Internationale Situationniste #12

cover of IS 12 in metallic purple with black text

Issue 12 of the journal of the Situationist International. The final issue, published in September 1969.

Submitted by libcom on September 1, 2005

Director: Debord

Mail: B.P. 307-03 Paris

Editorial Committee: Mustapha Khayati, René Riesel, Christian Sébastiani, Raoul Vaneigem, René Viénet.

All texts published in Internationale Situationniste may be freely reproduced, translated or adapted, even without indication of origin.

Libcom note: "The Gold of the IS (conclusion)" has not yet been translated into English as far as we know. This issue also included a reprint of Theses on the Paris Commune.

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The Beginning of an Era (Part 1)

The beginning of an epoch cover

From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

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 May3 (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.

Translator's notes below.

  • 1"Katangans": nickname given to mercenaries and other toughs who rallied to the May movement.
  • 2In 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.)
  • 4By May 20 six million workers were on strike; within a few days the number had risen to ten or eleven million.
  • 5Alexander 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.)
  • 7Roger 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).

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The Beginning of an Era (Part 2)

From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

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.

SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (September 1969).

Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology). Translator's note below.

  • 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.)
  • 2Besides 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.
  • 3The 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.
  • 4The quotation is from the Preface to Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit.

Comments

Reform and counterreform in the bureaucratic bloc: Czechoslovakia 1968

Article by the Situationist International about the Prague Spring, 1968. From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

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 Benes2 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.

SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (September 1969)

Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology). Translator's note below.

  • 1Rudi Dutschke: leader of German SDS.
  • 2Eduard 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.

Comments

Reddebrek

11 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Reddebrek on June 16, 2013

Here's a PDF version http://www.mediafire.com/view/ghhgp1lwmmnt326/Reform_and_counterreform_in_the_bureaucratic_bloc_Czechoslovakia_1968.pdf

alanna2

8 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by alanna2 on January 30, 2016

Great, thank!

How situationist books are not understood

Situationist books

The Situationists reply to some misrepresentations and stupidities of their critics. From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by libcom on September 1, 2005

How situationist books are not understood1

If the action led by the SI had not involved several consequences that were publically scandalous and threatening, it is beyond doubt that no French publication would have reviewed our recent books. Which was naively confessed by Francois Chatelet in Le Nouvel Observateur for 3 January 1969: "Confronted with similar works, the first sentiment is to purely and simply exclude them, let them have the absolute point of view where they place themselves in the absolute, exactly, in the non-relative, in the non-related." But as a result of letting us have the non-related, the organizers of the conspiracy of silence have, after several years, seen this strange "absolute" fall upon their heads and show itself as not being distinct from current history, from which they are absolutely separated; without being able to prevent this "old mole" from making its way towards the day.2 Representative of the others, Chatelet accumulates in his article all of the untimely confessions of the state of mind of the scoundrels of his kind. Evoking the incidents at Strasbourg [in 1966], this prophet -- five months before May [1968] -- played at being reassured and deceived his imbecilic readers, as was his custom: "For a brief moment, this was the rage; one feared the contagion (...) All would return (...) to order." He indicates that Debord and Vaneigem, providing "a denunciation that one can only take or leave as a whole," are consequently disqualified and "discourage all critique in advance," because "they hold it is obvious that any contestation of what they say emanates from a thought that stupidly pays tribute to 'power' and 'spectacle.'" It is certain that discouraging the critique made by the miserable intellectual generation that prostituted itself for Stalinism, Arguments-ism,3 and the philosophic thought of L'Express and [i]Le Nouvel Observateur['i], is one of our goals. It isn't because one criticizes us that one is stupidly spectacular and crawls obsequiously before the existing powers; on the contrary, it is because Chatelet has momentarily rallied Stalinism towards 1956, and because he is the valet of the spectacle in several more lucrative trades, that he criticizes us so stupidily. Chatelet finds that, because we bear a radical but "abstract" negation, we remain "in the empirical," and even "without concept." The word is hard. But who said it? One nevertheless knows that, as soon as the wine of critique is diluted by dirty water, a hundred mediocre books are quickly saluted as highly conceptual by Chatelet and all the other castrates of the concept, who would like the unfortunate readers of Le Nouvel Observateur to believe that they have it. And moreover this ex-Stalinist, who obviously combatted "the Communism of 1848," sums himself up in this phrase, which is perhaps the most maladroit phrase that a cretin has ever applied to us. With aim of diminishing us, but also, as with the other cuckolded Argument-ists of Stalinism, with the aim of depreciating the old demand for a proletarian revolution -- which he believed had been exorcised forever, buried by Stalinism and the Express -- Chatelet advances that, although one can all the same pick out these books and the existence of the SI as "symptoms," "as a little glimmer that vaguely darts from Copenhagen to New York," "situationism is not the spectre that haunts industrial society, no more than Communism was the spectre that haunted Europe in 1848." It is we who emphasize this completely unintentional homage. Everyone will easily understand that we have already found ourselves "deceived" as much as Marx was, and not as much as Chatelet.

If the anger of the pretentious experts who were contradicted by the event was already strong before the occupations movement, it became really grandiouse afterwards. Pierre Vianson-Ponte, in Le Monde on 25 January 1969, furiously pushing Vienet's book aside with a dishonesty that was extraordinary, even for the editors of this newspaper, only saw in it "practically unreadable prose, a limitless pretension and a limitless thirst for publicity (...) They quite smoothly conclude that the May revolt (...) announced the global revolution, no less." Vianson-Ponte is an idiot, no less. He begins his article with this sentence, "Formerly, revolutionaries erected barricades or took power. They didn't have time to write their history and they generally didn't have the taste for it." It is difficult to go further into pompous error. Revolutionaries, among the worst and the best tendencies, have always written a lot, and no one asks themselves why, except Vianson-Ponte, who is simply ignorant of the fact. Must one tell him that, in the single year of 1871, there appeared in Geneva and Brussels a dozen important books written by survivors of the Commune (Gustave Lefrancais, Study of the Communalist Movement in Paris; Benoit Malon, The Third Defeat of the French Proletariat; Lissagaray, The Eight Days of May Behind the Barricades; Georges Janneret, Paris during the Revolutionary Commune, etc., without even mentioning [Marx's] The Civil War in France). But Vianson-Ponte wants blood. Automatically adopting the thesis of the police, according to whom there were very few deaths, he reproaches us with this wretched result: "The revolutionaries of May 1968, thank God, are alive (...) Now they write. A lot. The hand that pulled up paving stones also knows the pen." We flatter ourselves that this passage from the pen to the paving stone, and back again, is the beginning of the supercession of the separation between manual and intellectual work. But doesn't the imprudent necrophage understand that his ill-advised irony can be read as an appeal, next time, for a more bloody police and military repression? And, if it comes, isn't it obvious that several of those who have tried to deny the seriousness of the movement of 1968 by arguing that there weren't enough deaths themselves risk being in the first rank of the inevitable victims of spontaneous reprisals? In 1962, we wrote, in I.S. #7, page 19: "The surprising thing is rather that all of the specialists of public-opinion polls are unaware of the close proximity of this precise anger that rises everywhere. They will all be astonished at one day seeing the architects rounded up and hung in the streets of Sarcelles." Because of its strength, which comes from the unfinished but already crushed participation of the proletarian masses, the May movement was mild. But if, one day, there are more bloody confrontations, urbanists and journalists (who already speak of Red Fascism due to several blows the Stalinist Badia recently received at Vincennes) will be in great peril.

It turns out that, in several dozen articles, one feels obliged to speak of our books in France; an almost equal number of slightly more honest and informed articles have appeared in the foreign press. There were even some praises, of which is it useless to say more.4 A general contradiction weighs upon the totality of these critiques. Several of the authors who think they've found several striking truths in our books are in fact devoid of the simplest political and theoretical knowledge that would allow them to truly understand what our books are about, to consider each one in the totality of what it enunciates. An exemplary case is that of the critic Henri-Charles Tauxe, in the Swiss newspaper La Gazette Litteraire for 13 January 1968, who concludes his analysis -- in which, in any case, he honestly sought to explain the content of the book about which he was writing -- with this interrogation: "One can certainly ask oneself a certain number of questions on the perspectives opened by Debord and ask oneself in particular if the concept of revolution has meaning today." On the other hand, those of our critics who know well the problems addressed in these books have been inclined to distort them with a bad faith that is narrowly dependant on the particular positions and rostrums [tribunes] from which they express themselves.5 So as to not risk boring repetition, we will limit ourselves to picking out three typical attitudes, each one manifesting itself with respect to one of our books. In order, there's a university Marxist, a psychoanalyst, and a ultra-leftist militant. We will touch upon their principal motivations in passing.

*

In the early 1950s, Claude Lefort was a revolutionary and one of the principal theorists of the journal Socialisme ou Barbarie -- which we stated in Internationale Situationniste #10 had sunk to vulgar "Argument-ist" questioning and was thus bound to disappear: it confirmed this for us by disappearing 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 fatally doomed to bureaucratization. Since this distressing discovery he has consoled himself by taking up a banal academic career and writing in La Quinzaine Litteraire. In the 1 February 1968 issue of that periodical, this steady but very cultivated man critiques The Society of the Spectacle. At first, he recognizes some merit in it. The use of Marxian methodology, and even detournement, has not escaped him, although he doesn't go as far as finding Hegel in it as well. But this book nevertheless seems academically unbearable 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 as the real, and that it is necessary to overthrow ideology in order to render its rights to the real. It makes little difference what particular topic he treats, this idea is reflected in all the others, and it was only due to the limits of his endurance that we stop at the 221st thesis."

Debord readily admits that he found, at the 221st thesis, that he had said quite enough, and that he never wanted to say anything other than what is precisely said in this book: it is only a question of "untiringly" describing what the spectacle is and how it can be overthrown. That "this idea is reflected in all the others," this is exactly what we consider to be the characteristic of a dialectical book. Such a book does not have to "advance," like a doctoral dissertation on Machiavelli, toward the approval of a jury and the attainment of a diploma (and, as Marx put it in the "Afterword" to the second German edition of Capital, regarding the manner in which the "procedure of presentation" of the dialectical method can be seen, "The mirage can make it seem as if it is an 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 only written to show the concrete, coherent field of application of a thesis that already existed at the outset, a thesis derived from the investigation that revolutionary critique has made of modern capitalism. Thus, the essential, for us, is that it is a book that lacks nothing but one or more revolutions. Which it didn't lack for long. But Lefort, having lost all interest in this kind of theory and practice, finds that the book is itself a closed world: "One would have expected this book to be an assault on its adversaries, but in fact this great deployment of discourse has no other aim than a parade. We recognize in it a certain beauty: the speech [parole] is flawless. Since any question that does not have an automatic response has been banished from the very first lines, it is true that one would search in vain for any fault." The misinterpretation is total: Lefort sees a sort of Mallarmean 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 -- , finally seeks nothing other than to overthrow the existing relation of forces in the factories and the streets.

After this global refusal, Lefort still wants to be a Marxist regarding a detail, in order to recall that this is his specialty, the reason that he gets space in intellectual periodicals. Here he begins to falsify, in order to give himself the opportunity to introduce a pedantic appeal to things that are well-known. He solemnly announces that Debord has changed "the commodity into the spectacle," a transformation that is "full of consequences." He heavily summarizes what Marx says about the commodity, then falsely charges Debord with having said that "the production of phantasmagoria commands that of commodities," whereas in fact the exact opposite is clearly stated in The Society of the Spectacle, notably in the second chapter, in which the spectacle is defined as only a moment of the development of commodity production. Lefort can thus pleasantly conclude that "according to Debord, all history is futile"! He also diagnoses: "Strange child of Marx, Debord is intoxicated by the famous analysis devoted to the fetishism of commodities." We will not get into a debate about the best ways to become intoxicated, which is a question that academics know little about. But we will note that history returned, and that its return surprised Lefort more than us in May. It is thus that one can see, in the "bacchanals of the truth in which no one remains sober" (Hegel), the crowds -- already the crowds -- intoxicated by the discovery of the commodity and the spectacle as realities of pseudo-life to be destroyed.6 And Lefort, in Le Monde for 5 April 1969 -- always late, even where what he knows is concerned, but all the same not as late as February 1968 -- goes as far as writing that it isn't necessary, like "the bourgeois observers," to cloud over the reappearance of Trotskyist relics on the left of the Stalinist machine, because henceforth "conditions are right to allow a critique of the bureaucratic universe and to found an analysis in new terms of the modern mechanisms of exploitation and oppression. (...) With the May movement, with the initiatives that have inspired the young workers, something new pronounces itself that has nothing to do with the intervention of heros: an opposition that still hasn't named itself, but defies all of the established authorities in such a manner that one can not confuse it with movements of the past." Better late than never! Only in February 1968 -- as one saw -- the "conditions" were already right, although Lefort would have liked to have ignored them; today, he still doesn't know what this opposition calls itself.

