Action Committees, which soon faded away. The little leftist parties are themselves splitting into numerous hostile tendencies, each one holding firm to some stupidity that prides itself on excluding all the stupidities of its rivals. The radical elements have become more numerous since May, but are still scattered -- particularly in the factories. Because they have not yet proved capable of organizing a genuinely autonomous practice, the coherence they have to acquire is still distorted and obscured by old illusions, or verbosity, or sometimes even by an unhealthy unilateral "pro-situationist" admiration. Their only path, which is obviously going to be long and difficult, has nevertheless been mapped out: the formation of councilist organizations of revolutionary workers, federating with each other on the sole basis of total democracy and total critique. Their first theoretical task will be to combat and refute in practice the last form of ideology the old world will set against them: councilist ideology. At the end of the crisis the Toulouse-based Révolution Internationale group expressed a preliminary crude form of this ideology, quite simply proposing (we don't know, moreover, to whom) that workers councils should be elected above the general assemblies, whose only task would thus be to ratify the acts of this wise revolutionary neoleadership. This Lenino-Yugoslavian monstrosity, since adopted by Lambert's "Trotskyist Organization," is almost as bizarre nowadays as the Gaullists' use of the phrase "direct democracy" when they were infatuated with referendary "dialogue." The next revolution will recognize as councils only sovereign rank-and-file general assemblies, in the enterprises and the neighborhoods, whose delegates are answerable to those assemblies alone and always subject to recall by them. A councilist organization will never defend any other goal: it must translate into acts a dialectic that supersedes the rigid, one-sided extremes of spontaneism, on one hand, and of openly or covertly bureaucratized organization on the other. It must be an organization advancing revolutionarily toward the revolution of the councils; an organization that neither disperses at the first moment of declared struggle nor institutionalizes itself.

This perspective is not limited to France, it is international. The total significance of the occupations movement must be understood everywhere. Already in 1968 its example touched off, or pushed to higher levels, severe disorders throughout Europe and in America and Japan. The most remarkable immediate consequences of May were the bloody revolt of the Mexican students, which was able to be crushed due to its relative isolation, and the Yugoslavian students' movement against the bureaucracy and for proletarian self-management, which partially drew in the workers and put Tito's regime in great danger. What finally came to the rescue of the latter, more than the concessions proclaimed by the ruling class, was the Russian intervention in Czechoslovakia, which allowed the Yugoslavian regime to rally the country around itself by brandishing the menace of an invasion by a foreign bureaucracy. The hand of the new International is beginning to be denounced by the police of several countries, who believe they have discovered the directives of French revolutionaries in Mexico during summer 1968 and in the anti-Russian demonstration in Prague on 28 March 1969. The Franco government explicitly justified its recourse to martial law at the beginning of this year by stating that the university agitation in Spain risked developing into a general crisis of the French type. England has been experiencing wildcat strikes for a long time, and one of the main goals of the Labour government is obviously to succeed in prohibiting them; but it was unquestionably this first experience of a general wildcat strike that led Wilson to strive with such urgency and determination to obtain repressive legislation against this type of strike this year. This careerist didn't hesitate to risk his career, and even the very unity of the Labour party-union bureaucracy, on the "Barbara Castle project," for if the unions are the direct enemies of wildcat strikes, they are nevertheless afraid of losing all importance by losing all control over the workers once the right to intervene against the real forms of class struggle is left solely to the state, without having to pass through their own mediation. On May 1 the antiunion strike of 100,000 dockers, printers and metal workers against the threat of this law was the first political strike in England since 1926: it is most fitting that this form of struggle has reappeared against a Labour government.

Wilson had to lose face by giving up his dearest project and handing back to the union police the task of repressing the 95% of work stoppages in England now caused by wildcat strikes. According to Le Monde (30 August 1969), however, the recent victory of the eight-week wildcat strike of the Port Talbot blast furnace workers "has proved that the TUC leadership is incapable of fulfilling this role."

It is easy to recognize throughout the world the new tone with which a radical critique is pronouncing its declaration of war on the old society -- from the graffiti on the walls of England and Italy to the extremist Mexican group Caos, which during the summer of 1968 called for the sabotage of the Olympics and of "the society of spectacular consumption"; from the acts and publications of the Acratas in Madrid to the shout of a Wall Street demonstration (AFP, April 12), "Stop the Show," in that American society whose "decline and fall" we already pointed out in 1965 and whose very officials now admit that it is "a sick society."

