Issue ten of the journal of the Situationist International
Internationale Situationiste #10
Address to Revolutionaries of Algeria and of All Countries
"Proletarian revolutions . . . pitilessly scoff at the hesitations, weaknesses and inadequacies of their first efforts, seem to throw down their adversary only to see him draw new strength from the earth and rise again formidably before them, recoil again and again before the immensity of their tasks, until a situation is finally created that goes beyond the point of no return."
--Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
The collapse of the revolutionary image presented by the international Communist movement is taking place forty years after the collapse of the revolutionary movement itself. This time gained for the bureaucratic lie -- that supplement to the permanent bourgeois lie -- has been time lost for the revolution. The history of the modern world pursues its revolutionary course, but unconsciously or with false consciousness. Everywhere there are social confrontations, but nowhere is the old order destroyed, not even within the very forces that contest it. Everywhere the ideologies of the old world are criticized and rejected, but nowhere is "the real movement that suppresses existing conditions" liberated from one or another "ideology" in Marx's sense of the word: ideas that serve masters. Revolutionaries are everywhere, but nowhere is there any real revolution.
The recent collapse of the Ben-Bellaist image of a quasi-revolution in Algeria is a striking example of this general failure. The superficial power of Ben Bella represented the moment of rigid balance between the movement of the Algerian workers toward the management of the entire society and the bourgeois bureaucracy in the process of formation within the framework of the state. But in this official balance the revolution had nothing with which to further its objectives -- it had already become a museum piece -- whereas those in possession of the state controlled all power, beginning with that fundamental repressive instrument, the army, to the point of finally being able to throw off their mask, i.e. Ben Bella. Two days before the putsch, at Sidi Bel Abbes, Ben Bella added the ridiculous to the odious by declaring that Algeria was "more united than ever." Now he has stopped lying to the people and the events speak for themselves. Ben Bella fell as he had reigned, in solitude and conspiracy, by a palace revolution. He was ushered out by the same forces that had ushered him in: Boumédienne's army, which had opened the road to Algiers for him in September 1962. Ben Bella's regime ratified the revolutionary conquests that the bureaucracy was not yet able to repress: the self-management movement. The forces so well hidden behind the "Muslim Brother" Boumédienne have this clear goal: to eliminate all self-management. The June 19th Declaration sums up the policy of the new regime with a mixture of Western technocratic jargon and bombast about enforcing Islamic moral values: "We must put a stop to the current stagnation, which is already manifesting itself in lowered productivity, decreasing profitability and a disturbing withdrawal of investments," while "keeping in mind our faith, our convictions and the secular traditions and moral values of our people."
The astonishing acceleration of practical demystification must now serve to accelerate revolutionary theory. The same society of alienation, of totalitarian control (here the sociologist predominates, there the police), and of spectacular consumption (here the cars and gadgets, there the words of the venerated leader) reigns everywhere, despite the diversity of its ideological and juridical disguises. The coherence of this society cannot be understood without an all-encompassing critique, illuminated by the inverse project of a liberated creativity, the project of everyone's control of all levels of their own history. This is the demand in acts of all proletarian revolutions, a demand until now defeated by the specialists of power who take over revolutions and turn them into their own private property.
To revive and bring into the present this inseparable, mutually illuminating project and critique entails appropriating all the radicalism borne by the workers movement, by modern Western poetry and art (as preface to an experimental research toward a free construction of everyday life), by the thought of the period of the supersession and realization of philosophy (Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx), and by the liberation struggles from the Mexico of 1910 to the Congo of today. To do this, it is first of all necessary to recognize, without holding on to any consoling illusions, the full extent of the defeat of the entire revolutionary project in the first third of this century and its official replacement, in every region of the world and in every domain of life, by delusive shams and petty reforms that camouflage and preserve the old order. The domination of bureaucratic state-capitalism over the workers is the opposite of socialism -- this is a fact that Trotskyism has refused to face. Socialism exists wherever the workers themselves directly manage the entire society. It therefore exists neither in Russia nor in China nor anywhere else. The Russian and Chinese revolutions were defeated from within. Today they provide the Western proletariat and the peoples of the Third World with a false model which actually serves as a mere counterbalance to the power of bourgeois capitalism and imperialism.
A resumption of radicality naturally requires a considerable deepening of all the old attempts at liberation. Seeing how those attempts failed due to isolation, or were converted into total frauds, enables one to get a better grasp of the coherence of the world that needs to be changed. In the light of this rediscovered coherence, many of the partial explorations of the recent past can be salvaged and brought to their true fulfillment (the liberating content of psychoanalysis, for example, can be neither understood nor realized apart from the struggle for the abolition of all repression).(1) Insight into this reversible coherence of the world -- its present reality in relation to its potential reality -- enables one to see the fallaciousness of half-measures and to recognize the presence of such half-measures each time the operating pattern of the dominant society -- with its categories of hierarchization and specialization and its corresponding habits and tastes -- reconstitutes itself within the forces of negation.
Moreover, the material development of the world has accelerated. It constantly accumulates more potential powers; but the specialists of the management of society, because of their role as guardians of passivity, are forced to ignore the potential use of those powers. This same development produces widespread dissatisfaction and objective mortal dangers which these specialized rulers are incapable of permanently controlling. The fundamental problem of underdevelopment must be resolved on a worldwide scale, beginning with the revolutionary overcoming of the irrational overdevelopment of productive forces in the framework of the various forms of rationalized capitalism. The revolutionary movements of the Third World can succeed only on the basis of a lucid contribution to global revolution. Development must not be a race to catch up with capitalist reification, but a satisfaction of all real needs as the basis for a genuine development of human faculties.
New revolutionary theory must move in step with reality, it must keep abreast with the revolutionary praxis which is starting up here and there but which yet remains partial, mutilated and without a coherent total project. Our language, which will perhaps seem fantastic, is the very language of real life. History continues to present ever more glaring confirmations of this. If in this history the familiar is not necessarily known, it is because real life itself only appears in a fantastic form, in the upside-down image imposed on it by the modern spectacle of the world: in the spectacle all social life, including even the representation of sham revolutions, is written in the lying language of power and filtered by its machines. The spectacle is the terrestrial heir of religion, the opium of a capitalism that has arrived at the stage of a "society of abundance" of commodities. It is the illusion actually consumed in "consumer society."
The sporadic explosions of revolutionary contestation are countered by an international organization of repression, operating with a global division of tasks. Each of the blocs, or of the spinoff splinters of blocs, ensures the lethargic sleep of everyone within its sphere of influence, contributing toward maintaining a global order that remains fundamentally the same. This permanent repression ranges from military interventions to the more or less complete falsification practiced today by every constituted power: "The truth is revolutionary" (Gramsci) and all existing governments, even those issuing out of the most liberatory movements, are based on lies inside and out. It is precisely this repression that constitutes the most resounding verification of our hypotheses.
Revolutionary endeavors of today, because they have to break all the rules of false understanding imposed by the "peaceful coexistence" of reigning lies, begin in isolation, in one particular sector of the world or in one particular sector of contestation. Possessing only the most rudimentary conception of freedom, they attack only the most immediate aspect of oppression. As a result, they meet with the minimum degree of aid and the maximum of repression and slander (they are accused of rejecting one existing order while necessarily approving of an existing variant of it). The more difficult their victory, the more easily it is confiscated by new oppressors. The next revolutions can find aid in the world only by attacking this world as a whole. The freedom movement of the American blacks, if it can assert itself incisively, will call into question all the contradictions of modern capitalism; it must not be sidetracked by the "black nationalism" and "black capitalism" of the Black Muslims. The workers of the United States, like those in England, are engaging in "wildcat strikes" against the bureaucratized unions that aim first of all at integrating them into the concentrated, semiregulated capitalist system. It is with these workers and with the students who have just won their strike at the University of California in Berkeley that a North American revolution can be made; and not with the Chinese atom bomb.
The movement drawing the Arab peoples toward unification and socialism has achieved a number of victories over classical colonialism. But it is more and more evident that it must finish with Islam, an obviously counterrevolutionary force as are all religious ideologies. It must grant freedom to the Kurdish people. And it must stop swallowing the Palestinian pretext that justifies the dominant policy in the Arab states -- a policy that insists on the destruction of Israel and thereby perpetuates itself since this destruction is impossible. The repressive forces of the state of Israel can be undermined only by a model of a revolutionary society realized by the Arabs. Just as the success of a model of a revolutionary society somewhere in the world would mean the end of the largely sham confrontation between the East and the West, so would end the Arab-Israel confrontation which is a miniature version of it.
Revolutionary endeavors of today are abandoned to repression because it is not in the interest of any existing power to support them. So far, no practical organization of revolutionary internationalism exists to support them. We passively watch their combat and only the delusory babble of the UN or of the specialists of "progressive" state powers accompanies their death throes. In Santo Domingo US troops dared to intervene in a foreign country in order to back up fascist army officers against the legal government of the Kennedyist Caamano, simply for fear that he would be overwhelmed by the people he had had to arm. What forces in the world took retaliatory measures against the American intervention? In the Congo in 1960 Belgian paratroopers, UN expeditionary forces and the Mining Association's tailor-made state [Katanga] broke the impetus of the people who thought they had won independence, and killed Lumumba and Mpolo. In 1964 Belgian paratroopers, American transport planes, and South African, European and anti-Castroist Cuban mercenaries pushed back the second insurrectional wave of the Mulelists. What practical aid was provided by "revolutionary Africa"? A thousand Algerian volunteers, victors of a much harder war, would have been enough to prevent the fall of Stanleyville. But the armed people of Algeria had long been replaced by a classical army on lease to Boumédienne, who had other plans.
The next revolutions are confronted with the task of understanding themselves. They must totally reinvent their own language and defend themselves against all the forms of cooption prepared for them. The Asturian miners' strike (virtually continuous since 1962) and all the other signs of opposition that herald the end of Francoism do not indicate an inevitable future for Spain, but a choice: either the holy alliance now being prepared by the Spanish Church, the monarchists, the "left Falangists" and the Stalinists to harmoniously adapt post-Franco Spain to modernized capitalism and to the Common Market; or the resumption and completion of the most radical aspects of the revolution that was defeated by Franco and his accomplices on all sides -- the revolution that realized truly socialist human relationships for a few weeks in Barcelona in 1936.
The new revolutionary current, wherever it appears, must begin to link up the present contestatory experiences and the people who bear them. While unifying such groups, it must at the same time unify the coherent basis of their project. The first gestures of the coming revolutionary era embody a new content, both visible and hidden, of the critique of present societies, and new forms of struggle; and also the irreducible moments of all the old revolutionary history that has remained in abeyance, moments which reappear like ghosts. Thus the dominant society, which prides itself so much on its constant modernization, is going to meet its match, for it is at last beginning to produce its own modernized negation.
Long live the comrades who in 1959 burned the Koran in the streets of Baghdad!
Long live the workers councils of Hungary, defeated in 1956 by the so-called Red Army!
Long live the dockers of Aarhus who last year effectively boycotted racist South Africa, in spite of their union leadership and the judicial repression of the Danish social-democratic government!
Long live the "Zengakuren" student movement of Japan, which actively combats the capitalist powers of imperialism and of the so-called "Communist" bureaucracies!
Long live the workers' militia that defended the northeastern districts of Santo Domingo!
