Issue eight of the journal of the Situationist International
Internationale Situationiste #8
Situationist International Anti-Public Relations Notice
So you agree with the SI!
You want to join the SI!
We only ask of you a little preliminary work, to verify objectively (in your own interest as well as ours) how close you are to our concerns and your ability to participate fully in our undertaking. (The SI does not want mere disciples.)
1. Choose for yourself a point in the theses published by the SI that you consider important and develop some arguments and possible expansions of it. (Minimum one page typescript; no maximum.)
2. Choose for yourself, out of the same texts published by the SI, a point that can be criticized and destroy that position. (Same conditions.)
NOTE: This is not a meaningless game. The SI often proceeds like this in order to reexamine its own bases and develop new ideas. Perhaps you will chance on a point already criticized. But you might also initiate an appropriate critique of a position insufficiently questioned by us until now. Thus your critique, if it is well done, will be valid in any case; and it may even be useful in bringing up something new!
SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (1963)
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).
The Avant-Garde of Presence (excerpts)
[...] The dialectic of history is such that the Situationist International's theoretical victory is already forcing its adversaries to disguise themselves as situationists. Two main tendencies can now be distinguished in the impending struggle against us: those who proclaim themselves situationists without having any idea what they're talking about (the varieties of Nashism) and those who, conversely, decide to adopt a few situationist ideas minus the situationists and without mentioning the SI. The increasing likelihood of the confirmation of some of the simplest and least recent of our theses leads many people to appropriate aspects of one or another of them without acknowledgment. We are not, of course, concerned here with obtaining recognition and personal credit for priority. The only interest in pointing out this tendency is in order to denounce one crucial aspect of it: When these people draw on our theses in order to finally talk about some new problem (after having suppressed it as long as they could), they inevitably banalize it, eradicating its violence and its connection with the general subversion, defusing it and subjecting it to academic dissection or worse. This is the reason they have to suppress any mention of the SI. [...]
As participation becomes increasingly impossible, the second-rate specialists of modern art demand the participation of everyone. [...] We are insolently urged to "take part" in a spectacle, an art, which concerns us so little. [...]
Free play confined within the terrain of artistic dissolution is only the cooption of free play. In spring 1962 the press began reporting on the "happenings" produced by the some of the avant-garde artists of New York. The happening is a sort of spectacle pushed to the extreme state of dissolution, a vaguely dadaist-style improvisation of gestures performed by a gathering of people within a closed-off space. Drugs, alcohol and eroticism are often involved. The gestures of the "actors" strive toward a melange of poetry, painting, dance and jazz. This form of social encounter can be considered as an instance of the old artistic spectacle pushed to the extreme, a hash produced by throwing together all the old artistic leftovers; or as a too aesthetically encumbered attempt to renovate the ordinary surprise party or the classic orgy. In its naÃ¯ve striving to "make something happen," its absence of separate spectators and its desire to liven up (however feebly) the impoverished range of present human relations, the happening can even be considered as an attempt to construct a situation in isolation, on a foundation of poverty (material poverty, poverty of encounters, poverty inherited from the artistic spectacle, and poverty of the "philosophy" that has to considerably "ideologize" the reality of these events). In contrast, the situations defined by the SI can be constructed only on a foundation of material and spiritual richness. This amounts to saying that the first ventures in constructing situations must be the work/play of the revolutionary avant-garde; people who are resigned in one way or another to political passivity, to metaphysical despair, or even to being subjected to an art of total noncreativity, are incapable of participating in them. [...]
People urge us to present trivial projects that would be useful and convincing. But why should we be interested in convincing them? In any case, if we were to oblige them, they would immediately turn these projects against us, either by holding them up as proofs of our utopianism or by rushing to disseminate watered-down versions of them. In fact, those who are interested in and satisfied by such partial projects can solicit them from almost anyone else, but not from us: We contend that a fundamental cultural renewal will not be brought about by an accumulation of changes of details, but only as a whole. We are obviously in a good position to discover, a few years ahead of other people, all the potential gimmicks of the present extreme cultural decomposition. Since they are useful only in our enemies' spectacle, we merely make a few notes on them and file them away. Many of them are eventually discovered independently by someone or other and ostentatiously launched on the market. History has not yet "caught up" with the majority of them, however. Perhaps it never will with some of them. This is not simply a game, it is one more experimental verification of our perspectives. [...]
We are against the conventional forms of culture, even in its most modern state; but not, obviously, in preferring ignorance, neoprimitivism or petty-bourgeois common sense. There is an anticultural attitude that favors an impossible return to the old myths. Against such a current we are of course for culture. We take our stand on the other side of culture. Not before it, but after it. We contend that it is necessary to realize culture by superseding it as a separate sphere; not only as a domain reserved for specialists, but above all as a domain of a specialized production that does not directly affect the construction of life -- not even the life of its own specialists.
We are not completely lacking in humor; but our humor is of a rather new kind. If someone wants to know how to approach our theses, leaving aside the fine points and subtleties, the simplest and most appropriate attitude is to take us completely seriously and literally.
How are we going to bankrupt the dominant culture? Two ways. Gradually at first, and then suddenly. [...]
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).
Basic Banalities (Part 2)
Summary of Part 1
The vast majority of people have always had to devote all their energy to SURVIVAL, thereby denying themselves any chance to LIVE. They continue to do so today as the WELFARE STATE imposes the elements of this survival in the form of technological conveniences (appliances, preserved food, prefabricated cities, Mozart broadcast for the masses).
The organization controlling the material equipment of our everyday life is such that what could potentially enable us to construct it richly plunges us instead into a poverty of abundance. Alienation becomes all the more intolerable as each convenience promises freedom and turns out to be only one more burden. We are enslaved by the means of liberation.
To be understood, this problem must be seen in the clear light of hierarchical power. But perhaps it isn't enough to say that hierarchical power has preserved humanity for thousands of years like alcohol preserves a fetus -- by arresting either growth or decay. It should also be specified that hierarchical power represents the highest stage of private appropriation, and historically is its alpha and omega. Private appropriation can be defined as appropriation of things by means of appropriation of people, the struggle against natural alienation engendering social alienation.
Private appropriation entails an ORGANIZATION OF APPEARANCES by which its radical contradictions can be dissimulated: the servants must see themselves as degraded reflections of the master, thus reinforcing, through the looking glass of an illusory freedom, everything that increases their submission and passivity; while the master must identify himself with the mythical and perfect servant of a god or of a transcendence which is nothing other than the sacred and abstract representation of the TOTALlTY of people and things over which he wields power -- a power all the more real and unquestioned as he is universally credited with the virtue of his renunciation. The mythical sacrifice of the boss corresponds to the real sacrifice of the underling; each negates himself in the other, the strange becomes familiar and the familiar strange, each fulfills himself by being the inversion of the other. From this common alienation a harmony is born, a negative harmony whose fundamental unity lies in the notion of sacrifice. This objective (and perverted) harmony is sustained by myth -- this term being used to designate the organization of appearances in unitary societies, that is, in societies where slave, tribal or feudal power is officially consecrated by a divine authority and where the sacred allows power to seize the totality.
The harmony originally based on the "GIFT of oneself" contains a form of relationship that was to develop, become autonomous and destroy it. This relationship is based on partial EXCHANGE (commodity, money, product, labor power...), the exchange of a part of oneself, which underlies the bourgeois notion of freedom. It arises as commerce and technology become preponderant within agrarian-type economies.
When the bourgeoisie seized power the unity of power was destroyed. Sacred private appropriation became secularized in capitalist mechanisms. Freed from the grip of power, the totality once again became concrete and immediate. The era of fragmentation has been nothing but a succession of attempts to recapture an inaccessible unity, to reconstitute some ersatz sacred behind which to shelter power.
A revolutionary moment is when "everything reality presents" finds its immediate REPRESENTATION. All the rest of the time hierarchical power, increasingly deprived of its magical and mystical regalia, strives to make everyone forget that the totality (which has never been anything other than reality!) is exposing its fraudulence.
By directly attacking the mythical organization of appearances, the bourgeois revolutions unintentionally attacked the weak point not only of unitary power but of any hierarchical power whatsoever. Does this unavoidable mistake explain the guilt complex that is one of the dominant traits of bourgeois mentality? In any case, the mistake was undoubtedly inevitable.
It was a mistake because once the cloud of lies covering private appropriation was pierced, myth was shattered, leaving a vacuum that could be filled only by a delirious freedom and a splendid poetry. Orgiastic poetry, to be sure, has not yet destroyed power. Its failure is easily explained and its ambiguous signs reveal the blows struck at the same time as they heal the wounds. And yet -- let us leave the historians and aesthetes to their collections -- one has only to pick at the scab of memory and the cries, words and gestures of the past make the whole body of power bleed again. The whole organization of the survival of memories will not prevent them from dissolving into oblivion as they come to life; just as our survival will dissolve in the construction of our everyday life.
And it was an inevitable process: as Marx showed, the appearance of exchange-value and its symbolic representation by money opened a profound latent crisis in the heart of the unitary world. The commodity introduced into human relationships a universality (a 1000-franc bill represents anything I can obtain for that sum) and an egalitarianism (equal things are exchanged). This "egalitarian universality" partially escapes both the exploiter and the exploited, but they recognize each other through it. They find themselves face to face, confronting each other no longer within the mystery of divine birth and ancestry, as was the case with the nobility, but within an intelligible transcendence, the Logos, a body of laws that can be understood by everyone, even if such understanding remains cloaked in mystery. A mystery with its initiates: first of all priests struggling to maintain the Logos in the limbo of divine mysticism, but soon yielding to philosophers and then to technicians both their positions and the dignity of their sacred mission. From Plato's Republic to the Cybernetic State.
Thus, under the pressure of exchange-value and technology (what we might call "mediation at your fingertips"), myth was gradually secularized. Two facts should be noted, however:
a) As the Logos frees itself from mystical unity, it affirms itself both within and against that unity. Rational and logical structures of behavior are superimposed on the old magical and analogical ones, simultaneously negating and preserving them (mathematics, poetics, economics, aesthetics, psychology, etc.).
b) Each time the Logos, the "organization of intelligible appearances," becomes more autonomous, it tends to break away from the sacred and become fragmented. In this way it presents a double danger for unitary power. We have already seen that the sacred expresses power's seizure of the totality, and that anyone wanting to accede to the totality must do so through the mediation of power -- the repression of mystics, alchemists and gnostics is sufficient proof of this. This also explains why present-day power "protects" specialists (though without completely trusting them): it vaguely senses that they are the missionaries of a resacralized Logos. Various historical movements represent attempts within mystical unitary power to found a rival unitary power based on the Logos: Christian syncretism (which makes God psychologically explainable), the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment.