In Italy the SI was able to make a certain contribution to the revolutionary current as early as the end of 1967, when the occupation of the University of Turin served as the starting point for a vast movement; both by way of the publication of some basic texts (badly translated by publishers Feltrinelli and De Donato, but nevertheless rapidly sold out) and by way of the radical action of a few individuals (although the present Italian section of the SI was formally constituted only in January 1969). The slow evolution of the Italian crisis over the last twenty-two month -- which has thus become known as "the creeping May" -- first got bogged down in 1968 in the forming of a "Student Movement" that was much more backward even than in France, as well as being isolated -- virtually the sole exemplary exception being the joint occupation of the city hall of Orgosolo, Sardinia, by students, shepherds and workers. The workers' struggles also began slowly, but grew more serious in 1969 in spite of the efforts of the Stalinist party and the unions, who worked to fragment the threat by allowing one-day national strikes by category or one-day general strikes by province. At the beginning of April the Battipaglia insurrection, followed by the prison revolts in Turin, Milan and Genoa, pushed the crisis to a higher level and reduced even more the bureaucrats' margin of maneuver. In Battipaglia the workers kept control of the town for twenty-four hours after the police opened fire, seizing arms, laying siege to the police holed up in their barracks and demanding their surrender, and blocking roads and trains. Even after the massive reinforcements of state troopers had regained control of the town and communications routes, an embryo of a council still existed in Battipaglia, claiming to replace the town government and expressing the inhabitants' direct power over their own affairs. If the demonstrations in support of Battipaglia throughout Italy were regimented by the bureaucrats and remained Platonic, the revolutionary elements of Milan at least succeeded in violently attacking the bureaucrats and the police and ravaging the downtown area of the city. On this occasion the Italian situationists took up the French methods in the most appropriate manner.

In the following months the "wildcat" movements at Fiat and among the workers of the North have demonstrated, more clearly than has the complete collapse of the government, how close Italy is to a modern revolutionary crisis. The turn taken in August by the wildcat strikes at Pirelli in Milan and Fiat in Turin point to the imminence of a total confrontation.

The reader will easily understand the main reason we have dealt here both with the general significance of the new revolutionary movements and with their relation with the theses of the SI. Until recently, even those who readily recognized an interest in some points of our theory regretted that we ourselves made the whole truth of that theory contingent upon the return of social revolution, which they considered an incredible "hypothesis." Conversely, various activists with no real contact with reality, but taking pride in their eternal allergy to any relevant theory, posed the stupid question: "What is the SI's practical activity?" Lacking the slightest comprehension of the dialectical process through which the real movement "meets its own unknown theory," they all wanted to disregard what they believed to be an unarmed critique. Now this critique is arming itself. The "sunburst that in a flash reveals the features of the new world"(4) was seen in France in that month of May, with the intermingled red and black flags of workers' democracy. The followup will appear everywhere. If we have to a certain extent marked the return of this movement with our name, it is not in order to hold on to any of it or to derive any authority from it. From now on we are sure of a satisfactory consummation of our activities: the SI will be superseded.



1. "In the name of the Enragés, René Riesel immediately demanded the expulsion of two observers from the administration and of the several Stalinists who were present. An anarchist spokesman and regular collaborator of Cohn-Bendit asserted, 'The Stalinists who are here this evening are no longer Stalinists.' The Enragés immediately left the meeting in protest against this cowardly illusion." (Viénet, p. 34.)

2. Besides numerous SI, Enragé and CMDO texts, Viénet's book reproduces a critique of the health-care system by the National Center of Young Doctors, a critique of advertising by a group of ad designers, a manifesto against the commercial manipulation of soccer by the Soccer Players Action Committee, and leaflets by a Yugoslavian woman, by the North African Action Committee, by the strike committee of a large department store, by airlines workers, by postal workers, and by several revolutionary groups.

3. The Enragés, situationists and other CMDO members who were most directly implicated in the revolt escaped to Belgium for a few weeks until the momentary repression blew over.

4. The quotation is from the Preface to Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit.

Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).

The Latest Exclusions

Submitted by libcom on September 1, 2005

On 21 December 1967 Timothy Clark, Christopher Gray and Donald Nicholson-Smith were excluded from the SI, just as they were getting ready to publish a journal in England and begin a group activity there. (Charles Radcliffe had resigned for personal reasons a couple months before.)