*

We sink lower still with Andre Stephane's Contestatory University (Payot, 1969), the thirteenth chapter of which is a critique of Vaneigem's book. The publisher announces that "Stephane" is the pseudonym of "two psychoanalysts." There could just as well have been twenty-two of them or the work could have been done by an IBM machine programmed to do psychoanalysis, given their parodic "orthodox Freudianism" and their ineptitude, which reaches astronomical levels [orbites circumluninaires]. Because the authors are psychoanalysts, Vaneigem must be crazy. He is paranoid; this is why he so perfectly expressed in advance the May movement and diverse, unfortunate tendencies in all of modern society. It's only a matter of fantasies, deliria, refusals of the objectal world and the Oedipal problem, fusional narcissism, exhibitionism, sadistic impulses, etc. They crown their monument of foolishness by professing to "admire the book as a work of art." But this book has fallen into bad hands: the May movement horrified our psychiatrists by the blind violence that it deployed, 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, sadly but imperatively, that one get back to what's serious, not doubting for a moment that they themselves represent the seriousness of psychoanalysis and social life, and that they can write about all of it without making people laugh. Even the people who had the stupidity to be the clients of this Laurel and Hardy of mental medicine have felt less depressed and dissociated after May, and have told them so.7 Fearing the loss of a fraction of their income (after having trembled in fear of losing everything in May, when our untimely absolutism threatened the existence of the commodity and money), our socially connected ravers wrote, "This was very clear with respect to certain patients who seemed to consider that, if the Revolution (an old desire that they had abandonned) was possible, everything becomes possible; it is no longer necessary to renounce anything. . . " These people would be the shame of psychoanalysis if there remained some dignity in this distressing profession; if the work of Freud had not been fragmented by its recuperation into bourgeois society over the last thirty years. But these mental defects, when they -- pressed by hate, fear and the desire to maintain their profitable little prestige -- chance to treat a question in a book of which the basis is obviously political, how does it go? Here, our sages and reasonable defenders of "real" society -- and of the principle that all goes for the best in the best of possible societies -- reveal the extent of their stupidity.8 For them, it is beyond question that the May movement, which they analyze with such fine perspicacity, was only a student movement (the police dogs in the detection of the irrational have not for a moment found it abnormal or inexplicable that a simple outburst of student vandalism paralyzed the economy and the State of a great industrial country). Moreover, according to them, all of the students were rich, lived well in abundance and comfort, and had no discernable reason for rational dissatisfaction: they participated, without notable counterpart, in all of the benefits of a society that is happy and has never been less repressive. Thus, it could be demonstrated that socio-economic happiness, which the May revolters manifestly knew in its pure state, revealed in metaphysical terms the intimate misery of the people who have an absolute thirst for "infantile desire," whose immaturity renders them incapable of profiting from "the benefits" of modern society. Which is a detail that, for the pedants, translates as "an impossibilty of investing libidinally in the external world for conflictual reasons.9 The most marvelous festivals would not distract someone who bears boredom in himself, this failure in the economy of libido."

Reading Stephane, one is obliged to understand that what they call "the most marvelous festivals" must be for them something like the illumination in "Sound and Light" of the Pyramid at Cheops. Their judgment of the automobile suffices to reveal the correctly sublimated infantilism of these "true adults," monogamous people and voters: this admirable plaything has adequately replaced their little electric trains in the epoch in which they favorably liquidated their Oedipus complexes to the general satisfaction of their respectable families. Quoting here (page 215) several ironic phrases from Vaneigem on the current pseudo-satisfaction of social needs ("The Communards were killed down to the last one so that you, too, could buy a Philips high-fidelity stereophonic system"), they reject with indignation the paranoiac point of view and frankly profess that the Communards were quite content with knowing that their sacrifice assured their descendants the housing-units of Sarcelles and the television broadcasts of Guy Lux. They decide: "It is truly necessary [for the infantile personality] to counter-invest materiality for it not to understand that buying an automobile can constitute a goal in itself, provisional, at best, and that this acquisition is the same as procuring a great joy." It is truly necessary [for these psychoanalysts] to counter-invest the slightest trace of rational thought, so as to make themselves the unilateral poets of this "great joy," at the moment when the specialists of scientific examination, even if parceled10 and socially disarmed, are denouncing in all domains the dangers of the proliferation of the star-commodity (destruction of the urban milieu, etc.), and when even those who are the most alienated by the "possession" of an automobile do not cease to complain about the precise conditions that continually deteriorate the "great joy" that this purchase supposedly, publically, guaranteed to them (of course, this malaise still doesn't go as far as understanding that this deterioration is not caused by the particular failures of the public powers, but quite simply by the obligatory multiplication of this pseudo-well-being to the point of total congestion). Finally, our two psychiatrists are only precise, sincere, and realistic about a single point. In a note on page 99, they denounce several people, "so-called psychoanalysts and Freudians," who -- after a debate on payments for psychoanalysts -- at the College of Medicine, wanted to put in question the very necessity of payment itself. "Therefore, to those who know the effects of the transference, it appears clear that the money one pays an analyst guarantees what we can schematically call 'autonomy' (once the patient has paid the analyst, 'he owes him nothing')." The psychoanalyst has obviously never been at pains to enunciate a beautiful psychoanalytic justification for the necessity of paying. But if those who profit so as to consume more and live less are happy to psychoanalyze Marxists, then they will not forget that the simplest Marxist critique reveals, with the greatest accuracy, their deep-psychology [psychologie des profondeurs] (to adopt here their [punning] verbal style of analysis, it is not for nothing that the people say "he has quickly put the dough in his pocket [sa profonde]"), their economy and their investments. Thus, here is the origin of Stephane's book: their money was threatened. What delirium have they treated that was worse? In the memory of psychiatry, one has never seen a mode of production die! One begins, however, to feel the dread.

At the end of 1966, Rector Bayen of Strasbourg declared to the press that we should be dealt with by psychiatrists. The following year, he saw the abolition of the "University Psychological Aid Centers" of Strasbourg and Nantes and, eighteen months later, the abolition of all of what he knew as his amiable university world and a great number of his hierarchical superiors. With this critique of Vaneigem, one sees the tardy arrival of the psychiatrists with whom one threatened us. Quite probably they have disappointed those who expected the definitive solution to the situationist problem.

*

Rene Vienet's book has not had the honors of psychiatry, but has been critiqued in an article in issue #2 of International Revolution (Address: Toulouse), the journal of an ultra-leftist, anti-Trotskyist and non-Bordigist group that is hardly disengaged from Leninism and always aims at reconstituting the wise leadership of a true "party of the proletariat," which nevertheless promises to remain democratic the day it comes into existence. The ideas of this group smell a little too dusty to be interesting [enough] to discuss here. Since it is a question of people who have revolutionary intentions, we will content ourselves with revealing several of their specific falsifications. This practice is, in our opinion, much more incompatible with the activity of a revolutionary organization than the simple affirmation of erroneous theories, which are always susceptible of being discussed and rectified. Moreover, those who believe they have the right to falsify texts so as to defend their theses ipso facto confess that their theses are otherwise indefensible.

This critic declares himself disappointed with the book "all the more because the several months' time taken for recollection offered better possibilities." Although this book only appeared at the end of October 1968, it is clearly indicated in the introduction (p. 8) that it was completed on 26 July [1968]. Immediately handed over to the publisher, this book needed no corrections; only two short notes were added, pp. 20 and 209, and are explicitly dated October; they concern Czechoslovakia and Mexico, developements [only] known after July.

One reproaches this book for "yielding to current fashion" -- that is to say, in fact, to our own style, since this book adopted the same sort of presentation as the old issues of Internationale Situationniste -- because it includes photos and comics (and one also reproaches the situationists for scorning "the great infantile mass of workers" by aiming to divert them, like the capitalist press and cinema). One remarks severely that "it is above all the action of the Enrages and the situationists that is described," only to immediately add, "as the title moreover announces." Vienet estimated that all of it would constitute precious documentation for understanding May and principally for those who will have to act in future crises of the same type (and it is with the same goal that we have reprised this question [elsewhere] in this issue [of Internationale Situationniste]). If this experience appears useful to certain people and negligible to others, that will go according to what they think and what they actually are. But what is certain is the fact that, for many people, this specific documentation would have been hidden (or known fragmentarily and falsely) without this book. The title says well what the book is about.

Without going so far as to insinuate that there is the slightest false detail in this report, our censor estimates that Vienet has given too large a place to our action, imagined to have been "preponderant." He writes that, "Restored to its just proportions, the place occupied by the situationists was certainly inferior to that of numerous other groups and groupuscules, in any case not superior." We don't really know where the "certainty" of his comparison [balance] comes from, as if it were a question of weighing the [number of] more or less heavy paving-stones that each group carried to the same edifice and from the same direction. The C.R.S. [riot police], and even the Maoists, certainly had a larger "place," a greater weight, in the crisis than we had. The question is knowing on which side11 the ones and the others weighed. If it is only a question of the revolutionary current, a great number of unorganized workers obviously had a weight that was so determinant that no other group could even be mentioned, but this tendency didn't consciouly become master of its own action. If it is only a question -- since our crtitique appears more interested in a kind of race between the "groups," and perhaps he is thinking of his own? -- of groups that had clearly revolutionary positions, one knows very well that they weren't so "numerous"! And, if so, it would then be necessary to say which groups were involved and what they did, instead of leaving all this is a mysterious state and [arbitrarily] claiming that the precise action taken by the SI was, with respect to these unknown groups, "certainly inferior," and then -- it's a bit different -- "not superior."

In fact, the journal IR reproaches the situationists for having said for several years that a new departure for the revolutionary proletarian movement was to be expected from a modern critique of the new conditions of oppression and the new contradictions these conditions bring to light. For IR, there is nothing fundamentally new in capitalism, and thus in its critique; the occupations movement presented no new character; the concepts of "spectacle" and "survival," the critique of the commodity attaining a stage of abundant production, etc., are only empty words. One sees that these postulates are inseparably linked.

If the situationists were merely obsessed with intellectual innovation, International Revolution, which knows everything about the proletarian revolution since 1920 or 1930, would attach no importance to them. What shocks our critic is that we showed at the same time that this novelty of capitalism and, corollarily, the novelties of its negation, also re-found the ancient truth of the once-vanquished proletarain revolution. Here IR is very unhappy, because it wants to possess this old truth without any mixtures of novelty, whether that novelty arises in reality or in the theory of the SI or anyone else, it doesn't matter. Here the fakery begins. One extracts a certain number of phrases from pages 13 and 14 of Vienet's book, recalling the basic banalities of the unfinished revolution, and then one tags them with professorial notes, in the margins, as if written in red: "It is truly fortunate true that the SI 'easily' proves what all of the workers and all of the revolutionaries know"; "here is a discovery!"; "obviously," etc. But the extracts in question are cleverly chosen -- if one dares to say so. For example, this one is quoted literally: "The SI knows well (...) that the emancipation of the workers everywhere and always collides with the bureaucratic organizations." What are the precise words suppressed by this opportune ellipsis?12 Here is the exact phrase: "The SI knows well, as much as the workers deprived of speech, that the emancipation of the workers everywhere and always collides against the bureaucratic organizations." The obviousness [evidence] of IR's procedure is as great as the long-standing obviousness [l'evidence ancienne] of the class struggle, of which this group seems to dream itself the exclusive owner, and which Vienet explicitly recalls in response to "so many commentators" who can speak in books and newspapers and who "agree that it [May 1968] was unforeseeable."

Always so as to deny that the SI has said in advance some truth about the proximity of a new epoch in the revolutionary movement, IR, which does not at all want this period to be new, ironically asks how the SI can thus claim to have foreseen this crisis; and why it was necessary to wait exactly fifty years after the defeat of the Russian Revolution [until 1967]. "Why not thirty or seventy?" our critic asks flatly. The answer is simple. Even putting aside the fact that the SI saw closely enough the incline of certain elements of the crisis (and, for example, [radical student actions in] Strasbourg, Turin, Nanterre), we did not foresee the date, but the content.

The International Revolution group can be in total disagreement with us when it comes to judging the content of the occupations movement, as it is more generally in disagreement with the comprehension of its epoch and thus with the forms of practical action that other revolutionaries have already begun to recapture. But if we scorn the International Revolution group and do not want contact with it, this is not because of the content of its slightly stale theoretical science, but because of the petit-bureaucratic style that it is led, without problem, to adopt in order to defend this content. Thus the form and content of its perspectives are in accord with each other, both dating from the same sad years.

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

Unattributed; probably written by Guy Debord. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! February 2006. From https://www.notbored.org/how-not.html

  • 1In Ken Knabb's "masperized" translation, in which one-third of the text is dropped out and replaced by ellipses, Comment on ne comprehend pas des livres situationnistes is rendered as How not to understand situationist books. In any case, the books in question are Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle (1967), Raoul Vaneigem's Treatise on Living for the Younger Generations (1967), and Rene Vienet's Enrages and Situationists in the Occupations Movement (1968).
  • 2The rest of this paragraph and the entirety of the one that follows it are dropped out of Ken Knabb's version.
  • 3Argumentisme, which is a reference to the journal Arguments, which the SI boycotted in the early 1960s.
  • 4Begin passage dropped out by Ken Knabb.
  • 5End passage dropped out by Ken Knabb.
  • 6The rest of this paragraph is dropped out of Ken Knabb's version.
  • 7Begin passage dropped out by Ken Knabb.
  • 8End passage dropped out by Ken Knabb.
  • 9The rest of this paragraph and the entirety of the one that follows it are dropped out of Ken Knabb's version.
  • 10The French parcellaire can also be taken to mean "partial."
  • 11The French sens can also be translated as sense, meaning or direction.
  • 12Here the reader will appreciate the context for our insistence on translating this text in its entirety.

