Issue 11 of the journal of the Situationist International.
Internationale Situationniste #11
Mail: B.P. 307-03 Paris
Editorial Committee: Mustapha Khayati, J.V. Martin, Donald Nicholson-Smith, Raoul Vaneigem.
All texts published in Internationale Situationniste may be freely reproduced, translated or adapted, even without indication of origin.
The explosion point of ideology in China
The Situationists analyse the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. The Maoist regime was confronted with both faction fighting within its ruling bureaucracy and with a massive wave of class struggle challenging its power. Written with an unfulfilled optimism typical of its times.
The international association of totalitarian bureaucracies has completely fallen apart. In the words of the Address published by the situationists in Algiers in July 1965, the irreversible “collapse of the revolutionary image” that the “bureaucratic lie” counterposed to the whole of capitalist society, as its pseudonegation and actual support, has become obvious, and first of all on the terrain where official capitalism had the greatest interest in upholding the pretense of its adversary: the global confrontation between the bourgeoisie and the so-called “socialist camp.” This camp had in any case never been socialist; now, in spite of all sorts of attempts to patch it up, it has ceased even to be a camp.
The disintegration of the Stalinist monolith is already manifested in the coexistence of some twenty independent “lines,” from Rumania to Cuba, from Italy to the Vietnamese-Korean-Japanese bloc of parties. Russia, having this year become incapable of holding a joint conference of merely all the European parties, prefers to forget the era when Moscow reigned over the Comintern. Thus the Izvestia of September 1966 blames the Chinese leaders for bringing “unprecedented” discredit to “Marxist-Leninist” ideas, and virtuously deplores the confrontational style “in which insults are substituted for an exchange of opinions and revolutionary experiences. Those who choose this method confer an absolute value on their own experience and reveal a dogmatic and sectarian mentality in their interpretation of Marxist-Leninist theory. Such an attitude is inevitably accompanied by interference in the internal affairs of fraternal parties.” In the Sino-Soviet polemic, in which each power is led to impute to its opponent every conceivable antiproletarian crime, being only obliged not to mention the real crime (the class power of the bureaucracy), each side can only arrive at the sobering conclusion that the other’s revolutionariness was only an inexplicable mirage, a mirage which, lacking any reality, has now reverted to its old point of departure. Thus in New Delhi last February the Chinese ambassador described Brezhnev and Kosygin as “new czars of the Kremlin,” while the Indian government, an anti-Chinese ally of this Muscovy, discovered that “the present masters of China have donned the imperial mantle of the Manchus.” This denunciation of the new Middle Kingdom dynasty was further refined the following month in Moscow by the modernist state poet Voznesensky, who, evoking the menace of a new invasion of “the hordes of Kuchum,” counts on “eternal Russia” to build a rampart against the Mongols who threaten to bivouac among “the Egyptian treasures of the Louvre.”
The accelerating decomposition of bureaucratic ideology, as evident in the countries where Stalinism has seized power as in the others where it has lost every chance of seizing it, naturally began around issues of internationalism; but this is only the beginning of a general and irreversible disintegration. For the bureaucracy, internationalism could be nothing but an illusive proclamation in the service of its real interests, one ideological justification among others, since bureaucratic society is the total opposite of proletarian community. Bureaucratic power is based on possession of a nation-state and it must ultimately obey the logic of this reality, in accordance with the particular interests imposed by the level of development of the country it possesses. Its heroic age passed away with the ideological golden age of “socialism in a single country” that Stalin was shrewd enough to maintain by destroying the revolutions in China in 1927 and Spain in 1937. The autonomous bureaucratic revolution in China — as already shortly before in Yugoslavia — introduced into the unity of the bureaucratic world a dissolutive germ that has broken it up in less than twenty years. The general process of decomposition of bureaucratic ideology is now attaining its supreme stage in the very country where that ideology was most necessary, the country where, because of its general economic backwardness, the remaining ideological pretensions of revolution had to be pushed to their extreme: China.
The crisis that has continually deepened in China since the spring of 1966 constitutes an unprecedented phenomenon in bureaucratic society. The bureaucratic state-capitalist ruling class of Russia and East Europe, continually and necessarily exerting terror over the exploited majority, has of course often been torn apart by rivalries and antagonisms stemming from the objective problems it runs into as well as from the subjectively delirious style that a totally mendacious power is led to assume. But up till now the bureaucracy — which must be centralized due to its mode of appropriation of the economy, since it must draw from itself the hierarchical guarantee to all participation in its collective appropriation of the social surplus production — has always made its purges from the top down. The summit of the bureaucracy has to remain fixed, for the whole legitimacy of the system depends on a fixed summit. It must keep its dissensions to itself (as it always has from the time of Lenin and Trotsky). Those who hold office may be replaced or liquidated, but the office itself must always retain the same indisputable majesty. The unexplained and unanswerable repression can then normally descend to each level of the apparatus as a mere implementation of what has been instantaneously decided at the top. Beria(1) must first be killed; then judged; then his faction can be hunted down; or in fact anybody can be hunted down because the power that is doing the liquidating thereby defines who and what that faction consists of and at the same time redefines itself as the sole power. This is what is not happening in China. The persistency of the declared adversaries, in spite of the fantastic raising of bids in the struggle for total power, clearly shows that the ruling class has split in two.
A social disaster of such magnitude obviously cannot be explained, in the anecdotal style of bourgeois observers, as being the result of dissensions over foreign policy (on the contrary, the Chinese bureaucracy is quite unified in the docility with which it tolerates the insult of the crushing of Vietnam on its own doorstep). Neither could personal quarrels over succession to power have caused so much to be put at stake. When certain leaders are accused of having “kept Mao Tse-tung from power” since the end of the 1950s, everything leads one to believe that this is one of those retrospective crimes frequently fabricated during bureaucratic purges — Trotsky conducting the civil war on orders from the Mikado, Zinoviev supporting Lenin in order to work for the British Empire, etc.(2) The man who could have taken power from someone as powerful as Mao would not have slept as long as Mao was still around to come back. Mao would have died that very day, and nothing would have prevented his faithful successors from attributing his death to, say, Khrushchev. If the rulers and polemicists of the bureaucratic states certainly have a much better understanding of the Chinese crisis, their statements cannot for all that be taken any more seriously, for in talking about China they have to guard against revealing too much about themselves. The most deluded are the leftist debris of the Western countries, who are always the willing dupes of moldy sub-Leninist propaganda. They solemnly evaluate the role in Chinese society of the continuation of allowances to the capitalists who rallied to the “Communist” regime, or scrutinize the fray trying to figure out which leader represents genuine radicalism or workers’ autonomy. The most stupid among them thought there was something “cultural” about this affair, until January when the Maoist press pulled the dirty trick on them of admitting that it had been “a struggle for power from the very beginning.” The only serious debate consists in examining why and how the ruling class could have split into two hostile camps; and any investigation of this question is naturally impossible for those who don’t recognize that the bureaucracy is a ruling class, or who ignore the specificity of this class and reduce it to the classical conditions of bourgeois power.
On the why of the breach within the bureaucracy, it can be said with certainty only that it was a matter in which the ruling class’s very domination was at stake since in order to settle it each side remained unyielding and neither hesitated to immediately risk their joint class power by jeopardizing all the existing conditions of their administration of the society. The ruling class must thus have known that it could no longer govern as before. There is no question that the conflict involved the management of the economy, and that the collapse of the bureaucracy’s successive economic policies is the cause of that conflict’s extreme acuteness. The failure of the “Great Leap Forward” — mainly because of the resistance of the peasantry — not only put an end to the prospect of an ultravoluntarist takeoff of industrial production, but led to a disastrous disorganization whose effects were felt for several years.(3) Even agricultural production has scarcely increased since 1958 (the increase of food supplies does not even match the rate of population growth).
It is less easy to say over what specific economic options the ruling class split. Probably one side (consisting of the majority of the Party apparatus, the union leaders and the economists) wanted to continue, or increase more or less considerably, the production of consumer goods and to sustain the workers’ efforts with economic incentives; this policy would imply making some concessions to the peasants and especially to the factory workers, as well as increasing a hierarchically differentiated consumption for a good part of the bureaucracy. The other side (including Mao and a large segment of the higher-ranking army officers) probably wanted to resume at any price the effort to industrialize the country through an even more extreme recourse to terror and ideological energy, an unlimited superexploitation of the workers, and perhaps an “egalitarian” sacrifice in consumption for a considerable segment of the lower bureaucracy. Both positions are equally oriented toward maintaining the absolute domination of the bureaucracy and are calculated in terms of the necessity of erecting barriers against any class struggles that threaten that domination. In any case, the urgency and vital character of this choice was so evident to everyone that both camps felt they had to run the risk of immediately aggravating the conditions in which they found themselves by the disorder of their very schism. It is quite possible that the obstinacy on both sides is justified by the fact that there is no satisfactory solution to the insurmountable problems of the Chinese bureaucracy; that the two options confronting each other were thus equally unfeasible; and that some choice nevertheless had to be made.
As for figuring out how a division at the summit of the bureaucracy was able to descend from level to level — recreating at every stage remote-controlled confrontations which in turn incited or exacerbated oppositions throughout the Party and the state, and finally among the masses — it is probably necessary to take into account the survival of aspects of the ancient manner of administering China by provinces tending toward semiautonomy. The Peking Maoists’ denunciation in January of “independent fiefs” clearly suggests this reality, and the development of the disturbances over the last few months confirms it. It is quite possible that the phenomenon of regionally autonomous bureaucratic power, which during the Russian counterrevolution was manifested only weakly and sporadically by the Leningrad organization, found firm and multiple bases in bureaucratic China, resulting in the possibility of a coexistence within the central government of clans and constituents holding entire regions of bureaucratic power as their personal property and bargaining with each other on this basis. Bureaucratic power in China was not born out of a workers movement, but out of the military regimentation of peasants during a 22-year war. The army has remained closely interlinked with the Party, all of whose leaders have also been military chiefs, and it remains the principal training school of the peasant masses from which the Party selects its future cadres. It seems, moreover, that the local administrations installed in 1949 were largely based on the regions traversed by the different army regiments moving from the north to the south, leaving in their wake at every stage men who were linked to those regions by geographical origin (or by family ties: the propaganda against Liu Shao-ch’i and others has fully exposed this nepotistic factor in the consolidation of bureaucratic cliques). Such local bases of semiautonomous power within the bureaucratic administration could thus have been formed by a combination of the organizational structures of the conquering army with the productive forces it found to control in the conquered regions.
When the Mao faction began its public offensive against the entrenched positions of its adversaries by dragooning and indoctrinating students and schoolchildren, it was in no way for the purpose of directly initiating a “cultural” or “civilizing” remolding of the mass of workers, who were already squeezed as tightly as possible into the ideological straitjacket of the regime. The silly diatribes against Beethoven or Ming art, like the invectives against a supposed occupation or reoccupation of positions of power by a Chinese bourgeoisie that has obviously been annihilated as such, were only presented for the benefit of the spectators — though not without calculating that this crude ultraleftism might strike a certain chord among the oppressed, who have, after all, some reason to suspect that there are still several obstacles in their country to the emergence of a classless society. The main purpose of this operation was to make the regime’s ideology, which is by definition Maoist, appear in the street in the service of this faction. Since the adversaries could themselves be nothing other than officially Maoist, imposing a struggle on this terrain immediately put them in an awkward position. It forced them to make “self-critiques,” the insufficiency of which, however, expressed their actual resolution to hold on to the positions they controlled. The first phase of the struggle can thus be characterized as a confrontation of the official owners of the ideology against the majority of the owners of the economic and state apparatus. But the bureaucracy, in order to maintain its collective appropriation of society, needs the ideology as much as it does the administrative and repressive apparatus; the venture into such a separation was thus extremely dangerous if it was not quickly resolved.
The majority of the apparatus, including Liu Shao-ch’i himself despite his shaky position in Peking, resisted obstinately. After their first attempt to block the Maoist agitation at the university level by setting up effectively anti-Maoist “work groups” among the students, that agitation spread into the streets of all the large cities and everywhere began to attack, by means of wall posters and direct action, the officials who had been designated as “capitalist-roaders” — attacks that were not without errors and excesses of zeal. These officials organized resistance wherever they could. It is likely that the first clashes between workers and “Red Guards”(4) were in fact initiated by Party activists in the factories under orders from local officials. Soon, however, the workers, exasperated by the excesses of the Red Guards, began to intervene on their own. When the Maoists spoke of “extending the Cultural Revolution” to the factories and then to the countryside, they gave themselves the air of having decided on a movement which had in fact come about in spite of their plans and which throughout autumn 1966 was totally out of their control. The decline of industrial production; the disorganization of transportation, irrigation and state administration (despite Chou En-lai’s efforts); the threats to the autumn and spring harvests; the halting of all education (particularly serious in an underdeveloped country) for more than a year — all this was the inevitable result of a struggle whose extension was solely due to the resistance of the sector of the bureaucracy in power that the Maoists were trying to make back down.
The Maoists, who have virtually no experience with struggles in urban environments, will have had good occasion to verify Machiavelli’s precept: “One should take care not to incite a rebellion in a city while imagining that one can stop it or direct it at will” (History of Florence). After a few months of pseudocultural pseudorevolution, real class struggle has appeared in China, with the workers and peasants beginning to act for themselves. The workers cannot be unaware of what the Maoist perspective means for them; the peasants, seeing their individual plots of land threatened, have in several provinces begun to divide among themselves the land and equipment of the “People’s Communes” (these latter being merely the new ideological dressing of the preexisting administrative units, generally corresponding to the old cantons). The railroad strikes, the Shanghai general strike (denounced, as in 1956 Budapest, as a favored weapon of the capitalists), the strikes of the great Wuhan industrial complex, of Canton, of Hupeh, of the metal and textile workers in Chungking, the peasants’ attacks in Szechwan and Fukien — these movements came to a culmination in January, bringing China to the brink of chaos. At the same time, following in the wake of the workers who in September 1966 in Kwangsi had organized themselves as “Purple Guards” in order to fight the Red Guards, and after the anti-Maoist riots in Nanking, “armies” began to form in various provinces, such as the “August 1st Army” in Kwangtung. The national army had to intervene everywhere in February and March in order to subdue the workers, to direct production through “military control” of the factories, and even (with the support of the militia) to control work in the countryside. The workers’ struggles to maintain or increase their wages — that famous tendency toward “economism” denounced by the masters of Peking — was accepted or even encouraged by some local cadres of the apparatus in their resistance to rival Maoist bureaucrats. But the main impetus of the struggle was clearly an irresistible upsurge from the rank-and-file workers — the authoritarian dissolution in March of the “professional associations” that had formed after the first dissolution of the regime’s labor unions, whose bureaucracy had been deviating from the Maoist line, is a good demonstration of this. In Shanghai that same month the Jiefang Ribao condemned “the feudal tendencies of these associations, which are formed not on a class basis (i.e., not on the basis of a Maoist total monopoly of power) but on the basis of trades and which struggle for the partial and immediate interests of the workers in those trades.” This defense of the real owners of the general and permanent interests of the collectivity was also distinctly expressed on February 11 in a joint directive from the Council of State and the Military Commission of the Central Committee: “All elements who have seized or stolen arms must be arrested.”
While the settlement of this conflict — which has certainly cost tens of thousands of lives and involved fully equipped regiments and even warships — is being entrusted to the Chinese army, that army is itself divided. It has to ensure the continuation and intensification of production at a time when it is no longer in a position to ensure the unity of power in China. Moreover, the army’s direct intervention against the peasants would present the gravest risks because it has been recruited largely from the peasantry. The truce sought by the Maoists in March and April, when they declared that all Party personnel were redeemable with the exception of a “handful” of traitors, and that the principal menace was now “anarchism,” expressed not merely the anxiety over the difficulty of reining in the liberatory desires that the Red Guard experiences had awakened among the youth; it expressed the ruling class’s anxiety at having arrived at the brink of its own dissolution. The Party and the central and provincial administration were falling apart. “Labor discipline must be reestablished.” “The idea of excluding and overthrowing all cadres must be unconditionally condemned” (Red Flag, March 1967). A month earlier New China declared: “You smash all the officials . . . but when you have taken over some administrative body what do you have besides an empty room and some rubber stamps?” Rehabilitations and new compromises are following one another erratically. The very survival of the bureaucracy has ultimate priority, pushing its diverse political options into the background as mere means.
By spring 1967 it was evident that the “Cultural Revolution” was a disastrous failure and that this failure was certainly the most colossal of the long line of failures of the bureaucratic regime in China. In spite of the extraordinary cost of the operation none of its goals has been attained. The bureaucracy is more divided than ever. Every new power installed in the regions held by the Maoists is dividing in its turn: the “Revolutionary Triple Alliance” — Army-Party-Red Guard — has not ceased falling apart, both because of the antagonisms between these three forces (the Party, in particular, tending to remain aloof, getting involved only to sabotage the other two) and because of the continually aggravated antagonisms within each one. It seems as difficult to patch up the old apparatus as it would be to build a new one. Most importantly, at least two-thirds of China is in no way controlled by the regime in Peking.
Besides the governmental committees of partisans of Liu Shao-ch’i and the movements of workers’ struggles that continue to assert themselves, the warlords are already reappearing in the uniforms of independent “Communist” generals, negotiating directly with the central power and following their own policies, particularly in the peripheral regions. General Chang Kuo-hua, master of Tibet in February, after street fighting in Lhasa used armored cars against the Maoists. Three Maoist divisions were sent to “crush the revisionists.” They seem to have met with limited success since Chang Kuo-hua still controlled the region in April. On May 1 he was received in Peking, with negotiations ending in a compromise: he was entrusted to form a Revolutionary Committee to govern Szechwan, where in April a “Revolutionary Alliance” influenced by a certain General Hung had seized power and imprisoned the Maoists; since then, in June, members of a People’s Commune seized arms and attacked the army. In Inner Mongolia the army, under the direction of Deputy Political Commissar Liu Chiang, declared itself against Mao in February. The same thing happened in Hopeh, Honan and Manchuria. In May, General Chao Yungshih carried out an anti-Maoist putsch in Kansu. Sinkiang, where the atomic installations are located, was neutralized by mutual agreement in March, under the authority of General Wang En-mao; the latter, however, is reputed to have attacked “Maoist revolutionaries” in June. Hupeh was in July in the hands of General Chen Tsai-tao, commander of the Wuhan district, one of the oldest industrial centers in China. In the old style of the “Sian Incident,”(5) he arrested two of the main Peking leaders who had come to negotiate with him. The Prime Minister had to go there in person, and his obtaining the release of his emissaries was announced as a “victory.” During the same period 2400 factories and mines were paralyzed in that province following an armed uprising of 50,000 workers and peasants. At the beginning of summer the conflict was in fact continuing everywhere: in June “conservative workers” of Honan attacked a textile mill with incendiary bombs; in July the coal miners of Fushun and the oil workers of Tahsing were on strike, the miners of Kiangsi were driving out the Maoists, there were calls for struggle against the “Chekiang Industrial Army” (described as an “anti-Marxist terrorist organization”), peasants threatened to march on Nanking and Shanghai, there was street fighting in Canton and Chungking, and the students of Kweiyang attacked the army and seized Maoist leaders. The government, having decided to prohibit violence “in the regions controlled by the central authorities,” seems to be having a hard time of it even there. Unable to stop the disorders, it is stopping the news of them by expelling most of the rare foreigners in residence.
But at the beginning of August the fractures in the army have become so dangerous that the official Peking publications are themselves revealing that the partisans of Liu are “trying to set up an independent reactionary bourgeois kingdom within the army” and that “the attacks against the dictatorship of the proletariat in China have come not only from the higher echelons, but also from the lower ones” (People’s Daily, August 5). Peking has gone so far as to openly admit that at least a third of the Army has declared itself against the central government and that even a large part of the old China of eighteen provinces is out of its control. The immediate consequences of the Wuhan incident seem to have been very serious: an intervention of paratroopers from Peking, supported by gunboats ascending the Yangtze from Shanghai, was repulsed after a pitched battle; arms from the Wuhan arsenal are also reported to have been sent to the anti-Maoists of Chungking. It should be noted, moreover, that the Wuhan troops belonged to the army group under the direct authority of Lin Piao, the only one considered completely loyal. Toward the middle of August the armed struggles have become so widespread that the Maoist government has come around to officially condemning this sort of continuation of politics by means that are turning against it, stating its firm conviction that it will win out by sticking to “struggle with the pen” instead of the sword.(6) Simultaneously it is announcing distribution of arms to the masses in the “loyal zones.” But where are such zones? Fighting has broken out again in Shanghai, which had been presented for months as one of the rare strongholds of Maoism. In Shantung soldiers are inciting the peasants to revolt. The leaders of the Air Force are denounced as enemies of the regime. And as in the days of Sun Yat-sen,(7) Canton, toward which the 47th Army is moving in order to reestablish order, stands out as a beacon of revolt, with the railroad and transit workers in the forefront: political prisoners have been liberated, arms destined for Vietnam have been seized from freighters in the port, and an undetermined number of individuals have been hung in the streets. Thus China is slowly sinking into a confused civil war, which is both a confrontation between diverse regions of fragmented state-bureaucratic power and a clash of workers’ and peasants’ demands with the conditions of exploitation that the fragmented bureaucratic leaderships have to maintain everywhere.