Long live the self-management of the Algerian peasants and workers! The option is now between the militarized bureaucratic dictatorship and the dictatorship of the "self-managed sector" extended to all production and all aspects of social life.
Algiers, July 1965 (circulated clandestinely)
1. "The discoveries of psychoanalysis have, as Freud suspected, turned out to be unacceptable for the ruling social order -- or for any society based on repressive hierarchy. But Freud's 'centrist' position, stemming from his absolute, ahistorical identification of 'civilization' with repression by exploitation of labor, and thus his carrying out of a partially critical research within an uncriticized overall system, led psychoanalysis to become officially 'recognized' in all its degraded variants without being accepted in its central truth, namely its potential critical use. This failure is of course not exclusively attributable to Freud himself, but rather to the collapse in the 1920s of the revolutionary movement, the only force that could have brought the critical findings of psychoanalysis to some fulfillment. The subsequent period of extreme in reaction in Europe drove out even the partisans of psychoanalytic 'centrism.' The psychoanalytic debris who are now in fashion (in the West, at least) have all developed out of this initial capitulation, in which an unacceptable critical truth was turned into acceptably innocuous verbiage. By surrendering its revolutionary cutting edge, psychoanalysis exposed itself both to being used by all the guardians of the present Sleep and to being disparaged for its insufficiencies by run-of-the-mill psychiatrists and moralists." (Internationale Situationniste #10, p. 63.) "Cardan [Cornelius Castoriadis], who here as elsewhere seems to think that it suffices to speak of something in order to have it, vaguely blathers on about 'imagination' in an attempt to justify the gelatinous flabbiness of his thought. He latches onto psychoanalysis (just as does the official world nowadays) as a justification of irrationality and of the profound motivations of the unconscious, although the discoveries of psychoanalysis are in fact a weapon -- as yet unused due to obvious sociopolitical reasons -- for a rational critique of the world. Psychoanalysis profoundly ferrets out the unconscious, its poverty and its miserable repressive maneuvers, which only draw their force and their magical grandeur from a quite banal practical repression in daily life." (Internationale Situationniste #10, p. 79.)
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).
The Class Struggles in Algeria
One might almost think that the new Algerian regime's sole aim has been to confirm the brief analysis the SI made of it in the Address to Revolutionaries that we issued in Algiers soon after its inaugural putsch.
Liquidating self-management is the total content of Boumédienne's regime, its only real activity; and that project began the very moment the state, through the deployment of the military force that was the only crystallization it achieved under Ben Bella, its only solid structure, declared its independence vis-Ã -vis Algerian society. The state's other projects -- the technocratic reorganization of the economy, the social and juridical extension of its power base -- are beyond the capacities of the present ruling class in the real conditions of the country. The mass of undecided, who had not been enemies of Ben Bella but who were disappointed by him and who waited to judge the new regime by its actions, can now see that it is ultimately doing nothing but establishing an autonomous state dictatorship and thereby declaring war on self-management. Even to formulate specific accusations against Ben Bella or to destroy him publicly seems to be beyond its power for a long time to come. The only remnant of "socialism" professed in Algeria is precisely that core of inverted socialism, that product of the general reaction within the workers movement itself which the defeat of the Russian revolution bequeathed as a positive model to the rest of the world, including Ben Bella's Algeria: the big lie of the police state. Under such a regime the political enemy is not condemned for his real positions, but for the opposite of what he was; or else he suddenly fades into an organized silence -- he never existed, either for the tribunal or for the historian. And Boumédienne, from the beginning one of those most responsible for the fact that Algerian self-management is only a caricature of what it needs to be, officially calls it "a caricature" in order to reorganize it authoritarianly. In the name of an essence of self-management ideologically backed by the state, Boumédienne rejects self-management's actual fledgling manifestations.
The same inversion of reality determines the Boumediennist critique of the past. What Ben Bella is reproached for having done, or for having gone too far in, is precisely what he did not do and what he scarcely pretended to strive for -- the liberation of the women or real support for the liberation struggles in Africa, for example. The present regime lies about the past because of its own profound unity with that past. The Algerian ruling class has not changed, it is reinforcing itself. It reproaches Ben Bella for having done poorly what he had in fact only pretended to do; for a revolutionariness that it itself has now ceased even simulating. The Algerian ruling class, before June 19 as well as after, is a bureaucracy in formation. It is pursuing its consolidation by partially changing the way its political power is shared out. Certain strata of this bureaucracy (military and technocratic) are predominating over others (political and unionist). The basic conditions remain the weakness of the national bourgeoisie and the pressure from the poverty-stricken peasant and worker masses, a part of which took over the self-managed sector when the former (European) ruling class fled the country. The merging of the Algerian bourgeoisie with the state bureaucracy is easier with the new ruling strata that Boumédienne represents; moreover, this evolution harmonizes better with the region of the global capitalist market to which Algeria is linked. In addition, the bureaucratic strata that ruled with Ben Bella were less capable of an open struggle against the demands of the masses. Ben Bella and the unstable social balance of power, which was the temporary result of the struggle against France and the colonists, were overthrown at the same time. When they saw themselves supplanted, the previously predominant bureaucratic strata (the leaders of the FLN Federation of Greater Algiers and the General Union of Algerian Workers) hesitated, then rallied to the new regime because their solidarity with the state bureaucracy as a whole was naturally stronger than their ties to the mass of workers. The agricultural workers union, whose congress six months before had adopted the most radical positions on self-management, was the first to come over.
Among the bureaucratic forces in the lobbies of power around Ben Bella, two mutually antagonistic but related groupings had a special status: the Algerian Communist Party and the foreign leftists -- nicknamed "pieds-rouges" -- who had put themselves at the service of the Algerian state. They were not so much in power as pretenders to power. Poor relative of power, waiting to inherit it, this extreme left wing of the bureaucracy acquired its credentials as representative of the masses through its connection with Ben Bella: it drew its mandate not from the masses but from him. It dreamed of one day getting a monopoly on this power over the masses, this power that Ben Bella still shared on all sides. Since Ben Bella was personally its only access to present power and its main promise for the future, its only guarantee of being tolerated (its Sukarno),(1) the bureaucratic left demonstrated in his defense, but in an uncertain manner. Just as it respectfully flocked around the state, it placed itself on the terrain of the state to oppose the unfavorable shift of the relation of forces within the state. Here again the Boumediennist critique of these elements, lumped together as "foreigners," in the name of a specifically Algerian Socialism, is entirely false. Far from "making theory for theory's sake" (El Moudjahid, 22 September 1965), the pieds-rouges represented an exhausted mixture of complete theoretical nullity and of unconscious or consciously hidden counterrevolutionary tendencies. Far from wanting to make adventurous utopian "experiments" in Algeria, they possessed nothing but mistakes or lies that had been revealed as such a thousand times. The best revolutionary ideas of the pieds-rouges were unsuitable not because they came from too far away, but because they were repeated much too late. It was a matter of history, not geography.
More radical and more isolated, at the extreme left of the Ben Bella regime, Mohammed Harbi was the thinker of self-management, but only by grace of the prince, in the bureaus of power. Harbi rose to the highest point reached by Algerian revolutionary thought: up to the idea of self-management, but not at all up to its consistent, effective practice. He understood its notion, but not its being. He occupied the self-contradictory position of governmental theorist of self-management. More accurately, he might be considered its court poet: soaring above practice, he eulogized self-management more than he theorized it. The self-management state, that logical monstrosity, had in Harbi its celebrator and its guilty conscience. Boumédienne's tanks in the streets meant a rationalization of the state, a state that wanted henceforth to free itself from the ridiculous self-contradictions of the Ben-Bellaist balance of power and from any guilty conscience and to simply be a state. It then became clear that Harbi, the unarmed prophet of self-management, had not envisaged self-management's self-defense, its defense on its own terrain, but only its defense through the mediation of Ben Bella. But if Harbi counted on Ben Bella alone to defend self-management, who did he count on to defend Ben Bella? The thinker of self-management was protected by Ben Bella, but who was going to protect his protector? He believed that Ben Bella, the incarnation of the state, would remain universally accepted in Algeria, although Harbi himself only accepted his "good side" (his token recognition of self-management). But the real process advanced by way of his bad side: the forces that followed the opposite line of argument on Ben Bella were more capable of intervention. Ben Bella was not the resolution of the Algerian contradictions, he was only their temporary cover. History has shown that Harbi and those who thought like him were mistaken. They will now have to radicalize their ideas if they want to effectively fight the Boumediennist dictatorship and realize self-management.
The fall of Ben Bella is a landmark in the collapse of global illusions regarding the "underdeveloped" version of pseudosocialism. Castro remains its last star, but he, who could previously argue with some plausibility that elections were unnecessary because the people were armed, is now demanding that all arms be turned in, and his police are rounding them up (Reuters, 14 August 1965). His second in command, Guevara, has already disappeared without any explanation being given to the masses from whom these leaders had demanded a blind personal confidence. Meanwhile the Algerians who are experiencing the fragility of Ben-Bellaist socialism are also discovering the value of all the so-called socialist camp's concern for their cause: the Chinese, Russian and Cuban states, along with Nasser, are naturally rushing to outdo each other in fraternal greetings to Boumédienne's regime. Revolutions in the underdeveloped countries will continue to fail miserably as long as they recognize and emulate any existing model of socialist power, since they are all manifestly false ones. The disintegrated official Sino-Soviet version of this socialism and the "underdeveloped" version of it mutually admire and reinforce each other and both lead to the same outcome. The first underdevelopment we have to get beyond is the worldwide underdevelopment of revolutionary theory.
The internal struggles of the Algerian bureaucracy, both during the war of independence and in the postwar 1962-1965 period, took the form of clan struggles, personal rivalries, inexplicable disputes among the leaders, obscure shifts of alliances. This was a direct continuation of the conditions prevailing around Messali Hadj since before the Algerian revolt. Not only was all theory absent, even ideology was only summarily improvised and confused; everything remained centered around superficial, abstract political questions. Since June 19 another period has begun: that of the confrontation between the ruling class and the workers, and this is the real movement that creates the conditions and need for a theory. As early as July 9, at a meeting of delegates from 2500 self-managed enterprises held at Algiers and chaired by Minister of Industry Boumaza, the delegates expressed to the latter their insistence on self-management as an inviolable principle and made a series of critiques concerning the state's role in limiting this principle. The delegates "questioned the multiplicity of overseers (prefectures, ministries, party) and denounced the heavy taxation and the state's nonpayment of debts; some delegates also brought up the problem of layoffs, the 'draconian' demands of the foreign suppliers and the paralyzing role of the customs department" (Le Monde, 10 July 1965).
Those delegates knew what they were talking about. Since [Boumédienne's] June 19th Declaration -- in which the term "self-management" is not even mentioned once -- the regime has been preparing the "stabilization" of the economic situation through the strengthening of state control and the accelerated training of "cadres." It aimed to start collecting installment payments as soon as possible for the more than 100,000 squatted lodgings; to recover money "stolen from the state" in the self-managed enterprises; to reduce the wearing out of poorly maintained equipment; and to regularize all the illegal seizures carried out by the masses upon the departure of the French. Since then, in spite of the fact that self-management is the very form through which the paralyzing respect for property (private or state), which has been such an obstacle in the workers movement, can be overcome, the workers in the self-managed sector, awaiting their several-months-overdue wages, are continually reproached for having stolen a large part of what they have produced. The most urgent goal of the Algerian state, which already has enough soldiers and police, is to train 20,000 accountants a year.