The divergences, which had been nonexistent or at least unnoticed in all other regards, suddenly appeared not in regard to their activity in England but on the issue of the SI's relations and possible action in the United States. Vaneigem had gone to New York in November as the delegate of all the situationists and carried out his mandate precisely, notably in discussions with the comrades with whom in everyone's opinion -- including that of the British -- we had the most developed contacts, and who have since formed our American section. Vaneigem refused to meet a certain Ben Morea, publisher of the bulletin Black Mask, with whom our American comrades were in conflict on virtually every question concerning revolutionary action and whose intellectual honesty they even challenged. Vaneigem had, moreover, already been obliged to break off a conversation with a certain Hoffman, who was admiringly expounding to him a mystical interpretation of his text "Basic Banalities," and who was currently the main collaborator in Morea's publications: the enormity of this fact naturally led Vaneigem no longer even to want to discuss our other, more general divergences with Morea.(1)

Everything seemed quite clear upon Vaneigem's return to Europe. But Morea wrote to the London situationists to complain of having been misrepresented to Vaneigem. Upon the insistence of the English comrades, who were concerned about fully clarifying the matter in the unlikely case that Morea himself was under some misapprehension, we wrote a collective letter detailing all the facts of the situation. The English agreed, however, that this would be the last response we would send him. Morea wrote once again to all of us saying that the reasons we had given were false pretexts and that the real dispute lay elsewhere; he insulted our New York friends and this time questioned Vaneigem's testimony. Despite their express commitment, the English responded again to Morea, saying that they no longer understood what was going on and that "someone" must be lying. They showed more and more indulgence toward Morea and more and more mistrust of our American friends; and even of Vaneigem, though refusing to openly admit it. We called on the three English to rectify this outrageous, publicly aired vacillation by immediately breaking with the falsifier and his mystical acolyte. They accepted this demand in principle, but equivocated and finally refused to implement it. We then had to break with them. In three weeks this discussion had given rise to two meetings in Paris and London and to the exchange of a dozen long letters. Our patience had been rather excessive, but what had at first seemed to be merely a surprising slowness in reasoning increasingly began to appear as an intentional (though still inexplicable) obstruction. Up to the moment of their exclusion, however, the discussion had never concerned anything but the details described here and the questions of method it so strangely raised regarding the SI's solidarity and general criteria for breaking (for the English never denied that Morea was teamed up with a mystical idiot).

Gray later passed through New York and sadly recounted, to whoever would listen, that his stillborn group had concerned itself directly with America in order to save the revolutionary project there from a detrimental incomprehension on the part of the continental European situationists (and of the Americans themselves). The English comrades themselves had not felt sufficiently appreciated. They hadn't dared to say so, but they were pained by the Continentals' lack of interest in what they were going to do. They were left isolated in their country -- all surrounded by water. A more "theoretical" reason emerged after the discussion: England being (according to them) much closer to a revolutionary crisis than continental Europe, we "Continental" theorists were supposedly moved by spite at seeing that "our" theories would be realized somewhere else. The value of this historical law of Anglo-American revolutionism was demonstrated only five months later. But leaving aside the comical aspect of their belated self-justification, it has a rather ignoble side: The spite which they attributed to us over the supposedly impending foreign fulfillment of "our" theory would seem to imply that we are seeking revolutions in "our own" countries in order to have the chance to take up governmental positions. Their imputation of sordid motives to us seems rather to be a projection of the English ex-situationists' own hearkening back to the era before America's war of independence, since they seem to want to direct the American revolutionary movement from London. This whole ridiculous geopolitical perspective naturally collapsed the moment they were excluded.

We should mention that during the two years we had known him, Donald Nicholson-Smith was well liked and in every way highly regarded by all of us. Unfortunately, once he returned to London he became less rigorous and less lucid, passing under the influence of two poorly chosen fellow situationists and of various persons outside the SI. When, six months later, he wrote us two letters asking to see us again in order to clear up the "misunderstanding," we regretfully felt obliged to refuse even a personal meeting. The whole affair had been too dubious, and the followup of Gray's activity has continued to be so.