Since the Maoists have presented themselves as the champions of absolute ideology (we have seen how successfully), they have so far naturally met with the most extravagant degree of respect and approbation among Western intellectuals, who never fail to salivate to such stimuli. K.S. Karol, in the Nouvel Observateur of February 15, learnedly reminds the Maoists not to forget that “the real Stalinists are not potential allies of China, but its most irreducible enemies: for them, the Cultural Revolution, with its antibureaucratic tendencies, is suggestive of Trotskyism.” There were, in fact, many Trotskyists who identified with it — thereby doing themselves perfect justice! Le Monde, the most unreservedly Maoist paper outside China, day after day announced the imminent success of Monsieur Mao Tse-tung, finally taking the power that had been generally believed to have been his for the past eighteen years. The sinologists, virtually all Stalino-Christians — this combination can be found everywhere, but particularly among them — have resurrected the “Chinese spirit” to demonstrate the legitimacy of the new Confucius. The element of silliness that has always been present in the attitude of moderately Stalinophile leftist bourgeois intellectuals could hardly fail to blossom when presented with such Chinese record achievements as: This “Cultural Revolution” may well last 1000 or even 10,000 years. . . . The Little Red Book has finally succeeded in “making Marxism Chinese.” . . . “The sound of men reciting the Quotations of Chairman Mao with strong, clear voices can be heard in every Army unit.” . . . “Drought has nothing frightening, Mao Tse-tung Thought is our fertilizing rain.” . . . “The Chief of State was judged responsible . . . for not having foreseen the about-face of General Chiang Kai-shek when the latter turned his army against the Communist troops” (Le Monde, 4 April 1967; this refers to the 1927 coup, which was foreseen by everyone in China but which had to be awaited passively in order to obey Stalin’s orders).(8) . . . A chorale sings the hymn entitled One Hundred Million People Take Up Arms To Criticize The Sinister Book “How To Be A Good Communist” (a formerly official manual by Liu Shao-ch’i). . . . The list could go on and on; we can conclude with this gem from the People’s Daily of July 31: “The situation of the Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China is excellent, but the class struggle is becoming more difficult.”
After so much ado the historical conclusions to be drawn from this period are simple. No matter where China may go from here, the image of the last revolutionary-bureaucratic power has shattered. Its internal collapse is added to the continuing disasters of its foreign policy: the annihilation of Indonesian Stalinism;(9) the break with Japanese Stalinism; the destruction of Vietnam by the United States; and finally Peking’s proclamation in July that the Naxalbari “insurrection” was the beginning of a Maoist-peasant revolution throughout India (this a few days before it was dispersed by the first police intervention). By adopting such a delirious position Peking broke with the majority of its own Indian partisans — the last large bureaucratic party that remained loyal to it. At the same time, China’s internal crisis reflects its failure to industrialize the country and make itself a credible model for the underdeveloped countries.
Ideology, pushed to its extreme, shatters. Its absolute use is also its absolute zero: the night in which all ideological cows are black. When, amidst the most total confusion, bureaucrats fight each other in the name of the same dogma and everywhere denounce “the bourgeois hiding behind the red flag,” doublethink has itself split in two. This is the joyous end of ideological lies, dying in ridicule. It is not just China, it is our whole world that has produced this delirium. In the August 1961 issue of Internationale Situationniste we said that this world would become “at all levels more and more painfully ridiculous until the moment of its complete revolutionary reconstruction.” This process now seems to be well on its way. The new period of proletarian critique will learn that it must no longer shelter from criticism anything that pertains to it, and that every existing ideological comfort represents a shameful defeat. In discovering that it is dispossessed of the false goods of its world of falsehood, it must understand that it is the specific negation of the totality of the global society. And it will discover this also in China. The global breakup of the Bureaucratic International is now being reproduced at the Chinese level in the fragmentation of the regime into independent provinces. Thus China is rediscovering its past, which is once again posing to it the real revolutionary tasks of the previously vanquished movement. The moment when Mao is supposedly “recommencing in 1967 what he was doing in 1927” (Le Monde, 17 February 1967) is also the moment when, for the first time since 1927, the intervention of the worker and peasant masses has surged over the entire country. As difficult as it may be for them to become conscious of their autonomous objectives and put them into practice, something has died in the total domination to which the Chinese workers were subjected. The proletarian “Mandate of Heaven” has expired.(10)
16 August 1967
1. Lavrenti Beria, head of Soviet secret police, was arrested and executed immediately after Stalin’s death in 1953.
2. Accusations fabricated during the Moscow Trials of 1936-1938 in which Stalin eliminated virtually all the former Bolshevik leaders except himself.
3. Great Leap Forward (1958-1962): Mao’s pet scheme for ultrarapid industrialization, which resulted in economic chaos and famines killing millions of people. Its failure caused Mao to be replaced as president of China by Liu Shao-chi (though he retained the powerful post of Chairman of the Communist Party).
4. Red Guards: youth enlisted by the Mao faction to attack the rival “revisionist” bureaucrats. Some groups of Red Guards, however, were actually set up and controlled by the anti-Mao faction. Others, though originally pro-Mao, ended up overflowing the control of the Maoist bureaucracy by taking the Maoist radical rhetoric seriously.
5. Sian Incident: In 1936 Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-chek was imprisoned in Sian (Xi’an) by one of his own generals, who was in favor of an alliance with the Communist Party against the Japanese invaders. On Stalin’s insistence Chiang was turned loose in exchange for his agreement to the united front between the CP and the Kuomintang that was effected a few months later.
6. Reference to Clausewitz’s maxim, “War is a continuation of politics by other means,” with perhaps also an ironic allusion to Mao’s saying, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
7. Sun Yat-sen: leader of the Chinese nationalist movement until his death in 1925.
8. On the advice of the Chinese Communist Party, the workers who had revolted and taken over Shanghai in 1927 welcomed Chiang Kai-chek’s army into the city and allowed themselves to be disarmed; after which they were massacred. See Harold Isaacs’s The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution.
9. “None of these disasters, however, are so gross as the bloody downfall of Indonesian Stalinism, whose bureaucratic mania blinded it to the point of expecting to seize power only by way of plots and palace revolution, although it was in control of an immense movement — a movement it led to annihilation without ever having led it into battle (it is estimated that there have been over 300,000 executions)” (Internationale Situationniste #10, p. 65).
10. The “Mandate of Heaven” is the traditional right of Chinese emperors to rule. When this mandate is lost — as revealed by inauspicious signs expressing the disfavor of Heaven — it is time for a revolution to establish a new dynasty.
For simplicity’s sake I have left all the Chinese proper names in the Wade-Giles system of romanization that was used in the original SI article, instead of the now-standard Pinyin system. (Peking is now Beijing, Mao Tse-tung is now Mao Zedong, etc.) A few of the alternative forms are indicated in the Index.
For an excellent later and more detailed account of the Cultural Revolution, see Simon Leys’s The Chairman’s New Clothes: Mao and the Cultural Revolution.
“Le point d’explosion de l’idéologie en Chine” was originally published as a pamphlet August 1967, then reprinted in Internationale Situationniste #11 (Paris, October 1967). This translation by Ken Knabb is from the Situationist International Anthology (Revised and Expanded Edition, 2006). [http://bopsecrets.org/cat.htm] No copyright.
Two Local Wars
The Arab-Israel war was a dirty trick pulled by modern history on the good conscience of the Left, which was communing in the great spectacle of its protest against the Vietnam war. The false consciousness that saw in the NLF the champion of "socialist revolution" against American imperialism could only get entangled and collapse amidst its insurmountable contradictions when it had to decide between Israel and Nasser. Yet throughout all its ludicrous polemics it never stopped proclaiming that one side or the other was completely in the right, or even that one or another of their perspectives was revolutionary.
In immigrating into underdeveloped regions, the revolutionary struggle was subjected to a double alienation: that of an impotent Left facing an overdeveloped capitalism it was in no way capable of combating, and that of the laboring masses in the colonized countries who inherited the remains of a mutilated revolution and have had to suffer its defects. The absence of a revolutionary movement in Europe has reduced the Left to its simplest expression: a mass of spectators who swoon with rapture each time the exploited in the colonies take up arms against their masters, and who cannot help seeing these uprisings as the epitome of Revolution. At the same time, the absence from political life of the proletariat as a class-for-itself (and for us the proletariat is revolutionary or it is nothing) has allowed this Left to become the "Knight of Virtue" in a world without virtue. But when it bewails its situation and complains about the "world order" being at odds with its good intentions, and when it maintains its poor yearnings in the face of this order, it is in fact attached to this order as to its own essence. If this order was taken away from it, it would lose everything. The European Left is so pitiful that, like a traveler in the desert longing for a single drop of water, it seems to aspire for nothing more than the meager feeling of an abstract objection. From the little with which it is satisfied one can measure the extent of its poverty. It is as alien to history as the proletariat is alien to this world. False consciousness is its natural condition, the spectacle is its element, and the apparent opposition of systems is its universal frame of reference: wherever there is a conflict it always sees Good fighting Evil, "total revolution" versus "total reaction."
The attachment of this spectator consciousness to alien causes remains irrational, and its virtuous protests flounder in the tortuous paths of its guilt. Most of the "Vietnam Committees" in France split up during the "Six Day War" and some of the war resistance groups in the United States also revealed their reality. "One cannot be at the same time for the Vietnamese and against the Jews menaced with extermination," is the cry of some. "Can you fight against the Americans in Vietnam while supporting their allied Zionist aggressors?" is the reply of others. And then they plunge into Byzantine discussions . . . Sartre hasn't recovered from it yet. In fact this whole fine lot does not actually fight what it condemns, nor does it really know much about the forces it supports. Its opposition to the American war is almost always combined with unconditional support of the Vietcong; but in any case this opposition remains spectacular for everyone. Those who were really opposed to Spanish fascism went to fight it. No one has yet gone off to fight "Yankee imperialism." The consumers of illusory participation are offered a whole range of spectacular choices: pacifist demonstrations; Stalino-Gaullist nationalism against the Americans (Humphrey's visit was the sole occasion the French Communist Party has demonstrated with its remaining faithful); the sale of the Vietnam Newsletter or of publicity handouts from Ho Chi Minh's state . . . Neither the Provos (before their dissolution) nor the Berlin students have been able to go beyond the narrow framework of anti-imperialist "action."
The antiwar movement in America has naturally been more serious since it finds itself face to face with the real enemy. Some young people, however, end up by simplistically identifying with the apparent enemies of their real enemies; which reinforces the confusion of a working class already subjected to the worst brutalization and mystification, and contributes to maintaining it in that "reactionary" state of mind from which one draws arguments against it.
Guevara's critique seems to us more important since it has its roots in real struggles, but it falls short by default. Che is certainly one of the last consistent Leninists of our time. But like Epimenides, he seems to have slept for the last fifty years to be able to believe that there is still a "progressive bloc," which for some strange reason is "lapsing." This bureaucratic and romantic revolutionary only sees in imperialism the highest stage of capitalism, struggling against a society that is socialist in spite of its imperfections.
The USSR's embarrassingly evident defects are coming to seem more and more "natural." As for China, according to an official declaration it remains "ready to accept all national sacrifices to support North Vietnam against the USA" (in lieu of supporting the workers of Hong Kong) "and constitutes the most solid and secure rear guard for the Vietnamese people in their struggle against imperialism." In fact, no one doubts that if the last Vietnamese were killed, Mao's bureaucratic China would still be intact. (According to Izvestia, China and the United States have already concluded a mutual nonintervention pact.)
Neither the manichean consciousness of the virtuous Left nor the bureaucracy are capable of seeing the profound unity of today's world. Dialectics is their common enemy. Revolutionary criticism begins beyond good and evil; it is rooted in history and operates on the totality of the existing world. In no case can it applaud a belligerent state or support the bureaucracy of an exploiting state in the process of formation. It must first of all lay bare the truth of present struggles by putting them back into their historical context, and unmask the hidden ends of the forces officially in conflict. The arm of critique is the prelude to the critique by arms.
The peaceful coexistence of bourgeois and bureaucratic lies ended up prevailing over the lie of their confrontation. The balance of terror was broken in Cuba in 1962 with the rout of the Russians. Since that time American imperialism has been the unchallenged master of the world. And it can remain so only by aggression since it has no chance of seducing the disinherited, who are more easily attracted to the Sino-Soviet model. State capitalism is the natural tendency of colonized societies where the state is generally formed before the historical classes. The total elimination of its capital and its commodities from the world market is the deadly threat that haunts the American propertied class and its free-enterprise economy -- this is the key to its aggressive rage.
Since the great crisis of 1929, state intervention has been more and more conspicuous in market mechanisms; the economy can no longer function steadily without massive expenditures by the state, the main "consumer" of all noncommercial production (especially that of the armament industries). This does not save it from remaining in a state of permanent crisis and in constant need of expanding its public sector at the expense of its private sector. A relentless logic pushes the system toward increasingly state-controlled capitalism, generating severe social conflicts.
The profound crisis of the American system lies in its inability to produce sufficient profits on the social scale. It must therefore achieve abroad what it cannot do at home, namely increase the amount of profit in proportion to the amount of existing capital. The propertied class, which also more or less possesses the state, relies on its imperialist enterprises to realize this insane dream. For this class, pseudocommunist state capitalism means death just as much as does authentic communism; that is why it is essentially incapable of seeing any difference between them.
The artificial functioning of the monopolistic economy as a "war economy" ensures, for the moment, that the ruling-class policy is willingly supported by the workers, who enjoy full employment and a spectacular abundance: "At the moment, the proportion of labor employed in jobs connected with national defense amounts to 5.2% of the total American labor force, compared with 3.9% two years ago. . . . The number of civil jobs in the national defense sector has increased from 3,000,000 to 4,100,000 over the last two years." (Le Monde, 17 September 1967.) Meanwhile, market capitalism vaguely feels that by extending its territorial control it will achieve an accelerated expansion capable of balancing the ever-increasing demands of non-profit-making production. The ferocious defense of regions of the "free" world where its interests are often trifling (in 1959 American investments in South Vietnam did not exceed 50 million dollars) is part of a long-term strategy that hopes eventually to be able to write off military expenditures as mere business expenses in ensuring the United States not only a market but also the monopolistic control of the means of production of the greater part of the world. But everything works against this project. On one hand, the internal contradictions of private capitalism: particular interests conflict with the general interest of the propertied class as a whole, as with groups that make short-term profits from state contracts (notably arms manufacturers), or monopolistic enterprises that are reluctant to invest in underdeveloped countries, where productivity is very low in spite of cheap labor, preferring instead the "advanced" part of the world (especially Europe, which is still more profitable than saturated America). On the other hand, it clashes with the immediate interests of the disinherited masses, whose first move can only be to eliminate the indigenous strata that exploit them, which are the only strata able to ensure the United States any infiltration whatsoever.
According to Rostow, the "growth" specialist of the State Department, Vietnam is for the moment only the first testing ground for this vast strategy, which, to ensure its exploitative peace, must start with a war of destruction that can hardly succeed. The aggressiveness of American imperialism is thus in no way the aberration of a bad administration, but a necessity for the class relations of private capitalism, which, if not overthrown by a revolutionary movement, unrelentingly evolves toward a technocratic state capitalism. The history of the alienated struggles of our time can only be understood in this context of a still undominated global economy.
The destruction of the old "Asiatic" structures by colonial penetration gave rise to a new urban stratum while increasing the pauperization of a large portion of the super-exploited peasantry. The conjuncture of these two forces constituted the driving force of the Vietnamese movement. Among the urban strata (petty bourgeois and even bourgeois) were formed the first nationalist nuclei and the skeleton of what was to be, from 1930 on, the Indochinese Communist Party. Its adherence to Bolshevik ideology (in its Stalinist version), which led it to graft an essentially agrarian program onto the purely nationalist one, enabled the ICP to become the leading force of the anticolonial struggle and to marshal the great mass of peasants who had spontaneously risen. The "peasant soviets" of 1931 were the first manifestation of this movement. But by linking its fate to that of the Third International, the ICP subjected itself to all the vicissitudes of Stalinist diplomacy and to the fluctuations of the national and state interests of the Russian bureaucracy. After the Seventh Comintern Congress (August 1935) "the struggle against French imperialism" vanished from the program and was soon replaced by a struggle against the powerful Trotskyist party. "As for the Trotskyists, no alliances, no concessions; they must be unmasked for what they are: the agents of fascism" (Report of Ho Chi Minh to the Comintern, July 1939). The Hitler-Stalin Pact and the banning of the Communist Party in France and its colonies allowed the ICP to change its line: "Our party finds it a matter of life or death . . . to struggle against the imperialist war and the French policy of piracy and massacre" (i.e. against Nazi Germany), "but we will at the same time combat the aggressive aims of Japanese fascism."
Toward the end of World War II, with the effective help of the Americans, the Vietminh was in control of the greater part of the country and was recognized by France as the sole representative of Indochina. It was at this point that Ho preferred "to sniff a little French shit rather than eat Chinese shit for a lifetime" and signed, to make the task of his colleague-masters easier, the monstrous compromise of 1946, which recognized Vietnam as both a "free state" and as "belonging to the Indochinese Federation of the French Union." This compromise enabled France to reconquer part of the country and, at the same time the Stalinists lost their share of bourgeois power in France, to wage a war that lasted eight years, at the end of which the Vietminh gave up the South to the most retrograde strata and their American protectors and definitively won the North for itself. After systematically eliminating the remaining revolutionary elements (the last Trotskyist leader, Ta Tu Thau, was assassinated by 1946) the Vietminh bureaucracy imposed its totalitarian power on the peasantry and started the industrialization of the country within a state-capitalist framework. Improving the lot of the peasants, following their conquests during the long liberation struggle, was, in line with bureaucratic logic, subordinated to the interests of the rising state: the goal was to be greater productivity, with the state remaining the uncontested master of that production. The authoritarian implementation of agrarian reform gave rise in 1956 to violent insurrections and bloody repression (above all in Ho Chi Minh's own native province). The peasants who had carried the bureaucracy to power were to be its first victims. For several years afterwards the bureaucracy tried to smother the memory of this "serious mistake" in an "orgy of self-criticism."
But the same Geneva agreements enabled the Diem clique to set up, south of the 17th parallel, a bureaucratic, feudal and theocratic state in the service of the landowners and compradore bourgeoisie. Within a few years this state was to nullify, by a few suitable "agrarian reforms," everything the peasantry had won. The peasants of the South, some of whom had never laid down their arms, were to in the grip of oppression and superexploitation. This is the second Vietnam war. The mass of the insurgent peasants, taking up arms once more against their old enemies, also followed once again their old leaders. The National Liberation Front succeeded the Vietminh, inheriting both its qualities and its grave defects. By making itself the champion of national struggle and peasant war, the NLF immediately won over the countryside and made it the main base of armed resistance. Its successive victories over the official army provoked the increasingly massive intervention of the Americans, to the point of reducing the conflict to an open colonial war, with the Vietnamese pitted against an invading army. Its determination in the struggle, its clearly antifeudal program and its unitary perspectives remain the principal qualities of the movement. But in no way does the NLF's struggle go beyond the classical framework of national liberation struggles. Its program remains based on a compromise among a vast coalition of classes, dominated by the overriding goal of wiping out the American aggression. It is no accident that it rejects the title "Vietcong" (i.e. Vietnamese communists) and insists on its national character. Its structures are those of a state-in-formation: in the zones under its control it already levies taxes and institutes compulsory military service.