Comments

BNB

15 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by BNB on January 25, 2009

Full translation, no excerpts:

http://www.notbored.org/how-not.html

Selected Judgments on the SI, Grouped According to their Dominant Motivation

A selection of media quotes about the S.I. From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by Fozzie on April 13, 2023

Stupidity

The "enragés" represent thirty or so students who like to think of themselves as "situationists," "ultra-anarchists" practicing a "revolutionary" ethic that the entertainer Pierre Dac summed up more than thirty years ago in the famous formula: "Against everything that is for, for everything that is against." With very little humor and plenty of beatnik style. . . . The first chapter is entitled: "To Make Shame More Shameful Still by Making it Public." What awful grist in Dean Grappin's mill! With their destructive attitudes, are these students anxious to make the Faculty look like a giant brothel?
— Alain Spiraux, Noir et Blanc (7 March 1968)

Last but not least are the enragés, the "situationists," those who are determined to exploit the demonstration and create serious incidents. While they are certainly the most dangerous, there aren't that many of them — around half a dozen: long haired and unshaven. Their masterminds should also be counted. Much has been made of their adherence to the work of the situationists. One of them, an 18 year old Arts student, swallowed a tube of phenobarbital while high on drugs; the result: three weeks in hospital and ongoing psychiatric treatment.
Paris-Presse (30 March 1968)

Mr Max-Etienne Schmitt, rhector of the University of Nantes-Angers. . . . in his explanation: "I've inherited the situationists of Strasbourg. The climate isn't catastrophic yet: there are only seventeen troublemakers, but it is discouraging."
Combat (24 April 1968)

The majority of the students disapproved of the enragés' excesses and quietly demanded the resumption of courses that had been disrupted. But they failed to oppose any of the extremists' intiatives in a concrete manner. Indeed, they were fascinated by the improvized theatrical representation that played to open offices on the theme of the loss of power by the professors. It was a kind of permanent happening. . . . The presence of a situationist group was no surprise in all this.
— Epistémon, Ces idées qui ont ébranlé la France
(Fayard, 3rd trimester 1968)

Situationist International: this movement came to prominence in France at the University of Strasbourg in 1966-67. Its diffuse, non-organizational influence is rather difficult to appreciate, but appeared in all its flimsiness at the Sorbonne where the situationists nevertheless controlled the first occupation committee — from 14 to 17 May — after only having assumed leadership from the 13 May to the evening of 14 May.
— Jean Maitron, La Sorbonne par elle-même
(Éditions Ouvrières, 4th trimester 1968)

Were the Strasbourg youths who seemed to simply reject a world where culture is produced like chains of sausages really all that sensible? Absolutely not! Nuttier than even the wildest youths in Nanterre. Long before anyone else in France, they tasted that strange medicine that had been partially experimented with everywhere: in Scandivia, Germany and Japan. They call it "situationism," this mixture of socialism, Marxism and anarchism, and it emanates from an evanescent international group of theoreticians who are committed to the radical critique of contemporary society.
— Christian Charrière, Le printemps des Enragés
(Arthème Fayard, 4th trimester 1968)

And when the French students, the last to be mobilized, joined their Italian, German, Dutch, Swedish, Spanish and Belgian comrades in Utopia at the end of May 1968, they collectively produced an "Address to All Workers" that deserved enter the pages of history along with the hierarchy that it mentioned in abhorrence: "What we have already done in France is haunting Europe and will soon threaten all the ruling classes of the world, from the bureaucrats of Moscow and Peking to the millionaires of Washington and Tokyo." And while the aversion of these youths to both Peking and Tokyo and the mention of bureaucrats before millionaires would no doubt make Mistubishi feel a little uneasy, it must certainly make Mao Tse-tung think twice.
— Servan-Schreiber, L'Express (30 December 1968)

After several months of reclusiveness and silence, probably devoted to the elaboration of its work, the Situationist International group has joined the debate with the publication of a book through Gallimard: Enragés and Situationists in the Occupations Movement. You would be right to have expected a more profound analysis of the significance of May by a group who effectively played an active role in the struggles, especially since the several months’ period of writing time should have been more than enough to make something better possible. You would be right to have had certain expectations, and it has to be said that the book does not really live up to its promises. Putting aside their idiosyncratic vocabulary — Spectacle, Society of Consumption, Critique of Everyday Life, etc. — it is disappointing that in their book, the situationists cheerfully yield to current fashions and delight in stuffing it with photos, images and comic strips. . . . The working class has no need of such diversions. More than anything else, it needs understanding and thought. Comics, witty remarks and word games are used very poorly. On one hand, a highly philosophical language is adopted, a particularly studied, obscure and esoteric terminology reserved for "intellectual thinkers"; on the other, for the great infantile mass of workers, a few images accompanied by simple phrases is meant to be ample.
Révolution Internationale 2 (February 1969)

The utilization of the inadequacies of the sexual education of new residents explains the development of what is currently known as "anarchism" and "situationism." This has nothing to do with the philosophy of the State and the individual, but more simply the justification, with abusive recourse to ideological vocabulary, of mores whose guiding line is the refusal of all constraints — including its own — and the repudiation of every effort, just like the cult of idle youth.
— P. Deguignet, La Nation (28 February 1969)

We should add that Vaneigem’s very style is that of the slogans of May. He seems, moreover, to have been behind many of the most successful and poetic phrases. They were no doubt propagated beforehand by the journal International Situationniste, of which he is one of the main editors. It might help to remember that the Strasbourg situationists moved to Nanterre at the beginning of the 1967 academic year. The author of The Revolution of Everyday Life gives us a key for understanding the role and place of the paranoiac mechanisms of our civilization.
— André Stéphane, L’Univers contestationnaire
(Ed. Payot, 2nd trimester 1969)

Premature Relief

The SI's weaknesses — the refusal of organization and ideology, revolution for the sake of revolution: in short, the utopia of escaping the society of consumption through negation pure and simple, or the invocation of an anti-bureaucratic and spontaneous solidarity with the proletarians — have quickly been brought to light. The movement has entered a crisis: the defections have begun . . . it is the beginning of the end, inevitable in any movement that refuses to institutionalize its own theory. . . . In future, others will reprise the propositions that remain — some very intelligent intentions — with a greater consciousness of the limits of any historical action, in order to operate successfully in an ever more complex and ambiguous society.
Nuove Presenza 25-26 (Spring-Summer 1967)

As for the Situationist International, the only news is limited and approximate, no-one having heard from them in over a year. It was forseeable enough that the Strasbourg group's brochure would meet interpretations tinged with easily recuperable verbal revolutionism by being left at the level of consumption, as is evidenced by the very usage to which it has been put over half of Europe, and now in Italy with the Maison Feltrinelli edition. . . . The relationship between the Strasbourg group and the SI did not last more than four months, ending in a violent rupture.
Idéologie 2, Rome (1967)

The usual mode of situationist exposition is denunciation, a total denunciation, reaching all domains indiscriminately, from the economic to the cultural and, without burdening itself with concepts or information, certifies, reveals the incessantly worsening alienation of the human condition. . . . It just goes to show that terms like these discourage every critique in advance. They brush them aside as soon as they come into play because they hold it to be self evident that any contestation of what they say comes from thought that is foolishly reliant on "power" and "the spectacle." . . . Situationism is, of course, no more the specter that haunts industrial society than was communism the specter that haunted Europe in 1848.
— François Châtelet, Le Nouvel Observateur (3 January 1968)

At the height of its notoriety (and practical failure), the history of the situationists took a fast track to internal conflict. One of their leaders, Mustapha Kebati, the son of Algerian immigrants, attempted to take all the credit for what had been accomplished, and declared that he was the sole author of the brochure, On the Poverty . . . The Strasbourgers no longer even wish to be called situationists. They have published a new theoretical manifesto: L'Unique et sa propriété (where the Unique is neo-capitalist society, the only system whose repression of any critical tendency is truly coherent). . . . For their part, the Parisians were consumed in the great furnace of the May revolt, and the only thing that remains is the name Guy Debord.
— Memmo Giampaoli, Giovani, nuova frontiera (Ed. SEI-Turin, March 1969)

Let's say that the major virtue that seems to characterize the Situationist International is its impatience to play a role . . . to take to the front of the stage and act out a singularly enormous farce. It allows them to force their way into those close-knit circles where our young intellectuals claim to be at the forefront. They offer ready-made formulas like "revolutions will be festivals," whose ridiculousness is disarming. . . . As short-lived as the groups of intellectuals who preceded them, the situationists now appear to be history.
— Maurice Joyeux, La Rue 4 (2nd trimester 1969)

Panic

"According to the accused, you are the chairman of a society with extremist tendencies. What are the goals of this group?" — "Extremist isn't really the term I'd use," responded the artist in measured tones. "The club is more of an intellectual forum where a situationist perspective is brought to the problems of the day." . . . "Don't go thinking you're up against an organization modelled on traditional secret societies." . . . And besides, they are many; they circle everywhere, on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Even if the combined forces of the police and counter-espionage operatives were mobilized, it still wouldn't be enough to stop them! They are a tidal wave, a ground swell that spreads everywhere and whose center is nowhere, with an infinite number of accomplices. . . . The doctrine is elaborated in the universities of England and Holland by far-sighted young strategists.
— Paul Kenny, Complot pour demain (Ed. Fleuve Noir, 3rd trimester 1967)

It’s the tune that makes the song: more cynical in Vaneigem and more icy in Debord, the negative and provocative violence of their phraseology leaves nothing standing of what previous ages have produced except perhaps Sade, Lautréamont and Dada. . . . At least we can warn our future Saint-Justs in leather jackets, who announce themselves as the bearers of "a new innocence, a graceful new life," that the ludist civilization of "masters without slaves" must resign itself to keeping its captains secret; and — alas! — the happy news of the suppression of the courts does not mean an end to the executions.
— P.-H. Simon, Le Monde (14 February 1968)

The Sorbonne Bazaar of communists, Maoists, Trostkyites, Castroites, anarchists, situationists and others is strongly reminiscent of the earliest soviets of the Russian revolution. The inscriptions on the walls of the Faculty of Arts, which don't seem to have been quoted in the daily press, included and still include: "Down with the Nazarene Toad" — "How can you think freely in the shadow of a chapel?" — "Those who make revolution by halves only dig their own graves" — "Defend the photographers, the film is being siezed." A microphone held by the situationist Occupations Committee repeated the instruction: "Everyone to Boulogne to express our support of the Renault workers." This instruction was regularly contradicted by a megaphone held by the armed progressive dissidents.
Rivarol (25 May 1968)

The situationist movement defines itself as an international group of theoreticians who use Marxist theory to undertake a radical critique of current society in all its aspects. . . . The apocalyptic collapse advocated by these authors must be the inevitable consequence of economic over-development and bureaucratic expansion. . . . The unmitigated contestation that found its most radically extremist spokesmen in the situationists was one of the early symptoms of the sickness. It was wrong to not take them seriously.
Etudes

What took me by surprise was the date of the revolt, which I had expected for the return to classes in November 1968. It would be wrong to underestimate certain precedents, in particular the November 1966 takeover of the Strasbourg Student Union. The strategy is well known, all the more since the revolutionaries themselves are no mystery: it begins with discrediting the reformist student organization. . . . Two years ago, this effect was achieved. The ensuing commotion allowed them to increase the number of their sympathizers and prepare for the occupation of the Faculties. This, of course, occurred during May. . . . I know the student revolutionaries of Strasbourg very well. While many of them are scatterbrains for whom the revolution is little more than an unproductive intoxicant or a "festival," it should be taken into account that there is a minority of consistent, determined and authentically revolutionary minds, perfectly aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their clear, organized ideas. . . . The observer cannot help being struck by the rapidity with which the contagion spread throughout the university and among the nonstudent youth. It seems that the slogans propagated by a small minority of authentic revolutionaries struck some sort of indefinable chord in the soul of the new generation. . . . In spite of all this, a fundamental distinction should be made between the real revolutionaries (small in number) and the rest of the rabble who believed in imminent revolution, a number of whom were no more than opportunists. The established order could very easily intimidate this rabble, which had otherwise been the main element of the disorder (Geismar, Sauvageot), but not those who live only for the revolution. This fact must be stressed: we are witnessing the reappearance, just like fifty years ago, of groups of young people totally devoting themselves to the revolutionary cause; revolutionaries who know from experience how to await the favorable moments to trigger or aggravate disturbances of which they remain the masters, then go back underground and continue the work of undermining and of preparing other sporadic or prolonged upheavals, so as to slowly destabilize the social edifice.
— Julien Freund, Guerres et Paix #4 (1968)

The Situationist International is basically the work of Debord. . . . The new movement evolved progressively from the aesthetic to the political, the aesthetic with its origin in a political perspective, and the political, to speak of the politics themselves, remaining firmly entrenched in a certain aestheticism . . . from 1961 to 1964, it was essentially the elaboration of a platform critical of the dominant society; from 1964 until now, it sketched out a constructive theory while at the same time preparing to lead political actions, first of all in Strasbourg last year, repeating this in Paris and other cities in May 68.
— R. Estivals, Communications #12 (December 1968)

Red and black flags flew for several hours from the windows yesterday at the Sorbonne. . . . Once again, acts of vandalism were committed, attributable (it seems) to "students" who have nothing to do with the Sorbonne: the Nanterre "situationists."
Le Parisien Libéré (24 January 1969)

Outside, meanwhile, students are continuing to arrive (the most active are the situationist "commandos" from Nanterre). The police have equipped themselves with helmets, shields and grenades from their vans. At 1800 hours, the occupiers enter the office of Las Vergnas, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, and declare that they are taking him hostage. . . .
Il Giorno (24 January 1969)

Their general headquarters is secret but I think it is somewhere in London. They are not students, but are what are known as situationists; they travel everywhere and exploit the discontent of students.
News of the World (16 February 1969)

By 20 May, the strike had reached Alsace. . . . And when officials considered action against the now totally occupied university, those responsible for maintaining order underestimated the risks of such an operation! . . . there were around forty local "agitators": situationists back from Paris, pro-Chinese Marxists, and Trotskyites. . . . The extremist groups — according to the most reliable sources — were heavily armed, even if they did not have the one thousand five hundred that their propaganda would have us believe.
— Claude Paillat, Archives secrètes (Ed. Denoël, 1st trimester, 1969)

Seven arrests and eighty injured, mostly police: this is the outcome of the serious incidents that continued for over three hours right in the middle of the city after the demonstration organized for Friday afternoon by three unions in honor of those who died at Battipaglia. . . . One of the more hot-headed protestors — and it should be pointed out immediately that the student movement had nothing to do with this part of the demonstration — took the initiative to lob a rudimentary Molotov coktail at a police vehicle. . . . There were two police charges and a very heavy hail of teargas grenades; many were returned by the demonstrators (anarchists, situationists, Maoists, internationalists and Marxist-Leninists).
Il Giorno, Milan (13 April 1969)

Primarily, a very clear desire, not to correct, improve or reform this society of consumption, but to destroy: "Fuck the commodity!" (Situationist International, Hall Richelieu, Sorbonne).
— André Stéphane, L'Univers contestationnaire
(Payot, 2nd trimester 1969)

Unsolicited Confusionism

It is indeed true that before the explosions you know about, there were plans to deport Daniel Cohn-Bendit, leader of the “enragés,” whom the leftist intellectuals have presented as being disciples of the American Marcuse, although anyone who reads the French books of the “situationist” writers Vaneigem and Debord can see where Dany and his friends actually got their inspiration.
Le Canard Enchainé (22 May 1968)

A series of documents on the struggle led by the Italian students gave a fair impression of the ideological situation of these groups at the end of last winter. . . . The choice of texts was perhaps not forthcoming enough about the importance of Turin, where "situationists" and "Marcusians" have played a large role from the start.
— Claude Ambroise, Le Monde (25 January 1969)

In the first chapter, we mentioned the "March 22nd Movement," the most widely known but not the oldest of the groupuscules. Its members in Nanterre included a few of the situationists who had scandalized Strasbourg two years earlier. In its methods and its program, that particular endeavor prefigured what Paris and France would come to know in 1968.
— Claude Paillat, Archives secrètes (Ed. Denoël, 1st trimester, 1969)