The masters who strove to maintain the unity of the Logos were well aware that only unity can stabilize power. Examined more closely, their efforts can be seen not to have been as vain as the fragmentation of the Logos in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries would seem to prove. In the general movement of atomization the Logos has been broken down into specialized techniques (physics, biology, sociology, papyrology, etc.), but at the same time the need to reestablish the totality has become more imperative. It should not be forgotten that all it would take would be an all-powerful technocratic power in order for there to be a totalitarian domination of the totality, for myth's domination of the totality to be succeeded by the Logos's unitary cybernetic power. In such an event the vision of the Encyclopédistes (strictly rationalized progress stretching indefinitely into the future) would have known only a two-century postponement before being realized. This is the direction in which the Stalino-cyberneticians are preparing the future. In this context, peaceful coexistence should be seen as a preliminary step toward a totalitarian unity. It is time everyone realized that they are already resisting it.
We know the battlefield. The problem now is to prepare for battle before the pataphysician,(1) armed with his totality without technique, and the cybernetician, armed with his technique without totality, consummate their political coitus.
From the standpoint of hierarchical power, myth could be desacralized only if the Logos, or at least its desacralizing elements, were resacralized. To attack the sacred was at the same time supposed to liberate the totality and thus destroy power. (We've heard that one before!) But the power of the bourgeoisie -- fragmented, impoverished, constantly contested -- maintains a relative stability by relying on the following ambiguity: Technology, which objectively desacralizes, subjectively appears as an instrument of liberation. Not a real liberation, which could be attained only by desacralization -- that is, by the end of the spectacle -- but a caricature, an imitation, an induced hallucination. What the unitary worldview transferred into the beyond (above), fragmentary power pro-jects (literally, "throws forward") into a state of future well-being, of brighter tomorrows proclaimed from atop the dunghill of today -- tomorrows that are nothing more than the present multiplied by the number of gadgets to be produced. From the slogan "Live in God" we have gone on to the humanistic motto "Survive until you are old," euphemistically expressed as: "Stay young at heart and you'll live a long time."
Once desacralized and fragmented, myth loses its grandeur and its spirituality. It becomes an impoverished form, retaining its former characteristics but revealing them in a concrete, harsh, tangible fashion. God doesn't run the show anymore, and until the day the Logos takes over with its arms of technology and science, the phantoms of alienation will continue to materialize and sow disorder everywhere. Watch for those phantoms: they are the first signs of a future order. We must start to play right now if we want to avoid a future condemned to mere survival, or even a future in which survival itself will become impossible (the hypothesis of humanity destroying itself -- and with it obviously the whole experiment of constructing everyday life). The vital objectives of a struggle for the construction of everyday life are the key, sensitive points of all hierarchical power. To build one is to destroy the other. Caught in the vortex of desacralization and resacralization, we aim above all to abolish (1) the organization of appearances as a spectacle in which everyone denies himself; (2) the separation on which private life is based, since it is there that the objective separation between owners and dispossessed is lived and reflected on every level; and (3) sacrifice. These three elements are obviously interdependent, just as are their opposites: participation, communication, and realization.(2) The same applies to their respective contexts: nontotality (a bankrupt world, a controlled totality) and totality.
The human relationships that were formerly dissolved in divine transcendence (the totality crowned by the sacred) settled out and solidified as soon as the sacred stopped acting as a catalyst. Their materiality was revealed. As Providence was replaced by the capricious laws of the economy, the power of men began to appear behind the power of gods. Today a multitude of roles corresponds to the mythical role everyone once played under the divine spotlight. Though their masks are now human faces, these roles still require both actors and extras to deny their real lives in accordance with the dialectic of real and mythical sacrifice. The spectacle is nothing but secularized and fragmented myth. It forms the armor of a power (which could also be called essential mediation) that becomes vulnerable to every blow once it no longer succeeds in disguising (in the cacophonous harmony where all the cries drown each other out) its nature as private appropriation, and the greater or lesser dose of misery it allots to everyone.
Roles have become impoverished within the context of a fragmentary power eaten away by desacralization, just as the spectacle represents an impoverishment in comparison with myth. They betray its mechanisms and artifices so clumsily that power, to defend itself against popular denunciation of the spectacle, has no other alternative than to initiate such denunciation itself by even more clumsily replacing actors or ministers, or by organizing pogroms of prefabricated scapegoats (agents of Moscow, Wall Street, the Judeocracy or the Two Hundred Families). Which also means that the whole cast has been forced to become hams, that style has been replaced by mannerisms.
Myth, as a motionless totality, encompassed all movement (pilgrimage can be considered as an example of adventure and fulfillment within immobility). On the one hand, the spectacle can seize the totality only by reducing it to a fragment or a series of fragments (psychological, sociological, biological, philological and mythological worldviews); on the other, it is situated at the point where the process of desacralization converges with the efforts at resacralization. Thus it can succeed in imposing immobility only within the real movement, the movement that changes it despite its resistance. In the era of fragmentation the organization of appearances makes movement a linear succession of motionless instants (this notch-to-notch progression is perfectly exemplified by Stalinist "Dialectical Materialism"). Under what we have called "the colonization of everyday life," the only possible changes are changes of fragmentary roles. In terms of more or less inflexible conventions, one is successively citizen, parent, sexual partner, politician, specialist, professional, producer, consumer. Yet what boss doesn't himself feel bossed? The proverb applies to everyone: You may sometimes get a fuck, but you always get fucked!
The era of fragmentation has at least eliminated all doubt on one point: everyday life is the battlefield where the war between power and the totality takes place, with power having to use all its strength to control the totality.
What do we demand in backing the power of everyday life against hierarchical power? We demand everything. We are taking our stand in a generalized conflict stretching from domestic squabbles to revolutionary war, and we have gambled on the will to live. This means that we must survive as antisurvivors. Fundamentally we are concerned only with the moments when life breaks through the glaciation of survival, whether those moments are unconscious or theorized, historical (e.g. revolution) or personal. But we must also recognize that we are prevented from freely following the course of such moments (except during the moment of revolution itself) not only by the general repression exerted by power, but also by the requirements of our own struggle and tactics. We have to find ways of compensating for this "margin of error" by broadening the scope of these moments and demonstrating their qualitative significance. What prevents what we say about the construction of everyday life from being coopted by the cultural and subcultural establishment (Arguments, academic thinkers with paid vacations) is the fact that all situationist ideas are faithful extensions of acts attempted constantly by thousands of people to try and prevent a day from being nothing but than twenty-four hours of wasted time. Are we an avant-garde? If so, to be avant-garde means to move in step with reality.
We don't claim to have a monopoly on intelligence, but only on its use. Our position is strategic, we are at the heart of every conflict. The qualitative is our striking force.(3) People who half understand this journal ask us for an explanatory monograph thanks to which they will be able to convince themselves that they are intelligent and cultured -- that is to say, idiots. Someone who gets exasperated and chucks it in the gutter is making a more meaningful gesture. Sooner or later it will have to be understood that the words and phrases we use are still lagging behind reality. The distortion and clumsiness in the way we express ourselves (which a man of taste called, not inaccurately, "a rather irritating kind of hermetic terrorism") comes from our central position, our position on the ill-defined and shifting frontier where language captured by power (conditioning) and free language (poetry) fight out their infinitely complex war. To those who follow behind us we prefer those who reject us impatiently because our language is not yet authentic poetry -- not yet the free construction of everyday life.
Everything related to thought is related to the spectacle. Almost everyone lives in a state of terror at the possibility that they might awake to themselves, and this fear is deliberately fostered by power. Conditioning, the special poetry of power, has extended its dominion so far (all material equipment belongs to it: press, television, stereotypes, magic, tradition, economy, technology -- what we call captured language) that it has almost succeeded in dissolving what Marx called the undominated sector, replacing it with another, dominated one (see below our composite portrait of "the survivor"). But lived experience cannot so easily be reduced to a succession of empty roles. Resistance to the external organization of life, i.e. to the organization of life as survival, contains more poetry than any volume of verse or prose, and the poet (in the literary sense of the word) is one who has at least understood or sensed this fact. But such poetry is in a most dangerous situation. Certainly poetry in the situationist sense of the word is irreducible and cannot be coopted by power (as soon as an act is coopted it becomes a stereotype, something conditioned by the language of power). But it is encircled by power. Power contains the irreducible by isolating it. But such isolation cannot last; something has to give. The two pincers are, first, the threat of disintegration (insanity, illness, destitution, suicide), and second, remote-controlled therapeutics. The first grants death, the second grants a lifeless survival (empty communication, "togetherness" of family or friends, psychoanalysis in the service of alienation, medical care, ergotherapy). Sooner or later the SI must define itself as therapeutic: we are ready to defend the poetry made by all against the false poetry contrived by power (conditioning). Doctors and psychoanalysts better get it straight too, or they may one day, along with architects and other apostles of survival, have to take the consequences for what they have done.
All unresolved, unsuperseded antagonisms weaken. Such antagonisms can evolve only by remaining imprisoned in previous, unsuperseded forms (anticultural art within the cultural spectacle, for example). Any radical opposition that fails or that is partially successful (which amounts to the same thing) gradually degenerates into reformist opposition. Fragmentary oppositions are like the teeth on cogwheels, they mesh with each other and make the machine go round -- the machine of the spectacle, the machine of power.
Myth maintained all antagonisms within the archetype of Manicheanism. But what can function as an archetype in a fragmented society? The memory of previous antagonisms, presented in obviously devalued and unaggressive forms, appears today as the last attempt to bring some coherence into the organization of appearances, so great is the extent to which the spectacle has become a spectacle of confusion and equivalences. We are ready to wipe out all trace of those memories by harnessing all the energy contained in previous antagonisms for a radical struggle soon to come. All the springs blocked by power will one day burst through to form a torrent that will change the face of the world.
In a caricature of antagonisms, power urges everyone to be for or against Brigitte Bardot, the nouveau roman, the 4-horse CitroÃ«n, Italian cuisine, mescal, miniskirts, the UN, the classics, nationalization, thermonuclear war and hitchhiking. Everyone is asked their opinion about every detail in order to prevent them from forming one about the totality. However clumsy this maneuver may be, it might have worked if the salesmen in charge of peddling it from door to door were not themselves waking up to their own alienation. To the passivity imposed on the dispossessed masses is added the growing passivity of the directors and actors subjected to the abstract laws of the market and the spectacle and exercising less and less real power over the world. Signs of revolt are already appearing among the actors -- stars trying to escape publicity, rulers criticizing their own power (Brigitte Bardot, Fidel Castro). The tools of power are wearing out; their desire for their own freedom is a factor that should be taken into account.