These minimal qualities in the struggle and the social objectives that they express remain totally absent in the confrontation between Israel and the Arabs. The specific contradictions of Zionism and of splintered Arab society add to the general confusion.
Since its origins the Zionist movement has been the contrary of the revolutionary solution to what used to be called the "Jewish question." A direct product of European capitalism, it did not aim at the overthrow of a society that needed to persecute Jews, but at the creation of a Jewish national entity that would be protected from the anti-Semitic aberrations of decadent capitalism; it aimed not at the abolition of injustice but at its transfer. The original sin of Zionism is that it has always acted as if Palestine were a desert island. The revolutionary workers movement saw the answer to the Jewish question in proletarian community, that is, in the destruction of capitalism and "its religion, Judaism"; the emancipation of the Jews could not take place apart from the emancipation of humanity. Zionism started from the opposite hypothesis. As a matter of fact, the counterrevolutionary development of the last half century proved it right, but in the same way as the development of European capitalism proved right the reformist theses of Bernstein. The success of Zionism and its corollary, the creation of the state of Israel, is merely a miserable by-product of the triumph of world counterrevolution. To "socialism in a single country" came the echo "justice for a single people" and "equality in a single kibbutz." It was with Rothschild capital that the colonization of Palestine was organized and with European surplus-value that the first kibbutzim were set up. The Jews recreated for themselves all the fanaticism and segregation they had been victims of. Those who had suffered mere toleration in their society were to struggle to become in another country owners disposing of the right to tolerate others. The kibbutz was not a revolutionary supersession of Palestinian "feudalism," but a mutualist formula for the self-defense of Jewish worker-settlers against the capitalist exploitative tendencies of the Jewish Agency. Because it was the main Jewish owner of Palestine, the Zionist Organization defined itself as the sole representative of the superior interests of the "Jewish Nation." If it eventually allowed a certain degree of self-management, it is because it was sure that this would be based on the systematic rejection of the Arab peasant.
As for the Histadrut [the Israeli labor union], it was since its inception in 1920 subjected to the authority of world Zionism, that is, to the direct opposite of workers' emancipation. Arab workers were statutorily excluded from it and its activity often consisted of forbidding Jewish businesses to employ them.
The development of the three-way struggle between the Arabs, the Zionists and the British was to be turned to the profit of the Zionists. Thanks to the active patronage of the Americans (since the end of World War II) and the blessing of Stalin (who saw Israel as the first "socialist" bastion in the Middle East, but also as a way to rid himself of some annoying Jews), it did not take long before Herzl's dream was realized and the Jewish state was arbitrarily proclaimed. The cooption of all the "progressive" forms of social organization and their integration within the Zionist ideal allowed even the most "revolutionary" to work in good conscience for the building of the bourgeois, militaristic, rabbinical state that modern Israel has become. The prolonged sleep of proletarian internationalism once more brought forth a monster. The basic injustice against the Palestinian Arabs came back to roost with the Jews themselves: the State of the Chosen People was nothing but one more class society in which all the anomalies of the old societies were recreated (hierarchical divisions, tribal opposition between the Ashkenazi and the Sephardim, racist persecution of the Arab minority, etc.). The labor union assumed its normal function of integrating workers into a capitalist economy, an economy of which it itself has become the main owner. It employs more workers than the state itself, and presently constitutes the bridgehead of the imperialist expansion of the new Israeli capitalism. ("Solel Boneh," an important building branch of the Histadrut, invested 180 million dollars in Africa and Asia from 1960 to 1966 and currently employs 12,000 African workers.)
And just as this state could never have seen the light of day without the direct intervention of Anglo-American imperialism and the massive aid of Jewish finance capital, it cannot balance its artificial economy today without the aid of the same forces that created it. (The annual balance of payments deficit is 600 million dollars, that is, more for each Israeli inhabitant than the average earnings of an Arab worker.) Since the settling of the first immigrant colonies, the Jews have formed a modern, European-style society alongside the economically and socially backward Arab society; the proclamation of the state of Israel only completed this process by the pure and simple expulsion of the backward elements. Israel forms by its very existence the bastion of Europe in the heart of an Afro-Asian world. Thus it has become doubly alien: to the Arab population, permanently reduced to the status of refugees or of colonized minority; and to the Jewish population, which had for a moment seen in it the earthly fulfillment of all egalitarian ideologies.
But this is due not only to the contradictions of Israeli society. From the outset this situation has been constantly maintained and aggravated by the surrounding Arab societies, which have so far proved incapable of any contribution toward an effective solution.
Throughout the British Mandate period the Arab resistance in Palestine was completely dominated by the propertied class: the Arab ruling classes and their British protectors. The Sykes-Picot Agreement put an end to the hopes of the Arab nationalism that was just beginning to develop, and subjected the skillfully carved up area to a foreign domination that is far from being over.(1) The same strata that ensured the Ottoman Empire's domination over the Arab masses turned to the service of the British occupation and became accomplices of Zionist colonization (by the sale, at very inflated prices, of their land). The backwardness of Arab society did not yet allow for the emergence of new and more advanced leaderships, and every spontaneous popular upheaval ran into the same coopters: the "bourgeois-feudal" notables and their commodity: national unity.
The armed insurgence of 1936-1939 and the six-month general strike (the longest in history) were decided and carried out in spite of opposition from the leadership of all the "nationalist" parties. They were widespread and spontaneously organized; this forced the ruling class to join them so as to take over the leadership of the movement. But this was in order to put a check on it, to lead it to the conference table and to reactionary compromises. Only the victory of the fullest, most radical implications of that uprising could have destroyed both the British Mandate and the Zionist goal of setting up a Jewish state. Its failure heralded the disasters to come and ultimately the defeat of 1948.
That latter defeat signaled the end of the "bourgeois-feudality" as the leading class of the Arab movement. It was the opportunity for the petty bourgeoisie to come to power and constitute, with the officers of the defeated army, the driving force of the present movement. Its program was simple: unity, a vaguely socialist ideology, and the liberation of Palestine (the Return). The Tripartite aggression of 1956(2) provided it with the best opportunity to consolidate itself as a dominant class and to find a leader-program in the person of Nasser, who was presented for the collective admiration of the completely dispossessed Arab masses. He was their religion and their opium. But the new exploiting class had its own interests and goals. The slogans used by the bureaucratic military regime of Egypt to win popular support were already bad in themselves; in addition, the regime was incapable of carrying them out. Arab unity and the destruction of Israel (invoked successively as the liquidation of the usurper state or as the pure and simple driving of the Israeli population into the sea) were the core of this propaganda-ideology.
What ushered in the decline of the Arab petty bourgeoisie and its bureaucratic power was first of all its own internal contradictions and the superficiality of its options (Nasser, the Baath Party, Kassem(3) and the so-called "Communist" parties have never ceased fighting each other and compromising and allying with the most dubious forces).
Twenty years after the first Palestinian war, this new stratum has just demonstrated its total inability to resolve the Palestinian problem. It has lived by delirious bluff, for it was only able to survive by permanently raising the specter of Israel, being utterly incapable of effecting any radical solution whatsoever to the innumerable internal problems. The Palestinian problem remains the key to the Arab power struggles. It is everyone's central reference point and all conflicts hinge on it. It is the basis of the objective solidarity of all the Arab regimes. It produces the "Holy Alliance" between Nasser and Hussein, Faisal and Boumédienne, Aref and the Baath.
The latest war has dissipated all these illusions. The total rigidity of "Arab ideology" was pulverized on contact with an effective reality that was just as hard but also permanent. Those who spoke of waging a war neither wanted it nor prepared for it, while those who spoke only of defending themselves actually prepared the offensive. Each of the two camps followed their respective propensities: the Arab bureaucracy that for lying and demagogy, the masters of Israel that for imperialist expansion. The most important lesson of the Six Day War is a negative one: it has revealed all the secret weaknesses and defects of what was presented as the "Arab Revolution." The "powerful" military bureaucracy of Egypt crumbled to dust in two days, disclosing all at once the secret reality of its achievements: the fact that the axis around which all the socioeconomic transformations took place -- the Army -- has remained fundamentally the same. On one hand, it claimed to be changing everything in Egypt (and even in the Arab world as a whole); on the other, it did everything to avoid any transformation in itself, in its values or its habits. Nasser's Egypt is still dominated by pre-Nasser forces; its bureaucracy is an agglomeration without coherence or class consciousness, united only by exploitation and the division of the social surplus-value.
As for the politico-military machine that governs Baathist Syria, it is entrenching itself more and more in the extremism of its ideology. But its phraseology takes in no one anymore (except Pablo!).(4) Everyone knows that it did not fight and that it gave up the front without resistance because it preferred to keep its best troops in Damascus for its own defense. Those who consumed 65% of the Syrian budget to defend the territory have definitively unmasked their own cynical lies.
Finally, the war has shown, to those who still needed showing, that a Holy Alliance with someone like Hussein can only lead to disaster. The Arab Legion [Jordanian Army] withdrew on the first day and the Palestinian population, which has suffered for twenty years under its police terror, found itself unarmed and unorganized in the face of the Israeli occupation forces. Since 1948 the Hashemite throne had shared the colonization of the Palestinians with the Zionist state. By deserting the West Bank it gave the Israelis the police files on all the Palestinian revolutionary elements. But the Palestinians have always known that there was no great difference between the two colonizations, and the blatancy of the new occupation at least makes the terrain of resistance clearer.
As for Israel, it has become everything that the Arabs had accused it of before the war: an imperialist state behaving like the most classic occupation forces (police terror, dynamiting of houses, permanent martial law, etc.). Internally a collective hysteria, led by the rabbis, is developing around "Israel's inalienable right to its Biblical borders." The war put a stop to the whole movement of internal struggles generated by the contradictions of this artificial society (in 1966 there were several dozen riots, and there were no fewer than 277 strikes in 1965 alone) and provoked unanimous support for the objectives of the ruling class and its most extremist ideology. It also served to shore up all the Arab regimes not involved in the armed struggle. Boumédienne could thus, from 3000 miles away, enter the chorus of political braggadocio and have his name applauded by the Algerian crowd before which he had not even dared to appear the day before, and finally obtain the support of a totally Stalinized ORP ("for his anti-imperialist policy"). Faisal, for a few million dollars, obtained Egypt's withdrawal from North Yemen and the strengthening of his throne. Etc., etc.
As always, war, when not civil, only freezes the process of social revolution. In North Vietnam it has brought about the peasantry's support, never before given, for the bureaucracy that exploits it. In Israel it has killed off for a long time any opposition to Zionism; and in the Arab countries it is reinforcing -- temporarily -- the most reactionary strata. In no way can revolutionary currents find anything there with which to identify. Their task is at the other pole of the present movement since it must be its absolute negation.
It is obviously impossible at present to seek a revolutionary solution to the Vietnam war. It is first of all necessary to put an end to the American aggression in order to allow the real social struggle in Vietnam to develop in a natural way; i.e. to allow the Vietnamese workers and peasants to rediscover their enemies at home: the bureaucracy of the North and the propertied and ruling strata of the South. Once the Americans withdraw, the Stalinist bureaucracy will seize control of the whole country -- there's no getting around this. Because the invaders cannot indefinitely sustain their aggression; ever since Talleyrand it has been a commonplace that one can do anything with a bayonet except sit on it. The point is not to give unconditional (or even conditional) support to the Vietcong, but to struggle consistently and uncompromisingly against American imperialism. The most effective role is presently being played by those American revolutionaries who are advocating and practicing insubordination and draft resistance on a very large scale (compared to which the resistance to the Algerian war in France was child's play). The Vietnam war is rooted in America and it is from there that it must be rooted out.
Unlike the American war, the Palestinian question has no immediately evident solution. No short-term solution is feasible. The Arab regimes can only crumble under the weight of their contradictions and Israel will be more and more the prisoner of its colonial logic. All the compromises that the great powers try to piece together are bound to be counterrevolutionary in one way or another. The hybrid status quo -- neither peace nor war -- will probably prevail for a long period, during which the Arab regimes will meet with the same fate as their predecessors of 1948 (probably at first to the profit of the openly reactionary forces). Arab society, which has produced all sorts of dominant classes caricaturing all the classes of history, must now produce the forces that will bring about its total subversion. The so-called national bourgeoisie and the Arab bureaucracy have inherited all the defects of those two classes without ever having known the historical accomplishments those classes achieved in other societies. The future Arab revolutionary forces that will arise from the ruins of the June 1967 defeat must know that they have nothing in common with any existing Arab regime and nothing to respect among the established powers that dominate the present world. They will find their model in themselves and in the repressed experiences of revolutionary history. The Palestinian question is too serious to be left to the states, that is, to the colonels. It is too close to the two basic questions of modern revolution -- internationalism and the state -- for any existing force to be able to provide an adequate solution. Only an Arab revolutionary movement that is resolutely internationalist and anti-state can both dissolve the state of Israel and have on its side that state's exploited masses. And only through the same process will it be able to dissolve all the existing Arab states and create Arab unity through the power of the Councils.
SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (October 1967)
1. British Mandate: British protectorate over Palestine (1920-1948). Sykes-Picot agreement: a secret agreement made between England, France and Russia in 1916 to divide up the former Ottoman Empire possessions among themselves after the end of World War I. In 1917 the Bolsheviks discovered the document in the Russian state archives and publicly divulged and repudiated it, much to the embarrassment of the French and British governments.
2. Tripartite aggression: joint attack on Egypt by England, France and Israel during the 1956 "Suez crisis."
3. Baath Party: Pan-Arabic party, rival factions of which currently rule Iraq and Syria. Kassem: head of Iraqi government 1958-1963.
4. Pablo: leader of a Trotskyist tendency.
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).
Our Goals and Methods in the Strasbourg Scandal
The SI's account of the publication and distribution of the On The Poverty of Student Life pamphlet at Strasbourg University and the ensuing scandal. From Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1966).
The various expressions of shock and outrage in response to the situationist pamphlet On the Poverty of Student Life1 , which was published at the expense of the Strasbourg chapter of the French National Student Union [UNEF], although having the salutary effect of causing the theses in the pamphlet itself to be rather widely read, have inevitably given rise to numerous misconceptions in the reportage and commentary on the SI's role in the affair. In response to all kinds of illusions fostered by the press, by university officials and even by a certain number of unthinking students, we are now going to specify exactly what the conditions of our intervention were and explain the goals we were pursuing with the methods that we considered consistent with them.
Even more erroneous than the exaggerations of the press or of certain opposing lawyers concerning the amount of money the SI supposedly took the opportunity of pillaging from the treasury of the pitiful student union is the absurd notion, often expressed in the newspaper accounts, according to which the SI sunk so low as to campaign among the Strasbourg students in order to persuade them of the validity of our perspectives and to get a student government elected on such a program. We neither did this nor attempted the slightest infiltration of the UNEF by secretly slipping SI partisans into it. Anyone who has ever bothered to read us is aware that we have no interest in such goals and do not use such methods. What actually happened is that a few Strasbourg students came to us in the summer of 1966 and informed us that six of their friends -- and not they themselves -- had just been elected as officers of the Bureau of the local Student Association (AFGES), although they had no program whatsoever and were widely known in the UNEF as extremists who were in complete disagreement with all the factions of that decomposing body, and who were even determined to destroy it. The fact that they were elected (quite legally) was a glaring demonstration of the total apathy of the mass of students and of the total impotence of the Association's remaining bureaucrats. These latter no doubt figured that the "extremist" Bureau would be incapable of finding any adequate way to implement its negative intentions. Conversely, this was the fear of the students who had sought us out; and it was mainly for this reason that they themselves had declined to take part in this "Bureau": for only a coup of some scope, and not some merely humorous exploitation of their position, could save its members from the air of compromise that such a pitiful role immediately entails. To add to the complexity of the problem, while the students we were meeting with were familiar with the SI's positions and declared themselves in general agreement with them, those who were in the Bureau were for the most part ignorant of them, and counted mainly on those we were seeing to figure out what action would best correspond to their subversive intentions.
At this stage we limited ourselves to suggesting that all of them write and publish a general critique of the student movement and of the society as a whole, such a project having at least the advantage of forcing them to clarify in common what was still unclear to them. In addition, we stressed that their legal access to money and credit was the most useful aspect of the ridiculous authority that had so imprudently been allowed to them, and that a nonconformist use of these resources would have the advantage of shocking many people and thus drawing attention to the nonconformist aspects of the content of their text. These comrades agreed with our recommendations. In the development of this project they remained in contact with the SI, particularly through the SI's delegate, Mustapha Khayati.
The discussion and the first drafts undertaken collectively by those we had met with and the members of the AFGES Bureau -- all of whom had resolved to see the matter through -- brought about an important modification of the plan. Everyone was in agreement about the basic critique to be made and the main points that Khayati had suggested, but they found they were incapable of effecting a satisfactory formulation, especially in the short time remaining before the beginning of the term. This inability should not be seen as the result of any serious lack of talent or experience, but was simply the consequence of the extreme diversity of the group, both within and outside the Bureau. Having originally come together on a very vague basis, they were poorly prepared to collectively articulate a theory they had not really appropriated together. In addition, personal antagonisms and mistrust arose among them as the project progressed. The only thing that still held them together was the shared concern that the coup attain the most far-reaching and incisive effect. As a result, Khayati ended up drafting the greater part of the text, which was periodically discussed and approved among the group of students at Strasbourg and by the situationists in Paris -- the only (relatively few) significant additions being made by the latter.
Various preliminary actions announced the appearance of the pamphlet. On October 26 the cybernetician Moles (see Internationale Situationniste #9, page 44), having finally attained a professorial chair in social psychology in order to devote himself to the programming of young functionaries, was driven from it during the opening minutes of his inaugural lecture by tomatoes hurled at him by a dozen students. (Moles was subsequently given the same treatment in March at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, where this certified robot was to lecture on urbanistic methods for controlling the masses -- this latter refutation being carried out by two or three dozen young anarchists belonging to groups that want to bring revolutionary criticism to bear on all modern issues.) Shortly after this inaugural class -- which was at least as unprecedented in the annals of the university as Moles himself -- the AFGES began publicizing the pamphlet by pasting up André Bertrand's comic strip "The Return of the Durruti Column,"2 a document that had the merit of stating in no uncertain terms what his comrades were planning on doing with their positions: "The general crisis of the old union apparatuses and leftist bureaucracies was felt everywhere, especially among the students, where activism had for a long time had no other outlet than the most sordid devotion to stale ideologies and the most unrealistic ambitions. The last squad of professionals who elected our heroes didn't even have the excuse that they had been misled. They placed their hopes for a new lease on life in a group that didn't hide its intentions of scuttling this archaic militantism once and for all."
The pamphlet was distributed point-blank to the notables at the official opening ceremony of the university. Simultaneously, the AFGES Bureau announced that its only "student" program was the immediate dissolution of that Association, and convoked a special general assembly to vote on that question. This prospect immediately horrified many people. "This may be the first concrete manifestation of a revolt aiming quite openly at the destruction of society," wrote a local newspaper (DerniÃ¨res Nouvelles, 4 December 1966). L'Aurore (November 26) referred to "the Situationist International, an organization with a handful of members in the chief capitals of Europe -- anarchists playing at revolution, who talk of 'seizing power,' not in order to keep it, but in order to sow disorder and destroy even their own authority." And even in Turin the Gazetta del Popolo of the same date expressed excessive concern: "It must be considered, however, whether repressive measures . . . may risk provoking disturbances. . . . In Paris and other university cities in France the Situationist International, galvanized by the triumph of its adherents in Strasbourg, is preparing a major offensive to take control of the student organizations." At this point we had to take into consideration a new decisive factor: the situationists had to defend themselves from being coopted as a mere "news item" or intellectual fad. The pamphlet had ended up being transformed into an SI text: we had not felt that we could refuse to help these comrades in their desire to strike a blow against the system, and it was unfortunately not possible for this help to have been less than it was. This involvement of the SI gave us, for the duration of the project, a position as de facto leaders which we in no case wanted to prolong beyond this limited joint action: as anyone can well imagine, the pitiful student milieu is of no interest to us. Here as in other situations, we had simply tried to act in such a way as to make the new social critique that is presently taking shape reappear by means of the practice without concessions that is its exclusive basis. The unorganized character of the group of Strasbourg students had prevented the carrying out of an orderly dialogue, which alone could have ensured a minimal equality in decisionmaking, and had thus made necessary our direct intervention. The debate that normally characterizes a joint action undertaken by independent groups had scarcely any reality in this agglomeration of individuals, who showed more and more that they were united in their approval of the SI and separated in every other regard.