Gray now publishes a rag called King Mob which passes, quite wrongly, for being slightly pro-situationist, and in which one can read eulogies to the eternal Morea. Since Morea is all that Gray has left, Gray and his acolytes have gone so far as to conceal certain of Morea's current writings that would be too embarrassing to reveal to the people in their entourage who they want to continue to respect their idol; and they make the amusing contention that Morea had the merit of transferring certain radical positions "from the situationist salon" to street fighting -- they say this a year after the occupations movement! Gray, too, tried to reestablish contact with us, but surreptitiously, through the intermediary of a certain Allan Green, who pretended not to know him but was unmasked at the second meeting. Fine work, and as cleverly conducted as might have been expected! The "unique" Garnautins must be turning over in their university graves in envy of such a worthy successor.

It will be noted that for nearly two years there have been no other exclusions. We must admit that this notable success is not entirely due to the real elevation of consciousness and coherent radicality of individuals in the present revolutionary period. It is also due to the fact that the SI, applying with increasing rigor its previous decisions on the preliminary examination of those wanting to join it, has during the same period refused some fifty or sixty requests for admission -- which has spared us an equal number of exclusions.



1. Ben Morea and Allen Hoffman later formed the New York "Motherfuckers" group.

New translation by Ken Knabb of the complete article (the version in the Situationist International Anthology is slightly abridged).

Notice to the Civilized Concerning Generalized Self-Management

Situationist Raoul Vaneigem on self-management and workers' control.

Submitted by libcom on September 1, 2005

"Never sacrifice present good for the good to come. Enjoy the moment. Avoid any matrimonial or other association that does not satisfy your passions from the very beginning. Why should you work for the good to come when it will exceed your desires anyway and you will have in the Combined Order only one displeasure, that of not being able to double the length of days in order to accommodate the immense range of enjoyments available to you?"

--Charles Fourier, Notice to the Civilized Concerning the Next Social Metamorphosis


Though it failed to go all the way, the May 1968 occupations movement has given rise to a confused popular awareness of the necessity of a supersession. The imminence of a total upheaval, felt by everyone, must now discover its practice: the passage to generalized self-management through the establishment of workers councils. The point to which the revolutionary upsurge has brought people's consciousness is now going to become a point of departure.


History is answering the question Lloyd George posed to the workers, a question which has since been taken up in chorus by all the servants of the old world: "You want to destroy our social organization, but what will you put in its place?" We know the answer thanks to the profusion of little Lloyd Georges who advocate the state dictatorship of a proletariat of their choice, counting on the working class to organize itself in councils in order to dissolve the existing dictatorship and elect another.


Each time the proletariat takes the risk of changing the world it rediscovers its historical memory. The project of establishing a society of councils -- a project until now intermingled with the history of its crushing in different periods -- reveals the reality of its past possibilities through the possibility of its immediate realization. This has been made evident to all the workers since May, when Stalinism and its Trotskyist residues showed by their aggressive weakness their inability to crush a council movement if one had appeared, and by their force of inertia their ability still to impede the emergence of one. Without really manifesting itself, a movement toward councils was implicitly present in the clash of two contradictory forces: the internal logic of the occupations and the repressive logic of the parties and labor unions. Those who still open their Lenin to find out what is to be done are only rummaging in the trashcan of history.


Many people intuitively rejected any organization not directly emanating from the proletariat negating itself as proletariat, and this feeling was inseparable from the feeling that an everyday life without dead time was possible at last. In this sense the notion of workers councils is the first principle of generalized self-management.


May 1968 marked an essential phase in the long revolution: the individual history of millions of people, each day seeking an authentic life, linking up with the historical movement of the proletariat in struggle against the whole system of alienations. This spontaneous unity of action, which was the passional motive power of the occupations movement, can only develop its theory and practice unitarily. What was in everyone's heart is going to be in everyone's head. Having felt that they "could no longer live like before, nor even a little better than before," many people are inclined to prolong the memory of this exemplary moment of life and the briefly experienced hope of a great possibility -- to prolong them in a line of force which, to become revolutionary, lacks only a greater lucidity on generalized self-management, i.e. on the historical construction of free individual relations.


Only the proletariat, by negating itself, gives clear shape to the project of generalized self-management, because it bears that project within itself objectively and subjectively. This is why the first specifics will come from the unity of its combat in everyday life and on the front of history; and from the consciousness that all demands are realizable right away, but only by the proletariat itself. In this sense the importance of a revolutionary organization will henceforth be measured by its ability to hasten its own disappearance in the reality of the society of the councils.


