Issue seven of the journal of the Situationist International
Internationale Situationiste #7
The Bad Days Will End
As the world of the spectacle extends its reign it approaches the climax of its offensive, provoking new resistances everywhere. These resistances are very little known precisely because the reigning spectacle is designed to present an omnipresent hypnotic image of unanimous submission. But they do exist and are spreading.
Everyone talks about the youth rebellion in the advanced industrial countries, though without understanding much about it (see "Unconditional Defense" in issue #6 of this journal). Militant publications like Socialisme ou Barbarie (Paris) and Correspondence (Detroit) have published well-documented articles on workers' continual on-the-job resistance to the whole organization of work and on their depoliticization and their disillusionment with the unions, which have become a mechanism for integrating workers into the society and a supplementary weapon in the economic arsenal of bureaucratized capitalism. As the old forms of opposition reveal their ineffectiveness, or more often their complete inversion into complicity with the existing order, an irreducible dissatisfaction spreads subterraneanly, undermining the edifice of the affluent society. The "old mole" that Marx evoked in his "Toast to the Proletarians of Europe" is still digging away, the specter is reappearing in all the nooks and crannies of our televised Elsinore Castle, whose political mists are dissipated as soon as workers councils come into existence and for as long as they continue to reign.
Just as the first organization of the classical proletariat was preceded, during the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, by a period of isolated "criminal" acts aimed at destroying the machines of production that were depriving people of their work, we are presently witnessing the first appearance of a wave of vandalism against the machines of consumption that are just as certainly depriving us of our life. In both cases the significance obviously does not lie in the destruction itself, but in the rebelliousness which could potentially develop into a positive project going to the point of reconverting the machines in a way that increases people's real power over their lives. Leaving aside the havoc perpetrated by groups of adolescents, we can point out a few examples of actions by workers that are in large part incomprehensible from the classical "protests and demands" perspective.
On 9 February 1961 in Naples factory workers coming off the day shift found that the streetcars that ordinarily took them home were not running, the drivers having launched a lightning strike because several of them had just been laid off. The workers demonstrated their solidarity with the strikers by throwing various projectiles at the company offices, and then bottles of gasoline which set fire to part of the streetcar station. They then burned several buses while successfully holding off police and firemen. Several thousand of them spread through the city, smashing store windows and electric signs. During the night troops had to be called in to restore law and order, and armored cars moved on Naples. This aimless and totally spontaneous demonstration was obviously a direct revolt against commuting time, which is such a burdensome addition to wage slavery time in modern cities. Sparked by a chance minor incident, this revolt immediately began to extend to the whole consumer-society decor (recently plastered over the traditional poverty of southern Italy): the store windows and neon signs, being at once its most symbolic and most fragile points, naturally drew the first attacks, just as happens during the rampages of rebellious youth.
On August 4 in France striking miners at Merlebach attacked twenty-one cars parked in front of the management buildings. All the commentators pointed out dumbfoundedly that nearly all these automobiles belonged to the workers' fellow employees at the mine. Who can fail to see in this action -- over and beyond the innumerable reasons that always justify aggression on the part of the exploited -- a gesture of self-defense against the central object of consumer alienation?
The strikers of LiÃ¨ge [Belgium] who attempted to destroy the machinery of the newspaper La Meuse on 6 January 1961 attained one of the peaks of consciousness of their movement in thus attacking the means of information held by their enemies. (Since the means of transmitting information are jointly monopolized by the government and the leaders of the socialist and union bureaucracies, this is precisely the crucial point of the struggle, the barrier that continues to bar workers' "wildcat" struggles from any perspective of power and thus condemns them to disappear.) Another symptom, though less interesting because more contingent on the de Gaulle regime's clumsy propagandistic excesses, is nevertheless worth noting in the following communiqué of the unions of French journalists and radio and television technicians last February 9: "Our fellow reporters and technicians who were covering the demonstration Thursday evening were attacked by the crowd merely because they were bearing the 'Radio-Télévision FranÃ§aise' insignia. This fact is significant. This is why the SJRT and SUT unions consider themselves justified in stressing in all seriousness that the lives of our fellow reporters and technicians depend on the respect in which their reports are held." Of course, along with the first concrete reactions against the forces of conditioning we cannot close our eyes to the extent to which this conditioning continues to prove successful, even within very combative workers' actions. Thus, when at the beginning of the year the Decazeville miners delegated twenty of their number to go on a hunger strike, they were fighting on the spectacular terrain of the enemy by relying on the tear-jerking potential of twenty stars. They thus inevitably lost, since their only chance of success would have been to do whatever was necessary to extend their collective intervention beyond their limited sector (the only industry they were blocking having already been losing money anyway). Capitalist social organization and its oppositional by-products have so effectively propagated parliamentary and spectacular ideas that revolutionary workers often tend to forget that representation must always be kept to the essential minimum and used as little as possible. But it isn't only industrial workers who are fighting against brutalization. The Berlin actor Wolfgang Neuss perpetrated a most suggestive act of sabotage in last January by placing a notice in the paper Der Abend giving away the identity of the killer in a television detective serial that had been keeping the masses in suspense for weeks.