It goes without saying that such a deficiency in no way constituted for us a recommendation for this group of students as a whole, who seemed more or less interested in joining the SI as a sort of easy way of avoiding having to express themselves autonomously. Their lack of homogeneity was also revealed, to a degree we had not been able to foresee, on an unexpected issue: at the last minute several of them got cold feet at the idea of aggressively distributing the pamphlet at the university's opening ceremony. Khayati had to explain to these people that one must not try to make scandals half way; that it is absurd to commit yourself to such a coup and then hope to reduce the risk by toning down its repercussions; that on the contrary, the success of a scandal is the only relative safeguard for those who have deliberately triggered it. Even more unacceptable than this last-minute hesitation on such a elementary tactical point was the possibility that some of these individuals, who had so little confidence even in each other, might at some point come to make statements in our name. Khayati was thus charged by the SI to have the AFGES Bureau declare that none of them was a situationist. This they did in their communiqué of November 29: "None of the members of our Bureau belongs to the Situationist International, a movement which for some time has published a journal of the same name, but we declare ourselves in complete solidarity with its analyses and perspectives." On the basis of this declared autonomy, the SI then addressed a letter to André Schneider, president of the AFGES, and Vayr-Piova, vice-president, to affirm its total solidarity with what they had done. The SI's solidarity with them has been maintained ever since, both by our refusal to dialogue with those who tried to approach us while manifesting a certain envious hostility toward the Bureau members (some even having the stupidity to denounce their action to the SI as being "spectacular"!) and by our financial assistance and public support during the subsequent repression (see the declaration signed by 79 Strasbourg students at the beginning of April in solidarity with Vayr-Piova, who had been expelled from the university; a penalty that was rescinded a few months later). Schneider and Vayr-Piova stood firm in the face of penalties and threats; this firmness, however, was not maintained to the same degree in their attitude toward the SI.
The judicial repression immediately initiated in Strasbourg -- and which has been followed by a series of proceedings in the same vein that are still going on -- concentrated on the supposed illegality of the AFGES Bureau, which was, upon the publication of the situationist pamphlet, suddenly considered to be a mere "de facto Bureau" that was usurping the union representation of the students. This repression was all the more necessary since the holy alliance of bourgeois, Stalinists and priests against the AFGES had even less support among the city's 18,000 students than did the Bureau. It began with the court order of December 13, which sequestered the Association's offices and administration and prohibited the general assembly that the Bureau had convoked for the 16th for the purpose of voting on the dissolution of the AFGES. This ruling (resulting from the mistaken belief that a majority of the students were likely to support the Bureau's position if they had the opportunity to vote on it), by freezing the development of events, meant that our comrades -- whose only goal was to destroy their own position of leadership without delay -- were obliged to continue their resistance until the end of January. The Bureau's best practice until then had been their treatment of the mob of reporters who were flocking to get interviews: they refused most of them and insultingly boycotted those who represented the worst institutions (French Television, PlanÃ¨te), thereby pressuring one segment of the press into giving a more exact account of the scandal and into reproducing the AFGES communiqués less inaccurately. Since the fight was now taking place on the terrain of administrative measures and since the legal AFGES Bureau was still in control of the local section of the National Student Mutual, the Bureau struck back by deciding on January 11, and by implementing this decision the next day, to close the "University Psychological Aid Center" (BAPU), which depended financially on the Mutual, "considering that the BAPUs are the manifestation in the student milieu of repressive psychiatry's parapolice control, whose obvious function is to maintain . . . the passivity of all exploited sectors, . . . considering that the existence of a BAPU in Strasbourg is a disgrace and a threat to all the students of this university who are determined to think freely." At the national level, the UNEF was forced by the revolt of its Strasbourg chapter -- which had previously been held up as a model -- to recognize its own general bankruptcy. Although it obviously did not go so far as to defend the old illusions of unionist liberty that were so blatantly denied its opponents by the authorities, the UNEF nevertheless could not accept the judicial expulsion of the Strasbourg Bureau. A Strasbourg delegation was thus present at the general assembly of the UNEF held in Paris on January 14, and at the opening of the meeting demanded a preliminary vote on its motion to dissolve the entire UNEF, "considering that the UNEF declared itself a union uniting the vanguard of youth (Charter of Grenoble, 1946) at a time when labor unionism had long since been defeated and turned into a tool for the self-regulation of modern capitalism, working to integrate the working class into the commodity system, . . . considering that the vanguardist pretension of the UNEF is constantly belied by its subreformist slogans and practice, . . . considering that student unionism is a pure and simple farce and that it is urgent to put an end to it." The motion concluded by calling on "all revolutionary students of the world . . . to join all the exploited people of their countries in undertaking a relentless struggle against all aspects of the old world, with the aim of contributing toward the international power of workers councils." Only two delegations, that of Nantes and that of the convalescent-home students, voted with Strasbourg to deal with this preliminary motion before hearing the report of the national leadership. (It should be noted, however, that in the preceding weeks the young UNEF bureaucrats had succeeded in deposing two other bureaus that had been spontaneously in favor of the AFGES position, those of Bordeaux and Clermont-Ferrand.) The Strasbourg delegation consequently walked out on a debate where it had nothing more to say.
The final exit of the AFGES Bureau was not to be so noble, however. Around this same time three situationists [the "Garnautins"] were excluded from the SI for having jointly perpetrated -- and been forced to admit before the SI -- several slanderous lies directed against Khayati, whom they had hoped would himself be excluded as a result of this clever scheme (see the January 22 tract "Warning! Three Provocateurs"). Their exclusion had no connection with the Strasbourg scandal -- in it as in everything else they had ostensibly agreed with the conclusions reached in SI discussions -- but two of them happened to be from the Strasbourg region. In addition, as we mentioned above, some of the Strasbourg students had begun to be irritated by the fact that the SI had not rewarded them for their shortcomings by recruiting them. The excluded liars sought out an uncritical audience among them and counted on covering up their previous lies and their admission of them by piling new lies on top of them. Thus all those who had been rejected by the SI joined forces in the mystical pretension of "going beyond" the practice that had condemned them. They began to believe the newspapers, and even to expand on them. They saw themselves as masses who had actually "seized power" in a sort of Strasbourg Commune. They told themselves that they hadn't been treated the way a revolutionary proletariat deserves to be treated, and that their historic action had superseded all previous theories. Forgetting that their only discernable "action" in this affair was to have made a few meager contributions to the drafting of a text, they collectively compensated for this deficiency by inflating their illusions. This amounted to nothing more ambitious than collectively fantasizing for a few weeks while continually upping the dose of constantly reiterated falsifications. The dozen Strasbourg students who had effectively supported the scandal split into two equal parts. This supplementary problem thus acted as a touchstone. We naturally made no promises to those who remained "partisans of the SI" and we clearly stated that we would not make any: it was simply up to them to be, unconditionally, partisans of the truth. Vayr-Piova and some of the others became partisans of falsehood with the excluded "Garnautins" (although certainly without knowledge of several excessive blunders in Frey's and Garnault's recent fabrications, but nevertheless being aware of quite a few of them). André Schneider, whose support the liars hoped to obtain since he held the title of AFGES president, was overwhelmed with false tales from all of them, and was weak enough to believe them without further investigation and to countersign one of their declarations. But after only a few days, independently becoming aware of a number of undeniable lies that these people thought it natural to tell their initiates in order to protect their miserable cause, Schneider immediately decided that he should publicly acknowledge his mistake: in his tract "Memories from the House of the Dead" he denounced those who had deceived him and led him to share the responsibility for a false accusation against the SI. The return of Schneider, whose character the liars had underestimated and who had thus been privileged to witness the full extent of their collective manipulation of embarrassing facts, struck a definitive blow in Strasbourg itself against the excluded and their accomplices, who had already been discredited everywhere else. In their spite these wretches, who the week before had gone to so much trouble to win over Schneider in order to add to the credibility of their venture, proclaimed him a notoriously feeble-minded person who had simply succumbed to "the prestige of the SI." (More and more often, recently, in the most diverse situations, liars end up in this way unwittingly identifying "the prestige of the SI" with the simple fact of telling the truth -- a connection that certainly does us honor.) Before three months had gone by, the association of Frey and consorts with Vayr-Piova and all those who were willing to maintain a keenly solicited adhesion (at one time there were as many as eight or nine of them) was to reveal its sad reality: based on infantile lies by individuals who considered each other to be clumsy liars, it was the very picture, involuntarily parodic, of a type of "collective action" that should never be engaged in; and with the type of people who should never be associated with! They went so far as to conduct a ludicrous electoral campaign before the students of Strasbourg. Dozens of pages of pedantic scraps of misremembered situationist ideas and phrases were, with a total unawareness of the absurdity, churned out with the sole aim of holding on to the "power" of the Strasbourg chapter of the MNEF, the minibureaucratic fiefdom of Vayr-Piova, who was eligible for reelection April 13. As successful in this venture as in their previous maneuvers, they were defeated by people as stupid as they were -- the Stalinists and Christians, who were more naturally deft at electoral politics, and who also enjoyed the bonus of being able to denounce their deplorable rivals as "fake situationists." In the tract "The SI Told You So," put out the next day, André Schneider and his comrades were easily able to show how this unsuccessful attempt to exploit the leftovers of the scandal of five months before for promotional purposes revealed itself as the complete renunciation of the spirit and the declared perspectives of that scandal. Finally Vayr-Piova, in a communiqué distributed April 20, stated: "I find it amusing to be at last denounced as a 'nonsituationist' -- something I have openly proclaimed ever since the SI set itself up as an official power." This is a representative sample of a vast and already forgotten literature. That the SI has become an official power -- this is one of the typical theses of Vayr-Piova or Frey, which can be examined by those who are interested in the question; and after doing so they will know what to think of the intelligence of such theoreticians. But this aside, the fact that Vayr-Piova proclaims (whether "openly," or even "secretly," in a "proclamation" reserved for the most discreet accomplices in his lies) that he has not belonged to the SI since whenever was the date of our transformation into an "official power" -- this is a boldfaced lie. Everyone who knows him knows that Vayr-Piova has never had the opportunity to claim to be anything but a "nonsituationist" (see what we wrote above concerning the AFGES communiqué of November 29).
The most favorable results of this whole affair naturally go beyond this new and opportunely much-publicized example of our refusal to enlist anything that a neomilitantism in search of glorious subordination might throw our way. No less negligible is the fact that the scandal forced the official recognition of the irreparable decomposition of the UNEF, a decomposition that was even more advanced than its pitiful appearance suggested: the coup de grace was still echoing in July at its 56th Congress in Lyon, in the course of which the sad president Vandenburie had to confess: "The unity of the UNEF has long since ended. Each association lives (SI note: this term is pretentiously inaccurate) autonomously, without paying any attention to the directives of the National Committee. The growing gap between the rank and file and the governing bodies has reached a state of serious degradation. The history of the proceedings of the UNEF has become nothing but a series of crises. . . . Reorganization and a revival of action have not proved possible." Equally comical were some side-effects stirred up among the academics, who felt that this was another current issue to petition about. As can be well imagined, we considered the position published by the forty professors and assistants of the Faculty of Arts at Strasbourg, which denounced the fake students behind this "tempest in a teacup" about false problems "without the shadow of a solution," to be more logical and socially rational (as was, for that matter, Judge Llabador's summing up) than that wheedling attempt at approval circulated in February by a few decrepit modernist-institutionalists gnawing their meager bones at the professorial chairs of "Social Sciences" at Nanterre (impudent Touraine, loyal Lefebvre, Maoist Baudrillart, cunning Lourau).
In fact, we want ideas to become dangerous again. We cannot be accepted with the spinelessness of a false eclectic interest, as if we were Sartres, Althussers, Aragons or Godards. Let us note the wise words of a certain Professor Lhuillier, reported in the Nouvel Observateur (21 December 1966): "I am for freedom of thought. But if there are any Situationists in the room, I want them to get out right now." While not entirely denying the effect that the dissemination of a few basic truths may have had in slightly accelerating the movement that is impelling the lagging French youth toward an awareness of an impending more general crisis in the society, we think that the distribution of On the Poverty of Student Life has been a much more significant factor of clarification in some other countries where such a process is already much more clearly under way. In the afterword of their edition of Khayati's text, the English situationists wrote: "The most highly developed critique of modern life has been made in one of the least highly developed modern countries -- in a country which has not yet reached the point where the complete disintegration of all values becomes patently obvious and engenders the corresponding forces of radical rejection. In the French context, situationist theory has anticipated the social forces by which it will be realized." The theses of On the Poverty of Student Life have been much more truly understood in the United States and in England (the strike at the London School of Economics in March caused a certain stir, the Times commentator unhappily seeing in it a return of the class struggle he had thought was over with). To a lesser degree this is also the case in the Netherlands -- where the SI's critique, reinforcing a much harsher critique by events themselves, was not without effect on the recent dissolution of the "Provo" movement -- and in the Scandinavian countries. The struggles of the West Berlin students this year have also picked up on some aspects of the critique, though in a still very confused way.
But revolutionary youth has no alternative but to join with the mass of workers who, starting from their experience of the new conditions of exploitation, are going to take up once again the struggle to control their world and to do away with work. When young people begin to know the current theoretical form of this real movement that is everywhere spontaneously bursting forth from the soil of modern society, this is only a moment of the progression by which this unified theoretical critique (inseparable from an adequate practical unification) strives to break the silence and the general organization of separation. It is only in this sense that we find the result satisfactory. In speaking of revolutionary youth, we are obviously not referring to that alienated and semiprivileged fraction molded by the university -- a sector that is the natural base for an admiring consumption of a fantasized situationist theory considered as the latest spectacular fashion. We will continue to disappoint and refute that kind of approbation. Sooner or later it will be understood that the SI must be judged not on the superficially scandalous aspects of certain manifestations through which it appears, but on its essentially scandalous central truth.
SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (October 1967)
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).
The Situationists and the New Forms of Action Against Politics and Art - René Vienet
On situationist comics, media and film. From Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967).
Up to now our subversion has mainly drawn on the forms and genres inherited from past revolutionary struggles, primarily those of the last hundred years. I propose that we round out our agitational expression with methods that dispense with any reference to the past. I don't mean that we should abandon the forms within which we have waged battle on the traditional terrain of the supersession of philosophy, the realization of art and the abolition of politics; but that we should extend the work of the journal onto terrains it does not yet reach.
Many proletarians are aware that they have no power over their lives; they know it, but they don't express it in the language of socialism and of previous revolutions.
Let us spit in passing on those students who have become militants in the tiny would-be mass parties, who sometimes have the nerve to claim that the workers are incapable of reading Internationale Situationniste, that its paper is too slick to be put in their lunchbags and that its price doesn't take into account their low standard of living. The most consistent of these students accordingly distribute the mimeographed image they have of the consciousness of a class in which they fervently seek stereotypical Joe Worker recruits. They forget, among other things, that when workers read revolutionary literature in the past they had to pay relatively more than for a theater ticket; and that when they once again develop an interest in it they won't hesitate to spend two or three times what it costs for an issue of PlanÃ¨te. But what these detractors of typography forget most of all is that the rare individuals who read their bulletins are precisely those who already have the minimal background necessary to understand us right away; and that their writings are completely unreadable for anyone else. Some of them, ignoring the immense readership of bathroom graffiti (particularly in cafés), have thought that by using a parody of gradeschool writing, printed on paper pasted on gutters like notices of apartments for rent, they could make the form correspond to the content of their slogans; and in this at least they have succeeded. All this serves to clarify what must not be done.
What we have to do is link up the theoretical critique of modern society with the critique of it in acts. By detourning the very propositions of the spectacle, we can directly reveal the implications of present and future revolts.
I propose that we pursue:
1. Experimentation in the détournement of photo-romances and "pornographic" photos, and that we bluntly impose their real truth by restoring real dialogues [by adding or altering speech bubbles]. This operation will bring to the surface the subversive bubbles that are spontaneously, but only fleetingly and half-consciously, formed and then dissolved in the imaginations of those who look at these images. In the same spirit, it is also possible to detourn any advertising billboards -- particularly those in subway corridors, which form remarkable sequences -- by pasting pre-prepared placards onto them.
2. The promotion of guerrilla tactics in the mass media -- an important form of contestation, not only at the urban guerrilla stage, but even before it. The trail was blazed by those Argentinians who took over the control station of an electronic bulletin board and used it to transmit their own directives and slogans. It is still possible to take advantage of the fact that radio and television stations are not yet guarded by troops. On a more modest level, it is known that any amateur radio operator can at little expense broadcast, or at least jam, on a local level; and that the small size of the necessary equipment permits a great mobility, enabling one to slip away before one's position is trigonometrically located. A group of Communist Party dissidents in Denmark had their own pirate radio station a few years ago. Counterfeit issues of one or another periodical can add to the enemy's confusion. This list of examples is vague and limited for obvious reasons.
Detourned comic. (From "The Return of the Durutti Column" by Andre Bertrand, 1968)
The illegality of such actions makes a sustained engagement on this terrain impossible for any organization that has not chosen to go underground, because it would require the formation within it of a specialized subgroup -- a division of tasks which cannot be effectual without compartmentalization and thus hierarchy, etc. Without, in a word, finding oneself on the slippery path toward terrorism.1 We can more appropriately recall the notion of propaganda by deed, which is a very different matter. Our ideas are in everybody's mind, as is well known, and any group without any relation to us, or even a few individuals coming together for a specific purpose, can improvise and improve on tactics experimented with elsewhere by others. This type of unconcerted action cannot be expected to bring about any decisive upheaval, but it can usefully serve to accentuate the coming awakening of consciousness. In any case, there's no need to get hung up on the idea of illegality. Most actions in this domain can be done without breaking any existing law. But the fear of such interventions will make newspaper editors paranoid about their typesetters, radio managers paranoid about their technicians, etc., at least until more specific repressive legislation has been worked out and enacted.
3. The development of situationist comics. Comic strips are the only truly popular literature of our century. Even cretins marked by years at school have not been able to resist writing dissertations on them; but they'll get little pleasure out of reading ours. No doubt they'll buy them just to burn them. In our task of "making shame more shameful still," it is easy to see how easy it would be, for example, to transform "13 rue de l'Espoir [hope]" into "1 blvd. du Désespoir [despair]" merely by adding a few elements; or balloons can simply be changed. In contrast to Pop Art, which breaks comics up into fragments, this method aims at restoring to comics their content and importance.
4. The production of situationist films. The cinema, which is the newest and undoubtedly most utilizable means of expression of our time, has stagnated for nearly three quarters of a century. To sum it up, we can say that it indeed became the "seventh art" so dear to film buffs, film clubs and PTAs. For our purposes this age is over (Ince, Stroheim, the one and only L'Age d'or, Citizen Kane and Mr. Arkadin, the lettrist films), even if there remain a few traditional narrative masterpieces to be unearthed in the film archives or on the shelves of foreign distributors. We should appropriate the first stammerings of this new language -- in particular its most consummate and modern examples, those which have escaped artistic ideology even more than American "B" movies: newsreels, previews and, above all, filmed ads.
Comic composed entirely of original content (Text Raoul Vaneigem, images Andre Bertrand 1967)
Comic composed entirely of original content (Text Raoul Vaneigem, images Gerard Joannes 1967)
Although filmed advertising has obviously been in the service of the commodity and the spectacle, its extreme technical freedom has laid the foundations for what Eisenstein had an inkling of when he talked of filming The Critique of Political Economy or The German Ideology.
I am confident that I could film The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy in a way that would be immediately understandable to the proletarians of Watts who are unaware of the concepts implied in that title. Such adaptations to new forms will at the same time undoubtedly contribute to deepening and intensifying the "written" expression of the same problems; which we could verify, for example, by making a film called Incitement to Murder and Debauchery before drafting its equivalent in the journal, Correctives to the Consciousness of a Class That Will Be the Last. Among other possibilities, the cinema lends itself particularly well to studying the present as a historical problem, to dismantling the processes of reification. To be sure, historical reality can be apprehended, known and filmed only in the course of a complicated process of mediations enabling consciousness to recognize one moment in another, its goal and its action in destiny, its destiny in its goal and action, and its own essence in this necessity. This mediation would be difficult if the empirical existence of the facts themselves was not already a mediated existence, which only takes on an appearance of immediateness because and to the extent that consciousness of the mediation is lacking and that the facts have been uprooted from the network of their determining circumstances, placed in an artificial isolation, and poorly strung together again in the montage of classical cinema. It is precisely this mediation which has been lacking, and inevitably so, in presituationist cinema, which has limited itself to "objective" forms or re-presentation of politico-moral concepts, whenever it has not been merely academic-type narrative with all its hypocrisies. If what I have just written were filmed, it would become much less complicated -- it's all really just banalities. But Godard, the most famous Swiss Maoist, will never be able to understand them. He might well, as is his usual practice, coopt the above -- lift a word from it or an idea like that concerning filmed advertisements -- but he will never be capable of anything but brandishing little novelties picked up elsewhere: images or star words of the era, which definitely have a resonance, but one he can't grasp (Bonnot, worker, Marx, made in USA, Pierrot le Fou, Debord, poetry, etc.). He really is a child of Mao and Coca-Cola.