The central struggle, veiled and open, immediately broke out between the ruling class representatives and the workers precisely over the issue of self-management. The "reassuring" declarations of Boumaza and Boumédienne didn't fool anyone. The "labor unrest" alluded to by Le Monde on October 3 is a euphemism for the resistance of the sole bastion of socialist revolution in Algeria -- the self-managed sector -- against the most recent maneuvers of the ruling bureaucratic-bourgeois coalition. The union leaders themselves could not remain silent: their official status as representatives of the workers vis-Ã -vis the state and their social status as left wing of the ruling class were at stake. The September articles in Révolution et Travail -- in which genuine workers' demands ("when workers are reduced to poverty, self-management is violated") are mixed with expressions of the union leaders' increasing alarm ("agreement with the June 19th Declaration's analyses," but denunciation of the technocrats and economists) -- exactly reflect this situation of overlapping vertical and horizontal struggles. The increasing reference to "economic anarchy" (which always really means self-management), the judicial measures against the self-managed sector (e.g. forcing the self-managed enterprises to pay back-taxes), which the newspapers talk about less, and the restitution of the Norcolor factory to its former owner -- all this shows these "labor" leaders that soon they will no longer have a place in the ruling apparatus. The new pretenders are already there: the "scramble for power of dubious elements" that outrages Révolution et Travail expresses the ruling class's swing to the right. The techno-bureaucrats and the military have no possible allies but the representatives of the traditional bourgeoisie. At the same time that the officers, in the style of South American armies, are attaining bourgeois status (everyone knows about their BMWs, duty-free and 30% discounted), a multitude of Algerian bourgeois, following in the footsteps of the Norcolor owner, are returning to the country in the expectation of recovering their property, seized "in completely illegal conditions by unscrupulous persons" (Boumaza). Added to these challenges is the rapid increase in food prices. The workers, thoroughly aware of this process, are resisting on the spot: the repeated strikes in the Renault factories, the strikes of the press and parcel distributors and of the telephone and insurance workers, the demonstrations of the unpaid workers of Mitidja -- these are the first steps of a movement of rage which, if it asserts itself effectively, is capable of sweeping aside the whole present regime.
Incapable of mastering a single one of their problems, the rulers react with constant delirious conferences, constant torture in their prisons, and denunciations of the "slackening of moral standards." El Moudjahid (7 December 1965) attacks "the erotic sentimentalism of a young generation without political commitment" and the (accurate) views of those who "are tempted to reject religion as being a restraint on their taste for pleasure and on their liberation, which they take simply to mean their possibilities for pleasure, and who consider the contributions of Arab civilization as a step backward." The tone is no different from that used by the rulers in Washington or Moscow when they regretfully announce their lack of confidence in the young generation. And after a few months the new regime is emulating Ben Bella in its most ludicrous Islamic manifestation: the prohibition of alcohol.
The present opposition to the Boumediennist dictatorship is twofold: On one side, the workers are defending themselves in the enterprises (self-managed or not); they are the real contestation implied in the facts. On another side, the leftists of the FLN apparatus are trying to re-form a revolutionary apparatus. The first effort of the Organisation de la Résistance Populaire, led by Zahouane and supported by the French Stalinists, was a hollow declaration that only appeared six weeks after the coup, a declaration that analyzed neither the present regime nor the means to oppose it. Its second appeal was addressed to the Algerian police, from whom it anticipated revolutionary support. This strategy proved to be somewhat of a miscalculation since by the end of September those police had arrested Zahouane and broken up his first clandestine network (Harbi himself had already been arrested in August). The ORP is continuing its activity, beginning to collect contributions "for Ben Bella" from Algerian workers in France and winning over the majority of the student leaders. This apparatus (underground or in exile) is counting on an economic-political crisis in Algeria in the near future to reestablish its influence with the struggling Algerian workers. In this Leninist perspective it will present itself, with or without the banner of Ben Bella, as the solution for a replacement of the Boumediennist regime.
What is nevertheless going to prevent the establishment of a Bolshevik-type apparatus, striven for by so many militants? The time passed since Lenin and his failure, and the continued and evident degradation of Leninism, which is directly expressed by these leftists' allying with and fighting each other in every sort of variant -- Khrushchevo-Brezhnevists, Maoists, sub-Togliattists, pure and semi-Stalinists, all the shades of Trotskyism, etc. All of them refuse, and are forced to refuse, to clearly face the essential problem of the nature of the "socialism" (i.e. of the class power) in Russia and China, and consequently also in Algeria. Their main weakness during the struggle for power is also the main guarantee of their counterrevolutionary role if they were to accede to power. These leftists will present themselves as a natural continuation of the personalized political confusion of the preceding period; but the real class struggle in Algeria has now brought that period to a close. Their doubts about Ben Bella overlapped with their doubts on the world (and on socialism) and will continue after Ben Bella. They don't say all they know and they don't know all they say. Their social base and their social perspective is that bureaucratic sector which came out worst in the power reshuffle and which wants to regain its old position. Seeing that they can no longer hope to dominate the regime, they turn toward the people in order to dominate the opposition. Nostalgic bureaucrats or would-be bureaucrats, they want to counterpose "the people" to Boumédienne, whereas Boumédienne has already revealed to the masses the real focus of opposition: state bureaucrat versus worker. But the most despicable aspect of their bolshevism is this glaring difference: the Bolshevik Party did not know the sort of bureaucratic power it was going to end up establishing, whereas these leftists have already been able to see, in the world and among themselves, that bureaucratic power which they wish to restore in a more or less purified form. The masses, if they have the chance to choose, will not choose this corrected version of a bureaucracy whose essential elements they have already had the opportunity of experiencing. The Algerian intellectuals who don't rally to the regime still have the choice between participating in this apparatus or seeking a direct linkup with the autonomous movement of the masses. As for the Algerian petty bourgeoisie (storekeepers, lower functionaries, etc.), it will naturally tend to support the new technocratic-military bureaucracy rather than the bureaucratic leftists.
The only road to socialism, in Algeria as everywhere else, passes through "an offensive and defensive pact with the truth," as a Hungarian intellectual put it in 1956. People in Algeria who got the SI's Address understood it. Wherever practical revolutionary conditions exist, no theory is too difficult. Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, a witness to the Paris Commune, noted, "For the first time one can hear the workers exchanging their opinions about problems that until now have been considered only by philosophers." The realization of philosophy, the critique and reconstruction of all the values and behavior imposed by alienated life -- this is the maximum program of generalized self-management. The leftist militants of the bureaucratic groups tell us that these theses are correct but that the time has not yet come when one can tell the masses everything. Those who argue in such a perspective never see this time as having come, and in fact they contribute toward making sure that it never does come. It is necessary to tell the masses what they are already doing. The specialized thinkers of revolution are the specialists of its false consciousness, who afterwards come to realize that they have done something entirely different from what they thought they were doing. This problem is aggravated here by the particular difficulties of underdeveloped countries and by the persistent theoretical weakness in the Algerian movement. Although the strictly bureaucratic fringe within the present opposition is extremely small, its very existence as a "professional leadership" is a form that weighs on and determines the content of that opposition. Political alienation is always related to the state. Self-management can expect nothing from revived Bolsheviks.
Self-management must be both the means and the end of the present struggle. It is not only what is at stake in the struggle, but also its adequate form. It is its own tool. It is itself the material it works on, and its own presupposition. It must totally recognize its own truth. The state power proposes the contradictory and absurd project of "reorganizing self-management"; it is in fact self-management that must organize itself as a power or disappear.
Self-management is the most modern and most important tendency to appear in the struggle of the Algerian movement, and it is also the one that is the least narrowly Algerian. Its meaning is universal. In contrast to the Yugoslavian caricature that Boumédienne wants to emulate, which is only a semi-decentralized instrument of state control ("We have to decentralize in order better to control the self-managed enterprises," Boumédienne openly admits in Le Monde, 10 November 1965), a subordinate level of central administration; and in contrast to the Proudhonian mutualism of 1848, which aimed at organizing on the margins of private property, real self-management -- revolutionary self-management -- can be won only through the armed abolition of the titles of existing property. Its failure in Turin in 1920 was the prelude to the armed domination of Fascism. The bases for a self-managed production in Algeria were spontaneously formed -- as in Spain in 1936, as in Paris in 1871 in the workshops abandoned by the Versaillese -- wherever the owners had to flee following their political defeat: on vacant property. These takeovers are a vacation from property and oppression, a temporary break from alienated life.
Such self-management, by the simple fact that it exists, threatens the society's entire hierarchical organization. It must destroy all external control because all the external forces of control will never make peace with it as a living reality, but at most only with its label, with its embalmed corpse. Self-management cannot coexist with any army or police or state.
Generalized self-management, "extended to all production and all aspects of social life," would mean the end of the unemployment that affects two million Algerians, but it would also mean the end of all aspects of the old society, the abolition of all its spiritual and material enslavements and the abolition of its masters. The present fledgling effort toward self-management can be controlled from above only because it consents to exclude below it that majority of the workers who don't participate in it or who are unemployed; and because even within its own enterprises it tolerates the formation of dominating strata of "directors" or management professionals who have worked their way up from the base or been appointed by the state. These managers are the state virus within that which tends to negate the state; they are a compromise. But the time for compromise is past, both for the state power and for the real power of the Algerian workers.
Radical self-management, the only kind that can endure and conquer, refuses any hierarchy within or outside itself. It must also reject in practice any hierarchical separation of women (an oppressive separation openly accepted by Proudhon's theory as well as by the backward reality of Islamic Algeria). The self-management committees, as well as all the delegates in the federations of self-managed enterprises, should be revocable at any moment by their base, this base obviously including all the workers, without any distinctions between permanent and seasonal ones.
The only program for the Algerian socialist elements consists in the defense of the self-managed sector, not only as it is but as it must become. This defense must therefore counter the purge carried out by the state with another purge within self-management: a purge carried out by its rank and file against everything that negates it from within. A revolutionary assault against the existing regime is only possible with a continued and radicalized self-management as its point of departure. By putting forward the program of quantitatively and qualitatively increased workers' self-management, one is calling on all the workers to directly take on the cause of self-management as their own cause. By demanding not only the defense of self-management but its extension to the point of dissolving all specialized activity not answerable to self-management, Algerian revolutionaries can show that this defense is the concern not only of the workers of the temporarily self-managed sector, but of all the workers, as the only way toward a definitive liberation. In this way they will demonstrate that they are struggling for the liberation of everyone and not for their own future domination as specialists of revolution; that the victory of "their party" must at the same time be its end as a separate party.
As a first step, it is necessary to envisage linking up self-management delegates with each other and with the enterprise committees that are striving for self-management in the private and state sectors; to disseminate and publish all information on the workers' struggles and the autonomous forms of organization that emerge out of them, and to extend and generalize these forms as the sole path for a profound contestation. At the same time, through the same clandestine relations and publications, it is necessary to develop the theory of self-management and its requirements, within the self-managed sector itself and before the masses of Algeria and the world. Self-management must become the sole solution to the mysteries of power in Algeria, and it must know that it is that solution.
Algiers, December 1965 (circulated clandestinely)
1. Sukarno (president of Indonesia 1945-1967) "reigned Ã la Ben Bella, by basing his power on the obvious antagonism between the army and the most powerful Stalinist party of Asia" (Internationale Situationniste #10, p. 44) -- until the army carried out a coup (1965) in which hundreds of thousands of Communists were massacred, and shortly afterwards removed Sukarno from power.