At the moment when slave revolts threatened to overthrow the power structure and reveal the relationship between transcendence and the mechanism of private appropriation, Christianity appeared with its grandiose reformism, whose central democratic demand was for the slaves to accede not to the reality of a human life -- which would have been impossible without denouncing the exclusionary aspect of private appropriation -- but rather to the unreality of an existence whose source of happiness is mythical (the imitation of Christ as the price of the hereafter). What has changed? Anticipation of the hereafter has become anticipation of a brighter tomorrow; the sacrifice of real, immediate life is the price paid for the illusory freedom of an apparent life. The spectacle is the sphere where forced labor is transformed into voluntary sacrifice. Nothing is more suspect than the formula "To each according to his work" in a world where work is the blackmail of survival; to say nothing of "To each according to his needs" in a world where needs are determined by power. Any constructive project that tries to define itself autonomously and thus partially, and does not take into account that it is in fact defined by the negativity in which everything is suspended, becomes reformist. It is trying to build on quicksand as though it were a cement foundation. Ignoring or misunderstanding the context set by hierarchical power can only end up reinforcing that context. The spontaneous acts we see everywhere forming against power and its spectacle must be warned of all the obstacles in their path and must find a tactic taking into account the strength of the enemy and its means of cooption. This tactic, which we are going to popularize, is détournement.
Sacrifice must be rewarded. In exchange for their real sacrifice the workers receive the instruments of their liberation (comforts, gadgets), but this liberation remains purely fictitious since power controls the ways in which the material equipment can be used. Power uses to its own ends both the instruments and those who use them. The Christian and bourgeois revolutions democratized mythical sacrifice, the "sacrifice of the master." Today there are countless initiates who receive crumbs of power for putting to public service the totality of their partial knowledge. They are no longer called "initiates" and not yet "priests of the Logos"; they are simply known as specialists.
On the level of the spectacle their power is undeniable: the contestant on "Double Your Money" and the postal clerk chattering all day about all the mechanical features of his car both identify with the specialist, and we know how production managers use such identification to bring unskilled workers to heel. The true mission of the technocrats would be to unify the Logos -- if only (due to one of the contradictions of fragmentary power) they weren't so absurdly compartmentalized and isolated. Each specialist is alienated by being out of phase with the others; each knows everything about one fragment and no one grasps the totality. What real control can the atomic technician, the strategist or the political specialist exercise over a nuclear weapon? What ultimate control can power hope to impose on all the gestures developing against it? The stage is so crowded with actors that chaos is the only master of the show. "Order reigns and doesn't govern" (Internationale Situationniste #6).
To the extent that the specialist takes part in the development of the instruments that condition and transform the world, he is preparing the way for the revolt of the privileged. Until now such revolt has been called fascism. It is essentially an operatic revolt -- didn't Nietzsche see Wagner as a precursor? -- in which actors who have long been pushed aside and see themselves becoming less and less free suddenly insist on playing the leading roles. Clinically speaking, fascism is the hysteria of the spectacular world pushed to the point of climax. In this climax the spectacle momentarily ensures its unity while at the same time revealing its radical inhumanity. Through fascism and Stalinism, which constitute its romantic crises, the spectacle reveals its true nature: it is a disease.
We are poisoned by the spectacle. All the elements necessary for a detoxification (that is, for our own construction of our everyday lives) are in the hands of specialists. We are thus highly interested in all these specialists, but in different ways. Some are hopeless cases: we are not, for example, going to try and show the specialists of power, the rulers, the extent of their delirium. On the other hand, we are ready to take into account the bitterness of specialists imprisoned in roles that are constricted, absurd or ignominious. We must confess, however, that our indulgence has its limits. If, in spite of all our efforts, they persist in putting their guilty conscience and their bitterness in the service of power by fabricating the conditioning that colonizes their own everyday lives; if they prefer an illusory representation in the hierarchy to true fulfillment; if they persist in ostentatiously brandishing their specializations (their painting, their novels, their equations, their sociometry, their psychoanalysis, their ballistics); finally, if, knowing perfectly well -- and soon ignorance of this fact will be no excuse -- that only power and the SI hold the key to using their specialization, they nevertheless still choose to serve power because power, battening on their inertia, has chosen them to serve it, then fuck them! There's a limit to our generosity. They should understand all this, and especially the fact that the revolt of nonruling actors is henceforth linked to the revolt against the spectacle (see below the thesis on the SI and power).
The general disparagement of the lumpenproletariat stemmed from the use to which it was put by the bourgeoisie, which it served both as a regulating mechanism for power and as a source of recruits for the more dubious forces of order (cops, informers, hired thugs, artists...). Nevertheless, the lumpenproletariat embodies a remarkably radical implicit critique of the society of work. Its open contempt for both lackeys and bosses contains a good critique of work as alienation, a critique that has not been taken into consideration until now, not only because the lumpenproletariat was an ambiguous sector, but also because during the nineteenth and early twentieth century the struggle against natural alienation and the production of well-being still appeared as valid justifications for work.
Once it became known that the abundance of consumer goods was nothing but the flip side of alienation in production, the lumpenproletariat took on a new dimension: it expressed a contempt for organized work which, in the age of the Welfare State, is gradually taking on the proportions of a demand that only the rulers still refuse to acknowledge. In spite of the constant attempts of power to coopt it, every experiment carried out on everyday life, that is, every attempt to construct it (an activity that has been illegal since the destruction of feudal power, where it was limited and reserved for the ruling minority), is concretized today in the critique of alienating work and the refusal to submit to forced labor. So much so that the new proletariat can be negatively defined as a "Front Against Forced Labor" bringing together all those who resist cooption by power. This is our field of action, the arena where we are gambling on the ruse of history against the ruse of power, backing the worker (whether steelworker or artist) who -- consciously or not -- rejects organized work and life against the worker who -- consciously or not -- accepts working at the dictates of power. In this perspective, it is not unreasonable to foresee a transitional period during which automation and the will of the new proletariat leave work solely to specialists, reducing managers and bureaucrats to the rank of temporary slaves. With the extension of automation, the "workers," instead of supervising machines, could devote their attention to watching over the cybernetic specialists, whose sole task would be to increase a production that, through a reversal of perspective, will have ceased to be the priority sector, so as to serve the priority of life over survival.
Unitary power strove to dissolve individual existence in a collective consciousness so that each social unit subjectively defined itself as a particle with a clearly determined weight suspended as though in oil. Everyone had to feel overwhelmed by the omnipresent evidence that everything was merely raw material in the hands of God, who used it for his own purposes, which were naturally beyond individual human comprehension. All phenomena were emanations of a supreme will; any seemingly unexplainable perturbation was presumed to be a means toward some larger, hidden harmony (the Four Reigns, the Wheel of Fortune, trials sent by the gods). One can speak of a collective consciousness in the sense that it was simultaneously for each individual and for everyone: consciousness of myth and consciousness of particular-existence-within-myth. The power of the illusion was such that authentically lived life drew its meaning from what was not authentically lived. This is the reason for the priestly condemnation of life, the reduction of life to pure contingency, to sordid materiality, to vain appearance and to the lowest state of a transcendence that became increasingly degraded as it escaped mythical organization.
God was the guarantor of space and time, whose coordinates defined unitary society. He was the common reference point for all mankind; space and time came together in him just as in him all beings became one with their destiny. In the era of fragmentation, man is torn between a time and a space that no transcendence can unify through the mediation of any centralized power. We are living in a space-time that is out of joint, deprived of any reference point or coordinate, as though we were never going to be able to come into contact with ourselves, although everything invites us to.
There is a place where you create yourself and a time in which you play yourself. The space of everyday life, of one's true realization, is encircled by every form of conditioning. The narrow space of our true realization defines us, yet we define ourselves in the time of the spectacle. To put it another way: our consciousness is no longer consciousness of myth and of particular-being-within-myth, but rather consciousness of the spectacle and of particular-role-within-the-spectacle. (I pointed out above the relationship between all ontology and unitary power; it should be recalled here that the crisis of ontology appears with the movement toward fragmentation.) Or to put it yet another way: in the space-time relation in which everyone and everything is situated, time has become the imaginary (the field of identifications); space defines us, although we define ourselves in the imaginary and although the imaginary defines us qua subjectivities.
Our freedom is that of an abstract temporality in which we are named in the language of power (these names being the roles assigned to us), our only margin of choice being limited to finding officially accepted synonyms for ourselves. In contrast, the space of our authentic realization (the space of our everyday life) is under the dominion of silence. There is no name to name the space of lived experience except in poetry -- in language liberating itself from the domination of power.
By desacralizing and fragmenting myth, the bourgeoisie was led to demand first of all independence of consciousness (demands for freedom of thought, freedom of the press, freedom of research, rejection of dogma). Consciousness thus ceased being more or less consciousness-reflecting-myth. It became consciousness of successive roles played within the spectacle. What the bourgeoisie demanded above all was the freedom of actors and extras in a spectacle no longer organized by God, his cops and his priests, but by natural and economic laws, "capricious and inexorable laws" defended by a new team of cops and specialists.
God has been torn off like a useless bandage and the wound has stayed raw. The bandage may have prevented the wound from healing, but it justified suffering, it gave it a meaning well worth a few shots of morphine. Now suffering has no justification whatsoever and morphine is far from cheap. Separation has become concrete. Anyone at all can put their finger on it, and the only answer cybernetic society has to offer us is to become spectators of the gangrene and decay, spectators of survival.
The drama of consciousness to which Hegel referred is actually the consciousness of drama. Romanticism resounds like the cry of the soul torn from the body, a suffering all the more acute as each of us finds himself alone in facing the fall of the sacred totality and of all the Houses of Usher.
The totality is objective reality, in the movement of which subjectivity can participate only in the form of realization. Anything separate from the realization of everyday life rejoins the spectacle -- a hibernation in which survival is frozen and served out in slices. There can be no authentic realization except in objective reality, in the totality. Anything else is a farce. The objective realization that functions within the mechanism of the spectacle is nothing but the success of power-manipulated objects (the "objective realization in subjectivity" of famous artists, stars, celebrities of Who's Who). On the level of the organization of appearances, every success -- and even every failure -- is inflated until it becomes a stereotype, and is broadcast as though it were the only possible success or failure. So far power has been the only judge, though its judgment has been subjected to various pressures. Its criteria are the only valid ones for those who accept the spectacle and are satisfied to play a role in it. But there are no more artists on that stage, there are only extras.