The situationists' intellectual position logically led to them uniting to disemminate the ideas they had elaborated together. If their book clearly shows the explosive force that can be brought about by such a group action and reflects a liberation from all constraints, they look like they have forgotten that it is in the factories that things really happen. And they don't seem to have avoided becoming prisoners of their own language.
Informations Correspondance Ouvrières #78 (February 1968)

Robert Estivals has outlined an analysis of the influence of the SI's doctrine on the origins of the movement born at Nanterre. It is an insufficient analysis which the book by E. Brau — herself a member of the SI — rightly outshines. While the question may not be for modern educators to become "situationists," it is up to all of us to recognize its allies . . . provided that at a coming revolutionary stage, this radicalism is not reduced to a vile and narrow-minded terrorism, behavior for which a few supposed SI members have shown a slight preference.
— Michel Faligand, Interéducation #8 (March 1969)

Feltrinelli was the first to issue an Italian translation of On the Poverty of Student Life, but the entire run sold out immediately and has not been reprinted. . . . Three years on, this unsettling sociological analysis seems almost commonplace, but this is not to say that it appeared that way at the time of its distribution. . . . On the contrary, the rapid "escalation" of the truths contained in that lampoon, and the fiery presence at the center of "the May events" of such anarcho-situationist groups as "L'Hydre de Lerne," "the enragés" and "22 March," in which Cohn-Bendit also took part, confirmed their genuinely revolutionary power with action.
— Nicola Garrone, Paese Sera, Rome (27 April 1969)

That said, May 1968 was something completely different to what Trotsky or even Lenin himself could possibly have imagined. . . . Between a few Trotskyites, Maoists anarchists and situationists, this was no sterile anathema, but a common practice. This was perhaps the beginning of communism.
— Jacques Bellefroid, Le Monde (28 May 1969)

Self-seeking Confusionism

This meeting took place at the Nanterre faculty Cultural Center (room C20). The following organizations are participating in the March 22nd movement: JCR, CVN, UJCML, CVB, ESU, UNEF, SNESup, SDS, CAL, MAU, Anarchists, Situationists. . . .
— Tract by the "March 22nd Movement"
advertizing a meeting planned for 2 May 1968

Three categories of organizations were disbanded. These include all the Trostkyite organizations, then the Maoist groups, and finally, the March 22nd Movement, which is a special case. . . . It combined anarchists, situationists, Trotskyites and Maoists.
— Frédéric Gaussen, Le Monde (14 June 1968)

Let us not crush the new sprouts of revolt beneath the heavy bootsteps of the past, no matter how relatively recent they may be. Rather, it is important to emphasize that in its future experiments and its future theories, the current movement has no debts, not even to the most noble, the most worthy of consideration, or the most fruitful. This is as true in relation to the October Revolution as it is in relation to the Commune, in psychoanalysis as in the various socialist theories, in Bakunin as in Marx, in Marcuse as in Mao Tse Tung, in situationism as in surrealism.
L'Archibras #4 (Le Surrealism, 18 June 1968)

In countries with no working class tradition, spontaneism, anarchism and situationism (Flower Power in Denmark, Motherfuckers in the USA) are making a comeback.
Rouge (16 April 1969)

Inordinate Slander

For on the other hand, a couple of things should not be forgotten. That if it weren't for the fact that G. Debord's father is a wealthy industrialist, the situationists would be no more (at least not in France).
— Nerslau, L'Hydre de Lerne #5 (January 1968)

Through recourse to violence, the "enragés," initially numbering around ten, then one hundred, succeeded in paralyzing the work of some 12,000 students. The "March 22nd Movement" was one product of this, with about forty youths belonging to the Situationist International, which has its headquarters in Copenhagen, and which is manipulated by the HVA, the secret service, and East German spies.
— Louis Garros, Historama #206 (December 1968)

There can be no doubt that revolution was as absent from this as poetry, both of them neutralized and cast aside. The rigor of this double minimum was obviously missed by the militants, who had about as much to do with revolution as they did with literature. A particularly smug tendency of this sort was epitomized by those who called themselves "situationists." The graffiti that, for a time in May, touched upon certain bourgeois sensibilities, had its origin here. Far from being spontaneous, it was absolutely premeditated, the task of transcription being very similar to the development, through various means, of traditional literature. The recent book by one of their number, Viénet, is proof of this. Rather, those words that no bourgeois could appreciate in May ("We are all German Jews," "Be reasonable, demand the impossible," etc.), were not situationist.
Writers' and Students Committee (Duras, Mascolo, Schuster, etc.), text published in Quindichi #17 (June 1969)

Dementure

One lunatic asylum seemed to go to the rescue of another, the similarly occupied surrealists. Allied to the "situationists," they even held the majority from the very first days in the "occupations committee," which, as a rule, ran all the internal affairs at the Sorbonne. . . . A wind of nit-picking legalism blew that the situationists calmed with the via negativa of mysticism, forcing the general assmebly to spend hours discussing the mode of discussion of the order of the day for the session in progress, which was over before an absolute remedy to any risk of "bureaucracy" could be agreed upon.
— Edgar André, Magazine littéraire #29 (August 1968)

I've found a brochure in my archives that was produced in 1966, when the situationists took control of the UNEF office in Strasbourg: these thirty-odd pages are so close to the ideas behind May that it seemed important for me to point them out, especially since this radical contestation could very well be our own if it didn't degenerate into such a disastrous phrasology. . . . Bravo, gentlemen, but then come over here if you really want to fight democracy, instead of trying to realize it in what you think is another form! We dare you!
AF Université, Monthly of the Students for National Restoration (October 1968)

Contrary to what one might expect, no psychological restructuring has been carried out, and this, in our opinion, is the cause of the SI's error, and consequently, the failure of the neo-social democracy of the May 68 students . . . the principle of individualism was not abandoned. . . . From a Leninist point of view, the SI would not be considered as anything more than a dangerous manifestation of petit bourgeois thought. It did nothing but serve capitalism — witness the audience it has created recently in the bourgeois press.
— R. Estivals, Communications #12 (December 1968)

Translated by Reuben Keehan. Translations of excerpts from these quotes appearing in Ken Knabb's 'The Blind Men and the Elephant' have been utilized in this version. From https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/selected.html

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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. From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

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Submitted by daniel on June 7, 2007

“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.

RENÉ RIESEL
September 1969

Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology). Translator's notes below.

  • 1What happened next: i.e. Mussolini’s fascist coup (1922).
  • 2Olivier, 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.

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Notice to the Civilized Concerning Generalized Self-Management - Raoul Vaneigem

Situationist Raoul Vaneigem on self-management and workers' control. From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

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

1

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.

2

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.

3

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.

4

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.

5

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.

6

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.

7

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.

8

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.

9

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.

10

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.

11

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.

12

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.

13

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.

14

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.

15

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.

16

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.

17

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.

18

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

19

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?).

20

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."

21

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)

Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology). Translator's note below.

  • 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.)

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The Conquest of Space in the Time of Power - Eduardo Rothe

Conquest of Space movie poster

From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Author
Submitted by libcom on September 1, 2005

1

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.

2

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.

3

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.

4

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.

5

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.

6

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.

7

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.

8

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.

9

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.

10

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.

11

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.

12

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.

EDUARDO ROTHE (1969)

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

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The Practice of Theory

A series of short texts from Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by Fozzie on April 12, 2023

How the Delinquents Politicized

comic by Raoul Vaneigem and Andre Bertrand

On police interest in a comic by Raoul Vaneigem. From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by Fozzie on April 13, 2023

On several occasions in November and December of 1967, Debord, Vaneigem and Viénet were brought before the police judiciary in relation to a comic strip by Vaneigem, two images from which were published in I.S.#11. They agreed that they were effectively authors and editors of the journal, and that they were in charge of its publication and distribution. The prosecutors seemed to have a problem with some incitements to theft, debauchery, rioting and murder (of "rulers"), that people might garner from the words and actions of the characters in these brief comics. This rather new type of publishing offense promised an unusual legal process but, in the end, without us knowing why, the investigation established that there was not enough evidence prosecute those responsible.

Without going into whether or not the incitements in question had a more or less sustained effect, it should be pointed out that Vaneigem's comics — translated, reissued and widely reproduced in several countries (notably England, the United States and Sweden) — have attained a remarkable posterity even in France, as all the experiments of our CMDO comrades were conducted in a similar manner. As a result, a number of comic strips of revolutionary intent have been published by various autonomous groups. The theses explicated in this journal by René Viénet in 1967 1 have been completely confirmed by experiments with every agitational measure that he envisaged, with the momentary exception of the use of cinema.

Translated by Reuben Keehan. From https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/delinquents.html

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What is a Situationist?

From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by Fozzie on April 14, 2023

In view of the striking — though hardly very surprising — arousal of interest in the SI, we should at this point specify the meaning of the term 'situationist' when it is used to describe an individual, taking into account our constant development over the last two years.

In the first and most precise sense of the term, a situationist is a member of the SI, taking part in all the deliberations and decisions of this organization and thus personally assuming a general co-responsibility.
Furthermore, individuals can no doubt be called and even call themselves 'situationist' if they agree with our principal theoretical positions; or because their personal goals are close to our style of expression and of life; or simply because, through participating in the subversive struggle, they have found themselves crudely and superficially qualified as such by different observers.

The precise sense and the broader sense should be correctly employed with the express condition of not confusing the two. Those who would like people to believe that they are members of the SI should only be treated with suspicion. As for everybody else who does not lead a practical undertaking in some part of the world organized with the SI, what can make the best revolutionaries 'situationists' is looking after themselves (and therefore looking after the mounting proletarian movement); this is what meets with our approval, as perspective and as method. It is not a matter of evoking us as a reference, but, on the contrary, of forgetting us a little.

Translated by Reuben Keehan. From https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/whatisa.html

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The Latest Exclusions

The exclusion of English situationists Timothy Clark, Christopher Gray and Donald Nicholson-Smith from the SI, with some harsh words for Black Mask. From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

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 Mask1 , 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.2

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 Mob3 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.

SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (1969)

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

Comments

Addendum to Viénet’s Book

Vienet book first edition

Comments on "Enragés and Situationists in the occupation movement, France, May ’68" and its reception. From Internationale Situantionniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by Fozzie on April 17, 2023

NOTICE

This translation is a first draft, and has not been independently proofread. However, to the best of my knowledge this text has never been translated into English. Therefore I am making it available in this form with the caveat that there are likely to be mistakes in it. PLEASE APPROACH IT WITH CAUTION!

Draft 0.0 (14 January 2016)

Addendum to Viénet’s Book

It strikes us that there is a factual error on pages 72-73 of Enrages and Situationists in the Occupations Movement1 2 : where it states that, upon his return from Afghanistan, Pompidou allocated the Faculty of Letters’ “Censier annex” to academics for the discussion of their problems. Even though this was ultimately the case, some documents and accounts lead to the conclusion that the Censier annex had been, if not actually occupied, used for a meeting towards the end of the afternoon of Saturday 11 May. This was several hours before the arrival of Pompidou, and the account of his conceptions included this point. Nevertheless, it remains no less true that “for a number of days the studious and moderate mood” of this facility bore the mark of those who’d taken this initiative that was so quickly legitimated, and of their reformist objectives in the student milieu.

Apart from that, the only alleged inaccuracy in our publications of the time that has been raised so far in books dealing with the May movement, we can attribute to a mistake. On page 547 of Schnapp & Vidal-Naquet’s book The French Student Uprising 3 , with regard to a CMDO tract about Flins (which states that at the Gare Saint-Lazare “the union leaders (…) diverted the protestors towards Renault-Billancourt, by promising that trucks would take them from there to Flins…”) there is a note which comments: “Inaccurate: the leaders of the railway workers union at Saint-Lazare were content to refuse to provide the students with a special train to Flins…” But the CMDO tract wasn’t talking about the leaders of the CGT 4 (who, outside of the rallies, told some that the police were blocking the way and others that sabotage by leftist provocateurs was preventing a train from departing). The “union leaders” who dispersed the protestors at Saint-Lazare with outrageous lies were those of the UNEF and SNESup 5 . In May the common left, whose fanciful vocabulary Schnapp and Vidal-Naquet share, used the term “union leaders” for those (like the CGT) who openly fought against the movement. But the Geismars and Sauvageots, who hindered this movement from within, were truly union leaders, just as ridiculous as the unions in whose name they held the floor.

It also has to be pointed out that Vienet’s book underestimated the action of the revolutionary workers of Lyon, with regard to their attempts (already partly successful, but at the time obscured by all the other information around) to launch strikes prior to 14 May; as well as in regard to their exemplary participation in the struggles that took place in Lyon afterwards (at the time that the book was being written we had momentarily lost any contact with these comrades).

Finally, pages 19-21 6 (which discussed the preceding student unrest in many countries) should have cited Congo, and the remarkable occupation of the University of Lovanium in Kinshasa (ex-Léopoldville) in 1967 (earlier than Turin and all that followed in Europe). The campus that the revolutionary students held there was encircled by the army. They weren’t able to descend on the city, where the workers were waiting for their arrival to rise up. Mobutu’s regime proclaimed the lock-out of the University, by demanding the individual re-enrolment of every student, who then had to commit to conform to university norms in the future (a technique subsequently picked up by minister Edgar Faure). However the solidarity of the students forced the government to renounce this measure. Consequently, as we know, the University of Lovanium (where some situationist influences are discernible) rose once again on 4 June 1969, not for a 30% increase in grants, as the government claimed, but to bring down the regime. This time, the army opened fire; there were many dozens of deaths and hundreds of arrests.

Translated by Ian Thompson. From https://isinenglish.com/12-8-5/

  • 1Libcom note: https://libcom.org/article/enrages-and-situationists-occupation-movement-france-may-68
  • 2The original French title of the book by Viénet is “Enragés et situationnistes dans le mouvement des occupations”. An English translation was published by Automedia, in 1992. The passage in question appears on p44 of the translation.
  • 3The original French title of this book is “Journal de la Commune étudiante”. An English translation was published by Beacon Press, in 1971. The title of this version has been used.
  • 4The CGT (Confédération générale du travail) is one of the largest trade unions in France to this day.
  • 5The UNEF (Union Nationale des Étudiants de France) is France’s major student union, and SNESup (Syndicat national de l’enseignement supérieur) represents University teaching staff.
  • 6This corresponds to pp14-15 in the English translation.