The cinema enables one to express anything, just like an article, a book, a leaflet or a poster. This is why we should henceforth require that each situationist be as capable of making a film as of writing an article (cf. the "Anti-Public Relations Notice" in Internationale Situationniste #8). Nothing is too beautiful for the blacks of Watts.
René Vienet (1967)
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology). Translator's footnote below.
- 1"From the strategical perspective of social struggles it must first of all be said that one should never play with terrorism. But even serious terrorism has never in history had any desirable effect except in situations where complete repression made impossible any other form of revolutionary activity and thereby caused a significant portion of the population to side with the terrorists." (Internationale Situationniste #12, p. 98.)
Aiming for Practical Truth - Raoul Vaneigem
From Internationale Situationniste #11.
Striving to present to the new revolutionary forces a model of theoretico-practical coherence, the SI must be ready at any moment to sanction, by exclusion or break, the failings, inadequacies and compromises of those making of it -- or recognizing in it -- the most advanced experimental stage of their common project. If the insurgent generation that is determined to found a new society manifests an alertness, based on indisputable first principles, to smash every attempt at cooption, this is not because of a taste for purity, but out of a simple reflex of self-defense. In organizations prefiguring in their essential features the type of social organization to come, the least of requirements consists in not tolerating those people whom the established powers are able to tolerate quite well.
In its positive aspect, the practice of "exclusions" and "breaks" is linked to the question of membership in the SI and of alliance with autonomous groups and individuals. In its Minimum Definition of Revolutionary Organizations, the 7th Conference stressed among other things the following point: "A revolutionary organization refuses to reproduce within itself any of the hierarchical conditions of the dominant world. The only limit to participating in its total democracy is that each member must have recognized and appropriated the coherence of its critique. This coherence must be both in the critical theory as such and in the relation between this theory and practical activity. The organization radically criticizes every ideology as separate power of ideas and as ideas of separate power."
The coherence of the critique and the critique of incoherence are one and the same movement, condemned to decay and to rigidify into ideology the moment separation is introduced between different groups of a federation, between different members of an organization or between the theory and practice of an individual member. In the total struggle in which we are engaged, to yield an inch on the front of coherence is to allow separation to gain the upper hand all the way down the line. This is what spurs us to the greatest vigilance: to never take our coherence for granted, to remain alert to the dangers that threaten it in the fundamental unity of individual and collective behavior, and to anticipate and avoid these dangers.
The fact that a secret fraction1 was able to form among us, but also that it was rapidly exposed, sufficiently indicates our rigor and our lack of rigor in transparency in intersubjective relations. Put another way, this means that the SI's influence stems essentially from this: it is capable of setting an example, both negatively, by showing its weaknesses and correcting them, and positively, by deriving new requirements from these corrections. We have often reiterated the importance of our not being mistaken in judging individuals; we have to prove this continually and thereby at the same time make it more impossible for people to be mistaken about us. And what goes for individuals goes for groups as well.
We recall the words of Socrates to one of the young men he was talking to: "Speak a little so I can see what sort of person you are." We are in a position to avoid this kind of Socrates and this kind of young man if the exemplary character of our activity ensures the radiating force of our presence in and against the reigning spectacle. To the Mafiosi of cooption and to the petty impotents who concoct rumors about our supposed "elitism," we should counterpose the antihierarchical example of permanent radicalization. We must not dissimulate any aspect of our experiences, and we must establish, through the dissemination of our methods, critical theses and agitational tactics, the greatest transparency concerning the collective project of liberating everyday life.
The SI should act like an axis which, receiving its movement from the revolutionary impulses of the entire world, precipitates in a unitary manner the radical turn of events. In contrast to the backward sectors that strive for tactical unity above all else (common, national and popular fronts), the SI and allied autonomous organizations will meet each other only in the search for organic unity, considering that tactical unity is effective only where organic unity is possible. Group or individual, everyone must live in pace with the radicalization of events in order to radicalize them in turn. Revolutionary coherence is nothing else.
We are certainly still far from such a harmony of progression, but we are just as certainly working toward it. The movement from first principles to their realization involves groups and individuals, and thus their possible retardations. Only transparency in real participation cuts short the menace that weighs on coherence: the transformation of retardation into separation. The hostility of the old world we live in is at the root of everything that still separates us from the realization of the situationist project; but awareness of these separations already contains the means to resolve them.
It is precisely in the struggle against separations that retardation appears in various degrees; it is there that unconsciousness of retardation obscures consciousness of separations, thereby introducing incoherence. When consciousness rots, ideology oozes out. We have seen KotÃ¡nyi keep the results of his analyses to himself, communicating them drop by drop with the tightfisted superiority of a water clock over time; and others (the most recently excluded [the Garnautins]) keeping to themselves their deficiencies in all respects, strutting like peacocks while lacking the tail. Mystical wait-and-see-ism and egalitarian ecumenicalism had the same odor. Vanish, grotesque charlatans of incurable infirmities!
The notion of retardation relates to the realm of play, it is connected with the notion of "game leader." Just as dissimulation of retardation or dissimulation of experiences recreates the notion of prestige, tends to transform the game leader into a boss and engenders stereotyped behavior (roles, with all their neurotic outgrowths, their contorted attitudes and their inhumanity), so transparency enables us to enter the common project with the calculated innocence of Fourier's phalansterian players, emulating each other ("composite" passion), varying their activities ("butterfly" passion), and striving for the most advanced radicality ("cabalist" passion).2 But lightheartedness must be based on conscious, "heavy" relationships. It implies lucidity regarding everyone's abilities.
We have no interest in abilities apart from the revolutionary use that can be made of them, a use that acquires its sense in everyday life. The problem is not that some comrades live, think, fuck, shoot or talk better than others, but that no comrade should live, think, fuck, shoot or talk so poorly that he comes to dissimulate his retardations, to play the oppressed minority and demand, in the very name of the surplus-value he grants to the others because of his own inadequacies, a democracy of impotence in which he would flourish. In other words, every revolutionary must at the very least have the passion to defend his most precious attribute: his passion for individual realization, his desire to liberate his own everyday life.
If someone gives up engaging (and thus developing) all his abilities in the fight for his creativity, his dreams, his passions, he is in reality giving up on himself. In so doing, he has immediately debarred himself from speaking in his own name, much less from speaking in the name of a group embodying the chances for the realization of all individuals. An exclusion or break only concretizes publicly -- with the logic of transparency he lacked -- his taste for sacrifice and his choice of the inauthentic.
On questions of membership or alliance, the example of real participation in the revolutionary project is the deciding factor. Consciousness of retardations, struggle against separations, passion to attain greater coherence -- this is what must constitute the basis of an objective confidence among us, as well as between the SI and autonomous groups and federations. There is every reason to hope that our allies will rival us in radicalizing revolutionary conditions, just as we expect those who will join us to do so. Everything allows us to suppose that at a certain point in the extension of revolutionary consciousness each group will have attained such a coherence that the "game-leading" level of all the participants and the negligibility of retardations will enable individuals to vary their options and change organizations according to their passional affinities. But the momentary preeminence of the SI is a fact that must also be recognized and taken into account: a gratifying disgrace, like the ambiguous smile of the Cheshire Cat of invisible revolutions.
Because the International has today a theoretical and practical richness that only increases once it is shared, appropriated and renewed by revolutionary elements (up to the point when the SI and the autonomous groups in turn disappear into the revolutionary richness), it must welcome only those wanting to take part in it who fully know what they are doing; that is, anyone who has demonstrated that in speaking and acting for himself, he speaks and acts in the name of many, whether by creating through the poetry of his praxis (leaflet, riot, film, agitation, book) a regroupment of subversive forces, or by his turning out to be the only one to maintain coherence in the process of the radicalization of a group. The advisability of his entry into the SI then becomes a tactical question to be debated: either the group is strong enough to cede one of its "game leaders," or its failure is such that the game leaders are the only ones to have a say in the matter, or the game leader, due to unavoidable objective circumstances, has not succeeded in forming a group.
Wherever the new proletariat experiments with its liberation, autonomy in revolutionary coherence is the first step toward generalized self-management. The lucidity that we are striving to maintain concerning ourselves and the world teaches us that in organizational practice there's no such thing as too much precision or alertness. On the question of freedom, an error of detail is already a truth of state.
RAOUL VANEIGEM (1967)
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version entitled "To Have as Goal Practical Truth" in the Situationist International Anthology). Translator's notes below.
Setting Straight Some Popular Misconceptions About Revolutions in the Underdeveloped Countries - Mustapha Khayati
Mustapha Khayati on revolutions in colonised countries.
The eminently revolutionary role of the bourgeoisie consists in having introduced the economy into history in a decisive and irreversible way. As the faithful master of this economy, the bourgeoisie has since its appearance been the real (though sometimes unconscious) master of "universal history." For the first time universal history ceased to be some metaphysical fantasy or some act of the World Spirit and became a material reality as concrete as the trivial existence of each individual. Since the emergence of commodity production, nothing in the world has escaped the implacable development of this neo-Fate, the invisible economic rationality: the logic of the commodity. Totalitarian and imperialist in essence, it demands the entire planet as its terrain and the whole of humanity as its servants. Wherever the commodity is present there are only slaves.
To the bourgeoisie's oppressive coherence in keeping humanity in prehistory, the revolutionary movement -- a direct and unintended product of bourgeois capitalist domination -- has for more than a century counterposed the project of a liberatory coherence that is the work of each and everyone, the free, conscious intervention in the creation of history: the real abolition of all class divisions and the suppression of the economy.
Wherever it has penetrated -- that is, almost everywhere in the world -- the virus of the commodity never stops toppling the most ossified socioeconomic structures, enabling millions of human beings to discover through poverty and violence the historical time of the economy. Wherever it penetrates it spreads its destructive character, dissolving the vestiges of the past and pushing all antagonisms to their extreme. In a word, it hastens social revolution. All the walls of China crumble in its path, and scarcely has it established itself in India when everything around it disintegrates and agrarian revolutions explode in Bombay, in Bengal and in Madras. The precapitalist zones of the world accede to bourgeois modernity, but without its material basis. There also, as in the case of the proletariat, the forces that the bourgeoisie has contributed toward liberating, or even creating, are now going to turn against the bourgeoisie and its native servants: the revolution of the underdeveloped is becoming one of the main chapters of modern history.
If the problem of revolution in the underdeveloped countries poses itself in a particular way, this is due to the very development of history: In these countries the general economic backwardness -- fostered by colonial domination and the social strata that support it -- and the underdevelopment of productive forces have impeded the development of socioeconomic structures that would have made immediately practicable the revolutionary theory elaborated in the advanced capitalist societies for more than a century. As they enter the struggle none of these countries have any significant heavy industry, and the proletariat is far from being the majority class. It is the poor peasantry that plays that role.
The various national liberation movements emerged well after the rout of the workers movement resulting from the defeat of the Russian revolution, which right from its victory was turned into a counterrevolution in the service of a bureaucracy claiming to be communist. They have thus suffered -- either consciously or with false consciousness -- from all the defects and weaknesses of that generalized counterrevolution; and with the additional burden of their generally backward conditions, they have been unable to overcome any of the limits imposed on the defeated revolutionary movement. And it is precisely because of this defeat that the colonized and semicolonized countries have had to fight imperialism by themselves. But because they have fought only imperialism and on only a part of the total revolutionary terrain, they have only partially driven it out. The oppressive regimes that have installed themselves wherever national liberation revolutions believed themselves victorious are only one of the guises by which the return of the repressed takes place.
No matter what forces have participated in them, and regardless of the radicalism of their leaderships, the national liberation movements have always led the ex-colonial societies to modern forms of the state and to pretensions of modernity in the economy. In China, father-image of underdeveloped revolutionaries, the peasants' struggle against American, European and Japanese imperialism ended up, because of the defeat of the Chinese workers movement in 1925-1927, by bringing to power a bureaucracy on the Russian model. The Stalino-Leninist dogmatism with which this bureaucracy gilds its ideology -- recently reduced to Mao's red catechism -- is nothing but the lie, or at best the false consciousness, that accompanies its counterrevolutionary practice.
Fanonism and Castro-Guevaraism are the false consciousness through which the peasantry carries out the immense task of ridding precapitalist society of its semifeudal and colonialist leftovers and acceding to a national dignity previously trampled on by reactionary colonists and ruling classes. Ben-Bellaism, Nasserism, Titoism and Maoism are the ideologies that signal the end of these movements and their takeover by petty-bourgeois or military urban strata: the reconstitution of exploitive society with new masters and based on new socioeconomic structures. Wherever the peasantry has fought victoriously and brought to power the social strata that marshaled and directed its struggle, it has been the first to suffer their violence and to pay the enormous cost of their domination. Modern bureaucracy, like that of antiquity (in China, for example), builds its power and prosperity on the superexploitation of the peasants: ideology changes nothing in the matter. In China or Cuba, Egypt or Algeria, everywhere it plays the same role and assumes the same functions.
In the process of capital accumulation, the bureaucracy fulfills what was only the unrealized ideal of the bourgeoisie. What the bourgeoisie has taken centuries to accomplish "through blood and mud," the bureaucracy wants to achieve consciously and "rationally" within a few decades. But the bureaucracy cannot accumulate capital without accumulating lies: that which constituted the original sin of capitalist wealth is sinisterly referred to as "socialist primitive accumulation." Everything that the underdeveloped bureaucracies present as or imagine to be socialism is nothing but a realized neo-mercantilism. "The bourgeois state minus the bourgeoisie" (Lenin) cannot go beyond the historical tasks of the bourgeoisie, and the most advanced industrial countries show to the less developed ones the image of their own development to come. Once in power, the Bolshevik bureaucracy could find nothing better to propose to the revolutionary Russian proletariat than to "follow the lessons of German state-capitalism." All the so-called "socialist" powers are nothing but underdeveloped imitations of the bureaucracy that dominated and defeated the revolutionary movement in Europe. Whatever the bureaucracy is able to do or is forced to do will neither emancipate the laboring masses nor even substantially improve their social condition, because those aims depend not only on the productive forces but also on their appropriation by the producers. In any case, what the bureaucracy will not fail to do is create the material conditions to realize both. Has the bourgeoisie ever done less?
In the peasant-bureaucratic revolutions only the bureaucracy aims consciously and lucidly at power. The seizure of power is the historical moment when the bureaucracy lays hold of the state and declares its independence vis-Ã -vis the revolutionary masses before even having eliminated the vestiges of colonialism and achieving effective independence from foreign powers. Upon entering the state, the new class suppresses all autonomy of the masses by pretending to suppress its own autonomy and devote itself to the service of the masses. Exclusive owner of the entire society, it declares itself the exclusive representative of that society's superior interests. In so doing, the bureaucratic state is the fulfillment of the Hegelian State. Its separation from society sanctions at the same time the society's separation into antagonistic classes: the momentary union of the bureaucracy and the peasantry is only the fantastic illusion through which they jointly accomplish the immense historical tasks of the absent bourgeoisie. The bureaucratic power built on the ruins of precapitalist colonial society is not the abolition of class antagonisms; it merely substitutes new classes, new conditions of oppression and new forms of struggle for the old ones.
The only people who are really underdeveloped are those who see a positive value in the power of their masters. The rush to catch up with capitalist reification remains the best road to reinforced underdevelopment. The question of economic development is inseparable from the question of who is the real owner of the economy, the real master of labor power. Everything else is nothing but the babble of specialists.
So far the revolutions in the underdeveloped countries have only tried to imitate Bolshevism in various ways. From now on the point is to go beyond it through the power of the soviets.
MUSTAPHA KHAYATI (1967)
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology entitled "Contributions Toward Rectifying Public Opinion Concerning the Revolution in the Underdeveloped Countries").
Separation Perfected - Guy Debord
From Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967).
But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence... illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness.
— Feuerbach, Preface to the second edition of The Essence of Christianity
The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.
Images detatched every aspect of life merge into a common stream, and the former unity of life is lost forever. Apprehended in a partial way, reality unfolds in a new generality as a pseudo-world apart, solely as an object of contemplation. The tendency toward the specialization of images-of-the-world finds its highest expression in the world of the autonomous image, where deceit deceives itself. The spectacle in its generality is a concrete inversion of life, and, as such, the autonomous movement of non-life.
The spectacle at once as society itself, as a part of society and as a means of unification. As a part of society, it is that sector where all attention, all consciousness, converges. Being isolated — and precisely for that reason — this sector is the locus of illusion and false consciousness; the unity it imposes is merely the official language of generalized separation.
The spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.
The spectacle cannot be understood either as a deliberate distortion of the visual world or as a product of the technology of the mass dissemination of images. It is far better viewed as a weltanschauung that has been actualized, translated into the material realm — a world view transformed into an objective force.
Understood in its totality, the spectacle is both the outcome and the goal of the dominant mode of production. It is not something added to the real world — not a decorative element, so to speak. On the contrary, it is the very heart of society's real unreality. In all its specific manifestations — news or propaganda, advertising or the actual consumption of entertainment — the spectacle epitomizes the prevailing model of social life. It is the omnipresent celebration of a choice already made in the sphere of production, and the consummate result of that choice. In form as in content the spectacle serves as total justification for the conditions and aims of the existing system. It further ensures the permanent presence of that justification, for it governs almost all time spent outside the production process itself.
The phenomenon of separation is part and parcel of the unity of the world, of a global social praxis that has split up into reality on the one hand and image on the other. Social practice, which the spectacle's autonomy challenges, is also the real totality to which the spectacle is subordinate. So deep is the rift in this totality, however, that the spectacle is able to emerge as its apparent goal. The language of the spectacle is composed of signs of the dominant organization of production — signs which are at the same time the ultimate end-products of that organization.
The spectacle cannot be set in abstract opposition to concrete social activity, for the dichotomy between reality and image will survive on either side of any such distinction. Thus the spectacle, though it turns reality on its head, is itself a product of real activity. Likewise, lived reality suffers the material assaults of the spectacle's mechanisms of contemplation, incorporating the spectacular order and lending that order positive support. Each side therefore has its share of objective reality. And every concept, as it takes its place on one side or the other, has no foundation apart from its transformation into its opposite: reality erupts within the spectacle, and the spectacle is real. This reciprocal alienation is the essence and underpinning of society as it exists.
In a world that really has been turned on its head, truth is a moment of falsehood.
The concept of the spectacle brings together and explains a wide range of apparently disparate phenomena. Diversities and contrasts among such phenomena are the appearances of the spectacle — the appearances of a social organization of appearances that needs to be grasped in its general truth. Understood on its own terms, the spectacle proclaims the predominance of appearances and asserts that all human life, which is to say all social life, is mere appearance. But any critique capable of apprehending the spectacle's essential character must expose it as a visible negation of life — and as a negation of life that has invented a visual form for itself.
In order to describe the spectacle, its formation, its functions and whatever forces may hasten its demise, a few artificial distinctions are called for. To analyze the spectacle means talking its language to some degree — to the degree, in fact, that we are obliged to engage the methodology of the society to which the spectacle gives expression. For what the spectacle expresses is the total practice of one particular economic and social formation; it is, so to speak, that formation's agenda. It is also the historical moment by which we happen to be governed.
The spectacle manifests itself as an enormous positivity, out of reach and beyond dispute. All it says is: "Everything that appears is good; whatever is good will appear." The attitude that it demands in principle is the same passive acceptance that it has already secured by means of its seeming incontrovertibility, and indeed by its monopolization of the realm of appearances.
The spectacle is essentially tautological, for the simple reason that its means and its ends are identical. It is the sun that never sets on the empire of modern passivity. It covers the entire globe, basking in the perpetual warmth of its own glory.