The space-time of private life was harmonized in the space-time of myth. Fourier's harmony responds to this perverted harmony. As soon as myth no longer encompasses the individual and the partial in a totality dominated by the sacred, each fragment sets itself up as a totality. The fragment set up as a totality is, in fact, the totalitarian. In the dissociated space-time that constitutes private life, time -- made absolute in the form of abstract freedom, the freedom of the spectacle -- consolidates by its very dissociation the spatial absolute of private life, its isolation, its constriction. The mechanism of the alienating spectacle wields such force that private life reaches the point of being defined as that which is deprived of spectacles: the fact that someone escapes roles and spectacular categories is felt as an additional deprivation, a distressful feeling which power uses as a pretext to reduce everyday life to insignificant gestures (sitting down, washing, opening a door).
The spectacle that imposes its norms on lived experience itself arises out of lived experience. Spectacular time, lived in the form of successive roles, makes the space of authentic experience the area of objective powerlessness, while at the same time the objective powerlessness that stems from the conditioning of private appropriation makes the spectacle the ultimate of potential freedom.
Elements born of lived experience are acknowledged only on the level of the spectacle, where they are expressed in the form of stereotypes, although such expression is constantly contested and refuted in and by lived experience. The composite portrait of the survivors -- those whom Nietzsche referred to as the "little people" or the "last men" -- can be conceived only in terms of the following dialectic of possibility/impossibility:
a) Possibility on the level of the spectacle (variety of abstract roles) reinforces impossibility on the level of authentic experience.
b) Impossibility (that is, limits imposed on real experience by private appropriation) determines the field of abstract possibilities.
Survival is two-dimensional. Against such a reduction, what forces can bring out what constitutes the daily problem of all human beings: the dialectic of survival and life? Either the specific forces the SI has counted on will make possible the supersession of these contraries, reuniting space and time in the construction of everyday life; or life and survival will become locked in an antagonism growing weaker and weaker until the point of ultimate confusion and ultimate poverty is reached.
Lived reality is spectacularly fragmented and labeled in biological, sociological or other categories which, while being related to the communicable, never communicate anything but facts emptied of their authentically lived content. It is in this sense that hierarchical power, imprisoning everyone in the objective mechanism of private appropriation (admission/exclusion, see section #3), is also a dictatorship over subjectivity. It is as a dictator over subjectivity that it strives, with limited success, to force each individual subjectivity to become objectivized, that is, to become an object it can manipulate. This extremely interesting dialectic should be analyzed in greater detail (objective realization in subjectivity -- the realization of power -- and objective realization in objectivity -- which enters into the praxis of constructing everyday life and destroying power).
Facts are deprived of content in the name of the communicable, in the name of an abstract universality, in the name of a perverted harmony in which everyone realizes himself in an inverted perspective. In this context the SI is in the line of contestation that runs through Sade, Fourier, Lewis Carroll, Lautréamont, surrealism and lettrism -- at least in its least known currents, which were the most extreme.
Within a fragment set up as a totality, each further fragment is itself totalitarian. Individualism treated sensitivity, desire, will, intelligence, good taste, the subconscious and all the categories of the ego as absolutes. Today sociology is enriching the categories of psychology, but the introduction of variety into the roles merely accentuates the monotony of the identification reflex. The freedom of the "survivor" will be to assume the abstract constituent to which he has "chosen" to reduce himself. Once any real fulfillment has been put out of the picture, all that remains is a psycho-sociological dramaturgy in which interiority functions as a safety-valve to drain off the effects one has worn for the daily exhibition. Survival becomes the ultimate stage of life organized as the mechanical reproduction of memory.
Until now the approach to the totality has been falsified. Power has parasitically interposed itself as an indispensable mediation between man and nature. But the relation between man and nature is based only on praxis. It is praxis which constantly breaks through the coherent veneer of lies that myth and its replacements try to maintain. It is praxis, even alienated praxis, which maintains contact with the totality. By revealing its own fragmentary character, praxis at the same time reveals the real totality (reality): it is the totality being realized by way of its opposite, the fragment.
In the perspective of praxis, every fragment is totality. In the perspective of power, which alienates praxis, every fragment is totalitarian. This should be enough to wreck the attempts that cybernetic power will make to envelop praxis in a mystique, although the seriousness of these attempts should not be underestimated.
All forms of praxis enter our project. They enter with their share of alienation, with the impurities of power; but we are capable of filtering them. We will elucidate the force and purity of acts of refusal as well as the manipulative maneuvers of power, not in a Manichean perspective, but as a means of developing, through our own strategy, this combat in which everywhere, at every moment, the adversaries are seeking to come to grips with one another but only clashing accidentally, lost in irremediable darkness and uncertainty.
Everyday life has always been drained to the advantage of apparent life, but appearance, in its mythical cohesion, was powerful enough to repress any mention of everyday life. The poverty and emptiness of the spectacle, revealed by all the varieties of capitalism and all the varieties of bourgeoisie, has revealed both the existence of everyday life (a shelter life, but a shelter for what and from what?) and the poverty of everyday life. As reification and bureaucratization grow stronger, the debility of the spectacle and of everyday life is the only thing that remains clear. The conflict between the human and the inhuman has been transferred to the plane of appearances. As soon as Marxism became an ideology, Marx's struggle against ideology in the name of the richness of life was transformed into an ideological anti-ideology, an antispectacle spectacle. (Just as in avant-garde culture the antispectacular spectacle is restricted to actors alone, antiartistic art being created and understood only by artists, so the relationship between this ideological anti-ideology and the function of the professional revolutionary in Leninism should be examined.) Manicheanism has thus found itself momentarily revived. Why did St. Augustine attack the Manicheans so relentlessly? It was because he recognized the danger of a myth offering only one solution, the victory of good over evil; he saw that the impossibility of such a solution threatened to provoke the collapse of all mythical structures and bring into the open the contradiction between mythical and authentic life. Christianity offered a third way, the way of sacred confusion. What Christianity accomplished through the force of myth is accomplished today through the force of things. There can no longer be any antagonism between Soviet workers and capitalist workers or between the bomb of the Stalinist bureaucrats and the bomb of the non-Stalinist bureaucrats; there is no longer anything but unity in the chaos of reified beings.
Who is responsible? Who should be shot? We are dominated by a system, by an abstract form. Degrees of humanity and inhumanity are measured by purely quantitative variations of passivity. The quality is the same everywhere: we are all proletarianized or well on the way to becoming so. What are the traditional "revolutionaries" doing? They are struggling to eliminate certain distinctions, making sure that no proletarians are any more proletarian than all the others. But what party is calling for the end of the proletariat?
The perspective of survival has become intolerable. What is weighing us down is the weight of things in a vacuum. That's what reification is: everyone and everything falling at an equal speed, everyone and everything stigmatized with an equal value. The reign of equal values has realized the Christian project, but it has realized it outside Christianity (as Pascal surmised) and more importantly, it has realized it over God's dead body, contrary to Pascal's expectations.
The spectacle and everyday life coexist in the reign of equal values. People and things are interchangeable. The world of reification is a world without a center, like the new prefabricated cities that are its decor. The present fades away before the promise of an eternal future that is nothing but a mechanical extension of the past. Time itself is deprived of a center. In this concentration-camp world, victims and torturers wear the same mask and only the torture is real. No new ideology can soothe the pain, neither the ideology of the totality (Logos) nor that of nihilism -- which will be the two crutches of the cybernetic society. The tortures condemn all hierarchical power, however organized or dissimulated it may be. The antagonism the SI is going to revive is the oldest of all, it is radical antagonism and that is why it is taking up again and assimilating all that has been left by the insurrectionary movements and great individuals in the course of history.
So many other banalities could be examined and reversed. The best things never come to an end. Before rereading this text (which even the most mediocre intelligence will be able to understand by the third attempt) the reader would be well advised to pay careful attention to the following points -- points as fragmentary as the preceding ones, but which must be discussed in detail and implemented. They concern a central question: the SI and revolutionary power.
Being aware of the crises of both mass parties and "elites," the SI must embody the supersession of both the Bolshevik Central Committee (supersession of the mass party) and of the Nietzschean project (supersession of the intelligentsia).
(a) Every time a power has presented itself as directing a revolutionary upsurge, it has automatically undermined the power of the revolution. The Bolshevik Central Committee defined itself simultaneously as concentration and as representation. Concentration of a power antagonistic to bourgeois power and representation of the will of the masses. This duality led it rapidly to become no more than an empty power, a power of empty representation, and consequently to merge into a common form (bureaucracy) with a bourgeois power that was being pressured (by the Bolshevik threat) into following a similar evolution. The conditions for a concentrated power and mass representation exist potentially in the SI when it notes that it possesses the qualitative and that its ideas are in everyone's mind. Nevertheless we refuse both concentrated power and the right of representation, conscious that we are now taking the only public attitude (for we cannot avoid being known to some extent in a spectacular manner) enabling those who find that they share our theoretical and practical positions to accede to revolutionary power: power without mediation, power entailing the direct action of everyone. Our guiding image could be the Durruti Column, moving from town to village, liquidating the bourgeois elements and leaving the workers to see to their own self-organization.(4)
(b) The intelligentsia is power's hall of mirrors. Opposing power, it never offers anything but passive cathartic identification to those whose every gesture gropingly expresses real opposition. The radicalism -- not of theory, obviously, but of gesture -- that could be glimpsed in the "Declaration of the 121,"(5) however, suggests some different possibilities. We are capable of precipitating this crisis, but we can do so only by entering the intelligentsia as a power against the intelligentsia. This phase -- which must precede and be contained within the phase described in paragraph (a) -- will put us in the perspective of the Nietzschean project. We will form a small, almost alchemical, experimental group within which the realization of the total man can be started. Nietzsche could conceive of such an undertaking only within the framework of the hierarchical principle. It is, in fact, within such a framework that we find ourselves. It is therefore of the utmost importance that we present ourselves without the slightest ambiguity (at the group level, the purification of the nucleus and the elimination of residues now seems to be completed). We accept the hierarchical framework in which we are placed only while impatiently working to abolish our domination over those whom we cannot avoid dominating on the basis of our criteria for mutual recognition.
(c) Tactically our communication should be a diffusion emanating from a more or less hidden center. We will establish nonmaterialized networks (direct relationships, episodic ones, contacts without ties, development of embryonic relations based on sympathy and understanding, in the manner of red agitators before the arrival of revolutionary armies). We will claim radical gestures (actions, writings, political attitudes, works) as our own by analyzing them, and we will consider that our own acts and analyses are supported by the majority of people.
Just as God constituted the reference point of past unitary society, we are preparing to create the central reference point for a new unitary society now possible. But this point cannot be fixed. As opposed to the ever-renewed confusion that cybernetic power draws from the inhuman past, it stands for the game that everyone will play, "the moving order of the future."
RAOUL VANEIGEM (January 1963)
1. pataphysician: reference to "pataphysics," the absurdist-nihilist perspective expressed by Alfred Jarry.