Comments

Notes on Spain

On recent industrial and University unrest in Spain - and the Acratas group. From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by Fozzie on April 14, 2023

The inflexibility of the thinkers of the unofficial capitalism governing Spain is their best guarantee against a revolutionary uprising. Their forces are crystallized around a technocratic reformism that has nevertheless begun to incite real struggles wherever it is implemented. It is in the most advanced industries, those which constitute Franco's calling card to Common Market Europe, that the workers have asserted their potential most. In 1965, metallurgists from Pegaso made several attempts to march on Madrid to support the student revolt. In 1967, the Echevarri factories in Bilbao remained on strike for six months, with workers' families participating in general assemblies that sent delegates all over Spain. As with the recent spontaneous collectivizations of small farms in Navarre, these actions stand in flagrant opposition to the Christian-Stalinist practices of the Workers' Commissions, who with uncanny timing, cancelled a day of action planned for 24 January as soon as they were faced with the declaration of a state of emergency. With its eyes set squarely on a place in the sun of a post-Franco parliament, the tactic of the Communist Party — an across-the-board alliance of anti-Franco opposition that includes the "left phalangists" — is confronted by its own specter, which haunts it as much as it does the fascists who hold power, even though since 1936, it has been no more capable of frightening the pope than it has the millionaires of New York. As for the state of emergency, it was presented as the only possible response for those who hold nothing more than power to those who know — and even Opus Dei1 understands this — that modernization cannot be carried out without a corresponding structural change. And it should be added that the state of emergency arrived just in time to avoid a major reconsideration of salaries that had been blocked for a year, during which time the cost of living rose by around 25%.

A long way from these dinosaurean struggles, the old mole continues his work. In Spain as elsewhere, the so-called critical university has bided its time with relativistic juggling and contingent contortions. Already, radical elements are gathering around the catch-cry "Abolish the University!" by quite naturally setting language alight. Just like any of the French Action Committees, they have been able to define the fundamental alternative: "Either the two-bit University providing alibis for all those who pursue other studies, or the definitive solution to the 'university problem' as a step toward the definitive solution to the class problem." More than anyone else, the Madrid Acratas group were able to shatter the illusion of a revolutionary unionism, expressing radical positions and giving them a scandalous reality. Formed in October 1967, the group were not dissimilar to the Nanterre Enragés: the same field of operations, the same program, the same forms of action — this says a great deal about the world in which we live. Under their influence, the frequent tendency to violence toward the police has became an almost everyday fact for the "students." Literally every assembly in Spain ends with songs and a riot. Acratas, who translated and distributed texts by the SI, were responsible for the Iberian misadventures of that washed-up prick J.-J. Servan-Schreiber, who they unceremoniously threw out of the Faculty of Law when he had the pretention to try to speak and the illusion that he'd found an audience. But at the same time, their critique of violence protected Acratas from the inherent recuperation into traditional terrorism. If attacks on police, cars, school equipment and windows helped verify their critique of ideology, heirarchy and the commodity, it was by tearing down a classroom crucifix that they showed the cops they are most capable of defying the coagulated history of Francoism. With this gesture they revived the great revolutionary tradition that had seen no other preliminary move toward the imposition of the absolute power of the workers' councils, to which Acratas claimed absolute adherence.


"Y EL CRISTO EN LA MIERDA"2
Crucifix defenestrated by Acratas at the University of Madrid (January 1968)

If Acratas disbanded in June 1968, they left behind an invigorating memory of a group as close to Marx as they were to Durruti, and as far from Lenin as they were from Proudhon. Did we not even see four bureaucrats from the FUR risk capital punishment for trying to burn down the University, or worse, bomb the best convent in Madrid, killing two of the good sisters? In Barcelona, where Billyclub Grappin appreciates our moderation best, the students who burnt a faculty door covered the dean in petrol when he attempted to intervene; police only barely managed to put him out. On 20 January, the rhector of the same university narrowly escaped being thrown from a window. The process of bringing the faculties to a standstill, which devastates the unions and the government just as much, contributes more and more to highlighting the false oppositions of the ideologies of prehistory: here as everywhere, the desire of the unions to be recuperated leads to their recuperation by the powers that be. The revolutionary movement in Spain will stay beaten as long as it has no consciousness of its victories. It must re-adapt itself or else surrender all its ground — beginning with its memory — to the Stalinist, Francoist and democrat architects of its military defeat. Its victories provide the outline of the absolute power of the workers' councils; they are the minimum requirement of the entire workers' movement. Their knowledge is linked to every coherent revolutionary position. Those who are conscious of making history should never forget the history of consciousness.

Détourned Advertising

"Oh, mother dearest!! It's good to make love to all these enragés!!!"

What a nerve: Based on an comic strip advertisement, this is the first page of one of those pamphlets that inundate our schools every day. It is a vulgar and depraved blend of childish anarchism and blatant pornography, published by a certain "Federation of Worker Student Committees for Southern Paris," whose slogans include "Drop dead, you bastard!" (to be used when addressing "the pope, teachers and priests"), and, if you'll excuse us, "We won't be f***ed around any more!" Even if the students have enough sense to treat such aberrations indifferently, you have ask who finances the lavish printing of these rags, especially if they expect to exercise any authority over an education minister who tolerates such things in social establishments.

Minute (27 February 1969)

Translated by Reuben Keehan. From https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/onspain.html

  • 1Roman Catholic organization which exercized considerable influence on Spanish economic policy from 1956 until Franco's death in 1975.
  • 2"And Christ in shit" — a reference to "The Good Lord in Shit," sung by anarchist bomber Jules Ravachol on the morning of his execution, reprinted in I.S. #9 (page 17).

Comments

A Particularly Vile and Clumsy Manoeuvre by Some Anti-Situationists

On the impersonation of Mustapha Khayati. From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by Fozzie on April 17, 2023

NOTICE

This translation is a first draft, and has not been independently proofread. However, to the best of my knowledge this text has never been translated into English. Therefore I am making it available in this form with the caveat that there are likely to be mistakes in it. PLEASE APPROACH IT WITH CAUTION!

Draft 0.0 (16 May 2016)

A Particularly Vile and Clumsy Manoeuvre by Some Anti-Situationists

In this journal we have often had to point out those who, while hiding their true identity, have passed themselves off here or there as members of the SI; mostly these remain harmless enough cases of mythomania. However, now we must bring a most serious matter to the attention of every revolutionary element that knows us; a matter that is very revealing about the techniques and intentions of those responsible.

Throughout the summer of 1968, in Italy, an impostor introduced himself to a large number of people as the Situationist Mustapha Khyati. In this way he gathered information from many, who believed they were speaking to Khyati, concerning their activities in France during the occupations movement. Futhermore he attempted to compromise the SI in various ways, initially through his own despicable statements and associations, claiming that we had approved them; later, in company with others, via a number of attacks against the Situationists. This was all done under cover of the identity of Khayati, who had supposedly broken with the SI, having been their “leader” beforehand (having, for example, written The Revolution of Everyday Life under the name of Vaneigem, etc).

This imposter was at the Anarchist Congress of Carrare, and was accompanied by a Cohn-Benditist group from Nanterre. He travelled to Venice next, at the time of the Biennale. At the end of December he appeared as part of the Nanterre delegation at the UNEF congress held in Marseille, where he proved to be very cautious. There he was questioned by the Bordeaux delegation, to whom he explained that Khayati was just the second part of his name, which began differently. A little later, when he met with a delegate from Nantes, this person no longer dared to claim that he was Khayati, merely presenting himself as an “Enragé” from Nanterre. When asked if he had been in the same group as Riesel, he replied: no, but that he had found himself “objectively” of the same opinions. At the beginning of January, this strange envoy was in Rome, where he continued to pass himself off as Mustapha Khayati.

Everywhere that revolutionaries will assess that it can’t be believed that that this underling really represented the IS within the ex-“Movement of March 22” gang (in which he openly took part) he takes up another lie, whose function is equally revealing. He claims to have resigned from the SI in May “because the SI at that point had adopted a position of abstention” due to the fact that “the critique of the spectacle had itself become spectacular, etc”.

The thinking and the existence of the SI must be very annoying for some of the arrivistes of the Leftist bureacracy, and they must find themselves totally unable to apply the least real critique to it, in order for them to end up behaving in such a way. In the end they have discovered nothing better to “demonstrate” that any part of the SI has ever featured in their pathetic grouping, as they’ve insinuated to journalists hundreds of times.

We are now able to confirm that this imposter is a certain Mustapha Saha, currently a student at Nanterre of Moroccan origin. Despite the indisputably police-like style of this impersonation and his spying on revolutionaries, we don’t believe that Saha’s activity is aimed towards intelligence-gathering or denunciation to benefit the French or Moroccan authorities. The truth is extraordinary enough: he was an agent of the group that was at the centre of the erstwhile “Movement of March 22” who (their allied members having rejoined their true affiliations) remain under the direction of a certain Jean-Pierre Duteuil.

These manipulators, who are always behind the times, draw their inspiration from the practices that aid the Stalinist destruction of the revolutionary movement. However now that this movement has begun to reform itself, it knows that the practice of truth is both its milieu and its historical goal. All those who wish to participate in this movement will obviously boycott the Duteuils, the Sahas and those close to them.

Translated by Ian Thompson. From https://isinenglish.com/12-8-7-a-particularly-vile-and-clumsy-manoeuvre-by-some-anti-situationists/

Comments

A Masperisation

partisans-issue-42.jpg

From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by Fozzie on April 17, 2023

NOTICE

This translation is a first draft, and has not been independently proofread. However, to the best of my knowledge this text has never been translated into English. Therefore I am making it available in this form with the caveat that there are likely to be mistakes in it. PLEASE APPROACH IT WITH CAUTION!

Draft 0.0 (14 January 2016)

A Masperisation

Issue 42 of the journal Partisans (June 1968) – dedicated to the occupations movement – reproduced some of the documents published by the SI and the CMDO (as they had been, in much greater numbers, in many journals and pamphlets in Europe, America and Japan).

However Partisans, run by the Stalino-Castrist Maspero, distinguished itself from all the other journals by a doctoring that strongly reeked of the Stalinist school of falsification of which it is a distinguished graduate.

The CMDO’S Report on the Occupation of the Sorbonne was seriously masperised on pages 76 and 77, where the beginning and end of the text were kept, but more than half was deceitfully removed – everything that actually constituted the report on the struggles that took place in the Sorbonne. Obviously without any sign or indication of the existence of any deletion.

On page 103, this merely negative masperisation was elaborated into a striking example of total masperisation: a falsification involving the construction of a fake text by combining one section of a real text with phrases added to give it a different meaning. This concerned the tract For the Power of Workers’ Councils, reproduced without its title or date (22 May) but with the signature of the CMDO. The last part of the tract in question can be read by starting from the tenth line of the text constructed by the masperatisers. However the beginning hasn’t just vanished: it has been replaced by nine lines that not one of us has ever seen before 1 that call for a protest “today the 24 May”, and include huge concessions to the CGT (“Yes, the CGT want to bring your claims to a successful resolution”).

We are content to cite these specific excesses, without thinking that a person as notoriously sleazy as Maspero deserves to be punished for his fakery. It’s his recognised occupation. Here, it is merely enough to link his name to it. We’ll only recall how many far-fetched things he has written, as in Le Crapouillot of May-June 1969 where he wrote that the journal I.S. was “at one point distributed by Maspero”. What’s more many people whispered that the Situationists despise Maspero so much only because he would have been very pleased to have published them himself! Such remarks pass judgement on their makers. We don’t know if such talk originates within the entourage of this miserable scoundrel. We can only state that, in view of the behaviour we’ve noted here, it wouldn’t surprise us.

Translated by Ian Thomson. From https://isinenglish.com/12-8-8-a-masperisation/

  • 1“n’a jamais vues nulle part” – literally “have ever seen anywhere”

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Maitron the Historian

maitron-book.png

The S.I. on Jean Maitron, director of The Social Movement journal and its special issue on May '68. From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by libcom on September 1, 2005

The Sorbonne for itself (Workers Editions, October 1968), assembling documents on May-June 1968, is a book that claims historical objectivity. Published as a special issue of the university journal The Social Movement, it was put together under the responsibility of Jean Maitron, the journal's director, who has a certain reputation as a historian of the workers' movement, and even as a "libertarian." For the rest, it's best to note that the collaborators on this book included J.C. and Michelle Perrot, as well as Madeleine Reberioux, who is notoriously a member of the French Stalinist party.

This book speaks of the situationists, with many erroneous details, and reproduces some of our documents from May. However, after having notably declared on page 6 that, "We have refused all deletions (death to the ellipsis1 that reject I-don't-know-what to hell!)," the authors have nevertheless published our "Report on the Occupation of the Sorbonne"2 in the Masperized version,3 which makes one strongly miss the use of the ellipsis, which at least reveals that one has hidden something.

But Maitron goes further than this irresponsible reproduction of a falsification that has been recovered from the trashcans of the Masperizers. He masperizes in his own interest: [on] page 165, he presents an "anonymous tract" that "expresses quite well the view of the situationists." From whence comes this prescience? It is quite simple. It is a question -- this time, as an isolated text -- of nine repugnant, pro-C.G.T.4 lines originally published by the journal Partisans and used as an added-on beginning to a fragment of a tract signed by the C.M.D.O. The fact that one isolates this transplant proves that one knows that it is a question of an autonomous tract -- in a style that can be adopted by the Reberioux, the slightly contestatory Stalinists of this epoch. But the fact that one attributes it to the S[ituationist] I[nternational] shows that one wants to profit from the attribution risked by Maspero in his selection. Thus, we see Maspero's falsification as such, and he cheerfully uses himself as a reference, without, however, saying so expressly, but by dissimulating false information behind a false consciousness of internal critique ("expresses quite well the point of view. . . ")5

On 24 October [1968], the SI wrote Maitron a letter6 that, with supporting evidence, indicated to him the grossest falsifications concerning us in his book, and demanded from him "written excuses." For two weeks, Maitron didn't respond. Then [Rene] Riesel and [Rene] Vienet went round his place, insulted him as he merited it and, to emphasize their remarks, broke a soup tureen that, the historian says, was "a family heirloom."