Workers councils constitute a new type of social organization, through which the proletariat puts an end to the proletarianization of everyone. Generalized self-management is simply the general framework in accordance with which the councils unitarily inaugurate a style of life based on ongoing individual and collective liberation.


It is clear from all these theses that the project of generalized self-management requires as many specifics as there are desires in each revolutionary, and as many revolutionaries as there are people dissatisfied with their everyday life. The spectacle-commodity society produces both the conditions that repress subjectivity and -- contradictorily, through the refusal it provokes -- the positivity of subjectivity; just as the formation of the councils, similarly arising out of the struggle against overall oppression, produces the conditions for a permanent realization of subjectivity without any limits but its own impatience to make history. Thus generalized self-management is linked to the capacity of the councils to realize the imagination historically.


Outside generalized self-management, workers councils lose their sense. Anyone who speaks of the councils as separate economic or social organisms, anyone who does not place them at the center of the revolution of everyday life with the practice this entails, must be treated as a future bureaucrat and thus as a present enemy.


One of Fourier's great merits is to have shown the necessity of creating immediately -- and for us this means from the inception of generalized insurrection -- the objective conditions for individual liberation. For everyone the beginning of the revolutionary moment must mark an immediate rise in the pleasure of living -- a consciously experienced entry into the totality.


The accelerating rate at which reformism, with its tricontinental bellyache, is leaving behind ridiculous leftist droppings -- all those little Maoist, Trotskyist and Guevaraist piles -- proves by its smell what the Right, and especially the socialists and Stalinists, have long sensed: partial demands are essentially contrary to a total change. But trying to cut off the hydra heads of reformism one by one is futile. Better to overthrow the old ruse of history once and for all: this would seem to be the final solution to the problem of coopters. This implies a strategy that sparks the general conflagration by means of insurrectional moments at ever-closer intervals; and a tactic of qualitative progression in which inevitably partial actions each entail, as their necessary and sufficient condition, the liquidation of the world of the commodity. It is time to begin the positive sabotage of spectacle-commodity society. As long as our mass tactics stick to the law of immediate pleasure there will be no need to worry about the outcome.


It is easy to mention here, merely as suggestive examples, a few possibilities which will quickly be surpassed by the practice of liberated workers: On every occasion -- openly during strikes, more or less clandestinely during work -- initiate the reign of freeness by giving away factory and warehouse goods to friends and revolutionaries, by making gift objects (radio transmitters, toys, weapons, clothes, ornaments, machines for various purposes) and by organizing "giveaway" strikes in department stores; break the laws of exchange and begin the end of wage labor by collectively appropriating products of work and collectively using machines for personal and revolutionary purposes; depreciate the function of money by spreading payment strikes (rent, taxes, installment payments, transportation fares, etc.); encourage everyone's creativity by starting up provisioning and production sectors exclusively under workers' control, even if this can only be done intermittently, while regarding this experimentation as necessarily groping and subject to improvement; wipe out hierarchies and the spirit of sacrifice by treating bosses and union bureaucrats as they deserve and by rejecting militantism; act unitarily everywhere against all separations; draw theory from every type of practice and vice versa by composing leaflets, posters, songs, etc.


The proletariat has already shown that it knows how to respond to the oppressive complexity of capitalist and "socialist" states by the simplicity of organization carried out directly by and for everyone. In our time questions of survival are posed only on the condition that they never be solved; in contrast, the problems of the history to be lived are clearly posed through the project of the workers councils -- positively in that the councils are the basis of a unitary passional and industrial society, negatively in that they imply total opposition to the state.


Because they exercise no power separate from the decisions of their members, the councils tolerate no power other than their own. Encouraging antistate actions everywhere should thus not be understood to imply a premature creation of councils which would lack absolute power over their own areas, would be separated from generalized self-management, and would be inevitably emptied of content and susceptible to every kind of ideology. The only lucid forces that can presently respond to the history that has been made with the history to be made will be the revolutionary organizations that are developing, in the project of the councils, an equal awareness of the adversary to be combated and the allies to be supported. An important aspect of such a struggle is manifesting itself before our eyes with the appearance of a dual power. In factories, offices, streets, houses, barracks and schools a new reality is taking shape: contempt for bosses, regardless of their labels or their rhetoric. From now on this contempt must be pushed to its logical conclusion by demonstrating, through the concerted action of workers, that the bosses are not only contemptible but also useless, and that even from their own utilitarian point of view they can be eliminated with impunity.