2. Many of the themes in "Basic Banalities" were later developed more fully in Vaneigem's book The Revolution of Everyday Life (1967). Chapter 23 of the book deals with the "unitary triad" of participation, communication and realization.
3. striking force: play on de Gaulle's contention that France needed to develop a strong military striking force.
4. Durruti Column: anarchist militia unit led by Buenaventura Durruti during the Spanish civil war.
5. Declaration of the 121: a "Declaration on the Right To Resist the Algerian War" signed by 121 French artists and intellectuals (September 1960). The French government responded with arrests and firings, and even prohibited news media from mentioning the name of any signer -- which only resulted in more people signing. The "Declaration" polarized the intellectual community and contributed toward arousing French public opinion (the first demonstration against the war came a month later). See Internationale Situationniste #5, pp. 5-7, 12.
End of Part 2. Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).
The Counter-Situationist Campaign in Various Countries (excerpts)
The declaration published 25 June 1962 by the Situationist International concerning the trial of Uwe Lausen in Munich enumerated three types of negation the situationist movement has met with so far: police, as in Germany(1); silence, for which France easily holds the record; and widespread falsification, in which northern Europe has provided the most fertile field of study over the last year. [...]
In Internationale Situationniste #7 (pp. 53-54) we mentioned the sort of manifesto in which JÃ¶rgen Nash attacked the SI in the name of the Scandinavian section. Reckoning on the considerable geographical dispersion of the Scandinavian situationists, Nash had not even consulted with all of them before his putsch. Surprised at not being unanimously followed and at finding himself countered on the spot by the partisans of the SI majority -- who immediately circulated a definitive repudiation of his imposture -- Nash at first feigned astonishment that things had gone to the point of a complete break with the situationists; as if the fact of launching a public surprise attack full of lies was compatible with carrying on a dialogue, on the basis of some sort of Nashist Scandinavian autonomy. The development of the conspiracy scarcely leaves any doubt as to his real objectives, since his new Swedish "Bauhaus," consisting of two or three Scandinavian ex-situationists plus a mass of unknowns flocking to the feast, immediately plunged into the most shopworn forms of artistic production. [...] In the polemic between Nashists and situationists in Scandinavia, the Nashists resorted, in addition to all the threats and violence they thought feasible, to the systematic spreading of false information (with the active collusion of certain journalists). [...] But all their efforts to gain time and all their petty maneuvers to prolong the confusion could not save the Nashists from appearing for what they are: alien to the SI; much more sociable, certainly, but much less intelligent. [...]
We don't want to attribute some particular perversity to Nash and his associates. It seems to us that Nashism is an expression of an objective tendency resulting from the SI's ambiguous and risky policy of consenting to act within culture while being against the entire present organization of this culture and even against all culture as a separate sphere. (But even the most intransigent oppositional attitude cannot escape such ambiguity and risk, since it still necessarily has to coexist with the present order.) The German situationists who were excluded at the beginning of 1962 expressed an opposition comparable to that of the Nashists -- though with more frankness and artistic capacity -- to the extent that such opposition contains elements of a legitimately arguable position. Heimrad Prem's statement at the GÃ¶teborg Conference (see Internationale Situationniste #7) complained about the situationist majority's continued refusal of a large number of offers to sponsor "creations" on the conventional avant-garde artistic plane where many people wanted to involve the SI, so as to bring things back to order and the SI back into the old fold of artistic praxis. Prem expressed the desire of the situationist artists to find a satisfactory field of activity in the here and now. [...] The Nashists have simply gone much further in their bad faith and in their complete indifference to any theory and even to conventional artistic activity, preferring the grossest commercial publicity. But Prem and his friends, though comporting themselves more honorably, had themselves certainly not completely avoided concessions to the cultural market. The SI has thus for a time included a number of artists of repetition incapable of grasping the present mission of the artistic avant-garde; which is not too surprising if one takes into account both the scarcely delineated stage of our project and the notorious exhaustion of conventional art. The moment when the contradictions between them and us lead to these antagonisms marks an advance of the SI, the point where the ambiguities are forced into the open and clearly settled. The point of no return, in our relations with the partisans of a renewal of conventional art under the aegis of a situationist school, was perhaps reached with the decision adopted at GÃ¶teborg to refer to artistic productions of the movement as "antisituationist" art. The contradictions expressed in Nashism are quite crude, but the development of the SI may lead to others at a higher level. [...]
DEFINITION adopted by the SI Conference at Anvers on the motion of J.V. Martin
Nashism (French: Nashisme; German: Nashismus; Italian: Nascismo): Term derived from the name of Nash, an artist who seems to have lived in Denmark in the twentieth century. Primarily known for his attempt to betray the revolutionary movement and theory of that time, Nash's name was detourned by that movement as a generic term applicable to all traitors in struggles against the dominant cultural and social conditions. Example: "But like all things transient and vain, Nashism soon faded away." Nashist: A partisan of Nash or of his doctrine. By extension, any conduct or expression evincing the aims or methods of Nashism. Nashistique: Popular French doublet probably derived by analogy to the English adjective Nashistic. Nashisterie: The general social milieu of Nashism. The slang term Nashistouse is vulgar.
The SI cannot be a massive organization, and it will not even accept disciples, as do the conventional avant-garde groups. At this point in history, when the task is posed, in the most unfavorable conditions, of reinventing culture and the revolutionary movement on an entirely new basis, the SI can only be a Conspiracy of Equals, a general staff that does not want troops. We need to discover and open up the "Northwest Passage" toward a new revolution that cannot tolerate masses of followers, a revolution that must surge over that central terrain which has until now been sheltered from revolutionary upheavals: the conquest of everyday life. We will only organize the detonation: the free explosion must escape us and any other control forever.
One of the classic weapons of the old world, perhaps the one most used against groups delving into the organization of life, is to single out and isolate a few of their participants as "stars." We have to defend ourselves against this process, which, like almost all the usual wretched choices of the present society, has an air of being "natural." Those among us who aspired to the role of stars or depended on stars had to be rejected. [...]
The same movement that would have us accept situationist followers would commit us to erroneous positions. It is in the nature of a disciple to demand certainties, to transform real problems into stupid dogmas from which he derives his role and his intellectual security. And later, of course, to demonstrate his modernity by revolting, in the name of those simplified certainties, against the very people who transmitted them to him. In this way, over a period of time generations of submissive elites succeed one another. We intend to leave such people outside and to resist those who want to transform the SI's theoretical problematics into a mere ideology. Such people are extremely handicapped and uninteresting compared with those who may not be aware of the SI but who confront their own lives. Those who have really grasped the direction the SI is going in can join with it because all the supersession we talk about is to be found in reality, and we have to find it together. The task of being more extremist than the SI falls to the SI itself; this is even the first law of its continuation.
There are already certain people who, through laziness, think they can rigidify our project into a perfect program, one already present, admirable and uncriticizable, in the face of which they have nothing more to do -- except perhaps to declare themselves still more radical at heart, while abstaining from any activity on the grounds that everything has already been definitively said by the SI. We say that, on the contrary, not only do the most important aspects of the questions we have posed remain to be discovered -- by the SI and by others -- but also that the greater portion of what we have already discovered is not yet published due to our lack of all sorts of means; to say nothing of the still more considerable lack of means for the experiments the SI has barely begun in other domains (particularly in matters of behavior). But to speak only of editorial problems, we now think that we ourselves should rewrite the most interesting parts of what we have published so far. It is not a matter of revising certain errors or of suppressing a few deviationist seeds that have since blossomed into gross results(2) (e.g. Constant's technocratic concept of a situationist profession -- see Internationale Situationniste #4, pp. 24-25), but of correcting and improving the most important of our theses, precisely those whose development has brought us further, on the basis of the knowledge since gained thanks to them. This will require various republications, although the SI's current difficulties in publishing are far from being resolved.
Those who think that the early situationist thought is already fixed in past history, and that the time has come for violent falsification or rapt admiration of it, have not grasped the movement we are talking about. The SI has sown the wind. It will reap a tempest.
SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (1963)
1. In 1961-1962 the German situationists were subjected to a series of police harassments -- searches, confiscation of SI publications, arrests for immorality, pornography, blasphemy, incitement to riot, etc. The SI conducted an international campaign on their behalf, even after the majority of them had been excluded from the SI for moderation and compromises in other regards. Uwe Lausen, who had not been excluded, was the only one to eventually be jailed (for three weeks); the others got fines and suspended sentences. See Internationale Situationniste #6, p. 6; #7, p. 51; #8, p. 64.
2. An example of the gross results: "The ex-situationist Constant, whose Dutch collaborators had already been excluded from the SI for having agreed to construct a church, now himself presents models of factories in his catalogue published in March by the Municipal Museum of Bochum. Apart from plagiarizing two or three poorly understood fragments of situationist ideas, this slippery character has nothing better to propose than to act as a public-relations man in integrating the masses into capitalist technological civilization; and he reproaches the SI for having abandoned his whole program of transforming the urban milieu, which he alone is carrying out. Under these conditions, yes!" (Internationale Situationniste #6, p. 6.) Constant (Constant Nieuwenhuis) resigned from the SI in 1960. He is the same person later mentioned in On the Poverty of Student Life as a member of the Provo hierarchy.
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).
All the King's Men
The problem of language is at the heart of all the struggles between the forces striving to abolish the present alienation and those striving to maintain it. It is inseparable from the very terrain of those struggles. We live within language as within polluted air. Despite what humorists think, words do not play. Nor do they make love, as Breton thought, except in dreams. Words work -- on behalf of the dominant organization of life. Yet they are not completely automated: unfortunately for the theoreticians of information, words are not in themselves "informationist"; they contain forces that can upset the most careful calculations. Words coexist with power in a relation analogous to that which proletarians (in the modern as well as the classic sense of the term) have with power. Employed by it almost full time, exploited for every sense and nonsense that can be squeezed out of them, they still remain in some sense fundamentally alien to it.
Power presents only the falsified, official sense of words. In a manner of speaking it forces them to carry a pass, determines their place in the production process (where some of them conspicuously work overtime) and gives them their paycheck. Regarding the use of words, Lewis Carroll's Humpty Dumpty correctly observes, "The question is which is to be master -- that's all." He adds that he himself (a socially responsible employer in this respect) pays overtime to those he employs excessively. We should also understand the phenomenon of the insubordination of words, their desertion or open resistance (manifested in all modern writing from Baudelaire to the dadaists and Joyce), as a symptom of the general revolutionary crisis of this society.