Thus, we have shown to this individual that his specific dishonesty would not pass unremarked [inapercue], and can even disagreeably expose him to insult. Which, we believe, will give his emulators something to think about.7 The emotions aroused by such a simple gesture have shown that we haven't failed to attain our goal. On 17 November, a letter signed by the Stalinist Reberioux and her colleagues appeared in Le Monde, denouncing the fact that their "colleague and friend" Jean Maitron "came to be a victim in his home of a veritable aggression. Several young people, presenting themselves in the name of the Situationist International, and declaring themselves unhappy with a elaborated work, however in a manner to make their place among the currents of opinion, insulted him and broke diverse objects of his." The Stalinist-Tartuffian style is flagrant. One speaks of a "veritable" aggression because one knows that an "aggression" is precisely something else. It was committed by "several" young people, since there were two -- which is progress beyond the celebrated primitive numeration: "One, two, many." Moreover, Riesel and Vienet told Maitron their names and spoke for a long time about the precise letter that they had signed. The question is not knowing if the handiwork makes its place among all "the currents of opinions," but if he falsifies our own texts when he estimates it a duty to reproduce them, etc. Following others, in December 1968, La Quinzaine Litteraire, relying as always on the same good sources, added more: "This honest historian's work can not please everyone (...) Jean Maitron was the victim of a veritable aggression in his home. These individuals, claiming kinship with the Situationist International, claimed to be reacting when they came to his house to break a typewriter and art objects. Reacting against what? Their grouping is cited in the book, a document emanating from him that is widely available (beginning of confession? -- Note from the SI). Would they like to recall, by this aggression as stupid as it is monstrous, that in social movements, there are always the 'outsiders' who want to be such and do so in such a way that one can no longer conserve the esteem that one must have for all the courageous militants?" And on 5 February 1969, at the time of a radio broadcast, Maitron, without doubt still amazed at having survived this "monstrous" aggression, denounced the situationists who "have sacked" his hearth, and affirmed that he had no fear of them. As he had completely neglected to evoke any motivation for this "aggression," one can hope that he has no fear of us because he is henceforth resolved to no longer fake our texts. Which will be very good for everyone.

Beyond the comic aspect of this incident -- "they have indulged in important depredations," writes the Proletarian Revolution of December 1968, which speaks of "fascism" and even incites "counter-violence" -- there is an important question. In our opinion, for the revolutionary movement that currently constitutes itself, the #1 objective -- even before the elaboration of a consequential theoretical critique, the liaison with the democratic base committees in the factories, or the paralysis of the University -- is practical support for a demand for truth and nonfalsification. This is the preliminary and the commencement of all the rest. All that is falsified must be discredited, boycotted, treated like scoundrels. When it is a question of systems of lying (as in the cases of the bureaucratic Stalinists or the bourgeois), these are naturally the systems that must be destroyed by a great social and political struggle. But this struggle itself must create its own conditions: when one has trouble with individuals or groups who want to place themselves somewhere in the revolutionary current, it is not at all necessary to let them pass. By doing this, the movement will break at the base with all conditions of fakery that have accompanied and provoked its disappearance for a half-century. According to us, all revolutionaries must now recognize as their immediate task the denunciation and discouragement, by all means and at all prices, of those who want to continue to falsify.8 We absolutely do not want "the esteem that one must have for all the courageous militants." Courageous militants have done too much harm to the proletarian movement; and cowards still more. We would actually like to be 'outside' the miserable generalized compromise of the last few decades, and more and more numerous are those who know that there is no longer anything to do with(in) it. As the letter says, but which Maitron didn't understand quickly enough: "Do not doubt, Sir, that the class consciousness of our epoch has made sufficient progress to know how, using its own means, to demand an accounting from the pseudo-specialists of its history, who claim to continue to subsist on its practice."

To respond in advance to those who will still say that the situationists always insult everyone to the same degree and disapprove in the absolute, we will cite two books that have made a great place for our documents or for an analysis of our action in May [1968]: The Revolutionary Project by Richard Gombin (Editions Mouton, 1969) and Newspaper of the Student Commune by Alain Schnapp and P. Vidal-Naquet (Seuil, first trimester, 1969). Although we are in disagreement with the methods and the ideas of these authors, and thus with the quasi-totality of their interpretations, and even with certain facts, we willingly recognize that these books are honestly composed, that they correctly quote from the examined documents in their original versions; and thus that they provide the materials that can serve to write the history of the [May 1968] occupations movement.

Unattributed; probably written by Guy Debord. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! February 2006. From https://www.notbored.org/maitron.html

  • 1Trans. Literally, the perforated lines (pointilles).
  • 2Trans. Signed by the Council for Maintaining the Occupations (C.M.D.O.), 19 May 1968.
  • 3Trans. The version as it was published by Editions Maspero (Paris), not the Situationist International, which re-printed the original in Enrages and Situationists in the Occupations Movement (1968). "Masperized" quickly became situationist slang for texts that had been edited to the point of falsification.
  • 4Trans. General Confederation of Workers, a Stalinist organization.
  • 5Trans. Note that the first three paragraphs of this text are replaced by a summary in Ken Knabb's masperized version, which has long been the only English translation available, that is, until this one.
  • 6Trans. See letter from Guy Debord et. al dated 24 October 1968.
  • 7Trans. Note that the rest of this paragraph is replaced by a summary in Ken Knabb's masperized version.
  • 8Trans. Note that the rest of this paragraph is replaced by an ellipsis in Ken Knabb's masperized version.

Comments

BNB

15 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by BNB on January 25, 2009

full text, better translation
http://www.notbored.org/maitron.html

radicalgraffiti

15 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by radicalgraffiti on January 25, 2009

do you do any thing but advertise notbored.com?

Submitted by BNB on January 25, 2009

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 www.notbored.org not www.notbored.com (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?

Great Friends of Old What's-His-Name

From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by Fozzie on April 18, 2023


FRENCH HIGH-SCHOOL WALL (1969)
"Don't say: Mr Teacher, sir. . . Say: Drop dead, you bastard!"

The death of André Breton and an invitation from Havana were enough to turn the ex-surrealists of L'Archibras into apologists for the Castroite bureaucracy. In January 1968, the great political mind of this bunch, Jean Schuster, along with the ex-Stalinists Borde, Châtelet, Marguerite Duras, Mascolo and a few other suckers, signed a declaration asserting that "it is in Cuba and through the Cuban revolution that the demand for communism has discovered not only a living center, but its potential for the future." Eight months later, with the exceptions of Borde and Châtelet, the persons cited above had the unpleasant surprise of having to express their respectful regrets at "comrade Castro's" cynical speech of 23 August approving the Russian army's "socialist" intervention in Czechoslovakia, an intervention whose strategic intention was undeniably to eradicate the threat of a proletarian revolution.

When the disturbances that would become the occupations movement were beginning in France, the Castro-surrealists' only perceptible contribution was the publication of a small tract on 5 May proclaiming that "the surrealist movement is at the disposal of the students" (the italicization of this remarkable inanity is ours).

And yet in June 1969, long after the carnival was over, a "Writers' and Students' Committee," led by Schuster himself and littérateurs like Duras and Mascolo, published a text in the Italian periodical Quindici that went so far as to accuse the situationists of having as much to do with revolution "as they did with literature"! With an aplomb more than worthy of their masters past and present, the authors of this text concluded that the SI's activity in May was limited to writing slogans on walls — and only those phrases that would edify "certain bourgeois sensibilities." This omniscience seems fantastic enough for having seen all the walls of Paris at the time, on which so many unknowns spontaneously wrote, reproduced or adapted everything that they wanted, or that appealed to them among inscriptions they had already seen. But these "writer-students" pushed the imposture to the point of presenting Viénet's book as "proof" of their claims. They know very well that this book attributes no more than five or six inscriptions to the situationists and the Enragés, and that these are presented in the specific times and places where they had some practical significance. And that Viénet, recounting the entirety of our conduct in that period, cites a number of facts and documents that are obviously much more important as far as subversion is concerned. But Schuster and the other scumbags were happy to announce the following dogma: "that which no bourgeois could appreciate in May. . . was not situationist."

We'll let our readers be the judge of these characters — even in literature, their one little substitute for living — especially if it is pointed out that an article published in L'Archibras on 18 June reported admiringly on one of the first radical speeches to the Sorbonne assembly: "One voice dared (...) to demand amnesty for 'looters' (...) this proposition was met with angry jeers. This was the beginning. . . ." It concerned René Riesel's speech during the election of the first occupation committee, also quoted by Viénet.1 The only place where liars of the caliber of Jean Schuster and his friends can escape humiliation is in regimes where they can work with a police force that forbids any recourse to reality — a place like Cuba, for example.

  • 1See p.49 of Enragés and Situationists.

Comments

Pushy Salesmen

a beautiful sunset with text from the letter

Raoul Vaneigem gracefully declines an invitation to join the "Writers' Union". From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by Fozzie on April 18, 2023

In June 1968, Vaneigem received a circular from the "Writers' Union" that proposed, quite simply, that he join them, asking whether he wanted to "participate in the work of the professional commission (PC), the ideological commission (IC), or both," and if he would like to send thirty francs to Jean-Pierre Faye.1 He responded immediately with the following letter:

Pigs! Festering dregs from some intellectual's urinal! Morons! The stench of your own decomposition must have gone to your head for you to wind up asking a situationist to join the lowest of your filthy little gangs. You are the most pitiful bastards in twenty years of misery and lies. We know who you are, you fuck-ups.

Among other things, what just occurred in France has brought into the open the shameful worthlessness of your era. But even so, you doormats persist in thinking there is still a bit of spit left for you to capitalize on by making people talk about you again, by re-petitioning, by reconstituting yourselves into ideological commissions and what-not, by applying for the concierge's room in the House of Men of Letters.

Imbiciles! You are all as hackneyed as your Bourguibaist Duvignaud,2 as your unspeakable Sartre, as your ridiculous Faye, who aspires to count the pennies in your little treasury.

You'll realize soon that the time for such jokes is nearly over. The times are changing, and yours is just about up. We'll be seeing you, you pricks.

Translated by Reuben Keehan. From https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/salesmen.html

  • 1Jean-Pierre Faye (b.1925), French poet, playwright, novelist and essayist, member of Tel Quel and founder of Change.
  • 2Jean Duvignaud (b.1921), French playwright and social anthropologist, Arguments contributer and supporter of gradualist Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba (1903-2000).

Comments

What Makes ICO Lie?

The S.I. on Informations et Correspondance Ouvrieres. Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969)

Submitted by Fozzie on April 19, 2023

In the preceding number of this review (October 1967)1 , we mentioned the many points of agreement we thought we had with the people who publish the bulletin Informations et Correspondance Ouvrieres, without hiding our disagreement over their refusal to "formulate a precise theoretical critique of real society" and making it clear on the other hand that we didn't know them directly. A few of the people who are among us today had had the occasion to know them directly in the meantime, but it will be seen that that is not the only reason for our not knowing them better.

At that time, all we knew about ICO was what we learned from reading its bulletin: that it was an anti-union, predominantly anarchist group. That having been explained, it was not surprising to see them talk about councils without daring to define themselves as councilists, nor to read in their platform ("Who We Are: What We Want") of their definition of their action: "All we can do is furnish the workers with information, in the same respect as they can give us some." What On the Poverty of Student Life called ICO's choice of nonexistence only partially recuperates its reality.

ICO exists and this existence is weighted down heavily enough by lies of omission, secret hierarchy, and direct exhaustion. A member of the group of Enrages (Rene Riesel) attended a meeting of the ICO at the end of March 1968. Since he was asked to, he gave an account of his group's activities, and of the situation in the University of Nantes and Nanterre. This report was published in the issue of ICO that followed this meeting, in a hostile style and with a great deal of misconceptions. Surprised by this malevolence, but all the same conscious of the source of the action (people from Noir et Rouge participating in the ICO, friends of Daniel Cohn-Bendit and the March 22d Movement), the Enrages called by letter for the publication of a severely critical flyer. At the next meeting, the March 22d Movement dispatched a delegate who demanded the joint publication of a response to the flier. The Enrages accepted. Alleging that it was inelegant to mention people one attacked by name (Cohn-Bendit in this instance, who already had the attention of all the daily papers), the ICO's bosses never published the flyer.

The elegance of these people, on a par with the discretion which makes them conceal their opponent's names and texts, is easily perceived. The reason behind it lies in the fact that, however unnatural they may want that to be believed, ICO has an opposition. And it is more in their alacrity to disguise this triviality than in the virtuous antipathy to the printed page, where one finds the explanation of the rage which seized them when a certain number of revolutionaries wrote them to establish contact at the end of the note "Reading ICO" that appeared in IS #11 (October 1967). In a leaflet dated 27 April 1968, ICO complained about the criticisms "of a group of students called the 'Enrages,' influenced by the situationists, who have manifested a sudden interest in ICO." All of a sudden, the mini-proprietors of ICO saw themselves as centers of attention! And they made it clear that it could only have been caused by "ideologues" and the troublesomeness of "ethics" — however, they aren't referring to their old friend Rubel — for the true class struggle "unfolds on the economic terrain and beyond all 'consciousness' (in the ideological sense of the term)." Can their adversaries and the workers be any better slighted at the same time? And historical reality?

If ICO pretends to offer more than information, it is in return required that nothing more be asked of them. The degree of participation required of its members is thus nothing but their capacity to meet once a month to repeat the same old obvious facts incessantly, communicate the same old information about the same old undertakings discouraged from the start, and bring up again at the following session the discussion of the group's general orientation. When new people try and throw their spanner in the works, the machine stops long enough to tire them out. Finally, one can write that, "Sooner or later comrades who pursue other ends (invariably the propagation of an ideology in one form or another) expel themselves on their own initiative for some reason or other, that is to say, they stop coming." This hypocritical tone should dispel any illusions: when "comrades" clearly saw that they intend to steer the discussion towards the interior of the group, on the basis of affirmed principles, not to negate them, but to go beyond them, to supersede primary economism and to attempt a critique of daily life as well, ICO shows them the door because their text is too long! And when the same "comrades" print it themselves, ICO refuses to send them the list of subscribers. Five or six oppositionals whom we do not know were expelled in this manner at the beginning of 1968. Two months later, the same problem was brought up anew by others.