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).
The Ideology of Dialogue
The situationists' practice of concretely breaking with apologists for any aspect of the present social order (particularly visible with regard to the leading representatives of the culture and politics of submission, and including as its extreme case the exclusion of certain members of the SI) has been subject to the greatest misunderstanding, although it follows quite directly from our basic positions. Certain commentators have propagated the most hostile interpretations of this practice, thereby causing concern among semi-informed people. The reality in this particular case is quite simple. Those who accept one or more variants of the prevailing pseudodialogue become the advocates of a new type of free exchange in the name of an abstract right to dialogue at any price (payable in avowed concessions to falsehood), and they reproach us for interrupting this fake dialogue. It is, however, only in this way that we are able to be the bearers of the reality of dialogue. On the question of exclusion, we believe that through experimentation we have made an advance in determining the requirements for the nonhierarchical organization of joint projects, which projects can be sustained only by the self-discipline of individuals proving themselves in the coherence of the theories and acts through which each member strives to merit his joint responsibility with all the others. The one-sidedness of Stirner's notions on the relations of the egoist with the organization that he enters or leaves at whim (though it does contain a kernel of truth regarding that aspect of freedom) does not allow any independent basis for his passive and defenseless ghost of an "organization." Such an incoherent and undisciplined organization is at the mercy of any individual "egoist," who can cynically exploit it for his own ends while disdaining any social aims it might have (and in fact the Stirnerian individual can just as well enter the most reactionary association for his own personal profit). But a free association -- "a bond, not a power" -- in which several individuals meet on a common basis cannot be passively subject to someone's individual whim. Those who wish neither to judge nor to command must be able to reject any person whose conduct would implicate them. When the SI excludes someone, we are calling him to account not for his life but for ours, for the common project that he would falsify (whether out of hostile intentions or through mere lack of discernment). Each side remains individually free (the fact that this freedom is generally impoverished is another problem, without which there would be no need for undertakings like the SI) and by throwing back on his own an individual who has always remained autonomous we are only expressing the fact that this autonomy was not able to fulfill itself within our common project. In rejecting someone in accordance with the rules of the game that he thought he had accepted, or had pretended to accept, it is our own resignation that we are rejecting.
It may be helpful to elucidate these remarks with excerpts from two letters recently addressed to one of our correspondents in East Europe.
(First letter.) Our theoretical positions (on play, language, etc.) would not only risk becoming mendacious and valueless, they would already be without value if we held them in coexistence with some doctrinal dogmatism, whatever it might be. All of us believe, as you do, that "the freedom to travel all the unaccustomed paths" must be absolute (and not only on the artistic or theoretical plane, but in all aspects of practical life). For a thousand reasons, of which the experience of the Eastern bloc is the most obvious, we know that an ideology in power turns any partial truth into an absolute lie. . . . We are not a power in society, and thus our "exclusions" only express our freedom to distinguish ourselves from the confusionism around us or even among us, which confusionism is much closer to the actual social power and partakes of all its benefits. We have never wished to prevent anyone from expressing their ideas or doing what they want (and we have never sought to be in a position to exert such pressure). We merely refuse to be ourselves mixed up with ideas and acts that run contrary to our convictions and tastes. Note that this is all the more vital in that we have hardly any freedom to express our own convictions and tastes, due to their going so sharply against the mainstream. Our "intolerance" is nothing but a very limited response to the very strict intolerance and exclusion that we run into everywhere, particularly among the "intellectual establishment" (considerably more intense than the hostility the surrealists had to endure), and which we scarcely find surprising. Just as we are in no degree a controlling power in society, we refuse to become one one day by means of some political reshuffling (we are in this regard partisans of radical self-management, of workers councils abolishing all separate state power or even separate "theoretical" power); and we are refusing to transform ourselves into any power whatsoever, even on the small scale that we would be allowed, when we refuse to enlist disciples, who would give us, along with the right of control and direction over themselves, a greater recognized social standing as representatives of one more artistic or political ideology. . . . One should not confuse the practical conditions of free thought here and in the East -- or in Spain, for example. In countries where nothing can be openly expressed, it is obviously necessary to support the right of everyone to express themselves. But in places where everyone can express themselves (though under conditions of enormous inequality) any radical thought -- without of course wishing to suppress this practical freedom -- must first of all clear the way for its own "unaccustomed path," must assert its own right to exist without being "coopted" and distorted by the social order which manifestly reigns behind this visible confusion and complexity and which ultimately possesses the monopoly of appearances (cf. our critique of the "spectacle" in the consumer society of commodity abundance). Finally, the reigning "tolerance" is one-way, and this on a global scale in spite of the antagonisms and complexity of the different types of exploitive societies. What the tolerant people who are in a position to express themselves tolerate, fundamentally, is the established power everywhere. You tell us that you live in X... If you were in Paris you would see how many of these tolerant leftist intellectuals turn out to be undecided, understanding and tolerant toward the established conditions in X... or in Peking. What they call "the sense of history" is their Hegelian adherence to what they read in the daily papers.
(Second letter.) A radically different point of departure in fact first of all restores the truth of the liberatory endeavors of the past. It is necessary to break clearly with the old confusion, and therefore with its partisans, whether they be open, cunning or simply unconscious. We obviously have to bear the negative consequences of the attitude we have chosen, and we have to acknowledge this negativity. . . . We are in complete agreement with you on the interrelation of all aspects of the problem of the present avant-garde. We are in fact trying to initiate dialogue everywhere that that state of mind manifests itself in a radical direction. For that state of mind is itself divided by a struggle between its truth and its organized cooption by the ruling powers.
SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (1966)
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).
Domenach versus Alienation (excerpts)
"Alienation, that key word for a whole system of politics, sociology, and critical thought -- what does it cover? J.M. Domenach traces the astonishing itinerary of this concept of such diverse meanings, from Hegel to Jacques Berque. Then he takes another look at its content. It seems to him that the moment has come to renounce this 'hospital concept' where all the maladies of the century are lumped together, and to call into question the philosophy that developed it."
This prefatory note from the journal Esprit (December 1965) is not betrayed by the extraordinary impudence of Domenach's article, "Let's Get Rid of Alienation," which opens the same issue. Domenach, prince of that notable province of contemporary confusionism, Christian leftism, reproaches the concept of alienation for being confused, for being used improperly, for having considerably evolved historically, and for having given rise to too many "vague and outmoded" formulas. If everything that was vague was therefore outmoded, religious thought would not have survived the rationalist clarification brought into the world by bourgeois society. But in a materially divided society, vague ideas and the vague use of precise concepts serve definite forces. The history of the concept of alienation, as Domenach recounts it in a few pages, is itself a perfect example of vague thought serving a specific confusionism. [...]
Domenach does not even want to "get rid of" the concept of alienation like that philosopher depicted in The German Ideology who wanted to liberate humanity from the idea of gravity so that there would be no more drownings. Domenach wants people to stop talking about alienation so that they will become resigned to it. [...] The alienation banished from consciousness is to be replaced by the more "precise" concept of exploitation. While it is true that the general alienation in the East and the West is effectively based on the exploitation of the workers, the evolution of modern capitalism -- and still more, bureaucratic ideology -- have largely succeeded in masking the Marxist analyses of exploitation at the stage of free competition and in making the handling of them less precise. In contrast, these parallel evolutions have brought alienation -- which was originally a philosophical concept -- into the reality of every hour of daily life. [...]
To be sure, in a society that needs to spread a mass pseudoculture and to have its spectacular pseudointellectuals monopolize the stage, many terms are naturally rapidly vulgarized. But for the same reasons, perfectly simple and illuminating words tend to disappear: such as the word priest; so that Domenach and his friends come to think that no one will ever again remind them of this embarrassing vulgarity. They are mistaken. Just as the secular efforts of a Revel (En France) to compile a list of words to forbid, a list that mixes a few fashionable trivialities with important contested terms, are ridiculous because one cannot hope to simultaneously suppress the theoretical discoveries of our time and the interested confusion to which they give rise in order to "return" to some simplified rationalism which never had the efficacy the nostalgic liberals now attribute to it. [...]
People like Domenach, being themselves valets of the establishment's cultural spectacle, which wants to quickly coopt for its own use the most crucial terms of modern critical thought, will never want to admit that the truest and most important concepts of the era -- alienation, dialectics, communism -- are precisely marked by the organization around them of the greatest confusions and the worst misinterpretations. Vital concepts are simultaneously subject to the truest and the most false uses, along with a multitude of intermediary confusions, because the struggle between critical reality and the apologetic spectacle leads to a struggle over words, a struggle that is more bitter the more those words are central. The truth of a concept is not revealed by an authoritarian purge, but by the coherence of its use in theory and in practical life. It is not important that a priest at the pulpit renounces the use of a concept that he would in any case never case have known how to use. Let us speak vulgarly since we're dealing with priests: alienation is the point of departure for everything -- providing that one departs from it.
SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (1966)
The Role of Godard
In cinema Godard presently represents formal pseudofreedom and the pseudocritique of manners and values -- the two inseparable manifestations of all fake, coopted modern art. Everyone does everything to present him as a misunderstood and unappreciated artist, shockingly audacious and unjustly despised; and everyone praises him, from Elle magazine to Aragon-the-Senile.(1) Despite the absence of any real critiques of Godard, we see developing a sort of analogy to the famous theory of the increase of resistances in socialist regimes: the more Godard is hailed as a brilliant leader of modern art, the more people rush to his defense against incredible plots. Repetitions of the same clumsy stupidities in his films are automatically seen as breathtaking innovations. They are beyond any attempt at explanation; his admirers consume them as confusedly and arbitrarily as Godard produced them, because they recognize in them the consistent expression of a subjectivity. This is true, but it is a subjectivity on the level of a concierge educated by the mass media. Godard's "critiques" never go beyond the innocuous humor typical of nightclub comics or Mad magazine. His flaunted culture is largely the same as that of his audience, which has read exactly the same pages in the same drugstore paperbacks. The two most famous lines from the most read poem of the most overrated Spanish poet ("Terrible five o'clock in the afternoon -- the blood, I don't want to see it" in Pierrot-le-Fou) -- this is the key to Godard's method. The most famous renegade of modern art, Aragon, in Les Lettres FranÃ§aises (9 September 1965), has rendered an homage to his younger colleague which, coming from such an expert, is perfectly fitting: "Art today is Jean-Luc Godard . . . of a superhuman beauty . . . of a constantly sublime beauty. . . . There is no precedent to Godard except Lautréamont. . . . This child of genius." Even the most naÃ¯ve can scarcely be taken in after such a testimonial from such a source.
Godard is a Swiss from Lausanne who envied the chic of the Swiss of Geneva, and then the chic of the Champs-Elysées, and his successful ascent up from the provinces is most exemplary at a time when the system is striving to usher so many "culturally deprived" people into a respectful consumption of culture -- even "avant-garde" culture if nothing else will do. We are not referring here to the ultimately conformist exploitation of any art that professes to be innovative and critical. We are pointing out Godard's directly conformist use of film.