Recent history will soon come to be seen, by rulers as well as revolutionaries, in terms of an alternative that concerns them both: generalized self-management or insurrectional chaos; new society of abundance or social disintegration, pillage, terrorism and repression. The struggle within dual power is already inseparable from such a choice. Our coherence requires that the paralysis and destruction of all forms of government not be distinct from the construction of councils. If our adversary has even the slightest prudence it should realize that only an organization of new everyday relationships can prevent the spread of what an American police specialist has already called "our nightmare": small insurgent commandos bursting out of subway entrances, shooting from rooftops, taking advantage of the mobility and limitless resources of urban guerrilla warfare to fell the police, liquidate the servants of authority, stir up riots and destroy the economy. But we don't have to save the rulers in spite of themselves. It will be enough to prepare the councils and ensure their self-defense by every means. In one of Lope de Vega's plays some villagers, driven beyond endurance by the exactions of a royal functionary, put him to death. When they are brought before the magistrate and charged to name the guilty party, all respond with the name of their village, "Fuenteovejuna." This tactic, used by many Asturian miners against pro-company engineers, has the drawback of smacking too much of terrorism and the watrinage tradition. Generalized self-management will be our "Fuenteovejuna." It is no longer enough for collective action to discourage repression (imagine the powerlessness of the forces of order if during an occupations movement bank employees seized the funds); it must at the same time encourage progression toward a greater revolutionary coherence. The councils represent order in the face of the decomposition of the state, whose form is being contested by the rise of regional nationalisms and whose basic principle is being contested by social demands. To the pseudoproblems they see posed by this decomposition, the police can respond only by estimating the number of deaths. Only the councils offer a definitive solution. What prevents looting? The organization of distribution and the end of the commodity system. What prevents sabotage of production? The appropriation of the machines by collective creativity. What prevents explosions of anger and violence? The end of the proletariat through the collective construction of everyday life. There is no other justification for our struggle than the immediate satisfaction of this project -- than what satisfies us immediately.


Generalized self-management has only one basis, one motive force: the exhilaration of universal freedom. This is quite enough to enable us right now to infer the rigor that will be necessary for its elaboration. Such rigor must henceforth characterize revolutionary councilist organizations; conversely, their practice will already contain the experience of direct democracy. This will enable us to concretize certain formulas more rigorously. A principle like "All power to the general assembly," for example, also implies that whatever escapes the direct control of the autonomous assembly will recreate, in mediated forms, all the autonomous varieties of oppression. Through its representatives, the whole assembly with all its tendencies must be present at the moment of decision. Even though the destruction of the state rules out a repetition of the "Supreme Soviet" farce, it is still necessary to take care that organization is simple enough to preclude the possibility of any neobureaucracy arising. But the abundance of telecommunications techniques -- which might at first sight appear as a pretext for the continuation or return of specialists -- is precisely what makes possible the constant control of delegates by the base, the immediate confirmation, correction or repudiation of their decisions at all levels. Telex, computers, television, etc., are thus the inalienable possession of the primary assemblies, making it possible for those assemblies to be aware of and affect events everywhere. In the composition of a council (there will no doubt be neighborhood, city, regional and international councils) it will be a good idea for the assembly to elect and control: an equipping section for the purpose of collecting requests for supplies, determining the possibilities of production, and coordinating these two sectors; an information section charged with keeping in constant touch with the experiences of other councils; a coordination section whose task it will be (to the extent permitted by the necessities of the struggle) to enrichen personal relationships, to radicalize the Fourierist project, to take care of requirements of passional satisfaction, to equip individual desires, to furnish whatever is necessary for experiments and adventures, to harmonize playful possibilities of organizing necessary tasks (cleaning, babysitting, education, cooking contests, etc.); and a self-defense section. Each section is responsible to the full assembly; delegates regularly meet and report on their activities and are revocable and subject to vertical and horizontal rotation.