The assault of the first workers movement against the whole organization of the old world came to an end long ago, and nothing can bring it back to life. It failed. Certainly it achieved immense results, but not the ones it had originally intended. No doubt such deviation toward partially unexpected results is the general rule in human actions; but the one exception to this rule is precisely the moment of revolutionary action, the moment of the all-or-nothing qualitative leap. The classical workers movement must be reexamined without any illusions, particularly without any illusions regarding its various political and pseudotheoretical heirs, for all they have inherited is its failure. The apparent successes of this movement are actually its fundamental failures (reformism or the establishment of a state bureaucracy), while its failures (the Paris Commune or the 1934 Asturian revolt) are its most promising successes so far, for us and for the future. This movement must be precisely delineated in time. The classical workers movement can be considered to have begun a couple decades before the official formation of the International, with the first linkup of communist groups of several countries that Marx and his friends organized from Brussels in 1845. And it was completely finished after the failure of the Spanish revolution, that is, after the Barcelona May days of 1937.
We need to rediscover the whole truth of this period and to reexamine all the oppositions between revolutionaries and all the neglected possibilities, without any longer being impressed by the fact that some won out over others and dominated the movement; for we now know that the movement within which they were successful was an overall failure. Marx's thought is obviously the first which must be rediscovered -- a task that should not present much difficulty in view of the extensive existing documentation and the crudeness of the lies about it. But it is also necessary to reassess the anarchist positions in the First International, Blanquism, Luxemburgism, the council movement in Germany and Spain, Kronstadt, the Makhnovists, etc. Without overlooking the practical influence of the utopian socialists. All this, of course, not with the aim of scholarship or academic eclecticism, but solely in order to contribute toward the formation of a new, profoundly different revolutionary movement, a movement of which we have seen so many premonitory signs over the last few years, one of which is our own existence. We must understand these signs through the study of the classical revolutionary project and vice versa. It is necessary to rediscover the history of the very movement of history, which has been so thoroughly hidden and distorted. It is, moreover, only in this enterprise (and in a few experimental artistic groups generally linked to it) that seductive modes of behavior have appeared -- modes that enable one to take an objective interest in modern society and the possibilities it contains.
There is no other way to be faithful to, or even simply to understand, the actions of our comrades of the past than to profoundly reconceive the problem of revolution, which has been increasingly deprived of thought as it has become posed more intensely in concrete reality. But why does this reconception seem so difficult? Starting from an experience of free everyday life (that is, from a quest for freedom in everyday life) it is not so difficult. It seems to us that this question is quite concretely felt today among young people. And to feel it with enough urgency enables one to rediscover lost history, to salvage and rejudge it. It is not difficult for thought that concerns itself with questioning everything that exists. It is only necessary not to have abandoned philosophy (as have virtually all the philosophers), not to have abandoned art (as have virtually all the artists), and not to have abandoned contestation of present reality (as have virtually all the militants). When they are not abandoned, these questions all converge toward the same supersession. The specialists, whose power is geared to a society of specialization, have abandoned the critical truth of their disciplines in order to preserve the personal advantages of their function. But all real researches are converging toward a totality, just as real people are going to come together in order to try once again to escape from their prehistory.
Many people are skeptical about the possibility of a new revolutionary movement, continually repeating that the proletariat has been integrated or that the workers are now satisfied, etc. This means one of two things: either they are declaring themselves satisfied (in which case we will fight them without any equivocation); or they are identifying themselves with some category separate from the workers, such as artists (in which case we will fight this illusion by showing them that the new proletariat is tending to encompass virtually everybody).