To be sure, films, like songs, have intrinsic powers of conditioning the spectator: beauties, if you will, that are at the disposition of those who presently have the possibility of expressing themselves. Up to a point such people may make a relatively clever use of those powers. But it is a sign of the general conditions of our time that their cleverness is so limited, and that the extent of their ties with the dominant ways of life quickly reveals the disappointing limits of their enterprises. Godard is to film what Lefebvre or Morin is to social critique: each possesses the appearance of a certain freedom in style or subject matter (in Godard's case, a slightly free manner in comparison with the stale formulas of cinematic narration). But they have taken this very freedom from elsewhere: from what they have been able to grasp of the advanced experiences of the era. They are the Club Med of modern thought (see in this issue "The Packaging of 'Free Time' "). They make use of a caricature of freedom, as marketable junk, in place of the authentic. This is done on all terrains, including that of formal artistic freedom of expression, which is merely one sector of the general problem of pseudocommunication. Godard's "critical" art and his admiring art critics all work to conceal the present problems of a critique of art -- the real experience, in the SI's phrase, of a "communication containing its own critique." In the final analysis the present function of Godardism is to forestall a situationist use of the cinema.
Aragon has been for some time developing his theory of the collage in all modern art up to Godard. This is nothing other than an attempt to interpret détournement in such a way as to bring about its cooption by the dominant culture. Laying the foundations for a Togliattist variant of French Stalinism, Garaudy and Aragon are setting up a "completely open" artistic modernism, just as they are moving "from anathema to dialogue" with the priests. Godard could become their artistic Teilhardism.(2) In fact the collage, made famous by cubism during the dissolution of plastic art, is only a particular case (a destructive moment) of détournement: it is displacement, the infidelity of the element. Détournement, originally formulated by Lautréamont, is a return to a superior fidelity of the element. In all cases, détournement is dominated by the dialectical devaluing-revaluing of the element within the development of a unifying meaning. But the collage of the merely devalued element has been widely used, well before being constituted as a Pop Art doctrine, in the modernist snobbism of the displaced object (making a spice bottle out of a chemistry flask, etc.).
This acceptance of devaluation is now being extended to a method of combining neutral and indefinitely interchangeable elements. Godard is a particularly boring example of such a use without negation, without affirmation, and without quality.
SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (1966)
1. Aragon-the-Senile: popular designation for the surrealist Louis Aragon after he became a Stalinist. During his surrealist days he had once made a contemptuous reference to "Moscow-the-Senile."
2. artistic Teilhardism: i.e. a modernist artistic-Stalinist synthesis, by analogy to the modernist scientific-Catholic synthesis of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
The Algeria of Daniel Guérin, Libertarian
Mustapha Khayati responds to Daniel Guerin's writing on Algeria.
In December 1965 Daniel Guérin published a pamphlet entitled L'Algérie caporalisée? which contains a rather bizarre analysis of Boumédienne's regime. According to Guérin, nothing happened in June. Faithful to an old schema, he sees only a "Bonapartism" in power both before and after the coup d'état, struggling classically on two fronts: against the "counterrevolution of the indigenous propertied classes" and against the threatening enthusiasm of the workers striving for self-management. And in foreign affairs he finds "the same desire on the part of both regimes for an adroit balancing act between capitalist and socialist countries" (p. 6). "None of the declarations of the so-called 'Council of the Revolution' contains any innovations whatsoever or any hints of an original program" (p. 10). However, when he drafted his main text, dated November 5, Guérin thought he detected some potential new developments as the putchists were being pushed, as if despite themselves, to the "right" -- developments that "seem to foreshadow an antisocialist policy" (p. 11, our emphasis). One might suppose that Guérin disregards the considerable differences between the two regimes because he is carried away by the equal contempt that Ben Bella and Boumédienne might well arouse in a revolutionary who is a declared partisan of "libertarian socialism" and self-management. Unfortunately, this is not at all the case! He has no other revolutionary solution to recommend than the restoration of Ben Bella: "To rally a popular opposition to the colonels' regime in Algeria today without reference to Ben Bella, or while making a total political critique of Ben-Bellaism, would be an undertaking doomed to failure" (p. 17). And before June 19 the Ben Bella regime's numerous attacks on the workers, the exploits of its police and army -- the same police and army that are still in place today, in fact -- were for Guérin only "mistakes, weaknesses and omissions" of an acceptable orientation. The king was badly advised or misinformed; never responsible. Since Guérin cannot be unaware of the open struggles of Ben Bella's regime against the masses (he himself provides some excellent documentation of them, notably apropos of the Congress of Agricultural Workers), he has to reconstruct history by totally separating Ben Bella from his regime. Page 12: "The sabotage of self-management, organized, of course, without Ben Bella's knowledge." Page 2: "As we can see more clearly today, Ben Bella never had his hands free: for nearly three years he was the tool, the prisoner, the hostage of Boumédienne." In other words, people thought Ben Bella was in power, but his downfall has shown that he wasn't. Such an astonishing retroactive demonstration could just as well be applied to the Czar, who was believed to be an autocrat before 1917. But Guérin overlooks this question: Who besides Ben Bella made Boumédienne, by hoisting himself into power with the aid of Boumédienne's arms? That Ben Bella later made some half-hearted and very inept attempts to get rid of his tool is another matter. It is because he was above all a bureaucrat that he was at first essentially in solidarity with, and eventually the victim of, bureaucrats more rational than he.
What, then, is the secret of this aberration of one of our famous leftist intellectuals, and one of the most ostensibly "libertarian" among them at that? With him it is no different than with all the others: it is the decisive influence of their vainglorious participation in high society; their common tendency, even more servile than a lackey's, to be swept off their feet with joy because they have spoken with the greats of this world; and the imbecility that makes them attribute such greatness to those who have condescended to talk to them. Whether they are partisans of the self-managing masses or of police-state bureaucracies, the "leftist intellectuals" of the period from which we are just emerging always have the same rapt admiration for power and government. The closer they are to a governmental position, the more the leaders of the "underdeveloped" countries fascinate these ridiculous professors of leftist museology. In Simone de Beauvoir's memoirs, so revealing of the fundamental degradation of a whole generation of intellectuals, her narration of a dinner at the Soviet Embassy exposes a pettiness so irremediable and so shameless that she isn't even aware of it.
So here is the secret: Guérin "knew" Ben Bella. He "listened" to him from time to time: "When I had the privilege, at the beginning of December 1963, of a brief audience at the Villa Joly in order to present to the President a report resulting from my month of traveling around the country observing the self-managed enterprises, I had the impression that he had been prejudiced against my conclusions by Ali Mahsas and the Minister of Industry and Commerce, Bachir Boumaza" (p. 7).
Guérin really is for self-management, but, like Mohammed Harbi, it is in the pure form of its Spirit incarnated as a privileged hero that he prefers to meet it, recognize it and aid it with his sage advice. Daniel Guérin met the Weltgeist of self-management over a cup of tea, and everything else follows.
SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (1966)
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology). A postscript to this article appeared in the following issue.
Captive Words: Preface to a Situationist Dictionary
Popular assumptions, due to what they conceal, work for the dominant organization of life. One such assumption is the notion that language is not dialectical, thereby implying that all use of dialectics should be rejected. But in fact nothing is more clearly subject to dialectics than language, since it is a living reality. Thus, every critique of the old world has been made in the language of that world, yet directed against it and therefore automatically in a different language. Every revolutionary theory has had to invent its own terms, to destroy the dominant sense of other terms and establish new meanings in the "world of meanings" corresponding to the new embryonic reality needing to be liberated from the dominant trash heap. The same reasons that prevent our adversaries (the masters of the Dictionary) from definitively fixing language, today enable us to assert alternative positions that negate existing meanings. But we already know that these same reasons also prevent us from proclaiming any definitive certitudes. A definition is always open, never definitive. Ours have a historical value, they are applicable during a specific period, linked to a specific historical practice.
It is impossible to get rid of a world without getting rid of the language that conceals and protects it, without laying bare its true nature. As the "social truth" of power is permanent falsification, language is its permanent guarantee and the Dictionary its universal reference. Every revolutionary praxis has felt the need for a new semantic field and for expressing a new truth; from the Encyclopédistes to the Polish intellectuals' critique of Stalinist "wooden language" in 1956, this demand has continually been asserted. Because language is the house of power, the refuge of its police violence. Any dialogue with power is violence, whether passively suffered or actively provoked. When power wants to avoid resorting to its material arms, it relies on language to guard the oppressive order. This collaboration is in fact the most natural expression of all power.
From words to ideas is only a step -- a step always taken by power and its theorists. All theories of language, from the simple-minded mysticism of Being to the supreme (oppressive) rationality of the cybernetic machine, belong to the same world: the discourse of power considered as the sole possible frame of reference, as the universal mediation. Just as the Christian God is the necessary mediation between two souls and between the soul and the self, the discourse of power establishes itself at the heart of all communication, becoming the necessary mediation between self and self. This is how it is able to coopt oppositional movements, diverting them onto its own terrain, infiltrating them and controlling them from within. The critique of the dominant language, the détournement of it, is going to become a permanent practice of the new revolutionary theory.
Since any new interpretation is called a misinterpretation by the authorities, the situationists are going to establish the legitimacy of such misinterpretation and denounce the fraudulence of the interpretations given and authorized by power. Since the dictionary is the guardian of present meaning, we propose to destroy it systematically. The replacement of the dictionary, that master reference of all inherited and tamed language, will find its adequate expression in the revolutionary infiltration of language, in the détournement extensively used by Marx, systematized by Lautréamont, and now being put within everyone's reach by the SI.
Détournement, which Lautréamont called plagiarism, confirms the thesis, long demonstrated by modern art, that word are insubordinate, that it is impossible for power to totally coopt created meanings, to fix an existing meaning once and for all; that it is objectively impossible to create a "Newspeak." The new revolutionary theory cannot advance without redefining its fundamental concepts. "Ideas improve," says Lautréamont. "The meaning of words participates in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress depends on it. It sticks close to an author's phrase, uses his expressions, deletes a false idea, replaces it with a true one." To salvage Marx's thought it is necessary to continually make it more precise, to correct it and reformulate it in the light of a hundred years of reinforcement of alienation and of the possibilities of negating alienation. Marx needs to be detourned by those who are continuing on this historical path, not moronically quoted by the thousand varieties of coopters. On the other hand, power's own thought is becoming in our hands a weapon against power. Ever since it came to power the bourgeoisie has dreamed of a universal language, a language which the cyberneticians of today are trying to implement electronically. Descartes dreamed of a language (a forerunner of Newspeak) in which thought would follow thought with mathematical rigor: the mathesis universalis or perpetuity of bourgeois categories. The Encyclopédistes, dreaming (under feudal power) of "definitions so rigorous that tyranny could not tolerate them," paved the way for an eternal future power that would be the ultimate goal of history.