The logic of the commodity system, sustained by alienated practice, must be answered with the practice immediately implied by the social logic of desires. The first revolutionary measures will necessarily relate to reducing labor time and to the greatest possible reduction of forced labor. The councils will naturally distinguish between priority sectors (food, transportation, telecommunications, metallurgy, construction, clothing, electronics, printing, armament, medicine, comfort, and in general whatever material equipment is necessary for the permanent transformation of historical conditions); reconversion sectors, whose workers consider that they can detourn them to revolutionary uses; and parasitical sectors, whose assemblies decide purely and simply to suppress them. The workers of the eliminated sectors (administration, bureaucratic agencies, spectacle production, purely commercial industries) will obviously prefer to put in three or four hours a week at some work they have freely chosen from among the priority sectors rather than eight hours a day at their old workplace. The councils will experiment with attractive forms of carrying out necessary tasks, not in order to hide their unpleasant aspects, but in order to compensate for such unpleasantness with a playful organization of it, and as far as possible to eliminate such tasks in favor of creativity (in accordance with the principle: "Work no, pleasure yes"). As the transformation of the world comes to be identical with the construction of life, necessary labor will disappear in the pleasure of history for itself.


To state that the councilist organization of distribution and production prevents looting and the destruction of machinery and goods is still to remain within a purely negative, antistate perspective. The councils, as organization of the new society, will eliminate the element of separation still present in this negativity by means of a collective politics of desires. Wage labor can be ended the moment the councils are set up, the moment the "equipment and provisions" section of each council organizes production and distribution in accordance with the desires of the plenary assembly. At that point, in tribute to the best Bolshevik prediction, urinals can be made out of gold and sterling silver, and dubbed "lenins."(1)


Generalized self-management implies the extension of the councils. At first, work areas will be taken over by the workers concerned, grouped in councils. In order to rid these first councils of their corporative, guildlike aspect, the workers will as soon as possible open them to their friends, to people living in the same neighborhood, and to volunteers coming in from the parasitical sectors, so that they rapidly take the form of local councils -- which might themselves be grouped together in "Communes" of more or less equal size (perhaps 8000 to 10,000 people?).


The internal extension of the councils must be matched by their geographical extension. It will be necessary to vigilantly maintain the most complete radicality of the liberated zones, without Fourier's illusion as to the contageousness of the first communes, but also without underestimating the seductiveness of any authentic experience of liberation once the intervening veils of falsification have been swept aside. The councils' self-defense thus illustrates the formula: "Armed truth is revolutionary."


Generalized self-management will soon have its own code of possibilities, designed to liquidate repressive legislation and its millennial domination. Perhaps it will appear during a period of dual power, before the judicial machinery and the penal system scum have been annihilated. The new "rights of man" -- everyone's right to live as they please, to build their own house, to participate in all assemblies, to arm themselves, to live as nomads, to publish what they think (to each her own wall-newspaper), to love without restraints; the right to meet, the right to the material equipment necessary for the realization of desires, the right to creativity, the right to the conquest of nature, the end of commodity time, the end of history in itself, the realization of art and the imagination, etc. -- await their antilegislators.

RAOUL VANEIGEM (September 1969)


1. "When we are victorious on a global scale I think we will use gold for the purpose of building public lavatories in the streets of some of the largest cities. This would be the most 'just' and most educational way of utilizing gold." (Lenin, "The Importance of Gold Now and After the Complete Victory of Socialism," on the occasion of Russia's return to the gold standard in 1921.)

Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).

The Conquest of Space in the Time of Power

Submitted by libcom on September 1, 2005


Science in the service of capital, the commodity and the spectacle is nothing other than capitalized knowledge, fetishism of idea and method, alienated image of human thought. Pseudogreatness of man, its passive knowledge of a mediocre reality is the magical justification of a race of slaves.


It has been a long time since the power of knowledge has been transformed into power's knowledge. Contemporary science, experimental heir of the religion of the Middle Ages, fulfills the same functions in relation to the present class society: it compensates for people's everyday stupidity with its eternal specialist intelligence. Science sings in numerals of the grandeur of the human race, but is in fact nothing other than the organized sum of man's limitations and alienations.


Just as industry, which was intended to free people from work through machinery, has so far done nothing but alienate them in the work of the machines, so science, which was intended to free people historically and rationally from nature, has done nothing but alienate them in an irrational and antihistorical society. Mercenary of separate thought, science works for survival and therefore cannot conceive of life except as a mechanical or moral formula. It does not conceive of man as subject, nor of human thought as action, and it is for this reason that it does not comprehend history as deliberate activity and makes people "patient(s)" in its hospitals.