Under the control of power, language always designates something other than authentic experience. It is precisely for this reason that a total contestation is possible. The organization of language has fallen into such confusion that the communication imposed by power is exposing itself as an imposture and a dupery. An embryonic cybernetic power is vainly trying to put language under the control of the machines it controls, in such a way that information would henceforth be the only possible communication. Even on this terrain resistances are being manifested; electronic music could be seen as an attempt (obviously limited and ambiguous) to reverse the domination by detourning machines to the benefit of language. But there is a much more general and radical opposition that is denouncing all unilateral "communication," in the old form of art as well as in the modern form of informationism. It calls for a communication that undermines all separate power. Real communication dissolves the state.
Power lives off stolen goods. It creates nothing, it coopts. If it determined the meaning of words, there would be no poetry but only useful "information." Opposition would be unable to express itself in language; any refusal would be nonverbal, purely lettristic. What is poetry if not the revolutionary moment of language, inseparable as such from the revolutionary moments of history and from the history of personal life?
Power's stranglehold over language is connected to its stranglehold over the totality. Only a language that has been deprived of all immediate reference to the totality can serve as the basis for information. News(1) is the poetry of power, the counterpoetry of law and order, the mediated falsification of what exists. Conversely, poetry must be understood as direct communication within reality and as real alteration of this reality. It is liberated language, language recovering its richness, language breaking its rigid significations and simultaneously embracing words and music, cries and gestures, painting and mathematics, facts and acts. Poetry thus depends on the richest possibilities for living and changing life at a given stage of socioeconomic structure. Needless to say, this relationship of poetry to its material base is not a subordination of one to the other, but an interaction.
Rediscovering poetry may merge with reinventing revolution, as has been demonstrated by certain phases of the Mexican, Cuban and Congolese revolutions. Outside the revolutionary periods when the masses become poets in action, small circles of poetic adventure could be considered the only places where the totality of revolution subsists, as an unrealized but close-at-hand potentiality, like the shadow of an absent personage. What we are calling poetic adventure is difficult, dangerous and never guaranteed (it is, in fact, the aggregate of behaviors that are almost impossible in a given era). One thing we can be sure of is that fake, officially tolerated poetry is no longer the poetic adventure of its era. Thus, whereas surrealism in the heyday of its assault against the oppressive order of culture and daily life could appropriately define its arsenal as "poetry without poems if necessary," for the SI it is now a matter of a poetry necessarily without poems. What we say about poetry has nothing to do with the retarded reactionaries of some neoversification, even one based on the least antiquated modernistic forms. Realizing poetry means nothing less than simultaneously and inseparably creating events and their language.
In-group languages -- those of informal groupings of young people; those that contemporary avant-garde currents develop for their internal use as they grope to define themselves; those that in previous eras were conveyed by way of objective poetic production, such as the trobar clus and the dolce stil nuovo -- are more or less successful efforts to attain a direct, transparent communication, mutual recognition, mutual accord. But such efforts have been confined to small groups that were isolated in one way or another. The events and celebrations they created had to remain within the most narrow limits. One of the tasks of revolution is to federate such poetic "soviets" or communication councils in order to initiate a direct communication everywhere that will no longer need to resort to the enemy's communication network (that is, to the language of power) and will thus be able to transform the world according to its desire.
The point is not to put poetry at the service of revolution, but to put revolution at the service of poetry. It is only in this way that revolution does not betray its own project. We don't intend to repeat the mistake of the surrealists, who put themselves at the service of the revolution right when it had ceased to exist. Bound to the memory of a partial and rapidly crushed revolution, surrealism rapidly turned into a reformism of the spectacle, a critique of a certain form of the reigning spectacle that was carried out from within the dominant organization of that spectacle. The surrealists seem to have overlooked the fact that every internal improvement or modernization of the spectacle is translated by power into its own encoded language, to which it alone holds the key.
Every revolution has been born in poetry, has first of all been made with the force of poetry. This phenomenon continues to escape theorists of revolution -- indeed, it cannot be understood if one still clings to the old conception of revolution or of poetry -- but it has generally been sensed by counterrevolutionaries. Poetry terrifies them. Whenever it appears they do their best to get rid of it by every kind of exorcism, from auto-da-fé to pure stylistic research. Real poetry, which has "world enough and time," seeks to reorient the entire world and the entire future to its own ends. As long as it lasts, its demands admit of no compromise. It brings back into play all the unsettled debts of history. Fourier and Pancho Villa, Lautréamont and the dinamiteros of the Asturias (whose successors are now inventing new forms of strikes), the sailors of Kronstadt and Kiel, and all those around the world who, with us or without us, are preparing to fight for the long revolution are equally the emissaries of the new poetry.
Poetry is becoming more and more clearly the empty space, the antimatter, of consumer society, since it is not consumable (in terms of the modern criteria for a consumable object: an object that is of equivalent value for each of a mass of isolated passive consumers). Poetry is nothing when it is quoted; it needs to be detourned, brought back into play. Otherwise the study of the poetry of the past is nothing but an academic exercise. The history of poetry is only a way of running away from the poetry of history, if we understand by that phrase not the spectacular history of the rulers but the history of everyday life and its possible liberation; the history of each individual life and its realization.
We must leave no question as to the role of the "conservers" of old poetry, who increase its dissemination while the state, for quite different reasons, is eliminating illiteracy. These people are only a particular type of museum curator. A mass of poetry is naturally preserved around the world, but nowhere are there the places, the moments or the people to revive it, communicate it, use it. And there never can be except by way of détournement, because the understanding of past poetry has changed through losses as well as gains of knowledge; and because any time past poetry is actually rediscovered, its being placed in the context of particular events gives it a largely new meaning. In any case, a situation in which poetry is possible must not get sidetracked into trying to restore poetic failures of the past (such failures being the inverted remains of the history of poetry, transformed into successes and poetic monuments). Such a situation naturally seeks the communication and possible triumph of its own poetry.
At the same time that poetic archeology is restoring selections of past poetry, recited by specialists on LPs for the neoilliterate public created by the modern spectacle, the informationists are striving to do away with all the "redundancies" of freedom in order to simply transmit orders. The theorists of automation are explicitly aiming at producing an automatic theoretical thought by clamping down on and eliminating the variables in life as well as in language. But bones keep turning up in their cheese! Translating machines, for example, which are beginning to ensure the planetary standardization of information along with the informationist revision of previous culture, are victims of their own preestablished programming, which inevitably misses any new meaning taken on by a word, as well as its past dialectical ambivalences. Thus the life of language -- which is bound up with every advance of theoretical understanding ("Ideas improve; the meaning of words participates in the improvement") -- is expelled from the mechanical field of official information. But this also means that free thought can organize itself with a secrecy that is beyond the reach of informationist police techniques. A similar point could be made about the quest for unambiguous signals and instantaneous binary classification, which is clearly linked with the existing power structure. Even in their most delirious formulations, the informationist theorists are no more than clumsy precursors of the future they have chosen, which is the same brave new world that the dominant forces of the present society are working toward -- the reinforcement of the cybernetic state. They are the vassals of the lords of the technocratic feudalism that is now constituting itself. There is no innocence in their buffoonery; they are the king's jesters.
The choice between informationism and poetry no longer has anything to do with the poetry of the past, just as no variant of what the classical revolutionary movement has become can anymore, anywhere, be considered as part of a real alternative to the prevailing organization of life. The same judgment leads us to announce the total disappearance of poetry in the old forms in which it was produced and consumed and to announce its return in effective and unexpected forms. Our era no longer has to write poetic directives; it has to carry them out.
SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (1963)
1. The French word information also means "news."
Ideologies, Classes, and the Domination of Nature
The human appropriation of nature is the real adventure we have embarked on. It is the central, indisputable project, the issue that encompasses all other issues. What is always fundamentally in question in modern thought and action is the possible use of the dominated sector of nature. A society's basic perspective on this question determines the choices among the alternative directions presented at each moment of the process, as well as the rhythm and duration of productive expansion in each sector. The lack of such a comprehensive, long-term perspective -- or rather the monopoly of a single untheorized perspective automatically produced by the present power structure's blind economic growth -- is at the root of the emptiness of contemporary thought over the last forty years.
The advances in production and in constantly improving technological potentials are proceeding even faster than nineteenth-century communism predicted. But we have remained at a stage of overequipped prehistory. A century of revolutionary attempts has failed: human life has not been rationalized and impassioned; the project of a classless society has yet to be achieved. We find ourselves caught up in an endless expansion of material means that continues to serve fundamentally static interests and notoriously obsolete values. The spirit of the dead weighs very heavily on the technology of the living. The economic planning that reigns everywhere is insane, not so much because of its academic obsession with organizing the enrichment of the years to come as because of the rotten blood of the past that circulates through its veins, continually pumped forth with each artificial pulsation of this "heart of a heartless world."
Material liberation is only a precondition for the liberation of human history, and can only be judged as such. A country's decision as to which kind of minimum level of development is to be given priority depends on the particular project of liberation chosen, and therefore on who makes this choice -- the autonomous masses or the specialists in power. Those who accept the ideas of one or another type of specialist organizers regarding what is indispensable may be liberated from any deprivation of the objects those organizers choose to produce, but they will never be liberated from the organizers themselves. The most modern and unexpected forms of hierarchy will always turn out to be nothing but costly remakes of the old world of passivity, impotence and slavery -- the antithesis of humanity's mastery of its history and its surroundings -- regardless of the material forces abstractly possessed by the society.
Because of the fact that in present-day society the domination of nature presents itself both as an increasingly aggravated alienation and as the single great ideological justification for this social alienation, it is criticized in a one-sided, undialectical and insufficiently historical manner by some of the radical groups who are halfway between the old degraded and mystified conception of the workers movement, which they have superseded, and the new form of total contestation which is yet to come. (See, for example, the significant theories of Cardan and others in the journal Socialisme ou Barbarie.) These groups, rightly opposing the continually more thorough reification of human labor and its modern corollary, the passive consumption of a leisure activity manipulated by the ruling class, often end up unconsciously harboring a sort of nostalgia for earlier forms of work, for the really "human" relationships that were able to flourish in the societies of the past or even during the less developed phases of industrial society. As it happens, this attitude fits in quite well with the system's efforts to obtain a higher yield from existing production by doing away with both the waste and the inhumanity that characterize modern industry (in this regard see Instructions for an Insurrection in Internationale Situationniste #6). But in any case, these conceptions abandon the very core of the revolutionary project, which is nothing less than the suppression of work in the usual present-day sense (and of the proletariat) and of all the justifications of previous forms of work. It is impossible to understand the sentence in the Communist Manifesto that says "the bourgeoisie has played an eminently revolutionary role in history" if one ignores the possibility, opened up to us by the domination of nature, of replacing work with a new type of free activity; or if one ignores the role of the bourgeoisie in the "dissolution of old ideas," that is, if one follows the unfortunate tendency of the classical workers movement to define itself positively in terms of "revolutionary ideology."