The insubordination of words, during the experimental phase from Rimbaud to the surrealists, has shown that the theoretical critique of the world of power is inseparable from a practice that destroys it. Power's cooption of all modern art and its transformation of it into oppressive categories of its reigning spectacle is a sad confirmation of this. "Whatever doesn't kill power is killed by it." The dadaists were the first to express their distrust in words, a distrust inseparable from the desire to "change life." Following Sade, they asserted the right to say everything, to liberate words and "replace the Alchemy of the Word with a real chemistry" (Breton). The innocence of words is henceforth consciously refuted and language is revealed as "the worst of conventions," something that should be destroyed, demystified, liberated. Dada's contemporaries did not fail to stress its will to destroy everything, the danger it represented to the dominant sense. (Gide uneasily referred to it as a "demolition job.") After Dada it has become impossible to believe that a word is forever bound to an idea. Dada realized all the possibilities of language and forever closed the door on art as a specialty; it posed once and for all the problem of the realization of art. Surrealism was of value only insofar as it carried on this project; in its literary productions it was reactionary. The realization of art -- poetry in the situationist sense -- means that one cannot realize oneself in a "work," but rather realizes oneself, period. Sade's inauguration of "saying everything" already implied the abolition of literature as a separate domain (where only what is literary may be said). But this abolition, consciously asserted by the dadaists after Rimbaud and Lautréamont, was not a supersession. There is no supersession without realization, one cannot supersede art without realizing it. In fact, there has not even been any actual abolition, since even after Joyce, Duchamp and Dada a new spectacular literature continues to thrive. This is because there can be no "saying everything" without the freedom to do everything. Dada had a chance for realization with the Spartakists, with the revolutionary practice of the German proletariat. Their failure made the failure of Dada inevitable. With its cooption (including that of virtually all its original protagonists) into subsequent artistic movements, Dada has become the literary expression of the nothingness of poetic activity, the art of expressing the nothingness of everyday freedom. The ultimate expression of this art of "saying everything" deprived of any doing is the blank page. Modern poetry (experimental, permutational, spatialist, surrealist or neodadaist) is the antithesis of poetry, it is the artistic project coopted by power. It abolishes poetry without realizing it, living off its own continual self-destruction. "What's the point of saving language," Max Bense asks resignedly, "when there is no longer anything to say?" Confession of a specialist! Muteness or mindless chatter are the sole alternatives of the specialists of permutation. Modern thought and art, guaranteeing power and guaranteed by it, move in the realm of what Hegel called "the language of flattery." Both contribute to the eulogy of power and its products, perfecting reification while banalizing it. Asserting that "reality consists of language" or that "language can only be considered in and for itself," the specialists of language arrive at the concepts of "language-object" and "word-thing" and revel in the panegyrics of their own reification. The thing becomes the dominant model and once again the commodity finds its realization and its poets. The theory of the state, of the economy, of law, of philosophy, of art -- everything now has this apologetic character.
Whenever separate power replaces the autonomous action of the masses, whenever bureaucracy seizes control of all aspects of social life, it attacks language and reduces its poetry to the vulgar prose of its information. Bureaucracy appropriates language for its own use, just as it does everything else, and imposes it on the masses. Language -- the material support of its ideology -- is then supposed to communicate its messages and reflect its thought. Bureaucracy represses the fact that language is first of all a means of communication between people. Since all communication is channeled through bureaucracies, people no longer even need to talk to each other: their first duty is to play their role as receivers in the network of informationist communication to which the whole society is reduced, receivers of orders they must carry out.
This language's mode of existence is bureaucracy, its becoming is bureaucratization. The Bolshevik order born out of the failure of the soviet revolution imposed a whole series of more or less magical and impersonal expressions in the image of the bureaucracy in power. "Politburo," "Comintern," "Cavarmy," "Agitprop" -- mysterious names of specialized agencies that really are mysterious, operating in the nebulous sphere of the state (or of the Party leadership) without any relation to the masses except insofar as they reinforce their subjection. Language colonized by bureaucracy is reduced to a series of blunt, inflexible formulas in which the same nouns are always accompanied by the same adjectives and participles. The noun governs; each time it appears the other words automatically fall in around it in the correct order. This "regimentation" of words reflects a more profound militarization of the whole society, its division into two basic categories: the caste of rulers and the great mass of people who carry out their orders. But the same words are also called on to play other roles, invested with the magic power to reinforce the oppressive reality, to cloak it and present it as the only possible truth. Thus there are no more "Trotskyists" but only "Hitlero-Trotskyists"; one never hears of Marxism but only of "Marxism-Leninism," and the opposition is automatically "reactionary" in the "Soviet regime." The rigidity with which these ritual formulas are sacralized is aimed at preserving the purity of this "substance" in the face of obviously contradictory facts. In this way the language of the masters is everything, reality nothing, or at most the shell of this language. People are required in their acts, their thoughts and their feelings to behave as if the state was that reason, justice and freedom proclaimed by the ideology. The ritual (and the police) are there to ensure conformity to this behavior (see Marcuse's Soviet Marxism).
The decline of radical thought considerably increases the power of words, the words of power. "Power creates nothing, it coopts" (Internationale Situationniste #8). Words forged by revolutionary criticism are like partisans' weapons: abandoned on the battlefield, they fall into the hands of the counterrevolution and like prisoners of war are subjected to forced labor. Our most direct enemies are the proponents and established functionaries of false critique. The divorce between theory and practice provides the central basis for cooption, for the petrification of revolutionary theory into ideology, which transforms real practical demands (for whose realization the premonitory signs are already appearing in the present society) into systems of ideas, into demands of reason. The ideologues of every variety, the watchdogs of the reigning spectacle, carry out this task, emptying the content from most corrosive concepts and putting them back into circulation in the service of maintaining alienation: dadaism in reverse. They become advertising slogans (see the recent Club Med prospectus). Concepts of radical critique suffer the same fate as the proletariat: they are deprived of their history, cut off from their roots. They become grist for power's thinking machines.
Our project of liberating words is historically comparable to the Encyclopédiste enterprise. The Enlightenment's language of "tearing apart" (to continue the Hegelian image) lacked the conscious historical dimension; it was a real critique of the decrepit feudal world, but it had no idea of what would emerge from it (none of the Encyclopédistes were republicans). It was, rather, an expression of the bourgeois thinkers' own internal tearing apart. Our language aims first of all at a practice that tears the world apart, beginning with tearing apart the veils that cloak it. Whereas the Encyclopédistes sought a quantitative enumeration, the enthusiastic description of a world of objects in which the bourgeoisie and the commodity were already victorious, our dictionary will express the qualitative, the possible but still absent victory, the repressed of modern history (the proletariat) and the return of the repressed. We propose the real liberation of language because we propose to put it into a practice free of all constraints. We reject any authority, linguistic or otherwise: only real life allows a meaning and only praxis verifies it. Debates over the reality or unreality of the meaning of a word, isolated from practice, are purely academic. We place our dictionary in that libertarian region which is still beyond the reach of power, but which is its only possible global successor.
Language remains the necessary mediation for comprehending the world of alienation (Hegel would say: the necessary alienation), the instrument of the radical theory that will eventually seize the masses because it is theirs. Only then will it find its own truth. It is thus essential that we forge our own language, the language of real life, against the ideological language of power, the terrain of justification of all the categories of the old world. From now on we must prevent the falsification or cooption of our theories. We use specific concepts already used by the specialists, but we give them a new content, turning them against the specialists that they support and against future salaried thinkers who might be tempted to besmear situationist theory with their own shit (as Claudel did with Rimbaud and Klossowski with Sade). Future revolutions must invent their own language. Concepts of radical critique will be reexamined one by one in order to rediscover their truth. The word alienation, for example, one of the key concepts for the comprehension of modern society, must be disinfected after having passed through the mouths of people like Axelos [editor of Arguments]. All words have the same relation with power as does the proletariat: they are both its present servants and the instruments and agents of future liberation from it. Poor Revel! There are no forbidden words; in language, as it will be in every other domain, everything is permitted. To deny ourselves the use of a word is to deny ourselves a weapon used by our adversaries.
Our dictionary will be a sort of code book enabling one to decipher information and rend the ideological veils that cover reality. We will give possible translations that will enable people to grasp the different aspects of the society of the spectacle, and show how the slightest signs and indications contribute to maintaining it. In a sense it will be a bilingual dictionary, since each word has an "ideological" meaning for power and a real meaning that we think corresponds to real life in the present historical phase. Thus we will be able at each step to determine the various positions of words in the social war. If the problem of ideology is how to descend from the heaven of ideas to the real world, our dictionary will be a contribution to the elaboration of the new revolutionary theory where the problem is how to effect the transition from language to life. The real appropriation of the words that work cannot be realized outside the appropriation of work itself. The inauguration of free creative activity will at the same time be the inauguration of true communication, freed at last. The transparency of human relations will replace the poverty of words under the old regime of opaqueness. Words will not cease to work until people do.
MUSTAPHA KHAYATI (1966)
Interview with an Imbecile
Even worse than the old Observateur, the Nouvel Observateur is a veritable Niagara of stupidity (6,810,000 liters per second). A considerable portion of this flow is produced by two of its editors, Katia Kaupp and Michel Cournot, whose writings could serve as excellent historical documents for the study of the supreme phase of spectacular decomposition. Their combination of stupidity and stylistic vulgarity makes them perfect Jean Nochers of the Left (a Left which adheres to the dominant society as fundamentally as does Jean Nocher, apart from a few details concerning the "modernization" of this domination). For its launching, however, this magazine called on some guest celebrities. Its opening issue (19 November 1964) presented a five-page interview with a star thinker. We reproduce here a few of his most extraordinary statements. The parenthetical remarks are obviously ours and not those of the Nouvel Observateur flunky who pretends to dialogue with the oracle.
"The young people I meet," says the imbecile, "are perhaps less hotheaded than in the past, but what I find most striking is that politically they are often at the same point as I am. My point of arrival is their point of departure. . . . And they have a whole lifetime ahead of them to build on the base that is my point of culmination." (The young people who are not at the same point of political degradation would obviously never have been interested in meeting this imbecile. As for those who have the misfortune to be at that point, a hundred successive lifetimes "ahead of them" would never suffice to build anything on the base of his culmination, which has been revealed from every angle as an intellectual dead end.)
"In France the 'yé-yé' phenomenon was used in order to turn the youth into a class of consumers." (A perfect inversion of reality: it is because the youth of the modern capitalist countries has become a very important category of consumers that phenomena of the 'yé-yé' sort appear.)
"You can only be alluding to Marxist ideology. Today I don't know of any other: current bourgeois ideology is more notable for its absence than for its strength." (Those who have read Marx know that his method is a radical critique of ideologies; but he who has only read Stalin can praise "Marxism" for having become the best of ideologies, the ideology that has had the strongest police.)
"Socialism can be pure only as an idea or, perhaps, much later, if it becomes the regime of all societies. In the meantime its incarnation in a particular country implies that it must develop and define itself through innumerable relations with the rest of the world. In the forging of reality, the purity of the idea becomes tainted." (Here is a Marxist ideologue really ideologizing: ideas are pure in the heavens and become rotten when they are incarnated. Since this thinker is himself real and has affirmed the principle that any realization in the world must entail a fundamental corruption, he implicitly both admits his own degradation in his "relations with the rest of the world" and justifies it on the grounds of inevitability. From all this we can appreciate his "advanced" state of decomposition.)
Right after this, the imbecile quotes a Malian's statement which he greatly admires: "Our socialism is conditioned by the fact that we are a country without any outlet to the sea." (Is it not also somewhat conditioned by the absence of an industrial proletariat in Mali? But this is just a trifling detail in the geopolitics of such a profound thinker!)
To the idea that all the industrial societies have many features in common, the imbecile retorts: "To say that, one would have to prove that there is a class struggle in the socialist countries, that is, that the privileges accorded certain people are becoming stratified. Now, this is not at all the case. There are admittedly some very real inequalities; but the money obtained by a factory manager in the USSR cannot be reinvested anywhere: it is spent and cannot be replenished or augmented in his hands to become the basis of a class power." (A basis which lies elsewhere: in the possession of the state. The extra money received by the privileged in the USSR is not the basis of their power, but a clear expression of their power.)