The spectacular character of modern industrial society has nothing fortuitous or superficial about it; on the contrary, this society is based on the spectacle in the most fundamental way. For the spectacle, as the perfect image of the ruling economic order, ends are nothing and development is all — although the only thing into which the spectacle plans to develop is itself.
As the indispensable packaging for things produced as they are now produced, as a general gloss on the rationality of the system, and as the advanced economic sector directly responsible for the manufacture of an ever-growing mass of image-objects, the spectacle is the chief product of present-day society.
The spectacle subjects living human beings to its will to the extent that the economy has brought them under its sway. For the spectacle is simply the economic realm developing for itself — at once a faithful mirror held up to the production of things and a distorting objectification of the producers.
An earlier stage in the economy's domination of social life entailed an obvious downgrading of being into having that left its stamp on all human endeavor. The present stage, in which social life is completely taken over by the accumulated products of the economy, entails a generalized shift from having to appearing: all effective "having" must now derive both its immediate prestige and its ultimate raison d'etre from appearances. At the same time all individual reality, being directly dependent on social power and completely shaped by that power, has assumed a social character. Indeed, it is only inasmuch as individual reality is not that it is allowed to appear.
For one to whom the real world becomes real images, mere images are transformed into real beings — tangible figments which are the efficient motor of trancelike behavior. Since the spectacle's job is to cause a world that is no longer directly perceptible to be seen via different specialized mediations, it is inevitable that it should elevate the human sense of sight to the special place once occupied by touch; the most abstract of the senses, and the most easily deceived, sight is naturally the most readily adaptable to present-day society's generalized abstraction. This is not to say, however, that the spectacle itself is perceptible to the naked eye — even if that eye is assisted by the ear. The spectacle is by definition immune from human activity, inaccessible to any projected review or correction. It is the opposite of dialogue. Wherever representation takes on an independent existence, the spectacle reestablishes its rule.
The spectacle is heir to all the weakness of the project of Western philosophy, which was an attempt to understand activity by means of the categories of vision. Indeed the spectacle reposes on an incessant deployment of the very technical rationality to which that philosophical tradition gave rise. So far from realizing philosophy, the spectacle philosophizes reality, and turns the material life of everyone into a universe of speculation.
Philosophy is at once the power of alienated thought and the thought of alienated power, and as such it has never been able to emancipate itself from theology. The spectacle is the material reconstruction of the religious illusion. Not that its techniques have dispelled those religious mists in which human beings once located their own powers, the very powers that had been wrenched from them — but those cloud-enshrouded entities have now been brought down to earth. It is thus the most earthbound aspects of life that have become the most impenetrable and rarefied. The absolute denial of life, in the shape of a fallacious paradise, is no longer projected onto the heavens, but finds its place instead within material life itself. The spectacle is hence a technological version of the exiling of human powers in a "world beyond" — and the perfection of separation within human beings.
So long as the realm of necessity remains a social dream, dreaming will remain a social necessity. The spectacle is the bad dream of modern society in chains, expressing nothing more than its wish for sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of that sleep.
The fact that the practical power of modern society has detached itself from itself and established itself in the spectacle as an independent realm can only be explained by the self-cleavage and self-contradictoriness already present in that powerful practice.
At the root of the spectacle lies that oldest of all social divisions of labor, the specialization of power. The specialized role played by the spectacle is that of spokesman for all other activities, a sort of diplomatic representative of hierarchical society at its own court, and the source of the only discourse which that society allows itself to hear. Thus the most modern aspect of the spectacle is also at bottom the most archaic.
By mean of the spectacle the ruling order discourses endlessly upon itself in an uninterrupted monologue of self-praise. The spectacle is the self-portrait of power in the age of power's totalitarian rule over the conditions of existence. The fetishistic appearance of pure objectivity in spectacular relationships conceals their true character as relationships between human beings and between classes; a second Nature thus seems to impose inescapable laws upon our environment. But the spectacle is by no means the inevitable outcome of a technical development perceived as natural; on the contrary, the society of the spectacle is a form that chooses its own technical content. If the spectacle — understood in the limited sense of those "mass media" that are its most stultifying superficial manifestation — seems at times to be invading society in the shape of a mere apparatus, it should be remembered that this apparatus has nothing neutral about it, and that it answers precisely to the needs of the spectacle's internal dynamics. If the social requirements of the age which develops such techniques can be met only through their mediation, if the administration of society and all contact between people now depends on the intervention of such "instant" communication, it is because this "communication" is essentially one-way; the concentration of the media thus amounts to the monopolization by the administrators of the existing system of the means to pursue their particular form of administration. The social cleavage that the spectacle expresses is inseparable from the modern State, which, as the product of the social division of labor and the organ of class rule, is the general form of all social division.
Separation is the alpha and omega of the spectacle. Religious contemplation in its earliest form was the outcome of the establishment of the social division of labor and the formation of classes. Power draped itself in the outward garb of a mythical order from the beginning. In former times the category of the sacred justified the cosmic and ontological ordering of things that best served the interests of the masters, expounding upon and embellishing what society could not deliver. Thus power as a separate realm has always had a spectacular aspect, but mass allegiance to frozen religious imagery was originally a shared acknowledgment of loss, an imaginary compensation for a poverty of real social activity that was still widely felt to be a universal fact of life. The modern spectacle, by contrast, depicts what society can deliver, but within this depiction what is permitted is rigidly distinguished from what is possible. The spectacle preserves unconsciousness as practical changes in the conditions of existence proceed. The spectacle is self-generated, and it makes up its own rules: it is a specious form of the sacred. And it makes no secret of what it is, namely, hierarchical power evolving on its own, in its separateness, thanks to an increasing productivity based on an ever more refined division of labor, an ever greater comminution of machine-governed gestures, and an ever-widening market. In the course of this development all community and critical awareness have ceased to be; nor have those forces, which were able — by separating — to grow enormously in strength, yet found a way to reunite.
The generalized separation of worker and product has spelled the end of any comprehensive view of the job done, as well as the end of direct personal communication between producers. As the accumulation of alienated products proceeds, and as the productive process gets more concentrated, consistency and communication become the exclusive assets of the system's managers. The triumph of an economic system founded on separation leads to the proletarianization of the world.
Owing to the very success of this separated system of production, whose product is separation itself, that fundamental area of experience which was associated in earlier societies with an individual's principal work is being transformed — at least at the leading edge of the system's evolution — into a realm of non-work, of inactivity. Such inactivity, however, is by no means emancipated from productive activity: it remains in thrall to that activity, in an uneasy and worshipful subjection to production's needs and results; indeed it is itself a product of the rationality of production. There can be no freedom apart from activity, and within the spectacle all activity is banned — a corollary of the fact that all real activity has been forcibly channeled into the global construction of the spectacle. So what is referred to as "liberation from work," that is, increased leisure time, is a liberation neither within labor itself nor from the world labor has brought into being.
The reigning economic system is founded on isolation; at the same time it is a circular process designed to produce isolation. Isolation underpins technology, and technology isolates in its turn; all goods proposed by the spectacular system, from cars to televisions, also serve as weapons for that system as it strives to reinforce the isolation of "the lonely crowd." The spectacle is continually rediscovering its own basic assumptions — and each time in a more concrete manner.
The origin of the spectacle lies in the world's loss of unity, and its massive expansion in the modern period demonstrates how total this loss has been: the abstract nature of all individual work, as of production in general, finds perfect expression in the spectacle, whose very manner of being concrete is, precisely, abstraction. The spectacle divides the world into two parts, one of which is held up as a self-representation to the world, and is superior to the world. The spectacle is simply the common language that bridges this division. Spectators are linked only by a one-way relationship to the very center that maintains their isolation from one another. The spectacle thus unites what is separate, but it unites it only in its separateness.
The spectator's alienation from and submission to the contemplated object (which is the outcome of his unthinking activity) works like this: the more he contemplates, the less he lives; the more readily he recognizes his own needs in the images of need proposed by the dominant system, the less he understands his own existence and his own desires. The spectacle's externality with respect to the acting subject is demonstrated by the fact that the individual's own gestures are no longer his own, but rather those of someone else who represents them to him. The spectator feels at home nowhere, for the spectacle is everywhere.
Workers do not produce themselves: they produce a force independent of themselves. The success of this production, that is, the abundance it generates, is experienced by its producers only as an abundance of dispossession. All time, all space, becomes foreign to them as their own alienated products accumulate. The spectacle is a map of this new world — a map drawn to the scale of the territory itself. In this way the very powers that have been snatched from us reveal themselves to us in their full force.
The spectacle's function in society is the concrete manufacture of alienation. Economic growth corresponds almost entirely to the growth of this particular sector of industrial production. If something grows along with the self-movement of the economy, it can only be the alienation that has inhabited the core of the economic sphere from its inception.
Though separated fromhis product, man is more and more, and ever more powerfully, the producer of every detail of his world. The closer his life comes to being his own creation, the more drastically is he cut off from that life.
The spectacle is capital accumulated to the point where it becomes image.
This text is the first chapter of the forthcoming book, The Society of the Spectacle.
Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. From: https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/perfected.html
The SI on the Anarchist Federation in France. From Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967). [Excerpts from a larger selection of quotes about the SI in various publications - the majority of which have yet to be translated into English].
Recent advances concerning the SI
"The verbal gesticulations of the situationists do not have consequences [...] Furthermore, it is curious to see the eagerness of the bourgeois press, which refuses to pass on information emanating from the revolutionary workers' movement, to take up and popularize the gesticulations of these puppets."
-- Monde Libertaire (January 1967)
"Although I no longer collaborate on Le Monde Libertaire, I do not like to see it denigrated by one who publishes in it, nor to see one avoid, with perjorative intention, all allusions to libertarian action with regard to situationism, this new form of Baroque-ism [...] I have read the texts of the pamphlet in question (style, intentions and insults) dozens of times before 1914 [...] It remains that the modernism of the situationists smells too much of patch-work for one to await their directives. Above all, the current conjuncture poses the problems of ability and responsibility for the responsible people who are not their own judges."
-- C.A. Bontemps, Monde Libertaire (January 1967).
"For several years -- that is to say, well before the situationists provisionally left the shadows -- I 'posed the questions' and I posed the questions to the movement. I still think that this is necessary and I will continue. But I absolutely refuse to let my opposition to the current forms of the A.F. [Anarchist Federation] be annexed by or serve the arguments of those who, under the pretext of renewing anarchism, sniff out their inspirations from the trashcans of Marxism [...] For the rest, many will be carried off by the wind. Because tomorrow there will no longer be any situationists."
-- Cesar Fayolle, Tuning up, published in Philosophy in a schoolyard (February 1967).
"The event that set the others in motion was the situationist pamphlet On the Poverty of Student Life and my response in the newspaper. There wasn't enough to whip a cat. Insulted without any provocation on our part by a handful of library revolutionaries, I responded to these nonentities in a suitable tone, which is not only my right but my duty as a militant. And everything would have remained there. However, the scandal was launched by a certain Bodson, then scorned by all of the fifth column that had waited for years for the favorable instant to attack our organization [...] It is true that I have never read their [the situationists'] journal. But it is pleasing to see these idiots [zigotos], who haven't read any of the theoreticians of anarchy, reproach me for failing to read. They are not only odious, they are also ridiculous. I know perfectly well what situationism is: a critique of society made by all those in opposition to it, that which is easy and naturally a part of the exhibitionism that is the lot of all sycophants of the Revolution. Naturally, [it is] a finality that doesn't exclude the State, quite surely to be renovated! [...] Because the epileptic protests of certain nonentities will permit us to get to the bottom of the problem and reveal in broad daylight all the ramifications of the warped conspiracy by the Marxists to dissolve the Anarchist Federation [...] When one perceives that all of the manoeuvres have failed, one applies the last tactic, which is called "situationist." One urges saboteurs in the organization to try to break it up in its interior; when it disappears it will leave a place for a new organization that, under the libertarian abbreviation guaranteeing the freedom of man, will permit the resumption of the Marxist operation that, lacking Revolution, reserves fruitful sinecures for its agents!"
-- Maurice Joyeux, The Hydra of Lerne, the infantile disorder of anarchy (report to the Bordeaux Congress, May 1967).
Translated from the French by NOT BORED! From: https://www.notbored.org/FA.html
The Practice of Theory
A series of shorter texts from Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967).
A short text from Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967) on people falsely claiming membership of the S.I.
We feel it useful to point out that for various reasons, certain people who have never had anything to do with the situationists have been passing themselves off as members of the SI.
The wretched appearance of the opinions they express should be enough to make their listeners wary, and in that event all their solicitations should be treated with a level of distrust. Indeed, we have been reported in Bordeaux, Grenoble, and elsewhere. In Paris, following a certain Dominique Frager, who operated under the title until December, the names Christian Descamps and Alain Guillerm were also associated with the same less than sustainable role in April.
We would like to make it clear that the only way to contact the SI is through our mailing address (B.P. 307-07 Paris), or to be presented by one of the organizations with whom we maintain relations. The names of a sufficient number of SI members are always mentioned in each issue of this journal. Anyone who claims to spare someone of the necessary screening process therefore reveals themselves to be a mythomaniac and a provocateur. Watch out!
Translated by Reuben Keehan. From https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/imposters.html
The Seventh Conference
A very short text from Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967).
The 7th SI conference was held in Paris from the 5th to the 11th of July, 1966. The following questions were discussed: the organization of the SI; organization in general; the development of our relations with the revolutionary currents now presenting themselves; the present state of the processes and conditions that may be determined in different parts of the world; revolution and economy in developing countries; culture; new methods of agitation; the time of the abolition of separate power; situationist publications and translations; the financing of our activities; and the selection of theoretical work to develop. A general agreement was demonstrated in every subject debated.
Translated by Reuben Keehan. From: https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/seventh.html
Minimum Definition of Revolutionary Organizations
From Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967).
Since the only purpose of a revolutionary organization is the abolition of all existing classes in a way that does not bring about a new division of society, we consider any organization revolutionary which consistently and effectively works toward the international realization of the absolute power of the workers councils, as prefigured in the experience of the proletarian revolutions of this century.
Such an organization makes a unitary critique of the world, or is nothing. By unitary critique we mean a comprehensive critique of all geographical areas where various forms of separate socioeconomic powers exist, as well as a comprehensive critique of all aspects of life.
Such an organization sees the beginning and end of its program in the complete decolonization of everyday life. It thus aims not at the masses' self-management of the existing world, but at its uninterrupted transformation. It embodies the radical critique of political economy, the supersession of the commodity and of wage labor.
Such an organization refuses to reproduce within itself any of the hierarchical conditions of the dominant world. The only limit to participating in its total democracy is that each member must have recognized and appropriated the coherence of its critique. This coherence must be both in the critical theory as such and in the relation between this theory and practical activity. The organization radically criticizes every ideology as separate power of ideas and as ideas of separate power. It is thus at the same time the negation of any remnants of religion, and of the prevailing social spectacle which, from news media to mass culture, monopolizes communication between people around their one-way reception of images of their alienated activity. The organization dissolves any "revolutionary ideology," unmasking it as a sign of the failure of the revolutionary project, as the private property of new specialists of power, as one more fraudulent representation setting itself above real proletarianized life.
Since the ultimate criterion of the modern revolutionary organization is its totalness, such an organization is ultimately a critique of politics. It must explicitly aim to dissolve itself as a separate organization at its moment of victory.
SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (July 1966)
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).
Jan Strijbosch, Anton Hartstein, Théo Frey, Jean Garnault and Herbert Holl are kicked out of the Situationist International.
From Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967).
In July, Jan Strijbosch (Holland) was excluded by the 7th Conference for demanding the readmission to the SI of Rudi Renson, whose state of total inactivity for over a year is generally regarded as an effective resignation — or even pure and simple disappearance.
As Strijbosch's own activity has hardly been any more visible of late, we had no desire to justify some kind of "tendency" of incommunicable participation. (We should point out that we have never had any other problem with these comrades.)
Anton Hartstein was excluded shortly after for theoretical inadequacy, which became apparent with his intervention on the question of the State at the same Conference; and which was almost immediately exacerbated by the fact that he was somewhat slow to react when the practical solidarity of the SI was required.
Théo Frey, Jean Garnault and Herbert Holl were excluded as soon as they were no longer able to back up their lies in their confrontation with Mustapha Khayati, which was adjudicated by the SI. This was around midnight on 15 January: the detail is worth noting, for as an important argument in one of their proclamations, the liars later wrote that it was already the 16th, and therefore pretended that there was some discrepancy in their expulsion from the SI that somehow validated their accumulation of concerted falsifications. Having admitted at that point, almost as a justification, that they had for a few months constituted a secret faction devoted to taking power within the SI (an operation of a magical nature, because this "power" is nothing other than certain individual theoretical and practical capacities of which they felt deprived and, judging by their conduct, had no chance of ever attaining). They also claimed that Edith Frey was involved. Given the unreliability of their word, and the fact that she was absent, we could not be sure of this last confession concerning a third party, and her name has thus not been included in the statement of exclusion. However, as Edith Frey is effectively in solidarity with these liars, we have no choice but to assume that she was in on their secret.
Translated by Reuben Keehan. From: https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/recent.html
When Axelos Found A Disciple
Some harsh words from the SI for Kostas Axelos, the former editor of the previously maligned Arguments journal. From Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967).
In June 1966, beside a text by Kostas Axelos, ex-editor of Arguments (which says it all, really), number 55 of the bulletin of an "International Center for Poetic Studies" in Brussels contained an article by one Jacques Darquin, offering this same Axelos the stupidest and most unbridled worship. According to a biographical note introducing his article, Jacques Darquin "was briefly a member of the Situationist International." We immediately wrote to the journal's editor, Fernand Verhasen, pointing out that this was untrue, and that we expected him to make it known to both us and the readers of the following issue that his good faith had been abused.
This imposture, we might add, is all the more significant in that it is intended to qualify an adulator of Mr Kostas Axelos, whose work the situationists have mentioned several times in complete opposition. In this instance, Mr Darquin's self-promotional behavior casts in a redoubtable light what Axelosian thought meant with its amazing discovery that "false consciousness is hand in glove with the consciousness that believes it knows the truth." In order for Mr Darquin, for example, to have been "hand in glove" with the situationists, he would have to invent a false past for himself. The triviality of his case makes it obvious to everyone that he "links" himself to us in the same way that Mr Axelos does "to Heraclitus and to Marx, to Rimbaud and to Nietzsche," etc. But the impudence of Mr Darquin's links is even more immediately demonstrable.
Irritatingly, Verhesen provided no response whatsoever, effectively taking all responsibility for this falsification. Several weeks later, he was forced to suffer the consequences of this indignation when a few situationists chased him out of a nightclub in Brussels. This pathetic little character, who maintains his arrogance despite a courteous appeal to his intellectual honesty, and instantly becomes humble when given a slap in the face, then hastened to plead that there was no more a Darquin than there was ink in Axelos' intellectual pen, and that the entire Darquinage, the bleating article and the biographical note, were directly furnished by Axelos himself. What a mentality! Just as we've always said...
Translated by Reuben Keehan. From: https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/axelos.html
Some Rather Predictable Refusals
The SI's recent hostile interactions with various journals, conferences and booksellers. From Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967)
We wish to draw attention to some of our refusals to invitations from those who think they need to offer us a place in this or that despicable little niche of the very system we have consistently denounced. This information, of course, is not interesting for the refusals themselves — which shouldn't surprise anyone — but for the moronic indecency that a number of these offers clearly exhibit.
In June 1966, the situationists refused an offer from the journal Aletheia, open to all sorts of Stalinists and peppered with Heideggerianism, to participate in a special issue purporting to deal with "militantism"! In August of the same year, we declined an invitation to take part in the "Destruction of Art Symposium" planned for London in September, observing that "art is already destroyed and has been for a very long time... Nowadays, organizing the common spectacle of the debris and copies of the debris — Enrico Baj, for example — is not to destroy it but to pick up the pieces and try to stick them back together, that is, to be the academic art of the era of art's completion." In January, after an order for the situationist brochure from Strasbourg was placed by Maspéro — the famous bookseller of a bureaucracy on the road to liberalization — where a member of the public had the poor judgment to go looking for it, we wrote to its proprieter: "You Stalinist prick, it's no accident that you don't have our brochure. We despise you." In March, it was necessary to respond to the Center for Socialist Students, who had asked a member of the SI to become caught up in one of its debates on "concentration camp cities and socialist urbanism," that "we find those who are speaking in it, and those who are listening to them, completely uninteresting."