There are related misconceptions about the Third World. Apocalyptic fears or hopes regarding the movements of revolt in the colonized or semicolonized countries overlook this central fact: the revolutionary project must be realized in the industrially advanced countries. Until it is, the movements in the underdeveloped zone seem doomed to follow the model of the Chinese revolution, which began just as the classical workers movement was being destroyed and whose entire subsequent evolution has been dominated by the mutation it suffered due to that destruction. It remains true that the existence of these anticolonialist movements, even if they are polarized around the bureaucratic Chinese model, creates a disequilibrium in the external confrontation of the two great counterbalanced blocs, destabilizing any division of the world by their rulers and owners. But the security of the stakes in the planetary poker game is threatened just as much by the internal disequilibrium that still prevails in the factories of Manchester and East Berlin.
The radical minorities that in obscurity managed to survive the crushing of the classical workers movement (whose force the ruse of history transformed into state police) have handed down the truth of that movement, but only as an abstract truth of the past. Their honorable resistance to force has succeeded in preserving a maligned tradition, but not in redeveloping it into a new force. The formation of new organizations depends on a deeper critique, translated into acts. There must be a complete break with ideology, in which revolutionary groups think they possess official titles guaranteeing their function (that is, we must resume the Marxian critique of the role of ideologies). It is thus necessary to leave the terrain of specialized revolutionary activity -- the terrain of the self-mystification of "serious politics" -- because it has long been seen that such specialization encourages even the best people to demonstrate stupidity regarding all other questions; with the result that they end up failing even in their merely political struggles, since the latter are inseparable from all other aspects of the overall problem of our society. Specialization and pseudoseriousness are among the primary defensive outposts that the organization of the old world occupies in everyone's mind. A revolutionary association of a new type will also break with the old world by permitting and demanding of its members an authentic and creative participation, instead of expecting a participation of militants measurable in attendance time, which amounts to recreating the sole control possible in the dominant society: the quantitative criterion of hours of labor. A genuine enthusiastic participation on the part of everyone is necessitated by the fact that the classical political militant, who "devotes himself" to his radical duties, is everywhere disappearing along with classical politics itself; and even more by the fact that devotion and sacrifice always engender authority (even if only purely moral authority). Boredom is counterrevolutionary. In every way.
The groups that recognize the fundamental (not merely circumstantial) failure of the old politics must also recognize that they can claim to be an ongoing avant-garde only if they themselves exemplify a new style of life, a new passion. There is nothing utopian about this lifestyle criterion: it was constantly evident during the emergence and rise of the classical workers movement. We believe that in the coming period this will not only hold true to the extent it did in the nineteenth century, but will go much further. Otherwise the militants of these groups would only constitute dull propaganda societies, proclaiming quite correct and basic ideas but with virtually no one listening. The spectacular unilateral transmission of a revolutionary teaching -- whether within an organization or in its action directed toward the outside -- has lost all chance of proving effective in the society of the spectacle, which simultaneously organizes a completely different spectacle and infects every spectacle with an element of nausea. Such specialized propaganda thus has little chance of leading to timely and fruitful intervention during situations when the masses are compelled to wage real struggles.
It is necessary to recall and revive the nineteenth-century social war of the poor. The word can be found everywhere, in songs and in all the declarations of the people who worked for the objectives of the classical workers movement. One of the most urgent tasks confronting the SI and other comrades now advancing along convergent paths is to define the new poverty. Certain American sociologists over the last few years have played a role in the exposure of this new poverty analogous to that played by the first utopian philanthropists vis-Ã -vis workers' action in the previous century: The problem is revealed, but in an idealist and artificial way; because since understanding resides in praxis alone, one can really comprehend the nature of the enemy only in the process of fighting it (this is the terrain on which are situated, for example, G. Keller's and R. Vaneigem's projects of introducing the aggressiveness of the delinquents onto the plane of ideas).
Defining the new poverty also entails defining the new wealth. To the image propagated by the dominant society -- according to which it has evolved (both on its own and in response to acceptable reformist pressure) from an economy of profit to an economy of needs -- must be counterposed an economy of desires, which could be defined as: technological society plus the imagination of what could be done with it. The economy of needs is falsified in terms of habit. Habit is the natural process by which fulfilled desire is degraded into need and is confirmed, objectified and universally recognized as need. The present economy is directly geared to the fabrication of habits, and manipulates people by forcing them to repress their desires.