The fact that the Enrages approached ICO at the same instant seemed to ICO's masters to reveal a vast conspiracy aimed at undermining the perpetuity of their power over the group. That is no doubt why, while minimizing the impact of the movement when it began to take shape, they preferred the March 22d Movement against the Enrages. The Cohn-Benditist wing with which they were in contact sufficiently guaranteed the formal nonexistence and the absence of coherent theory of the March 22d Movement, by means of which ICO placed their confidence in it: at least three students wouldn't butt into the affairs of the ICO's conscious workers.

This consciousness goes no further than their sense of the ridiculous. The lamentable analyses of their May '68 issue, which appeared at the moment when a major confrontation could be anticipated without extrapolation, and which wanted to prove the inanity and inadequacy of the struggle undertaken, have at least enough of the comic in them so that they don't say at what moment these shrewd observers of historical conjuncture ever noticed that "something happened" (The Mass Strike in France, May-June 19682 , ICO/Noir et Rouge pamphlet).

One can imagine that they did so at about the same time as the Stalinist Party. Nothing contradicts this hypothesis, not even the identical use of the term "general strike" to designate the occupations movement. ICO didn't jump on the bandwagon until the day when the old mole dug under the cafe in which they ordinarily met, disturbing the unfolding of their monthly meeting by the echo of the explosions of police grenades. Like the so-called Communist Party, ICO essentially sees in the occupations movement an accumulation of local strikes. The difference only resides in the fact that ICO knows and says that they were wildcat strikes. Thus, "May '68 was from this point of view (the evolution towards an autonomy of conflicts) only the brutal expression of a latent situation that had been developing over the years, in rigorous conformity with the rapid modernization of French capitalism." Only with the incredible gall of these people is it possible to minimize the occupations movement in this way without laughing, while recognizing on a suddenly lyrical note that "the great mass of workers entered the struggle driven by the will to change something in the system of exploitation." They would be able to see that "the realization of a new world in which their intervention will be total, that is to say, where they will totally manage their activity in their work, and, consequently, in their life" will pass for the explanation of the mystery which presents ICO with these realities as separated.

Who are these undeceived partisans of the wildcat strike trying to kid when they weightily explain in analyzing the class struggles in France in March 1969 ("Organizations and the Workers' Movement"), that since the wildcat strikes before May were directed towards categorical demands, and since in these after May "the workers of a limited sector of the business did not want any part of anything anyone imposed on them that was solely concerned with their working conditions (salaries or whatever), one there finds the character of the wildcat strikes in Holland, England, and the USA." The ICO writes: "Certain people will want to see in these many strikes the beginning of a generalization of the struggles, or a transformation of the struggles or of a radical transformation of the workers' movement. If May had at the same time acted as a revealing force and thus accelerated an evolution, it did not radically modify the context of these struggles." Incapable of seeing that a union doesn't just support a wildcat strike so as to get around it, but because it is far preferable to them to lose it in the meanderings of a legal strike, ICO's realists show themselves to be even more stupid than the cretins of Lutte Ouvriere: "The intransigence of the bosses and the government forced them (the unions) to organize a central demonstration on March 11" — granting that the strike of March 11, 1969 "was a part of this political exploitation of the workers' movement." It is surely because they don't beat the drum for any other position than that which they already have — as almost acknowledged specialists of anti-unionism — that ICO's "workers" can predict a beautiful future for us: "the conquest of a large number of seats in municipal and other councils." As for the workers, ICO forgets a little too easily what the revolutionary movement does to its slanderers.

ICO's hatred for everything that resembles theory doesn't stem from a contempt towards their student militants or their intellectual friends, which would be justified. The objective directors of ICO have themselves been turned into intellectuals simply by pressing the button. Now they wish that real intellectuals would come and relieve them in this arduous task so that they can devote themselves full-time to ICO's preservation, which they know has nothing to lose but an illusory existence. Students will heed their call, but revolutionaries will know that they can read ICO to find the anti-union ideology of the groupuscules in it.

Translated by Point Blank. From https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/ico.html

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Steven.

1 year 1 month ago

Submitted by Steven. on April 19, 2023

Drama!

The Elite and the Backward (excerpt)

From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

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 SI1 (which seems to us to destroy at the roots any concrete risk of our becoming a "leadership" vis-à-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 problems2 . 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. [...]

SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (1969)

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

  • 1Although 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.
  • 2“Proletarian revolution depends entirely on the condition that, for the first time, theory as understanding of human practice be recognized and lived by the masses. It requires that workers become dialecticians and put their thought into practice” (The Society of the Spectacle #123).

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One isn’t recuperated without wanting it

Guy Debord t-shirt

On avoiding a literary prize for Society of the Spectacle. From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by Fozzie on April 19, 2023

NOTICE

This translation is a first draft, and has not been independently proofread. However, to the best of my knowledge this text has never been translated into English. Therefore I am making it available in this form with the caveat that there are likely to be mistakes in it. PLEASE APPROACH IT WITH CAUTION!

Draft 0.0 (17 January 2016)

One isn’t recuperated without wanting it 1

We read in Figaro Littéraire of 16 December 1968, regarding the award of a “Prix Sainte-Beuve” to Mme Lucie Faure:

“The president Edgar Faure graciously came to congratulate his wife (…) proving that in 1968 a jury could still sit without being disrupted (…) We were saved from the protest, and even the violence, that could have occurred2 had the jury of the Prix Sainte-Beuve awarded the prize to Guy Debord for his book The Society of the Spectacle – as was the intention at one point. Mr. Debord is a savage Situationist who couldn’t have accepted being feted by the bourgeois at a cocktail party thrown by the society of consumption. He had warned his publisher Mr. Edmond Buchet: “As you know, I am completely opposed to all literary prizes. Therefore, please make that known to the people concerned, to save them from a blunder. I also have to admit that, in so regrettable an eventuality, I would probably be unable to prevent the attacks that the young Situationists would certainly make on a jury that would award such an honour, which to them would feel like an insult.”

It can be seen that the approach was very clear, and its outcomes conclusive.

Translated by Ian Thompson. From https://isinenglish.com/12-8-15-one-isnt-recuperated-without-wanting-it/

  • 1“Est récupéré qui veut bien” – a tricky phrase to translate, another option is “The recuperated really want it”
  • 2“N’empêche que nous aurions pu l’avoir la contestation” – literally “Only saving us from the protest we could have had”

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The Return of Charles Fourier

installation-fourier.jpg

On the covert erection of a statue of Charles Fourier by "enragés" in Paris. From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by Fozzie on April 20, 2023

At 7PM on Monday 10 March 1969, the precise moment when a "general strike" — carefully limited to 24 hours by union bureaucrats — was scheduled to commence, the statue of Charles Fourier was returned to its plinth in the Place Clichy, which had remained empty since the removal of its original incarnation by the Nazis. A plaque on the statue's pedestal explained: "A tribute to Charles Fourier, from the barricaders of the rue Gay-Lussac." Never before has the technique of détournement reached such a domain.

The job of putting it in place was accomplished at one of the Place Clichy's busiest times in front of more than a hundred witnesses, many of whom crowded around it, but none of whom was particularly shocked, even upon reading the plaque (hardly anyone in France is ever shocked after May 1968). The statue, an exact replica of the original, was made of plaster but finished in bronze. On first glance, it looked like the real thing. Even so, it weighed over a hundred kilograms. The police were advised of its presence shortly after, and left a guard around it for the course of the next day. It was removed by the authorities at first light the day after that.

A commando of around twenty "unknowns," as Le Monde put it on 13 March, was enough to complete the operation, which lasted a quarter of an hour. According to one witness, quoted in France-Soir on the 13th, "eight young people of twenty years of age deposited the statue with the aid of wooden beams. Not a bad performance, considering the fact that it took no less than thirty guardians of the peace and a crane to lay the plinth bare again." And L'Aurore, telling the truth for once, remarked that the whole thing was notable because "the enragés aren't usually in the habit of paying tribute."

Translated by Reuben Keehan. From https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/fourier.html

Libcom note: An interesting follow up article by Pierre Lotrous (translated by Not Bored!) is available here.

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On Repression

The aftermath of May '68. From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by Fozzie on April 20, 2023

The Leftist vocabulary of 1968, fundamentally outmoded but at the same time a step ahead of reality when came it being identified in an archaic situation, described the police action of winning back streets taken by the rioters and the barricades that gave them cover as "repression." This indignation was indicative of the old Left, so good at moralizing incorrectly with its respectful petitions. And when the real repression got underway in the middle of June — which, fortunately, remained quite limited given what had happened — they immediately cried fascism.

These Leftist groups have since disbanded. Apart from "March 22," which was incorrectly — thankfully enough — supposed to bring together marginal and original currents from across the board, the dissolved groups were all either Leninists (Trotskyites are nothing more than this) or Stalinists (Maoists are nothing more than this).

The SI's position on this point couldn't be clearer: we obviously defend, in the name of our principles, their freedom of association and speech, a freedom that they would refuse us in the name of their own principles if they ever had the chance (we might add that we find it decidedly unrevolutionary to call on the Gaullist police to disband a fascist group like "Occident," and then to congratulate oneself on such a "success").

In the aftermath of the movement, a number of assassination attempts with explosives took place. Because of this, workers in Bordeaux were imprisoned without the slightest demonstration of any visible solidarity from the revolutionary "students." Six months later, Andrée Destouet was implicated in the bombing of the façades of several Parisian banks. To examine this from the strategic point of view of social struggle, it must first of all be said that one must never play with terrorism. Furthermore, even serious terrorism has never been effective in history except when every other form of revolutionary activity was made impossible by complete repression; and therefore when a significant portion of the population was forced to side with the terrorists. However, the personality of the individual claiming responsibility for the attacks in question — Elisée Georgev — permits the affirmation that these acts were dictated by an honest intention to help the cause of the exploited; in such a way that those Leftists who had spoken on this subject of "political provocation" deserve the definitive scorn of all revolutionaries.

Although the amnesty of June 1969 put a stop to proceedings relating to just about all of the crimes and misdemeanors committed in connection with the movement of 1968, it is does not to concern foreigners formally deported at the time (among them Cohn-Bendit), as they have never been charged. Expressing their unconditional right to return to France — not, of course, with whining objections, but with every direct action possible — should be one of the immediate goals of all these groups who claim to possess the means to "paralyze" the proper functioning of a faculty, or indeed of any other sector.

Translated by Reuben Keehan. From https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/onrepression.html

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Notice

The SI responds to some rumour-mongering. From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by Fozzie on April 21, 2023

The fanatical hostility that the SI has always provoked in certain circles has, since May 1968, reached new levels of ferocity. It often assumes forms far removed from the current style of political slander, and can usually be distinguished by its improbability and its absolute uselessness. In that regard, the neurotic phrasings of this hostility are obviously produced — and this is the only "production" in which they have ever participated — by admirers spurned, or more simply, never taken into consideration by the SI: a pathetic class of dumbfounding pretenders to a ruling intellectual role that they fortunately lack the means to attain. They generally begin by convincing their entourage that they understand and approve of the SI's theory; indeed, that they know the situationists well. Then, to confirm their own value in comparison, all they have to do is to attribute to these situationists a few surpising defects from which these good saints, at least, are exempt, if it is true that they have done nothing else.

So, on top of these exaggerations, falsifications and dishonest reproaches directed at some genuine aspect of our activities, we have occassionally been made aware of various perfectly insane remarks that have been repeated ad nauseum by certain individuals, although they have certainly not had the courage to publish them in writing. It has been said in this manner that the situationists are pimps; that they have all opportunely made their way into wealthy marriages; that they sexually assault girls; that they live in princely luxury; that they did nothing in May, out of fear as well as stupidity, the story and the documents in René Viénet's book being completely false; that in the same period the same situationists reigned heirarchically in the offices they had captured, violently refusing any discussion with the mass of real revolutionaries who wanted to be received by them; and that at the same time elsewhere someone or other could bravely come to insult them and, of course, punch them in the face without them, in their unhappy consciousness, even daring to respond!

Such purely ridiculous falsifications are clear indications of their origin: the daydreams of students overcompensating for their own impotency. According to several witnesses, a student named Jean-Yves Bériou, who seems to drool most frequently in the region of Lyons, is something of a paragon of the genre, having come up with the aforementioned examples single-handedly. But there are of course many other imaginations – quanititatively not quite as fertile but of a similar quality – at work from Nanterre to Toulouse and from Strasbourg to Bourdeaux.

The main practical conclusion to be drawn from this is that there is something highly unpleasant about the attitude of those who present themselves to us by denouncing these ineptitudes, put forward by some poor fool who they had after all frequented, and to whom they had listened attentively, as if they wanted to take some kind of merit for not having been taken in or for not having sunk so low themselves. It is well known that we don't request anyone's company; and there is obviously no individual in existence for whom this is a vital need. Consequently, we will no longer allow anyone to think that they can approach us if, having encountered some inordinate slander of the SI, they have not immediately confronted the liar and broken with them, by physically assaulting them if necessary. This decision takes effect from the publication of the present issue of this journal.

Translated by Reuben Keehan. From https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/notice.html

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Concerning Nantes

book cover "La commune de nantes"

Harsh words for a book about the Nantes occupation in 1968. From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by Fozzie on April 21, 2023

Under an extremely presumptous title, The Nantes Commune (Ed. Maspero, May 1969), a certain Yannick Guin evokes the occupations movement at Nantes, propagating the inevitable banality of modern leftism: at Nantes there would have been an outline of "dual power"; the Inter-Union Strike Committee had effectively taken control of the town to a degree parallel, if not greater than that of the prefect. Leftist minorities and revolutionary syndicalists are known to wield an influence among the unions of the Loire-Atlantic area (in the FO and even in the CFDT) beyond any proportion to their national reality, an influence which is tied to certain traditions of workers' struggles and local economic conditions.