In Basic Banalities Vaneigem has elucidated the process of the dissolution of religious thought and has shown how its function as anesthetic, hypnotic and tranquilizer has been taken over, at a lower level, by ideology. Like penicillin, ideology has become less effective as its use has become more widespread. As a result, the dosage has to be continually increased and the packaging made more sensational (one need only recall the diverse excesses of Nazism or of today's consumer propaganda). Since the disappearance of feudal society the ruling classes have been increasingly ill-served by their own ideologies: these ideologies (as petrified critical thought), after having been used by them as general weapons for seizing power, end up presenting contradictions to their particular reign. What was originally an unconscious falsification (resulting from an ideology's having stopped at partial conclusions) becomes a systematic lie once certain of the interests it cloaked are in power and protected by a police force. The most modern example is also the most glaring: it was by taking advantage of the element of ideology present in the workers movement that the bureaucracy was able to establish its power in Russia. Any attempt to modernize an ideology -- whether an aberrant one like fascism or a consistent one like the ideology of spectacular consumption in developed capitalism -- tends to preserve the present, which is itself dominated by the past. An ideological reformism hostile to the established society can never be effective because it can never get hold of the means of force-feeding thanks to which this society can still make effective use of ideologies. Revolutionary theory must mercilessly criticize all ideologies -- including, of course, that particular ideology called "the death of ideologies" (whose title is already a confession since ideologies have always been dead thought), which is merely an empiricist ideology rejoicing over the downfall of envied rivals.
The domination of nature implies the question "For what purpose?" but this very questioning of man's praxis must itself dominate this domination, though it could not take place except on the basis of it. Only the crudest answer is automatically rejected: "To carry on as before, producing and consuming more and more," prolonging the reifying domination that has been inherent in capitalism from its beginnings (though not without "producing its own gravediggers"). We have to expose the contradiction between the positive aspects of the transformation of nature -- the great project of the bourgeoisie -- and its cooption and trivialization by hierarchical power, which in all its contemporary variants remains faithful to the same model of bourgeois "civilization." In its massified form, this bourgeois model has been "socialized" for the benefit of a composite petty bourgeoisie that is taking on all the capacities for mindless manipulability characteristic of the former poor classes and all the signs of wealth (themselves massified) that signify membership in the ruling class. The bureaucrats of the Eastern bloc are objectively led to follow the same pattern; and the more they produce, the less need they have for police in maintaining their particular schema for the elimination of class struggle. Modern capitalism loudly proclaims a similar goal. But they're all astride the same tiger: a world in rapid transformation in which they desire the dose of immobility necessary for the perpetuation of one or another variant of hierarchical power.
The criticisms of the present social order are all interrelated, just as are the apologetics for that order. The interrelation of the apologetics is merely less apparent in that they have to praise or lie about numerous mutually contradictory details and antagonistic variants within the system. But if you really renounce all the variants of apologetics, you get straight to the critique that does not suffer from any guilty conscience because it is not compromised with any present ruling force. If someone thinks that a hierarchical bureaucracy can be a revolutionary power, and also agrees that mass tourism as it is globally organized by the society of the spectacle is a good thing and a pleasure, then, like Sartre, he can pay a visit to China or somewhere else. His mistakes, lies and stupidity should surprise no one. Everybody finds their own level (other travelers, such as those who go to serve Tshombe in Katanga, are even more detestable and are paid in more real coin). The intellectual witnesses of the left, eagerly toddling to wherever they are invited, bear witness to nothing so much as their own abdication of thinking -- to the fact that their "thought" has for decades been abdicating its freedom as it oscillates between competing bosses. The thinkers who admire the present achievements of the East or the West and who are taken in by all the spectacular gimmicks have obviously never thought about anything at all, as anyone can tell who has read them. The society they reflect naturally encourages us to admire its admirers. In many places they are even allowed to play their little game of "social commitment," in which they ostentatiously proclaim their support (with or without regretful reservations) for the form of established society whose label and packaging inspires them.
Every day alienated people are shown or informed about new successes they have obtained, successes for which they have no use. This does not mean that these advances in material development are bad or uninteresting. They can be turned to good use in real life -- but only along with everything else. The victories of our day belong to star-specialists. Gagarin's exploit shows that man can survive farther out in space, under increasingly unfavorable conditions. But just as is the case when medicine and biochemistry enable a prolonged survival in time, this quantitative extension of survival is in no way linked to a qualitative improvement of life. You can survive farther away and longer, but never live more. Our task is not to celebrate such victories, but to make celebration victorious -- celebration whose infinite possibilities in everyday life are potentially unleashed by these technical advances.
Nature has to be rediscovered as a "worthy opponent." The game with nature has to be exciting: each point scored must concern us directly. The conscious construction of a moment of life is an example of our (shifting and transitory) control of our time and our environment. Humanity's expansion into the cosmos is -- at the opposite pole from the postartistic construction of individual life (though these two poles of the possible are intimately linked) -- an example of an enterprise in which the pettiness of specialized military competition clashes with the objective grandeur of the project. The cosmic adventure will be extended, and thus opened up to a participation totally different from that of specialist guinea pigs, farther and more quickly when the collapse of the miserly reign of specialists on this planet has opened the floodgates of everyone's creativity -- a creativity which is presently blocked and repressed, but which is potentially capable of leading to an exponential progress in dealing with all human problems, supplanting the present cumulative growth restricted to an arbitrary sector of industrial production. The old schema of the contradiction between productive forces and production relations should obviously no longer be understood as a short-term death warrant for the capitalist production system, as if the latter were inevitably doomed to stagnate and become incapable of continuing its development. This contradiction should be seen rather as a judgment (which remains to be executed with the appropriate weapons) against the miserable development generated by this self-regulating production -- a development that must be condemned for its paltriness as well as for its dangerousness -- in view of the fantastic potential development that could be based on the present economic infrastructure.
The only questions that are openly posed in the present society are loaded questions, questions that already imply certain obligatory responses. When people point out the obvious fact that the modern tradition is a tradition of innovation, they shut their eyes to the equally obvious fact that this innovation does not extend everywhere. During an era when ideology could still believe in its role, Saint-Just declared: "In a time of innovation everything that is not new is pernicious." God's numerous successors who organize the present society of the spectacle know very well what asking too many questions can lead to. The decline of philosophy and the arts also stems from this suppression of questioning. The revolutionary elements of modern thought and art have with varying degrees of precision demanded a praxis that would be the minimum terrain necessary for their development -- a praxis that is still absent. The nonrevolutionary elements add new embellishments to the official questions, or to the futile questioning of pure speculation (the specialty of Arguments).
There are many ideological rooms in the House of the Father, i.e. in the old society, whose fixed frames of reference have been lost but whose law remains intact (God doesn't exist, but nothing is permitted). Every facility is granted to the modernisms that serve to combat the truly modern. The gang of hucksters of the unbelievable magazine PlanÃ¨te, which so impresses the school teachers, epitomizes a bizarre demagogy that profits from the gaping absence of contestation and revolutionary imagination, at least in their intellectual manifestations, over the last nearly half a century (and from the numerous obstacles still placed in the way of their resurgence today). Playing on the truism that science and technology are advancing faster and faster without anyone knowing where they are going, PlanÃ¨te harangues ordinary people with the message that henceforth everything must be changed -- while at the same time taking for granted 99% of the life really lived in our era. The daze induced by the barrage of novelties can be taken advantage of to calmly reintroduce outmoded nonsense that has virtually died out in even the most backward regions. The drugs of ideology will end their history in an apotheosis of vulgarity that even Pauwels [editor of PlanÃ¨te], for all his efforts, cannot yet imagine.
Ideology, in its various fluid forms that have replaced the solid mythical system of the past, has an increasingly large role to play as the specialist rulers need to increasingly regulate all aspects of an expanding production and consumption. Use value -- indispensable still, but which had already tended to become merely implicit since the predominance of a market economy -- is now explicitly manipulated (or artificially created) by the planners of the modern market. It is the merit of Jacques Ellul, in his book Propaganda (1962), which describes the unity of the various forms of conditioning, to have shown that this advertising-propaganda is not merely an unhealthy excrescence that could be prohibited, but is at the same time a remedy in a generally sick society, a remedy that makes the sickness tolerable while aggravating it. People are to a great extent accomplices of propaganda, of the reigning spectacle, because they cannot reject it without contesting the society as a whole. The single important task of contemporary thought must center upon this question of reorganizing the theoretical and material forces of contestation.
The alternative is not only between real life and a survival that has nothing to lose but its modernized chains. It is also posed within survival itself, with the constantly aggravated problems that the masters of survival are not able to solve. The risks of atomic weapons, of global overpopulation, and of the increasing material impoverishment of the great majority of humanity are subjects of official alarm, even in the popular press. One very banal example: in an article on China (Le Monde, September 1962) Robert Guillain writes, without irony, on the population problem: "The Chinese leaders seem to be giving it fresh consideration and apparently want to deal with it. They are coming back to the idea of birth control, which was tried out in 1956 and then abandoned in 1958. A national campaign has been launched against early marriages and in favor of family planning in young households." The oscillations of these specialists, immediately followed by official orders, reveal the sort of interest they really have in the liberation of the people just as completely as the opportunistic religious conversions of princes in the sixteenth century (cujus regio, ejus religio)(1) revealed the real nature of their interest in the mythical arsenal of Christianity. The same journalist notes that "the USSR is not helping China because its available resources are now being devoted to the conquest of space, which is fantastically expensive." The Russian workers have no more say in determining the quantity of surplus "available resources" produced by their labor, or in deciding whether that surplus is to be devoted to the moon rather than to China, than the Chinese peasants have in deciding whether or not they will have children. The epic of modern rulers at grips with real life, which they are driven to take complete charge of, has found its best literary expression in the Ubu cycle. The only raw material that has yet to be tried out in this experimental era of ours is freedom of thought and behavior.
