The Organization Question for the SI - Guy Debord

From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by libcom on September 1, 2005
  1. Everything the SI has been known for until now belongs to a period that is fortunately over. (More precisely, it can be said that that was our "second period," if the 1957-1962 activity that centered around the supersession of art is counted as the first.)

  2. The new revolutionary tendencies of present-day society, however weak and confused they may still be, are no longer confined to a marginal underground: this year they are appearing in the streets.
  3. At the same time, the SI has emerged from the silence that previously concealed it. It must now strategically exploit this breakthrough. We cannot prevent the term "situationist" from becoming fashionable here and there. We must simply act in such a way that this (natural) phenomenon works more for us than against us. To me, "what works for us" is not distinct from what serves to unify and radicalize scattered struggles. This is the SI's task as an organization. Apart from this, the term "situationist" could be used vaguely to designate a certain period of critical thought (which it is already no mean feat to have initiated), but one in which everyone is responsible only for what he does personally, without any reference to an organizational community. But as long as this community exists, it will have to distinguish itself from whoever talks about it without being part of it.
  4. Regarding the necessary tasks we have previously set for ourselves, we should now concentrate less on theoretical elaboration (which should nonetheless be continued) and more on the communication of theory, on the practical linkup with whatever new gestures of contestation appear (by quickly increasing our possibilities for intervention, criticism, and exemplary support).
  5. The movement that is hesitantly beginning is the beginning of our victory (that is, the victory of what we have been supporting and pointing out for many years). But we must not "capitalize" on this victory (with each new affirmation of a moment of revolutionary critique, at whatever level, any advanced coherent organization must know how to lose itself in revolutionary society). In present and forthcoming subversive currents there is much to criticize. It would be very poor taste for us to make this necessary critique while leaving the SI above it all.
  6. The SI must now prove its effectiveness in a new stage of revolutionary activity -- or else disappear.
  7. In order to have any chance of attaining such effectiveness, we must recognize and state several truths about the SI. These were obviously already true before; but now that we have arrived at a point where this "truth is verifying itself," it has become urgent to make it more precise.
  8. We have never considered the SI as an end it itself, but as a moment of a historical activity; the force of circumstances is now leading us to prove it. The SI's "coherence" is the relationship, striving toward coherence, between all our formulated theses and between these theses and our action; as well as our solidarity in those cases where the group is responsible for the action of one of its members (a collective responsibility that holds good regarding many issues, but not all). It cannot be some sort of mastery guaranteed to someone who would be reputed to have so thoroughly appropriated our theoretical bases that he would automatically derive from them a perfectly exemplary line of conduct. It cannot be a demand for (much less a pretension of) an equal excellence of everyone in all issues or activities.
  9. Coherence is acquired and verified by egalitarian participation in the entirety of a common practice, which simultaneously reveals shortcomings and provides remedies. This practice requires formal meetings to arrive at decisions, transmission of all information, and examination of all observed lapses.
  10. This practice presently requires more participants in the SI, drawn from among those who declare their accord and demonstrate their abilities. The small number of members, rather unjustly selected until now, has been the cause and consequence of a ridiculous overvaluation "officially" accorded to everyone merely by virtue of the fact that they were SI members, even though many of them never demonstrated the slightest real capabilities (consider the exclusions that have occurred over the past year, whether of the Garnautins or the English). Such a pseudoqualitative numerical limitation both encourages stupidities and exaggeratedly magnifies the importance of each particular stupidity.
  11. Externally, a direct product of this selective illusion has been the mythological recognition of autonomous pseudogroups, seen as gloriously situated at the level of the SI when in fact they were only feeble admirers of it (and thus inevitably soon to become dishonest vilifiers of it). It seems to me that we cannot recognize any group as autonomous unless it is engaged in autonomous practical work; nor can we recognize such a group as durably successful unless it is engaged in united action with workers (without, of course, falling short of our Minimum Definition of Revolutionary Organizations). All kinds of recent experiences have shown the coopted confusionism of the term "anarchist," and it seems to me that we must oppose it everywhere.
  12. I think that we should allow SI members to constitute distinct tendencies oriented around differing preoccupations or tactical options, as long as our general bases are not put in question. Similarly, we must move toward a complete practical autonomy of national groups as soon as they are able really to constitute themselves.
  13. In contrast to the habits of the excluded members who in 1966 pretended to attain -- inactively -- a total realization of transparency and friendship in the SI (to the point that one almost felt guilty for pointing out how boring their company was), and who as a corollary secretly developed the most idiotic jealousies, lies unworthy of a gradeschool kid, and conspiracies as ignominious as they were irrational, we must accept only historical relationships among us (critical confidence, knowledge of each member's potentials and limits), but on the basis of the fundamental loyalty and integrity required by the revolutionary project that has been defining itself for over a century.
  14. We have no right to be mistaken in breaking with people. We will have to continue to be more or less frequently mistaken in admitting people. The exclusions have almost never marked any theoretical progress in the SI: we have not derived from these occasions any more precise determination of what is unacceptable (the surprising thing about the Garnautin affair was that it was an exception to this rule). The exclusions have almost always been responses to objective threats that existing conditions hold in store for our action. There is a danger of this recurring at higher levels. All sorts of "Nashisms" could reconstitute themselves: we must simply be in a position to demolish them.
  15. In order to make the form of this debate consistent with what I see as its content, I propose that this text be communicated to certain comrades close to the SI or capable of taking part in it, and that we solicit their opinion on this question.

GUY DEBORD (April 1968)

Note added August 1969:

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

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

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

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

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


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