In the great strike of 1953, the outline of the Central Strike Committee's insurrectional power was clearly manifested at Nantes: it was a nice vestige of the revolutionary possibilities that syndicalism has formerly contained, during a period when the workers' movement had generally been wiped out. In 1968 the situation was completely different. The decisive contribution of the Nantese, after the sabotage conducted from the academic milieu by the revolutionary group of "students" who held the local office of the UNEF (Yvon Chotard, Quillot, etc.) and who were the first in France to bring the red flag and the black flag back into the streets together, was certainly the exploit of the workers of Sud-Aviation who inaugurated the occupation of the factories on May 14 [1968]. But, from this exemplary action alone, it is wrong to consider Nantes as a separate point in the May movement. May was essentially a nation-wide wildcat strike — and not a "mass strike" as the bureaucrats, and those who don't dare distinguish themselves from them, bashfully say. The strike didn't become "mass" through a kind of mechanical innocence, like a reaction observed in a laboratory, with the unions who never wanted to declare a "general strike" and who have since then forbidden them to use this classic term: in fact, the strike was extended against them. Thus, while for the first time a revolutionary workers' current was already struggling throughout the country against the unions, the pseudo-Commune of Nantes, with its governing Inter-Union, found itself far behind the newest and profoundest things in the occupations movement.

Next to the ordinary idiocies that make up this terrible book, Guin devoted a large space to often exact, although always maliciously presented anecdotes concerning the highly important contribution of the revolutionary "students" of Nantes. One of these anecdotes, at least, is pure fiction. It can be read in his fourth chapter: "In reality, the true influence sprang from the Situationist International, with which many exchanges were carried out. But here again the Nantes particularism was manifest. Thus one saw [Raoul] Vaneigem, the S.I.'s principal thinker, landing at Nantes and introducing himself to the local AGEN. He demanded to see Chotard immediately. They willingly answered that no one knew where he was. Vaneigem had to wait an entire afternoon, enduring the smiles of the Nantes students."

The events in this detective story were never witnessed by anyone, except the author who invented them. Vaneigem and a worker comrade went to Nantes as delegates of the Council for the Maintenance of the Occupations [CMDO]. They found Chotard at the very moment of their arrival. They certainly didn't have any "order" to give to a completely autonomous revolutionary group, just as much in regard to the SI as to the CMDO. Vaneigem, whose name was somewhat known in Nantes, took precautions not to put himself in the position of celebrity, even refusing to address a meeting as the Nantese invited him to do. The delegates of the CMDO restricted themselves to exchanging information with the revolutionaries of Nantes: the latter had previously sent several comrades (Chotard among them) to Paris two or three times, who were received equally quickly and cordially by the C.M.D.O., as was natural. They certainly didn't come to search for orders in Paris, and nobody, happily, ever thought of notifying them about it. It follows that they didn't come to give us any orders, either.

In fact, if several Nantes radicals — having had during the year preceding the occupations movement many discussions and exchanges of letters, on a clearly specified base of autonomy and equality — had evolved towards many, but not all, of our positions, it was done in pure freedom, through the result of their own thoughts, and above all their concrete experience. They had no organizational link with us, neither open nor concealed; and still less was there the slightest trace of subjection, which in any case we didn't want, and which they certainly wouldn't have wanted any more than we.

Subsequent events seem to show that what for us was quite evident didn't appear so simple to all of the Nantes radicals, and that even this question obscurely annoyed certain people. After reading Guin's book, the SI wrote the Nantese to ask them how they reckoned on reacting to this slander, and also if they knew exactly of the existence of this Guin. On this last point, they thought they had to make a dilatory response. And on the first, they wrote us that the slander aimed at Vaneigem was nothing more than a mere detail in a generally slanderous book, and that they didn't think, as we did, that squashing slanderers was a "revolutionary duty." They comically deemed themselves to have superseded the problem by rejecting a short time period previously all reference to the academic terrain, and by setting themselves up as the "Council of Nantes."

Without examining here the problem of the validity of a voluntarist proclamation of a proletarian councilist organization existing simply on the margin of the academic milieu, and with the same source of recruitment, we considered that the lack of rigor of the comrades of the Council of Nantes unfortunately revealed that they didn't appropriate the truth of the only lesson, which, without any ill-timed disgrace, they would assuredly have had to have learned from us. Despite what we have always considered as highly valuable in their 1968 activity — and notably as concerns Yvon Chotard, whose intentions and remarkable revolutionary capacities are recognized by us — the SI immediately broke off all relations with all the members of the current "Council of Nantes." (We should point out that shortly afterwards, Juvénal Quillet let us know that since his signature had been improperly put on a leaflet of the Council of Nantes, he disassociated himself from it at once.)

Translated by Point Blank. From https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/nantes.html

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The history of the SI will be written later

Brau book covers

Critiques of two recently published books on the S.I. From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by Fozzie on April 21, 2023

NOTICE

This translation is a first draft, and has not been independently proofread. However, to the best of my knowledge this text has never been translated into English. Therefore I am making it available in this form with the caveat that there are likely to be mistakes in it. PLEASE APPROACH IT WITH CAUTION!

Draft 0.0 (15 January 2016)

The history of the SI will be written later

A number of Braus seem to wish to write books concerning the SI. But they haven’t yet been successful. One has to be a critic of the caliber of Maurice Joyeux (La Rue, No. 4, 2nd Qtr. 1969) to think, or to pretend to think, that these authors were ever part of the SI. And one must, no doubt, be a student to believe that they might have understood the slightest thing about what we are. In this case the teachers themselves obviously lack education, and all of their pedagogical good will remains insufficient to deal with this new subject of study. In his book, Watch out, Camarade, The Old World is Behind You! 1 (Albin Michel, 4th Quarter, 1968), Jean-Louis Brau has clumsily scratched the surface of the subject in one or two ill-informed chapters which are even more deficient in questions of methodology. Worse still, Mrs. Eliane Brau has, in Situationism or The New International 2 (New Editions Debresse 4th Quarter, 1968), produced an incomprehensible compilation of situationist texts, where even knowledge of how to use inverted commas escapes her: her quotations begin very often, but don’t end. On the evidence of such “extracts” debased by such commentary, one is bound to wonder what could “worry the Interior Ministries of every country” (using the words of the provocative advertising for the book) about this Situationist movement.

In November 1968 a book devoted to the SI, L’estremismo coerente dei siluazionisti, was published in Milan, Italy by Editions Ed 912. Being of a much higher standard, it presents an intelligent choice of well-translated texts, coupled with commentary that testifies to a partial understanding.

Translated by Ian Thompson. From https://isinenglish.com/12-8-20-the-history-of-the-si-will-be-written-later/

  • 1French title : “Cours, Camarade, le vieux monde est derritre toi!” (There is no English language version of this book)
  • 2French title : “Le situationnisme ou la nouvelle Internationale” (There is no English language version of this book)

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On our distribution

Update on the publication, distribution and translation of S.I. texts. From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by Fozzie on April 21, 2023

NOTICE

This translation is a first draft, and has not been independently proofread. However, to the best of my knowledge this text has never been translated into English. Therefore I am making it available in this form with the caveat that there are likely to be mistakes in it. PLEASE APPROACH IT WITH CAUTION!

Draft 0.0 (17 January 2016)

On our distribution

In July 19681 the first issues of the journals of the SI’s American (Situationist International, in New York) and Italian sections (Situazionista Internazionale, in Milan) were published (in runs of 5000 and 4000 copies respectively).

This 12th issue of Internationale Situationniste is printed in a run of 10,000 copies. Issue 3 of the Scandinavian section’s journal (Situationistisk Revolution) is currently being printed.

The pamphlet On the Poverty of Student Life has reached a total circulation that we estimate, taking its distribution in several countries into account, to be between 250,000 and 300,000 copies. Of this number about 70,000 copies were directly produced by the SI, with the remainder issued by independent revolutionary groups, or extremist newspapers and publishers. Two or three “pirate editions” (which have deleted any reference to the SI) have also been noted in France. We have already commented (in I.S. 11) on the English, Swedish, American and Spanish translations published outside France. Since then (in the spring of 1969) a further Spanish translation was printed clandestinely in Barcelona. Italian, German (Das Elend der Studenten, Berlin, 1968), Danish, and Portuguese editions have also been published. In New York, in December 1967, the English translation was reissued in a second American edition, which was subsequently serialised (starting in the December 29 1967 issue) in the Berkeley Barb, the weekly paper of the radical Berkeley students. Another Spanish translation is due to be published shortly in Mexico. In June 1968 another translation of On The Poverty appeared in issue No. 6 of Circuit, a journal by intellectuals from London, under the general heading: How To Break a System: the French Situationists.

Other SI pamphlets have also been frequently reproduced, for example: The Decline and Fall of the “Spectacle-Commodity” Economy by our American section (augmented with press clippings relating to disturbances in Newark and Detroit); and in Sweden by the revolutionary publishers Libertad (Allmänna vägen 6, Göteborg V) under the title Varn Spektaklets nedgaang och fall. The same publisher has also translated Basic Banalities (January 1968), Address to the Revolutionaries of Algeria and of All Countries, and The Explosion Point of Ideology in China. This last text was also published in Danish by our Scandinavian section. The SI’s American section has also reissued Address to the Revolutionaries, Basic Banalities, and a dozen other texts. Some SI texts have been translated by the Madrid revolutionary group the police call the “acrates”, whose members are currently serving prison terms of many years (with the exception of two or three of them who were able to elude the search).

The documents published in May-June 1968 by the SI and the CMDO have been reproduced so often that it is impossible to draw up a full list. We note only that, to our knowledge, they have been translated and published one or more times in Italy, Japan, the United States, Sweden, Venezuela, Denmark and Portugal. They had begun to be distributed in Czechoslovakia when the Russian troops took back control there.

By June 1968, six months after their publication, both Vaneigem’s and Debord’s books had sold out.

Vaneigem’s publisher immediately issued a second edition, then (when this also sold out) a third edition in May 1969. Society of the Spectacle, however, remained unavailable for eight months, until its publisher printed a second edition in March 1969. This book was published in Italy in September 1968, under the title La Società dello Spettacolo by Editions De Donato, selling many copies in “pocket book” format. The translation, however, is deeply flawed.

Translated by Ian Thompson. From https://isinenglish.com/12-8-21-on-our-distribution/

  • 1The year noted here is an error, both journals were actually published in the middle of 1969.

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The 8th Conference of the SI

On the structure of the S.I. From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by Fozzie on April 21, 2023

The next SI conference will be held in Italy at the end of September 1969.

The provides an opportunity to clarify several aspects the SI's organization in the past and in the present. Notably, this includes dispelling the strange myth of our hierarchical and dictatorial organization, which amusingly accompanies the other myth — strongly contradicted by every single one our texts — according to which we are advocates of a pure spontaneism when it comes to mass action. The most fantastic sketch of the SI's supposed evolution toward centralism can be found in the article — monstrous in every regard — published in issue 12 of the journal Communications, by Robert Estivals, a researcher at the CNRS. Beginning with an obviously false quotation from I.S. #3 — "a federative conception of the SI founded on national autonomy was imposed from the start by the Stalinist section" (sic) — the author notes that this federalism was abandoned in favor of a "central council" which "soon . . . held all the powers of the conference." He arrives at the conclusion: "Gradually, the dictatorship of this central committee actually allowed Debord to directly run the SI himself."

In order to leave this delirious reasoning where it belongs — it goes on to insinuate that the obsessive Debord single-handedly stirred up the May movement and even caused its defeat ("the action in Strasbourg, a general repetition of this undertaken in Paris . . . Debord's pronounced liking for the word 'international' is, by the way, very noticable. . . . The Situationist International is essentially the work of Debord. . . . no psychological restructuring has been carried out, and this, in our opinion, is the cause of the SI's error, and consequently, the failure of the neo-social democracy of the May 68 students") — let us remind everyone of a reality that is rather foreign to the police/psychological conception of history according to Estivals. Until this day — and this is very deliberate — the SI has never had more than twenty five to thirty participants — often less — which already throws these little histories of the deprived base commanded from above into a more truthful light. We have constantly demanded the participation of autonomous individuals, even if the real capacities of a few may not have always lived up it. Indeed, on the basis of a widely held accord in the initial period, there was complete autonomy among our various national groups; not only in practice, but also with regard to the very notions of what the SI would become, even if they did not coincide with those of opposing tendencies. Any change of position was accomplished within the groups themselves, even though there never any more than three groups conducting effective activities at any one time (most often the Dutch, French and German sections). The Central Council was therefore established at the London Conference as a council of delegates, meeting every two or three months to co-ordinate the activity of our groups, and having no kind of existence outside these meetings. Although they were nominated by the Conference, the delegates were occassionally replaced before a meeting by other members sent by their group. After the Göteborg Conference, there was a sharp debate within the SI that would be somewhat oversimplified if it were described as a confrontation between the "artists" and the "revolutionaries," but which was split along such lines to some degree. The theoretical discussion was long and extremely democratic, but in the end, the absolutely divergent practical manifestations, rupture of all solidarity and distinct breaking of engagements by the artists — who nevertheless wanted to remain in the SI and compromise it entirely by choice — led to their exclusion in 1962. At that point, the sixth Conference, in Anvers, decided that a coherent theoretical unification had been accomplished. Following this, when the question of dissolving the Central Council was posed, it was maintained only to emphasize the allegience of comrades in Scandinavia who were actively opposing the deceptive publicity of the Nashists, who for some time after purported to represent the SI in the art galleries and newspapers of Stockholm. After the dissapearance of Nashism, no further mention was ever made of this Central Council, which was formally suppressed without debate at the 1966 Paris Conference. After 1962, the SI had written that although several comrades were geographically dispersed throughout Europe, it considered itself to be a single unified group whose basic activities would be organized in France, where the journal that constituted its principle publication was issued (it ceased to carry the subtitle "central bulletin" after its 9th number). Our perspective was naturally to move on from the foundations laid by this coherent group by reforming into national sections whose activity was genuinely autonomous. The first version of this, the English section, fell apart just as it was beginning to exist as a group (cf. the note The Latest Exclusions this issue). It was only between 1968 and 1969 that the SI was once again formed into national sections, each editing its own journal (this just goes to show that there was never a "Strasbourg group," but only a few SI members who lived in that town until early 1967).

Although it includes comrades of ten different nationalities — our sections are themselves international in composition — at the time of its 8th Conference, the SI is organized into only four sections: American, French, Italian and Scandinavian.

Translated by Reuben Keehan. From https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/8th.html

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Cinema and Revolution

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From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by libcom on September 1, 2005