The prize, however, goes to Kostas Axelos (see above1 ), who wrote to us on 27 February as editor of the Editions Minuit collection of Arguments, proposing that we "send a copy of Vaneigem's Traité" for him to read. Our response was short but offensive.
I love my camera because I love life... I record the best moments of existence... I relive them whenever I like, in all their splendor.
THE SPECTACLE'S DOMINATION OVER LIFE
This advertisement for Eumig cameras (summer 1967) evokes with great accuracy the glaciation of individual life inverted in the spectacular perspective: the present surrenders to being immediately lived as memory. Through this spacialization of time, which submits to the illusory order of a permanently accessible present, time and life are lost together.
Translated by Reuben Keehan. From https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/refusals.html
The SI's critique of Louis Janover of the journal Front Noir. From Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967).
[Louis] Janover, the ex-editor of Front Noir, who now seems to be the only author in issue #1 of the Cahiers de Front Noir,1 is a moralist, simply because he collected for [Maximilien] Rubel the famous "ethical" explications of [Karl] Marx's works, one of the numerous sources of pseudo-unification that is useful for the job2 of the Marxologue who is paid well by all of the modern States, that is to say, useful to anyone who is incapable of conceiving dialectical thought. [Max] Stirner was not wrong to say that all moralists have slept in the bed of religion and, for example, the ethics affirmed by Hanover -- despite his lip-service to the "Dionysiac dream" of utopian socialism -- smell more of the kill-joy [l'eteignoir] than of Fourierism: "All forms of amorous reciprocity, insofar as they distance themselves from sexual relations founded on animalistic satisfaction or the necessity of reproduction, are indissociable from sexual fidelity. All intellectual affinity, moral or emotional, disappears in cases of infidelity because they suppose that trust and mutual love haven't acquired enough force to give birth to a fixation superior to the sexual instinct of the animal" (page 30).
This honest moralist, who sets himself up as the exclusive depositary for revolutionary purity -- everything that is not a part of his insignificance appears to him as mere arrivisme -- was stung by the [editorial] note that we dedicated to him in I.S. #10 (page 72: "L'armee de reserve du spectacle").3 He doesn't go as far as respond to this precise article, which is effectively unanswerable. But all the same there's been progress: now he names the SI when he attacks it, and directly quotes us. We want to make it clear that, for us, Janover is discredited, not only because the dissimulation and falsification of reality is "immoral," but also because it is fundamentally incompatible with the methods and goals of a revolution that must abolish ideology and class. However, Janover's moralism is agreeably evident in his manner of quotation. He selected the three rare phrases in which the situationists used concepts from the old (Trotskyist) ultra-Left in a non-critical manner (and this concerning marginal points in "cultural" texts). We believe that it hasn't escaped anyone that the SI's theoretical investigations have -- fortunately -- constituted a movement that is deely sincere [approfondi] and unified in its commitment to correcting a good number of its first presuppositions: we have written as much in I.S. #9, pages 3 and 4. As if by chance, the quotations selected by Janover all come from the first issue of I.S., and particularly from a text that pre-dates the formation of the SI by ten years. But honest Janover would like people to believe that we opportunistically flit about, in every [written] line, between incompatible positions, at the will of fashion, from one day to the next.
How can he make disappear the real development of our theoretical work, which hasn't been published without effecting certain, already perceptible changes in intellectual methodology, and that he himself hasn't disdained from using (because he hasn't only read Rubel)? His method is simple and direct. So as to show that the SI has, "in the hope of throwing us off the trail," flipped from a kind of perfect bureaucratic Trotskyism to its current positions, Janover introduces his little series of quotations, not dated but more than a decade old, with the simple remark: "just yesterday it was a question . . ." (page 75). This just yesterday is the best of this kind of moralism, to which Janover's reputation certainly can't fail to forever remain monogamously loyal, without "throwing us of the trail."
Translated from the French by NOT BORED! March 2006. From https://www.notbored.org/janover.html
The U.A.C.G. and its people
The SI vs the French Union of Anarcho-Communist Groups. From Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967).
In March , several situationists accidentally encountered the members of the "Union of Anarcho-Communist Groups" (address: Edith Dard, post box 114 Paris, 10th arr.), who accepted the principle of a subsequent discussion in full knowledge of the fact that the critiques of them would be tough: the theses of the U.A.C.G, which propose to surpass frozen anarchist ideology and to bear in mind a certain revolutionary contribution from Marxism, in reality move towards rallying the worst ideological and organizational debris of sub-Leninism, as if it were a new thing that was unquestionable. These anarcho-communists nevertheless say they have moved beyond the positions that they expressed the preceding year in their document addressed To the international anarchist movement. This was surely a move in the worst possible direction, because one of their tracts, which we happened to see a little later, allied the two counter-truths that concluded their debilitated argument this way: "In Yugoslavia, the Workers' Committees manage the business enterprises. In Vietnam, the Viet Cong have created committees of popular self-management. Why not in France?"
We immediately wrote to them: "Given this tract, you will understand that it is impossible for us to meet you." They responded to us as follows (with a quotation from [Peter] Archinoff's History of the Makhnovist Movement that makes one think that the U.A.C.G. sees itself participating in the beginning of a new 1917 revolution):
"Comrades, precisely given this tract, it is a shame that you can not meet us. Moving from a lucid critique of society to the means of touching the popular strata at the level that they can understand it is something other than demagoguery. We believe that your dialectical spirit, the quality of which, it seems to us, hides something other than aristocratic habits -- perhaps arrogantly revolutionary [ones] -- will allow you to feel this."
This conception of the "popular strata" [couches populaires] seems to us beneath comment.
Translated from the French by NOT BORED! March 2006.) From https://www.notbored.org/UACG.html
Six Postscripts to the Previous Issue (excerpts)
From Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967).
It seems to us that the insurrections of the blacks in Newark and Detroit have indisputably confirmed our 1965 analysis of the Watts riot [The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy]. In particular, the participation of numerous whites in the looting demonstrates that in its deepest sense Watts really was "a revolt against the commodity," an elemental reaction to the world of "commodity abundance." On the other hand, the danger represented by the leadership that is trying to constitute itself above the movement is now taking more definite shape: the Newark Conference has adopted the essential features of the Black Muslim program of black capitalism. Stokely Carmichael and the other "Black Power" stars are walking the tightrope between the vague and undefined extremism necessary to establish themselves at the head of the black masses (Mao, Castro, power to the blacks and we don't even have to say what we're going to do about the 9/10 of the population who are white) and the actual unavowed paltry reformism of a black "third party," which would auction off its swing vote in the American political marketplace and which would eventually create, in the person of Carmichael and his colleagues, an "elite" like those that emerged out of the other American minorities (Poles, Italians, etc.), an elite that has so far never developed among the blacks.
In Algeria, too, Boumédienne has unfortunately proved the correctness of our analysis of his regime [The Class Struggles in Algeria]. Self-management there is now completely dead. We have no doubt we will eventually see it return under more favorable conditions. But for the moment no revolutionary network has succeeded in forming on the basis of the offensive resistance of the self-managed sector; and our own direct efforts toward this goal have been extremely inadequate. [...]
Daniel Guérin wrote to us to say that our note about him [The Algeria of Daniel Guérin, Libertarian] was unfair and that he wanted to explain himself. We met him. He had to admit that we gave a correct account of his analysis of Algeria, which is at the opposite pole from ours. He complained only of having been presented as a sort of agent of Ben Bella. We stated that our note in no way suggests such an idea. Guérin explained his admiration for Ben Bella by psychological arguments whose sincerity we don't question: He had found Ben Bella very likable, particularly after thirty years of disappointments with his other militant anticolonialist North African friends, who have generally ended up becoming government officials. Ben Bella remained a man of the people, that was his good side. He became President of the Republic, that was his failing. Guérin already found Ben Bella's Algeria "miraculous" and reproached us for demanding a succession of additional miracles. We replied that such a succession was precisely our conception of revolution; that any single "miracle" that remains miraculous (i.e. isolated and exceptional) will quickly disappear. We proposed to Guérin that he publish a text in response to our article; but he considered that his oral explanation was sufficient. [...]
SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (1967)
On the Poverty of the Bookstore
A short text denouncing "La Vielle Taupe" bookstore and bookseller Georges Nataf. From Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967).
We have been forced to withdraw our publications from "La Vielle Taupe" bookstore. Its proprieter1 has too many revolutionary pretensions to be considered neutral with regard to the writings on display; and too little rigor in his activity to be considered revolutionary (allowing the prolonged presence and conversation of imbeciles, including Maoists).
More seriously: we formally deny that the bookseller and editor Georges Nataf (26 rue des Boulangers, Paris 5e) has ever been authorized by the situationists to present himself as responsible or liable for the publication or reissue of the journal Internationale Situationniste, or any other SI text. This imposture (whose motivations we imagine to be emotional rather than economic) was sharply refuted by us in June by means of a direct intervention which could not be ignored by anyone who knows him.
Translated by Reuben Keehan: From https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/bookstore.html
- 1Translator's note: Pierre Guillaume (b.1941), former member of Socialisme ou Barbarie, more recently a prominent negationist (or holocaust revisionist) and author of the interesting though somewhat questionable Guy Debord (La Vielle Taupe 1, Spring 1995).
The SI's Gold
Charles Radcliffe arrested for producing fake dollar bills in protest of the Vietnam War. Internationale Situationniste #11 (October1967)
Our comrade Charles Radcliffe was recently charged in London with issuing counterfeit money: this had to do with his participation in the production of a tract critical of America's war in Vietnam that had been illustrated with the image of a one dollar bill. The accusation seems to have come from a dossier drawn up by the CIA in Paris, and presented to the British authorities by the US ambassador to England, in order to convince them that Radcliffe's activity constituted an offence. It would therefore be completely erroneous to assume that this incident provides the Final Solution to the old semi-mythological questions raised now and again about the origins of our financial resources. After several months in hiding, Radcliffe is currently out on bail.
Translated by Reuben Keehan. From https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/gold.html
Concerning Our Distribution
On the publishing and republishing of SI texts. From Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967).
With the 10,000 copies of the first French edition of our pamphlet On the Poverty of Student Life having sold out in two months, the SI released a second edition in March, also running to 10,000 copies. In the months that followed, the pamphlet was translated and reissued in a number of different countries. In England, an initial complete translation was followed by an expanded edition including annotations and the text 'If you make a social revolution, do it for fun' under the general title Ten Days that Shook the University: The Situationists at Strasbourg. In the United States, another translation was issued in New York care of Tony Verlaan; while an abridgment of a different translation (by Jim Evrard) was published in Seattle. In Sweden, a complete translation, done by Anders Löfqvist and Gunnar Sandin, was released in Lund, then in Stockholm.
Extracts have appeared in the Spanish revolutionary journal Acción Comunista, and the Italian journals Nuova Presenza in Milan and Fantazaria in Rome (the latter with an introduction by Mario Perniola, who published an article in favor of the SI, 'Art and revolution,' in the journal Tempo presente in December). Other yet-to-be-published unabridged translations have been completed in Spain, Holland, West Germany and Denmark.
Our English-language brochure on the Watts uprising (The Decline and Fall of the Spectacular-Commodity Economy) was reproduced in the London journal Cuddon's1 . In the same year, Vaneigem's text 'Basic Banalities' was published in pamphlet form under the title The Totality for Kids (translated by Christopher Gray). This pamphlet should be reprinted shortly. The first issue of an English journal, Situationist International, will appear in early 1968.2 3
In January, the SI published the tract Attention! Three Provocateurs, explaining the ignominious exclusion of the Garnautins (this document is still available from us on request).
In August, The Explosion Point of Ideology in China was published as a pamphlet whose entire run was almost completely sold out within six weeks.
5,000 copies of the current issue of Internationale Situationniste have been printed.
Translated by Reuben Keehan. From https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/concerning.html
- 1Cuddon's Cosmpolitan Review #10 (August 1966)
- 2Translator's note: With the resignation of Charles Radcliffe in November 1967 and the exclusion of the rest of the English section the following month, the projected journal was never released. See 'The latest exclusions'(I.S. #12).
- 3Libcom note: The English section went on to become King Mob.
Two Books of Situationist Theory
Short text on arrangements for the publication of Revolution of Everyday Life and Society of the Spectacle. From Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967).
Responding to a letter from Editions Gallimard, which was published in I.S. #10 (page 84 1 ), wrote simply that his "projects," as well as the "climate" in which he had written his Revolution of Everyday Life, were best expressed in the journal Internationale Situationniste. The publishers promptly returned the manuscript, restating, as a motif of definitive condemnation, the two reservations they had already made known: the "repetitions," and the "artificial" division into two parts. A few weeks went by, then Editions Gallimard, for reasons that remain obscure to us, did a complete about-face: they asked for the same manuscript again, and offered Vaneigem a contract to sign straight away. A year has now passed since this contract was signed, and the still the book has not appeared; it will not be released until the beginning of 1968. This administrative red tape is an inexpensive way of holding off the accelerating development of these new issues in ever-widening circles.
In light of this experience, Guy Debord, who did not finish writing The Society of the Spectacle until much later, began by proposing his book to Editions Buchet-Chastel, a publisher far more familiar with the material, who will release the book as soon as possible, in November.
Translated by Reuben Keehan. From https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/books.html
The S.I. on the councillist group Information-Correspondance Ouvrière and Solidarity. From Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967).
Though we have never actually met them, we have many points of agreement with the comrades at Regroupement Inter-Entreprises who publish Information-Correspondance Ouvrière (address: Blachier, 13 bis rue Labois-Rouillon, Paris-19e), which we strongly recommend reading for an understanding of the current workers' struggles (ICO has also published interesting brochures on The Movement for Workers Councils in Germany, Spain today, etc.). There is, however, one fundamental opposition: we believe in the necessity of formulating a precise theoretical critique of the present society of exploitation. We consider that such a theoretical formulation can only be produced by an organized collectivity; and inversely we think that any present permanent liaison organized with workers must attempt to discover a general theoretical basis for its action. What On the Poverty of Student Life described as ICO's choice of nonexistence in this domain does not mean that we think that the ICO comrades lack ideas or theoretical knowledge, but on the contrary that by intentionally putting these diverse ideas in parenthesis, they lose more than they gain in their capacity for unification (which is, in the end, of the highest practical importance). One might therefore say that the level of information and correspondence between the editors of ICO and ourselves has, in the past, been rather limited. Indeed, a student reporting on the situationist critique of his milieu for number 56 of their bulletin announced that "all things considered," our proposal for the supersession of the university system consisted entirely of the expropriation of student grants.
In a letter published in the following number, we pointed out that we spoke, rather, of the "absolute power of the workers councils," and that there is a difference here that is not unworthy of attention. It also seems to us that ICO has exaggerated the difficulty and byzantinism of the SI's vocabulary, advising readers to pack a good dictionary, and on one occasion going so far as to publish two columns of remarks: one in a situationist style; the other their translation into an ordinary style (we have not been able to decide with any certainty which column was the most situationist).
As for the international conference of a few similar European workers' groups in Paris organized by the ICO for July, one can read in the preparatory bulletin this Letter to the German Comrades:
It seems that we will send at most a single observer this year, thus fulfilling your predictions without taking account of our suggestions. The English comrades (Solidarity) appear to have rather strong objections to continuing to participate in the direction that we had suggested. They not only think that the participation of the situationists would be of little interest, which, as you know, we agree with; but they disapprove of the participation of Heatwave, Rebel Worker and the Provos as well. Although they don't explicitly mention it, I presume this indicates that they also disapprove of some of the more controversial themes that we consider important. If I am to understand them correctly, they consider that such themes as the psychology of authoritarianism, that is to say the authoritarian personality; the internalization of alienated norms and values; sexual oppression; popular culture; everyday life; the spectacle; and the commodity nature of our society — the last three points in the Marxist-situationist sense — are too "theoretical" to be "political."
They suggest instead that we organize a separate conference with these groups. In these conditions, we feel that our participation is more a waste of money than a real interest. For capitalism is now at a stage where the more enlightened members of the ruling class can consider replacing the hierarchical system of production with a more democratic form, that is to say the participation of workers in management, naturally on the condition that they will be brainwashed into believing that they can identify with their bosses.
This might be a good opportunity to clear up a few points. These advanced workers' groups contain a number of intellectuals, which is fair enough and even necessary. But what is not so fair and necessary is that such intellectuals, with their entirely different and still uncritical lifestyle and their own more or less contradictory or otherwise received ideas, can be in a position — in the absence of a precise theoretical and practical accord that only they control — as informers of the workers; and all the more easily in the name of a purist demand of absolute worker autonomy without thought. You have Rubel, you have Mattick, etc., and each to his own dada.
If a hundred thousand armed workers were therefore to send their delegates, this would be all well and good. But indeed this prototype of the council system must recognize that it is now on an entirely different level, having surpassed the tasks of the vanguard (a concept that must cease being put into practice in its absolute identification with the Leninist notion of the 'vanguard' party, whose task it was to represent — and above all to direct — the working class.)
This distrust towards theory explains the horror aroused by the situationists, a group not as strong as the Anarchist Federation, but more sensible, and more in tune with modern questions than even the German comrades. What's more, ICO's agitation has a reassuring theoretical inconsistency, and they are content: they thus still prefer the Provos or the American anarcho-surrealism of Rebel Worker to the situationists, who are "of little interest." If they also prefer the English journal Heatwave, it is because have still not admitted that its editor is now a member of the SI. This discrimination is all the more curious since they explicitly propose discussing some of the SI's theses.
To make things clearer still: the majority of the British Solidarity group that is apparently demanding this boycott of the situationists are very combative revolutionary workers. We feel confident in stating that its shop-steward members have not yet read the SI, certainly not in French. But they have an ideological shield, their specialist of nonauthority, Dr. C. Pallis1 , a well-educated man who has been aware of the SI for years and who has been in a position to assure them of its utter unimportance. His activity in England has instead been to translate and comment on the texts of Cardan [Cornelius Castoriadis], the thinker who presided over the Socialisme ou Barbarie debacle in France. Pallis knows quite well that we have for a long time pointed out Cardan’s undeniable regression toward revolutionary nothingness, his swallowing of every sort of academic fashion and his ending up becoming indistinguishable from an ordinary sociologist. But Pallis has brought Cardan’s thought to England like light from a dead star — by presenting his least decomposed texts, written years before, and never mentioning the author’s subsequent regression. It is thus easy to see why he would like to prevent this type of encounter.
Moreover, the above discussion, which we will ignore, is beside the point, for we certainly do not find it useful to participate in the mute dialogue of a gathering that, at this stage, is not ready for real communication. If we are not mistaken, the revolutionary workers will come across these problems themselves, and must discover how to grasp them for themselves. We will see what we can do for them when the time comes. In contrast to the view of the small parties that never cease to go in search of the workers in the illusory goal having them at their disposal, we expect that the real struggle of the workers will bring them to us; and we therefore place ourselves at their disposal.
Translated by Reuben Keehan. From https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/reading.html
- 1Libcom note: aka Maurice Brinton
The Betrayal of the CNT
From Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967).
In the article on Spain in I.S. #10 regarding the doomed union of the bourgeoisie, the Stalinists and others attempted by bourgeois democracy in order to succeed the Francoist state with a more rational form of advanced capitalism 1 , we pointed out that "the recent negotiations between the CNT and the Falangist unions are yet another reflection of this same tendency toward submission to bourgeois evolution." After having virtuously reproached the situationists for criticizing Proudhon (challenging our assertion of his "hierarchical separation" of women 2 , but without trying to refute it) Le Monde Libertaire declared in June 1966: "Likening the Spanish CNT to the Falangist unions is taking it a bit too far! The SI overlooks the fact that the group 'negotiating' with Francoism is certainly not the CNT and was vigorously denounced by the entire international anarchist movement. Malevolence or ignorance? In either case the SI has discredited itself..." This odd lyricism requires some explanation. We clearly did not "identify" the CNT with the Falange; on the contrary, this monstrosity was cited as the supreme example of the discouragement of any anti-Franco opposition. No one could imagine us supposing that the entire exiled CNT would ratify such a gesture, which signifies the renunciation of everything for which its members gave their very lives. But our article concerned events inside Spain, in a period when the civil war era organizations carry much less weight than they used to, when survivors hunted for decades tend toward discouragement, toward all sorts of "democratic fronts." While I.S. #10 was at the printers, the press broke the news of a few scandalous indiscretions on the part of the best Falangists, either opposed to this attempt or disappointed with its results. But we already know the falseness of the pious variant of anarchism "vigorously" presented in response — a handful of traitors, simply resuscitated by the Falangists — and unfortunately these people represent a real current.