"The Soviets are shocked when one seems to believe that among them money can confer power." (Of course, since it's the other way around!)
"To be sure, these 'high-ranking functionaries' have numerous privileges; but to the very extent that the regime is authoritarian, there is a social instability, intermixing among different strata, demotion of leaders, a constant influx of newcomers from the base to the summit. If any conflicts were to occur in the USSR they would have the aspect of a reformism and not of a revolution." (Thus the very arbitrariness serves to prove that there is no ruling class in the USSR. At this level of insult to one's intelligence, one could just as well argue that the free-enterprise capitalism of Marx's day was also socialist, since its economic laws ruined many industrialists and it sometimes happened that a worker would become a boss; hence the social instability, class intermixing, etc.)
But the idea of a pure imbecile of this dimension would only be a "pure idea." Since such an imbecile actually exists, he must also firmly identify with a repressive power. After the armed revolt of the Hungarian proletariat -- in one of those "socialist countries" where "one would have to prove" that class struggles could now exist -- this same imbecile was so set on defending the interests of the Russian bureaucracy that he took a position to the right of Khrushchev: "The most serious mistake was probably Khrushchev's Report [on Stalin], for the solemn public denunciation, the detailed exposure of all the crimes of a sacred personage who has represented the regime for so long, is a folly when such frankness is not made possible by a previous substantial rise in the standard of living of the population. . . . The result was to reveal the truth to masses who were not ready to receive it."
The thinker we have been talking about is Sartre. And anyone who still wants to seriously discuss the value (whether philosophical or political or literary -- one can't separate the aspects of this hodgepodge) of such a nullity, so puffed up by the various authorities that are so satisfied with him, thereby reveals himself as not worth being taken seriously by those who refuse to renounce the potential consciousness of our time.
SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (1966)
Some Theoretical Topics That Need To Be Dealt With Without Academic Debate or Idle Speculation
What can be dealt with by radical theory must be prevented from being dealt with by speculation. As the situationist analysis of reality prepares the way for the practical realization of our project, this demand tends to become more widely applicable.
Knowledge is inseparable from the use that is made of it. The agitation that our irrefutable theories are beginning to foment in varying degrees in all the sectors of the old world is going to see to the improvement and correction of our good use of ideas and things. This is why, in a society of guaranteed abundance, we are the only ones who are not frightened by that abundance.
How to use theory is never problematical. The specialists of idle speculation -- from Socialisme ou Barbarie to PlanÃ¨te -- are only concerned with concealing who profits from their ideology of confusion. The situationists work in the opposite perspective. We pose only the questions to which the will to subversion of the greatest number can respond. Our aim is to give this will its maximum effectiveness.
The topics to consider listed briefly below will have the interest of shedding light on the revolutionary worth of whoever deals with them, and on the importance that must be accorded to them in current struggles.
Critique of political economy -- Critique of the social sciences -- Critique of psychoanalysis (in particular: Freud, Reich, Marcuse) -- Dialectics of decomposition and supersession in the realization of art and philosophy -- Semiology: contribution to the study of an ideological system -- Nature and the ideologies of nature -- The role of playfulness in history -- History of theories and theories of history -- Nietzsche and the end of philosophy -- Kierkegaard and the end of theology -- Marx and Sade -- The structuralists.
The romantic crisis -- The Preciosity movement -- The baroque -- Artistic languages -- Art and everyday creativity -- Critique of dadaism -- Critique of surrealism -- Society and pictorial perspective -- Self-parodying art -- Mallarmé, Joyce and Malevich -- Lautréamont -- Primitive arts -- On poetry.
The Mexican revolution (Villa and Zapata) -- The Spanish revolution -- Asturias 1934 -- The Vienna insurrection -- The Peasant War (1525) -- The Spartakist revolution -- The Congolese revolution -- The Jacqueries -- Unknown revolutions -- The English revolution -- The communalist movements -- The Enragés -- The Fronde -- Revolutionary songs (study and anthology) -- Kronstadt -- Bolshevism and Trotskyism -- The Church and the heresies -- The different currents of socialism -- Socialism and underdevelopment -- Cybernetics and power -- The state -- The origins of Islam -- Theses on anarchy -- Theses for a final solution of the Christian problem -- The world of the specialists -- On democracy -- The Internationals -- On insurrection -- Problems and theory of self-management -- Parties and labor unions -- On the organization of revolutionary movements -- Critique of civil and penal law -- Nonindustrialized societies -- Theses on utopianism -- Homage to Charles Fourier -- Workers councils -- Fascism and magical thought.
On the repetitive in everyday life -- Dreams and dreamlike ambiances -- Treatise on the passions -- The moments and the construction of situations -- Urbanism and popular construction -- Manual of subversive détournement -- Individual adventure and collective adventure -- Intersubjectivity and coherence in revolutionary groups -- Play and everyday life -- Personal fantasies -- On the freedom to love -- Preliminary studies toward the construction of a base -- Madness and entranced states of mind.
RAOUL VANEIGEM (1966)
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version entitled "Some Theoretical Questions To Be Treated Without Academic Debate or Speculation" in the Situationist International Anthology).
The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy
August 1316, 1965, the blacks of Los Angeles revolted. An incident between traffic police and pedestrians developed into two days of spontaneous riots. Despite increasing reinforcements, the forces of order were unable to regain control of the streets. By the third day the blacks had armed themselves by looting accessible gun stores, enabling them to fire even on police helicopters. It took thousands of police and soldiers, including an entire infantry division supported by tanks, to confine the riot to the Watts area, and several more days of street fighting to finally bring it under control. Stores were massively plundered and many were burned. Official sources listed 32 dead (including 27 blacks), more than 800 wounded and 3000 arrests.
Reactions from all sides were most revealing: a revolutionary event, by bringing existing problems into the open, provokes its opponents into an unhabitual lucidity. Police Chief William Parker, for example, rejected all the major black organizations' offers of mediation, correctly asserting: "These rioters don't have any leaders." Since the blacks no longer had any leaders, it was the moment of truth for both sides. What did one of those unemployed leaders, NAACP general secretary Roy Wilkins, have to say? He declared that the riot "should be put down with all necessary force." And Los Angeles Cardinal McIntyre, who protested loudly, did not protest against the violence of the repression, which one might have supposed the most tactful policy at a time when the Roman Church is modernizing its image; he denounced "this premeditated revolt against the rights of one's neighbor and against respect for law and order," calling on Catholics to oppose the looting and "this violence without any apparent justification." And all those who went so far as to recognize the "apparent justifications" of the rage of the Los Angeles blacks (but never their real ones), all the ideologists and "spokesmen" of the vacuous international Left, deplored the irresponsibility, the disorder, the looting (especially the fact that arms and alcohol were the first targets) and the 2000 fires with which the blacks lit up their battle and their ball. But who has defended the Los Angeles rioters in the terms they deserve? We will. Let the economists fret over the $27 million lost, and the city planners sigh over one of their most beautiful supermarkets gone up in smoke, and McIntyre blubber over his slain deputy sheriff. Let the sociologists bemoan the absurdity and intoxication of this rebellion. The role of a revolutionary publication is not only to justify the Los Angeles insurgents, but to help elucidate their perspectives, to explain theoretically the truth for which such practical action expresses the search.
In Algiers in July 1965, following Boumédienne's coup d'état, the situationists issued an Address to the Algerians and to revolutionaries all over the world which interpreted conditions in Algeria and the rest of the world as a whole. Among other examples we mentioned the movement of the American blacks, stating that if it could "assert itself incisively" it would unmask the contradictions of the most advanced capitalist system. Five weeks later this incisiveness was in the streets. Modern theoretical criticism of modern society and criticism in acts of the same society already coexist; still separated but both advancing toward the same realities, both talking about the same thing. These two critiques are mutually explanatory, and neither can be understood without the other. Our theory of "survival" and of "the spectacle" is illuminated and verified by these actions which are so incomprehensible to American false consciousness. One day these actions will in turn be illuminated by this theory.
Until the Watts explosion, black civil rights demonstrations had been kept by their leaders within the limits of a legal system that tolerates the most appalling violence on the part of the police and the racists -- as in last March's march on Montgomery, Alabama. Even after the latter scandal, a discreet agreement between the federal government, Governor Wallace and Martin Luther King led the Selma marchers on March 10 to stand back at the first police warning, in dignity and prayer. The confrontation expected by the demonstrators was reduced to a mere spectacle of a potential confrontation. In that moment nonviolence reached the pitiful limit of its courage: first you expose yourself to the enemy's blows, then you push your moral nobility to the point of sparing him the trouble of using any more force. But the main point is that the civil rights movement only addressed legal problems by legal means. It is logical to make legal appeals regarding legal questions. What is irrational is to appeal legally against a blatant illegality as if it was a mere oversight that would be corrected if pointed out. It is obvious that the crude and glaring illegality from which blacks still suffer in many American states has its roots in a socioeconomic contradiction that is not within the scope of existing laws, and that no future judicial law will be able to get rid of this contradiction in the face of the more fundamental laws of this society. What American blacks are really daring to demand is the right to really live, and in the final analysis this requires nothing less than the total subversion of this society. This becomes increasingly evident as blacks in their everyday lives find themselves forced to use increasingly subversive methods. The issue is no longer the condition of American blacks, but the condition of America, which merely happens to find its first expression among the blacks. The Watts riot was not a racial conflict: the rioters left alone the whites that were in their path, attacking only the white policemen, while on the other hand black solidarity did not extend to black store-owners or even to black car-drivers. Martin Luther King himself had to admit that the revolt went beyond the limits of his specialty. Speaking in Paris last October, he said: "This was not a race riot. It was a class riot."
The Los Angeles rebellion was a rebellion against the commodity, against the world of the commodity in which worker-consumers are hierarchically subordinated to commodity standards. Like the young delinquents of all the advanced countries, but more radically because they are part of a class without a future, a sector of the proletariat unable to believe in any significant chance of integration or promotion, the Los Angeles blacks take modern capitalist propaganda, its publicity of abundance, literally. They want to possess now all the objects shown and abstractly accessible, because they want to use them. In this way they are challenging their exchange-value, the commodity reality which molds them and marshals them to its own ends, and which has preselected everything. Through theft and gift they rediscover a use that immediately refutes the oppressive rationality of the commodity, revealing its relations and even its production to be arbitrary and unnecessary. The looting of the Watts district was the most direct realization of the distorted principle: "To each according to their false needs" -- needs determined and produced by the economic system which the very act of looting rejects. But once the vaunted abundance is taken at face value and directly seized, instead of being eternally pursued in the rat-race of alienated labor and increasing unmet social needs, real desires begin to be expressed in festive celebration, in playful self-assertion, in the potlatch of destruction. People who destroy commodities show their human superiority over commodities. They stop submitting to the arbitrary forms that distortedly reflect their real needs. The flames of Watts consummated the system of consumption. The theft of large refrigerators by people with no electricity, or with their electricity cut off, is the best image of the lie of affluence transformed into a truth in play. Once it is no longer bought, the commodity lies open to criticism and alteration, whatever particular form it may take. Only when it is paid for with money is it respected as an admirable fetish, as a symbol of status within the world of survival.