In the vast drugstores of ideology, of the spectacle, of social planning and the justification of that planning, the specialized intellectuals have their jobs, their particular departments to take care of. (We are referring here to those who have a significant role in the actual production of culture -- a stratum that should not be confused with the growing mass of "intellectual workers" whose conditions of work and life are becoming increasingly indistinguishable from those of ordinary blue-collar and white-collar workers as all of them evolve in accordance with the requirements of modern industry.) There's something for every taste. A certain Roberto Guiducci, for example, demonstrates his understanding about "The Difficult Quest for a New Politics" (Arguments #25-26) by writing that the present social backwardness "leaves us caught between the stupidity of living within dead institutions and the mere ability to express proposals that are as yet scarcely realizable." In order to avoid this painful dilemma, he confines his own proposal within the most modest and "realizable" limits: After having succeeded in lumping Hegel and Engels in the same sentence with Stalin and Zhdanov [Stalin's Minister of Culture], he proposes that we grant that "the romantic impatience of the young Marx and the tormented exegeses of Gramsci are equally moth-eaten and outdated." Although the blasé tone gives the impression that he has been through all that and succeeded in recovering from such illusions, it is in fact quite obvious from reading him that he was never capable of reading Hegel or Gramsci in the first place. Instead, he probably passed many years venerating Zhdanov and Togliatti. Then one fine day, like the other puppets of Arguments (whatever the particular Communist Party of their origin), he decided to call everything into question. Some of them may have had dirtier hands than others, but they all had clogged up minds. Like the others, he undoubtedly passed some weeks "reconsidering" the young Marx. But if he had really ever been capable of understanding Marx, or even simply of understanding the time in which we live, how could he have failed to see through Zhdanov from the very beginning? It's been so many years since he and others reconsidered revolutionary thought, it all naturally appears to him as very "outdated." But did he reconsider anything whatsoever ten years ago? It's very unlikely. We can say, then, that Mr. Guiducci is a man who reconsiders more quickly than does history, because he is never in step with history. His stereotypical nullity will never need to be reconsidered by anyone.
At the same time, a part of the intelligentsia is working out the new contestation, beginning to develop the real critique of our era and to envisage correspondingly appropriate actions. Within the spectacle, which is its factory, this intelligentsia struggles against the organization of production and against the very aims of that production. Engendering its own critics and saboteurs, it is joining with the new lumpen, the lumpen of consumer capitalism that is expressing the refusal of the goods that present-day work enables one to acquire. It is also beginning to reject the conditions of individual competition, and thus the servility, to which the creative intelligentsia is subjected: the movement of modern art can be considered as a continual deskilling of intellectual labor power by the creators (whereas the workers as a whole, insofar as they accept the hierarchical strategy of the ruling class, are able to compete by categories).
The revolutionary intelligentsia has now to accomplish an immense task, beginning with an uncompromising departure from the long period during which "the sleep of dialectical reason engendered monsters" -- a period which is now drawing to a close. The new world that must be understood comprises both the continual increase of material powers that have yet to be put to good use and the spontaneous acts of personal opposition engaged in by people without any conscious perspective. In contrast to the old utopianism, which put forward more or less arbitrary theories that went beyond any possible practice (though not without having some significant influence), there is now, within the various problematics of modernity, a mass of new practices that are seeking their theory.
The "intellectual party" that some dream of is impossible, because the collective intelligence of such a union of intellectuals would only be on the miserable level of people like Guiducci, or Morin, or Nadeau. The officially recognized intelligentsia is fundamentally satisfied with things as they are (if it is dissatisfied with anything, it is nevertheless quite satisfied with its own mediocre literary expression of that dissatisfaction). Even if it votes for the Left, so what? It is in fact the social sector that is most instinctively antisituationist. Like a preview audience, it tastes and tests the consumer products that will gradually be made available to all the workers of the developed countries. We intend to disillusion this stratum of intellectuals, to expose the fraudulence of all their trendy values and tastes ("modern" furniture, the writings of Queneau). Their shame will be a revolutionary sentiment.
It is necessary to distinguish, within the intelligentsia, between the tendencies toward submission and the tendencies toward refusal of the employment offered; and then, by every means, to strike a sword between these two fractions so that their total mutual opposition will illuminate the first advances of the coming social war. The careerist tendency, which basically expresses the condition of all intellectual service within class society, leads this stratum, as Harold Rosenberg notes in The Tradition of the New, to expatiate on its own alienation without engaging in any oppositional actions because this alienation has been made comfortable. But as the whole of modern society moves toward this comfort -- a comfort which is at the same time becoming increasingly poisoned by boredom and anxiety -- the practice of sabotage can be extended to the intellectual terrain. Thus, just as in the first half of the nineteenth century revolutionary theory arose out of philosophy (out of critical reflections on philosophy and out of the crisis and death of philosophy), so now it is going to rise once again out of modern art and poetry, out of its supersession, out of what modern art has sought and promised, out of the clean sweep it has made of all the values and rules of everyday behavior.
Although the living values of intellectual and artistic creation are utterly contrary to the submissive intelligentsia's entire mode of existence, the latter wants to embellish its social position by claiming a sort of kinship with this creation of "values." Being more or less aware of this contradiction, this hired intelligentsia tries to redeem itself by an ambiguous glorification of artistic "bohemianism." The valets of reification acknowledge this bohemian experience as a moment of richness within extreme poverty, as a moment of the qualitative within everyday life, a qualitativeness which is excluded everywhere else. But the official version of this fairy tale must have an edifying ending: this moment of pure qualitativeness within poverty must finally arrive at ordinary "riches." Poor artists have produced masterpieces which in their time had no market value. But they are redeemed (their venture into the qualitative is excused, and even turned into an inspiring example) because their work, which at the time was only a by-product of their real activity, later turns out to be highly valued. Living people who struggled against reification have nevertheless ended up producing their quota of commodities. Invoking a sort of aesthetic Darwinism, the bourgeoisie applauds the bohemian values that have proved fit enough to survive and enter into its quantitative paradise. The fact that it is rarely the same people who possess the products at the stage of creation and at the stage of profitable commodities is discreetly downplayed as an unimportant and purely accidental detail.
The accelerated degradation of cultural ideology has given rise to a permanent crisis in this intellectual and artistic valorization, a crisis that dadaism brought out into the open. A dual movement has clearly characterized this cultural breakdown: on one hand, the dissemination of false novelties automatically recycled with new packaging by autonomous spectacular mechanisms; and on the other hand, the public refusal to play along and the sabotage carried out by individuals who were clearly among those who would have been most capable of renewing "quality" cultural production (Arthur Cravan is a prototype of these people, glimpsed passing through the most radioactive zones of the cultural disaster without leaving behind them any commodities or memories).(2) The conjunction of these two demoralizing forces continues to aggravate the malaise of the intelligentsia.
After dadaism, and despite the fact that the dominant culture has succeeded in coopting a sort of dadaist art, it is far from certain that artistic rebellion in the next generation will continue to be cooptable into consumable works. At the same time that the most elementary spectacular conmanship can exploit an imitation postdadaist style to produce all sorts of salable cultural objects, there exist in several modern capitalist countries centers of nonartistic bohemianism united around the notion of the end of art or the absence of art, a bohemianism that explicitly no longer envisages any artistic production whatsoever. Its dissatisfaction can only radicalize with the progress of the thesis according to which "the art of the future" (the phrase itself is misleading since it implies dealing with the future in terms of present specialized categories) will no longer be valued as a commodity, since we are discovering that it is only a subordinate aspect of the total transformation of our use of space, of feelings and of time. All the real experiences of free thought and behavior that succeed in taking shape in these conditions are certainly moving in our direction, toward the theoretical organization of contestation.
We believe that the role of theorists -- a role which is indispensable, but which must not be dominant -- is to provide information and conceptual tools that can shed light on people's hidden desires and on the social crisis they are experiencing; to clarify things and show how they fit together; to make the new proletariat aware of the "new poverty" that must be named and described.
We are presently witnessing a reshuffling of the cards of class struggle -- a struggle which has certainly not disappeared, but whose lines of battle have been somewhat altered from the old schema. Similarly, the nation-state has yet to be transcended; individual nationalisms have merely been incorporated into the framework of supernations, the framework of two global blocs which are themselves composed of concentrated or dispersed multinational zones (e.g. Europe or the Chinese sphere of influence) within which there may be various modifications and regroupings of individual nations or ethnic regions (Korea, Wallonia, etc.).
In the context of the reality presently beginning to take shape, we may consider as proletarians all people who have no possibility of altering the social space-time that the society allots to them (regardless of variations in their degree of affluence or chances for promotion). The rulers are those who organize this space-time, or who at least have a significant margin of personal choice (even stemming, for example, from a significant survival of older forms of private property). A revolutionary movement is a movement that radically changes the organization of this space-time and the very manner of deciding on its ongoing reorganization (as opposed to merely changing the legal forms of property or the social origin of the rulers).
The vast majority everywhere consumes the odious, soul-destroying social space-time "produced" by a tiny minority. (It should be noted that this minority produces literally nothing except this organization, whereas the "consumption" of space-time, in the sense we are using here, encompasses the whole of ordinary production, in which the alienation of consumption and of all life obviously has its roots.) The ruling classes of the past at least knew how to spend in a humanly enriching way the meager slice of surplus-value they managed to wrest from a static social production grounded on general scarcity; the members of today's ruling minority have lost even this "mastery." They are nothing but consumers of power -- a power limited to organizing this miserable survival. And their sole purpose in so miserably organizing this survival is to consume that power. The lord of nature, the ruler, is degraded by the pettiness of his exercise of power (the scandal of the quantitative). Mastery without degradation would guarantee full employment -- not of all the workers, but of all the forces of the society, of all the creative possibilities of everyone, for themselves individually and for dialogue with each other. Where then are the real masters? At the other pole of this absurd system. At the pole of refusal. The masters come from the negative, they are the bearers of the antihierarchical principle.
The distinction drawn here between those who organize space-time (together with their direct agents) and those who are subjected to that organization is intended to clearly reveal the polarization that is obscured by the intentionally woven complexity of the hierarchies of function and salary, which gives the impression that all the gradations are virtually imperceptible and that there are scarcely any more real proletarians or real capitalists at the two extremities of a social spectrum that has become highly flexible. Once this distinction is posed, other differences in status must be considered as secondary. It should not be forgotten, however, that an intellectual or a "professional revolutionary" worker is liable at any moment to tumble irretrievably into cooption -- into one niche or another in one clan or another in the camp of the ruling zombies (which is far from being harmonious or monolithic). Until real life is present for everyone, the "salt of the earth" is always susceptible to going bad. The theorists of the new contestation can neither compromise with the ruling powers nor constitute themselves as a separate power without immediately ceasing to be such (their role as theorists will then be taken over by others). This amounts to saying that the revolutionary intelligentsia can realize its project only by suppressing itself -- that the "intellectual party" can really exist only as a party that supersedes itself, a party whose victory is at the same time its own disappearance.
SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (1963)
1. cujus regio ejus religio: "The ruler determines the religion of his subjects" -- main provision of the Treaty of Augsburg (1555).
2. Arthur Cravan: poet, boxer, deserter from 17 nations, precursor of dadaism. Disappeared off the coast of Mexico in 1920.
Revised translation by Ken Knabb of the complete article (the version in the Situationist International Anthology is slightly abridged).