To respond now to this imputation of "malevolence or ignorance" advanced with a certain cynicism three months later by the well-informed but discreet people at Le Monde Libertaire, we are in a position to clear up the following issues: in the name of the CNT's "secretary of the interior," the traitor Royano (aka Romero) conducted negotiations with the highest Falangist authorities, after having spoken with General Alonso. He wished to include the CNT in the foundation of a great legal democratic union whose right to strike would be conditional. Royano obtained every police protection imaginable to carry out his politics in Spain and beyond, and to involve anybody he felt to be of use to his undertaking. Following this, he organized a clandestine conference within the CNT — evidently directed by the most bureaucratic selection imaginable, but composed of actual CNT militants — where he explained his politics. With the exception of one or two delegates who immediately refused to listen to a word, a few put aside their reservations, and the great majority gave Royano their approval. Hoping to have his perspective ratified, he then attended the CNT's General Congress — extended to an "inter-continental" geographic zone — which was held in Montpellier from 10 to 16 August 1965. On the eve of the conference, he met secretly with the tendency in opposition to the International Secretariat of the CNT. He revealed his dealings to them in their full extent; and explained his naïve intention to state his opinions before the congress. These opponents — who included Cipriano Mera and José Peraits, responsible for the FIJI — sensed the incongruity and danger of his conduct; and persuaded him that if he absolutely had to appear at the conference, he was not to say anything about his enormous blunder. They kept the affair carefully hidden (six months later, they were denounced for kidnapping a Spanish bishop in Rome). While the CNT's International Secretariat, investigating its own emissaries, had suspicions that something was brewing in Spain, it did not discover who was involved. The opposition played the game of concealing him, thus allowing back into Spain a man they knew had dangerous contacts with the police.
This straightforward summary should suffice to show the extent of the demoralization experienced by most of the Spanish anarchist movement, in spite of the claims of the systematically respectful anarchists of other countries — people who have been absent from the revolutionary plane for around half a century. It also demonstrates the odd fashion in which the "activists" of the Spanish liberation movement could combat the CNT-FAI's "immobilism," using all available means. This immobilism is, on one hand, the product of the crushing defeat of the Spanish workers' revolution; and on the other hand the refusal to undertake a rigorous critique of the very history of this defeat, and of the choices made thereafter (this leads us back to the general problem of anarchist ideology). It would be difficult to suspect the SI of defending any sort of ideological immobilism whatsoever. We are only too happy to say that we find reckless bids by reformist liquidators far, far worse.
Translated by Reuben Keehan. From https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/cnt.html
Revolt and Recuperation in Holland
The S.I. on the Dutch Provos movement and the involvement of former S.I. member Constant. From Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967).
The famous but short-lived "Provo" movement has often been linked to the SI. There were the revelations contained in a widely read article published in Figaro Litteraire (4-8-1966) — "Behind the angry young men of Amsterdam we find an Occult International" — and the equally popular article in the Belgian journal Syntheses, published in April , which took into account the "radical argumentation" with which the SI opposes the derisory sub-ludic moderatism of the Provo "intellectuals," and contained our prediction that the Provo movement was about to end, which was something it did not fail to do in May , when it dissolved. While it is indeed true that "the Provos have invented nothing," it is, however, quite incorrect to suppose that "the Provos provide the previously isolated theorists of the Situationist International with troops, 'intelligent surrogates,' capable of constituting the secular arm of an organization which itself prefers to remain more or less behind the scenes" (Figaro Litteraire). We don't consider ourselves so isolated that we need to keep such company; and it goes without saying that we don't want any sort of "troops," even if they were much better troops than these. Indeed, the relationship between the SI and the Provos occured elsewhere, on two distinct planes. As a spontaneous expression of the revolt appearing in European youth, the Provos usually positioned themselves on the terrain defined by situationist critique (against capitalist abundance, in favor of a fusion of art and everyday life, etc.). Furthermore, as they fell under the influence of a directorship composed of "philosophers" and suspect artists, they encountered people who were also somewhat acquainted with the SI's theses. But this dissimulated knowledge was at the same time the simple recuperated falsification of various fragments. It is sufficient to note the presence in the Provo hierarchy of the ex-situationist Constant, with whom we broke in 1960. Back then, Constant's technocratic tendencies prevented him from seeing things from the perspective of revolution, which he deemed to be "nonexistent" (cf. I.S. #3 1 ). As soon as the Provo movement became fashionable, Constant rediscovered revolution, and, under the name "anarchist urbanism," he slipped in the eternal maquettes of "his" unitary urbanism, at exactly the same time as they were being exhibited at the Venice Biennale under their original title in order make a good impression. Constant represented Holland as its official artist. The rout of the Provos was already inscribed in their submission to an internal hierarchy and in the idiotic ideology that they devised in order for their hastily organized hierarchy could function. The SI has only ever had contact with the elements of the radical base, which should be distinguished from the official movement; and we have always advocated an urgent split from the latter.
We're not particularly interested in returning yet again to such a dull theoretical subject: sufficient critique of the doctrine and behavior of the Provos has already been made in the English journal Heatwave, and in our brochure On the Poverty of Student Life. But it is above all the practical development of the contradictions of contemporary society that, having created the authentic element of the Provo revolt, has carried out its derisory institutionalization. The greatest demonstrations of the Provos' conformism were their regurgitation of the sociological and journalistic dogma that maintains that the proletariat has dissappeared, and their certainty that the workers are now satisfied and perfectly bourgeoisified. The riot that began in Amsterdam on 14 June 1966 and continued for the next few days — the extent of which cast the Provos in the falsest of lights — showed that their movement was in reality already dead. The Provo movement was indeed dead that June day, because this was an exemplary workers' riot of our era, one that began as an attack upon the bureaucratic union building, continued as a battle with the police (and the reinforcements who came from their supporters in the harbor district), and culminated as an attempt to destroy the office-block occupied by that great daily newspaper, The Telegraaf, because it of course published lies. Indeed, most of the rebellious youth of Amsterdam (for it would be false to identify all the Provos as a student movement) joined the workers in the street. But the Provo hierarchy, upon discovering in the conflict the negation of its piteous ideology, was faithful to only itself: it disavowed the violence, condemned the workers, appealed for calm on radio and television, and promoted other banalities before spectacularly leaving town en masse, in order to provide a good example of passivity.
If the situationists certainly anticipated the Provos in regard to a few vague novelties, there is all the same a central point we flatter ourselves on, which is the fact that we relentlessly remain "nineteenth century." History is still young, and the proletarian project of a classless society, even if it began badly, is still more of a radically new curiosity than the combined achievements of molecular chemistry and astrophysics or the billions of fabricated events channeled by the spectacle. Despite our "avant-gardism" and thanks to it, it is to this movement alone that we wish to return.
Translated by Reuben Keehan; edited by Not Bored! From https://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/holland.html
The splits in the A.F.
The S.I. on the Anarchist Federation in France. From Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967).
Contrary to all of the rumors knowingly spread in the Anarchist Federation, and even decried at its Congress at Bordeaux, there has never been any sort of "situationist conspiracy" aimed at exploding this Federation, which has always presented the most total lack of interest to our eyes. We know no one in it. Our episodic reading of the deplorable Monde Libertaire did not lead us to suppose that the SI had the least audience in it. In this regard, On the Poverty of Student Life supplied a certain surprise: different members of the A.F. heartily approved of it. The permanent leadership of the A.F. -- which (with the same benevolence that the leadership accorded to the Workers' Strength union) had absolutely full support from the pro-Chinese [Communists], surrealists and lettrists in its ranks or among those invited to contribute to its newspaper -- reacted very so strongly as to remove one-doesn't-know-which-militants at the first indication of an influence that the leadership judged to be pernicious. We sent a very hard response, which placed on every individual with revolutionary pretentions the obligation to demand its publication and, if that appeared impossible to the leaders, to manage the consequences. The "anarchists" of the Nanterre Group, for example, did not do this: true students, they believed that they were able to offer themselves the combined luxuries of applauding us as aesthetes, of being guaranteed their existence as anarchists by the A.F. label, and of not being at all compromised by the actions of the A.F., since they continually condemned it from the outside. Three groups -- that of Menilmontant, the Revolutionary-Anarchist Group and the Makhno Group of Rennes -- found themselves in the circumstance of defending an honorable position. This problem made all of the others rise up. Things were inflamed to the point that at the Bordeaux Congress in April , another split -- numerically much more considerable -- founded a second A.F., which reproduced on its own account the confusion and deficiencies of the real one. Of course, the SI had and will have no relations whatsoever with these two A.F.s. For their part, the three radical groups that were defined by this process fused together, and announced the publication of a journal called Internationale Anarchiste (address: 80, rue de Menilmontant, Paris, 20th). It is quite clear that, without any pressure from the outside, the A.F. will splinter from the moment that certain of its members discover the least trace of a real critical current. Because to see such a critique is, at the same time, to see the emptiness of the A.F. and the manner in which this emptiness defends itself.
Translated from the French by NOT BORED! From: https://www.notbored.org/FA.html
The Alsatian Ideology
On the fallout from the exclusion of the "Garnautins" (Strasbourg students) from the S.I. From Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967).
The thousands of lines accumlated by the Garnautins1 in the several dozen circulars and tracts that they have published since their exclusion, which are filled with peremptory affirmations that have been surreptitiously taken from previous situationist publications and that are completely beneath comment here, have only pursued a single goal: to hide behind an ideological smoke-screen the simple, trivial, small, direct and brutal fact that Frey, Garnault and Holl have been excluded for having lied as a team, in the hope of obtaining the exclusion of Khayati,2 by trying to obtain this "success" by doing whatever they could, up to the last minute, to convince an assembly of the SI [Situationist International] that, over the hours, treated them more and more clearly as suspect.
On our side, with the exception of a report3 immediately sent to all of the members of the SI absent from this assembly and to only four other people engaged, at that moment, in a practical action with us (only Vayr-Piova4 will prefer not to understand), we have only published a single text [on the subject], "Be Careful! Three Provocateurs,"5 which was sufficient and definitive. But in their many documents the Garnautins haven't even thought that it might be useful (because they are obviously no longer living a lie) to reject this truly sufficient and central accusation, once and for all. They have not realized that this silence judges them in the eyes of all unbiased people. They have evaded, issued counter-truths, spoken of other things, made allusions to the heart of the subject with modest embarassment: "Khayati lies: he reports the details inexactly and, even if these details had been 'exactly' reported, he could not have lied less about the totality of the situation . . ." (Garnautin tract dated 19 January .) One will admire the half-confession of their "even if." This was indeed what had happened [Khayati reported the "details" exactly] and the "detail" was, to tell the truth, as big as what they lack.
The rapid exposure [mise au jourdu] of their lie pushed their tendency to the ideological reversal of the real, which led them to the conspiratorial lie, to the extreme by making it a necessity. From that moment no enormity stopped them in their course of misinterpretations. They have found "cop-like" [flicard] the SI's tract that denounced their utterly classic, police-like procedure of producing several false witnesses to dishonor and eliminate a troublesome adversary in the best tradition of the "Taschereau Document."6 They shelter themselves behind Hegel so as condemn the "so-called psychological reflections" that want to disparage "great historical figures" with small explications from the private sphere.7 Thus, the Garnautins postulate with crashing naivete that they are historical men. Thus they "want and [will] accomplish a great thing, not imaginary and presumed, but quite exact and necessary." These heros have simply forgotten that all they have ever wanted -- if not accomplished -- was the success of a fake as vile as it was meaningless, and that, if we have had to advance several specifications of their psychological poverty, it was because we had to explain the surprising pettiness of their action. The majority that rejected them -- in fact, all those who did not figure in their exposed [secret] faction -- is transformed into a dictatorship by [Guy] Debord and his fanatical partisans. The Garnautins invented this personal power within the SI so as to attach [reappliquer] to it the master/slave dialectic. They believed that they have been slaves serving the ends of Guy Debord, and that they are thus summoned to become masters. But, as always, they are ignorant of the essential when it comes to a "supercession of the SI." Perhaps they were slaves due to their personal tastes. We don't know. But, in this case, they were, rest assured, slaves who did not work. Thus,8 they did not alienate by usage that which was their work, since it did not exist; nor did it become strong from the practical function to which it was submitted, since there wasn't any. It was precisely their own non-participation in the collective activity of the SI, their firmness -- despite their engagements [with the SI] -- in dwelling in a "student-y," provincial life devoted to quiet speculations, that created their inferiority, their contemplative knowledge of the SI.9 This admiring contemplation normally changes into rancor. Their faction was secretly constituted on the theme of the equality to be established within the SI, and these ideologues of pure equality were quite blind for not seeing [sentir] that their constitution of a secret faction (even before their recourse to organized calumny) placed them above the totality of the SI and constituted the first objective inequality ever created and institutionalized in the relations between situations.
As soon as the Garnaults were understood by the SI, and treated accordingly, the ideology of pure equality was proclaimed loudly and used to assemble [around the Garnautins] several students who themselves had been scorned the day before, and not without reason. Within several weeks, they would equate [the scandal at] Strasbourg with a fury and extremism that made the demands of the Levelers10
and the bare-armed workers [les bras-nus], the millenarianists11
and the Babouvists,12
look like childrens' games. The Garnautins would proclaim that the fault of the SI was that it was only an avant-garde; that avant-gardes only exist due to the delay of other developments; that the delay had been abolished by Garnault; that it was thus necessary to have "a revolutionary organization capable of acting on a vast scale in the world" (L'Unique et sa propriete);13
and that he thus become that organization. With a stroke of the pen, the global proletariat -- come forth from diverse degrees of delay as if it were one man -- is there, rigorously equal in consciousness and capacity to Garnault and anyone else. And this is the supercession of the SI, which is so desirable for his position. Naturally, all this takes place in pure thought.
The product of "this enthusiasm that, like a pistol shot, immediately begins with absolute learning" (Hegel) appeared for the dazzled astonishment of the world, which will not soon see it again, on 13 April 1967.14 Here the "revolutionary organization capabale of acting on a vast scale in the world" was crushed by the Strasbourg section of the M.N.E.F.15 And to have been defeated in this electoral epic, this does not diminish the glorious memory of its total praxis in Garnault sauce 16 (thus no one will be surprised if our ideologues then went on to condemn the abuse of the requirement in the SI for coherence between what one says and what one does).
The highest production of this Alsatian ideology17 was printed in the pamphlet The Unique and its Property. Here Debord replaced Khayati as the object of envy and hate. The Garnautins total incoherence, which even affected the text, led to this development. The SI's theory had great qualities. It had a serious fault: it was Debordist. With the result that it was worth nothing, not even as theory. Because only praxis . . . (see above).
To support his joke -- Debord alone has always directed and done everything -- the stupidest procedures were employed among a dozen obvious lies: thus the idea that there has never been opposition in the SI,18 whereas our Garnautins were, in fact, the first of these oppositions that, cowardly, remained secret. The pamphlet attributes one remark to Debord (in which one feigns to believe that the concept of "communication" isn't employed in the SI's sense, but in the unilateral sense of O.R.T.F.,19 for example), and two quotations presented without attribution that are, in fact, written by Raoul Vaneigem: all the situationists, and all the attentive readers of our publications, know quite well that certain of Vaneigem's conceptions concerning the qualities of the situationist organization present important personal nuances. As leader, Debord is identified with Cardinal de Retz,20 who, in return, sees himself endowed with a quite bizarre class-consciousness: "watching oneself play the aesthetic game of a struggle that is hopeless in the face of the bureaucratic-bourgeois machine"). Our ideologues should read Retz: they will learn from him that "in incidents of calumny, everyone who is not harmed serves he who was attacked."
The height of the Garnautins' analysis is the discovery, made in the "Marxist" style of L'Humanite Dimanche,21 of the facts that the journal Internationale Situationniste is published legally and that Debord, its [official] editor, finds himself personally responsible for our debts at the printer, who has the temerity to have confidence in us. Here, in these facts, we have the basis for an economic power that would explain the inevitability [fatalite] of a Debordist power over the entire SI and the fact that the heroes of equality did not for even a minute try to oppose that power and were in fact always nice to it.
The facts, for example, that all of our publications outside of France have always and everywhere been published on completely autonomous financial bases, by the comrades of these respective countries, and with other "directors" and other printinghouse workers, have not been considered in this narrowly Alsatian optic.
The reality of the SI as an "international group of theoreticians" appeared quite beautiful to the Garnautins when they believed that they had their places in it and thus the ability to prove that they, too, were theoreticians, at least. From the day after their exclusion, the Garnautins reproached the SI for only being the SI, that is, for not declaring itself to be the "revolutionary organization capable of acting on a vast scale in the world." It would be quite useless to expect from them the least consciousness of the realities of the practical process that could create this type of modern workers' organization. But, to remain on the emotional and egocentric planes that hold them captive, one might ask oneself what difference it would make for the Garnautins if the new revolutionary current is at the stage of its first liaisons with a new theoretical basis, or if this new theoretical basis has already been lived by the revolutionary workers in struggle, or if the revolutionary current is at the stage of the power of the [Workers'] Councils. Because the Garnautins and their real practice will be condemned at every moment [of such a process]. Revolutionary workers do not amuse themselves with questions of calumny -- unlike the bureaucrats and politicians, who rule by the manipulation of lies. And the proletarian power of the Councils, which is the putting into practice of the truth, must obviously treat instances of lies supported as a team, by secret groups, which pursue their own ends, as one of the rare forms of obstruction that it still has to repress.
Unattributed; probably written by Guy Debord. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! March 2006. From https://www.notbored.org/alsatian-ideology.html
- 1Trans. Collective and apparently arbitrary name (a pun on "to garnish"?) for Theo Frey, Jean Garnault and Herbert Holl, who were excluded from the SI en bloc on 15 January 1967 Active in the SI since 1965, all three lived in Strasbourg, a town in the Alsace.
- 2Trans. Mustapha Khayati, with whom the "Garnautins" had worked since 1965, was the primary author of On the Poverty of Student Life, the publication of which caused a great scandal in Strasbourg in November 1966.
- 3Trans. See letter dated 15 January 1967..
- 4Trans. Bruno Vayr-Piova, a reformist Strasbourgeois student.
- 5Trans. See our translation of Be Careful! Three Provocateurs.
- 6Trans. A police forgery found by a journalist named Tashereau, who used it to defame Blanqui, circa 1848.
- 7Trans. See the last few paragraphs of Be Careful! Three Provocateurs.
- 8Trans. In the following lines, the author (more and more clearly Debord himself?) seeks to demonstrate that, like the Hegel-quoting Garnautins, he, too, has read (but he has also understood) the works of the great German philosopher.
- 9Trans. To our knowledge, this is the first reference to/critique of "contemplative situationists," that is, people within the SI who (merely) admired it as if they were outside of it, contemplating some kind a spectacle. During and in the wake of the orientation debate of 1970, the "contemplative situationist" par excellence would be Raoul Vaneigem.
- 10Trans. Radical democrats during the English Civil War (circa 1645).
- 11Trans. See especially Raoul Vaneigem's The Movement of the Free Spirit (1986).
- 12Trans. Partisans of Gracchus Babeuf during the French Revolution.
- 13Trans. The title of one of the Garnautins' statements, and an attempt to detourne the title of a work by Max Stirner (1845).
- 14Trans. On that day, Bruno Vayr-Piova -- thrown out of the university a few weeks previously -- lost in the university election to a candidate from the UNEF (National Union of French Students).
- 15Trans. The National Mutual Benefit Association of French Students.
- 16Trans. An untranslatable in-joke. For other situ in-jokes that involve the culinary arts, see the letter by Debord dated 15 August 1968.
- 17Trans. A detournement of the title of Karl Marx's The German Ideology (1845).
- 18Trans. Serious splits had already taken place in 1959 (the exclusion of Guiseppe Pinot-Gallizio and the collapse of the Italian section), 1960 (the resignation of Constant and the exclusion of the rest of the Dutch section) and 1962 (the exclusions of the "Nashists" and the entire German section).
- 19Trans. The French Office of Television Broadcasting.
- 20Trans. Jean-Francois-Paul de Gondi was one of the leaders of the aristocratic rebellion known as the Fronde (1648).
- 21Trans. The Sunday edition of the Communist Party's daily newspaper.