Looting is a natural response to the unnatural and inhuman society of commodity abundance. It instantly undermines the commodity as such, and it also exposes what the commodity ultimately implies: the army, the police and the other specialized detachments of the state's monopoly of armed violence. What is a policeman? He is the active servant of the commodity, the man in complete submission to the commodity, whose job it is to ensure that a given product of human labor remains a commodity, with the magical property of having to be paid for, instead of becoming a mere refrigerator or rifle -- a passive, inanimate object, subject to anyone who comes along to make use of it. In rejecting the humiliation of being subject to police, the blacks are at the same time rejecting the humiliation of being subject to commodities. The Watts youth, having no future in market terms, grasped another quality of the present, and that quality was so incontestable and irresistible that it drew in the whole population -- women, children, and even sociologists who happened to be on the scene. Bobbi Hollon, a young black sociologist of the neighborhood, had this to say to the Herald Tribune in October: "Before, people were ashamed to say they came from Watts. They'd mumble it. Now they say it with pride. Boys who used to go around with their shirts open to the waist, and who'd have cut you to pieces in half a second, showed up here every morning at seven o'clock to organize the distribution of food. Of course, it's no use pretending that food wasn't looted. . . . All that Christian blah has been used too long against blacks. These people could loot for ten years and they wouldn't get back half the money those stores have stolen from them over all these years. . . . Me, I'm only a little black girl." Bobbi Hollon, who has sworn never to wash off the blood that splashed on her sandals during the rioting, adds: "Now the whole world is watching Watts."
How do people make history under conditions designed to dissuade them from intervening in it? Los Angeles blacks are better paid than any others in the United States, but they are also the most separated from the California superopulence that is flaunted all around them. Hollywood, the pole of the global spectacle, is right next door. They are promised that, with patience, they will join in America's prosperity, but they come to see that this prosperity is not a fixed state but an endless ladder. The higher they climb, the farther they get from the top, because they start off disadvantaged, because they are less qualified and thus more numerous among the unemployed, and finally because the hierarchy that crushes them is not based on economic buying power alone: they are also treated as inherently inferior in every area of daily life by the customs and prejudices of a society in which all human power is based on buying power. Just as the human riches of the American blacks are despised and treated as criminal, monetary riches will never make them completely acceptable in America's alienated society: individual wealth will only make a rich nigger because blacks as a whole must represent poverty in a society of hierarchized wealth. Every witness noted the cry proclaiming the global significance of the uprising: "This is a black revolution and we want the world to know it!" Freedom Now is the password of all the revolutions of history, but now for the first time the problem is not to overcome scarcity, but to master material abundance according to new principles. Mastering abundance is not just changing the way it is shared out, but totally reorienting it. This is the first step of a vast, all-embracing struggle.
The blacks are not alone in their struggle, because a new proletarian consciousness (the consciousness that they are not at all the masters of their own activities, of their own lives) is developing in America among strata which in their rejection of modern capitalism resemble the blacks. It was, in fact, the first phase of the black struggle which happened to be the signal for the more general movement of contestation that is now spreading. In December 1964 the students of Berkeley, harassed for their participation in the civil rights movement, initiated a strike [the FSM] challenging the functioning of California's "multiversity" and ultimately calling into question the entire American social system in which they are being programmed to play such a passive role. The spectacle promptly responded with exposés of widespread student drinking, drug use and sexual immorality -- the same activities for which blacks have long been reproached. This generation of students has gone on to invent a new form of struggle against the dominant spectacle, the teach-in, a form taken up October 20 in Great Britain at the University of Edinburgh during the Rhodesian crisis. This obviously primitive and imperfect form represents the stage at which people refuse to confine their discussion of problems within academic limits or fixed time periods; the stage when they strive to pursue issues to their ultimate consequences and are thus led to practical activity. The same month tens of thousands of antiVietnam war demonstrators appeared in the streets of Berkeley and New York, their cries echoing those of the Watts rioters: "Get out of our district and out of Vietnam!" Becoming more radical, many of the whites are finally going outside the law: "courses" are given on how to hoodwink army recruiting boards (Le Monde, 19 October 1965) and draft cards are burned in front of television cameras. In the affluent society disgust is being expressed for this affluence and for its price. The spectacle is being spat on by an advanced sector whose autonomous activity denies its values. The classical proletariat, to the very extent to which it had been provisionally integrated into the capitalist system, had itself failed to integrate the blacks (several Los Angeles unions refused blacks until 1959); now the blacks are the rallying point for all those who refuse the logic of this integration into capitalism, which is all that the promise of racial integration amounts to. Comfort will never be comfortable enough for those who seek what is not on the market, what in fact the market specifically eliminates. The level attained by the technology of the most privileged becomes an insult, and one more easily grasped and resented than is that most fundamental insult: reification. The Los Angeles rebellion is the first in history to justify itself with the argument that there was no air conditioning during a heat wave.
The American blacks have their own particular spectacle, their own black newspapers, magazines and stars, and if they are rejecting it in disgust as a fraud and as an expression of their humiliation, it is because they see it as a minority spectacle, a mere appendage of a general spectacle. Recognizing that their own spectacle of desirable consumption is a colony of the white one enables them to see more quickly through the falsehood of the whole economic-cultural spectacle. By wanting to participate really and immediately in the affluence that is the official value of every American, they are really demanding the egalitarian actualization of the American spectacle of everyday life -- they are demanding that the half-heavenly, half-earthly values of the spectacle be put to the test. But it is in the nature of the spectacle that it cannot be actualized either immediately or equally, not even for the whites. (The blacks in fact function as a perfect spectacular object-lesson: the threat of falling into such wretchedness spurs others on in the rat-race.) In taking the capitalist spectacle at its face value, the blacks are already rejecting the spectacle itself. The spectacle is a drug for slaves. It is designed not to be taken literally, but to be followed from just out of reach; when this separation is eliminated, the hoax is revealed. In the United States today the whites are enslaved to the commodity while the blacks are negating it. The blacks are asking for more than the whites -- this is the core of a problem that has no solution except the dissolution of the white social system. This is why those whites who want to escape their own slavery must first of all rally to the black revolt -- not, obviously, in racial solidarity, but in a joint global rejection of the commodity and of the state. The economic and psychological distance between blacks and whites enables blacks to see white consumers for what they are, and their justified contempt for whites develops into a contempt for passive consumers in general. The whites who reject this role have no chance unless they link their struggle more and more to that of the blacks, uncovering its most fundamental implications and supporting them all the way. If, with the radicalization of the struggle, such a convergence is not sustained, black nationalist tendencies will be reinforced, leading to the futile interethnic antagonism so characteristic of the old society. Mutual slaughter is the other possible outcome of the present situation, once resignation is no longer tolerable.
The attempts to build a separatist or pro-African black nationalism are dreams giving no answer to the real oppression. The American blacks have no fatherland. They are in their own country and they are alienated. So are the rest of the population, but the blacks are aware of it. In this sense they are not the most backward sector of American society, but the most advanced. They are the negation at work, "the bad aspect that makes history by setting the struggle in motion" (The Poverty of Philosophy). Africa has no special monopoly on that.
The American blacks are a product of modern industry, just like electronics or advertising or the cyclotron. And they embody its contradictions. They are the people that the spectacle paradise must simultaneously integrate and reject, with the result that the antagonism between the spectacle and human activity is totally revealed through them. The spectacle is universal, it pervades the globe just as the commodity does. But since the world of the commodity is based on class conflict, the commodity itself is hierarchical. The necessity for the commodity (and hence for the spectacle, whose role is to inform the commodity world) to be both universal and hierarchical leads to a universal hierarchization. But because this hierarchization must remain unavowed, it is expressed in the form of unavowable, because irrational, hierarchical value judgments in a world of irrational rationalization. It is this hierarchization that creates racisms everywhere. The British Labour government has come to the point of restricting nonwhite immigration, while the industrially advanced countries of Europe are once again becoming racist as they import their subproletariat from the Mediterranean area, developing a colonial exploitation within their own borders. And if Russia continues to be anti-Semitic it is because it continues to be a hierarchical society in which labor must be bought and sold as a commodity. The commodity is constantly extending its domain and engendering new forms of hierarchy, whether between labor leader and worker or between two car-owners with artificially distinguished models. This is the original flaw in commodity rationality, the sickness of bourgeois reason, a sickness which has been inherited by the bureaucratic class. But the repulsive absurdity of certain hierarchies, and the fact that the entire commodity world is directed blindly and automatically to their protection, leads people to see -- the moment they engage in a negating practice -- that every hierarchy is absurd.
The rational world produced by the Industrial Revolution has rationally liberated individuals from their local and national limitations and linked them on a global scale; but it irrationally separates them once again, in accordance with a hidden logic that finds its expression in insane ideas and grotesque values. Estranged from their own world, people are everywhere surrounded by strangers. The barbarians are no longer at the ends of the earth, they are among the general population, made into barbarians by their forced participation in the worldwide system of hierarchical consumption. The veneer of humanism that camouflages all this is inhuman, it is the negation of human activities and desires; it is the humanism of the commodity, the solicitous care of the parasitical commodity for its human host. For those who reduce people to objects, objects seem to acquire human qualities and truly human manifestations appear as unconscious "animal behavior." Thus the chief humanist of Los Angeles, William Parker, could say: "They started acting like a bunch of monkeys in a zoo."
When California authorities declared a "state of insurrection," the insurance companies recalled that they do not cover risks at that level -- they guarantee nothing beyond survival. The American blacks can rest assured that as long as they keep quiet they will in most cases be allowed to survive. Capitalism has become sufficiently concentrated and interlinked with the state to distribute "welfare" to the poorest. But by the very fact that they lag behind in the advance of socially organized survival, the blacks pose the problems of life; what they are really demanding is not to survive but to live. The blacks have nothing of their own to insure; their mission is to destroy all previous forms of private insurance and security. They appear as what they really are: the irreconcilable enemies, not of the great majority of Americans, but of the alienated way of life of the entire modern society. The most industrially advanced country only shows us the road that will be followed everywhere unless the system is overthrown.
Certain black nationalist extremists, to show why they can accept nothing less than a separate nation, have argued that even if American society someday concedes total civil and economic equality, it will never, on a personal level, come around to accepting interracial marriage. This is why this American society itself must disappear -- in America and everywhere else in the world. The end of all racial prejudice, like the end of so many other prejudices related to sexual inhibitions, can only lie beyond "marriage" itself, that is, beyond the bourgeois family (which has largely fallen apart among American blacks) -- the bourgeois family which prevails as much in Russia as in the United States, both as a model of hierarchical relations and as a structure for a stable inheritance of power (whether in the form of money or of social-bureaucratic status). It is now often said that American youth, after thirty years of silence, are rising again as a force of contestation, and that the black revolt is their Spanish Civil War. This time their "Lincoln Brigades" must understand the full significance of the struggle in which they are engaging and totally support its universal aspects. The Watts "excesses" are no more a political error in the black revolt than the POUM's May 1937 armed resistance in Barcelona was a betrayal of the anti-Franco war. A revolt against the spectacle -- even if limited to a single district such as Watts -- calls everything into question because it is a human protest against a dehumanized life, a protest of real individuals against their separation from a community that would fulfill their true human and social nature and transcend the spectacle.
SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (December 1965)
Newly translated and reissued July 1992 (in the aftermath of the second Los Angeles riot) by Ken Knabb. Reprinted from Public Secrets (1997). This translation supersedes the version in the Situationist International Anthology (1981).