Founded on the essential deceptiveness of its function, science can only lie to itself. Its pretentious mercenaries have preserved from their ancestor priests the taste and need for mystery. A dynamic element in the justification of states, the scientific profession jealously guards the laws of its guild and the "Machina ex Deo" secrets that make it a despicable sect. It is hardly surprising, for example, that doctors -- those repairmen of labor-power -- have illegible handwriting: it is part of the police code of monopolized survival.


But if the historical and ideological identification of science with temporal powers clearly reveals that it is a servant of states, and therefore fools no one, it was not until our own time that the last separations disappeared between class society and a science that had professed to be neutral and "at the service of humanity." The present impossibility of scientific research and application without enormous means has effectively placed the spectacularly concentrated knowledge in the hands of the ruling powers and has steered it toward statist objectives. There is no longer any science that is not in the service of the economy, the military and ideology. And the science of ideology reveals its other side, the ideology of science.


Power, which cannot tolerate a vacuum, has never forgiven the celestial regions for being terrains left open to the imagination. Since the origin of class society the unreal source of separate power has always been placed in the skies. When the state justified itself religiously, heaven was included in the time of religion; now that the state wishes to justify itself scientifically, the sky is in the space of science. From Galileo to Werner von Braun, it is nothing but a question of state ideology: religion wished to preserve its time, therefore no one was allowed to tamper with its space. Faced with the impossibility of prolonging its time, power must make its space boundless.


If the heart transplant is still a crude artisan technique that does not make people forget science's chemical and nuclear massacres, the "Conquest of the Cosmos" is the greatest spectacular expression of scientific oppression. The space scientist is to the smalltime doctor what Interpol is to the policeman on the beat.


The heaven formerly promised by priests in black cassocks is now really being seized by white-uniformed astronauts. Sexless and superbureaucratized neuters, the first men to go beyond the atmosphere are the stars of a spectacle that hangs over our heads day and night, that can conquer temperature and distance, and that oppresses us from above like the cosmic dust of God. As an example of survival in its highest manifestation, the astronauts make an unintentional critique of the Earth: condemned to an orbital trajectory -- in order to avoid dying from cold and hunger -- they submissively ("for technical reasons") accept the boredom and poverty of being satellites. Inhabitants of an urbanism of necessity in their cabins, prisoners of scientific gadgetry, they exemplify in vitro the plight of their contemporaries: in spite of their distance they do not escape the designs of power. Flying billboards, the astronauts float in space or leap about on the moon in order to make people march to the time of work.


And if the Christian astronauts of the West and the bureaucratic cosmonauts of the East amuse themselves with metaphysics and secular morals (Gagarin "did not see God"; Borman prayed for the little Earth), it is in obedience to their spatial "assignment," which must be the essence of their religion; as with Saint-Exupéry, who spoke the lowest imbecilities from high altitudes, but whose essence lay in his threefold role of militarist, patriot and idiot.


The conquest of space is part of the planetary hope of an economic system which, saturated with commodities, spectacles and power, ejaculates into space when it arrives at the end of the noose of its terrestrial contradictions. Functioning as a new "America," space must serve the states as a new territory for wars and colonies -- a new territory to which to send producer-consumers and thus enable the system to break out of the planet's limitations. Province of accumulation, space is destined to become an accumulation of provinces -- for which laws, treaties and international tribunals already exist. A new Yalta, the dividing up of space shows the inability of the capitalists and bureaucrats to resolve their antagonisms and struggles here on Earth.


But the revolutionary old mole, which is now gnawing at the foundations of the system, will destroy the barriers that separate science from the general knowledge that will be accessible to everyone when people finally begin making their own history. No more ideas of separate power, no more power of separate ideas. Generalized self-management of the permanent transformation of the world by the masses will make science a basic banality, and no longer a truth of state.


Humanity will enter into space to make the universe the playground of the last revolt: that which will go against the limitations imposed by nature. Once the walls have been smashed that now separate people from science, the conquest of space will no longer be an economic or military "promotional" gimmick, but the blossoming of human freedoms and fulfillments, attained by a race of gods. We will not enter into space as employees of an astronautic administration or as "volunteers" of a state project, but as masters without slaves reviewing their domains: the entire universe pillaged for the workers councils.


Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).