Complicity with the world's false opposition goes hand in hand with complicity with its false wealth (and thus with a retreat from defining the new poverty). Sartre's disciple Gorz is a good case in point. In Les Temps Modernes #188 he confesses how embarrassed he is that, thanks to his career as a journalist (which indeed is nothing to write home about), he can afford the good things of this society; among which he respectfully mentions taxis and trips abroad -- at a time when taxis inch forward behind the mass of cars that everyone has been forced to buy; and when foreign travel presents us with the same boring spectacle of the same alienation endlessly duplicated around the world. He also waxes enthusiastic -- like Sartre did once upon a time about the "total freedom of criticism in the USSR" -- about "the youth" of the only "revolutionary generations," those of Yugoslavia, Algeria, Cuba, China and Israel. The other countries are old, says Gorz, in order to justify his own senility. He thus relieves himself of the necessity of making any more precise analyses of, or distinctions among, "the youth" of those or other countries, where not everyone is so old or so visible, and where not every revolt is so Gorz.
Fougeyrollas, the latest thinker to have "gone beyond" Marxism, is somewhat disconcerted over the fact that while all previous major stages of historical development were characterized by a change in the mode of production, the communist society heralded by Marx, if it were to come about, would seem to be no more than a continuation of the society of industrial production. Go to the back of the class, Fougeyrollas. The next form of society will not be based on industrial production. It will be a society of realized art. The "absolutely new type of production supposedly in gestation in our society," whose absence Fougeyrollas asserts in Marxisme en question, is the construction of situations, the free construction of the events of life.
SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (1962)
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).
Basic Banalities (Part 1)
Bureaucratic capitalism has found its legitimation in Marx. I am not referring here to orthodox Marxism's dubious merit of having reinforced the neocapitalist structures whose present reorganization is an implicit homage to Soviet totalitarianism; I am stressing the extent to which crude versions of Marx's most profound analyses of alienation have become generally recognized in the most commonplace realities -- realities which, stripped of their magical veil and materialized in each gesture, have become the sole substance of the daily lives of an increasing number of people. In a word, bureaucratic capitalism contains the tangible reality of alienation; it has brought it home to everybody far more successfully than Marx could ever have hoped to do, it has banalized it as the reduction of material poverty has been accompanied by a spreading mediocrity of existence. As poverty has been reduced in terms of survival, it has become more profound in terms of our way of life -- this is at least one widespread feeling that exonerates Marx from all the interpretations a degenerate Bolshevism has made of him. The "theory" of peaceful coexistence has accelerated this awareness and revealed, to those who were still confused, that exploiters can get along quite well with each other despite their spectacular divergences.
"Any act," writes Mircea Eliade, "can become a religious act. Human existence is realized simultaneously on two parallel planes, that of temporality, becoming, illusion, and that of eternity, substance, reality." In the nineteenth century the brutal divorce of these two planes demonstrated that power would have done better to have maintained reality in a mist of divine transcendence. But we must give reformism credit for succeeding where Bonaparte had failed, in dissolving becoming in eternity and reality in illusion. This union may not be as solid as the sacraments of religious marriage, but it lasts, which is the most the managers of coexistence and social peace can ask of it. This is also what leads us to define ourselves -- in the illusory but inescapable perspective of duration -- as the end of abstract temporality, as the end of the reified time of our acts; to define ourselves -- does it have to be spelled out? -- at the positive pole of alienation as the end of social alienation, as the end of humanity's term of social alienation.
The socialization of primitive human groups reveals a will to struggle more effectively against the mysterious and terrifying forces of nature. But struggling in the natural environment, at once with it and against it, submitting to its most inhuman laws in order to wrest from it an increased chance of survival -- doing this could only engender a more evolved form of aggressive defense, a more complex and less primitive attitude, manifesting on a higher level the contradictions that the uncontrolled and yet influenceable forces of nature never ceased to impose. In becoming socialized, the struggle against the blind domination of nature triumphed inasmuch as it gradually assimilated primitive, natural alienation, but in another form. The struggle against natural alienation gave rise to social alienation. Is it by chance that a technological civilization has developed to such a point that this social alienation has been revealed by its conflict with the last areas of natural resistance that technological power hadn't managed (and for good reasons) to subjugate? Today the technocrats propose to put an end to primitive alienation: with a stirring humanitarianism they exhort us to perfect the technical means that "in themselves" would enable us to conquer death, suffering, discomfort and boredom. But to eliminate death would be less of a miracle than to eliminate suicide and the desire to die. There are ways of abolishing the death penalty than can make one miss it. Up till now the particular uses that have been made of technology -- or more generally the socio-economic context in which human activity is confined -- while quantitatively reducing the number of occasions of pain and death, have allowed death itself to eat like a cancer into the heart of each person's life.
The prehistoric food-gathering age was succeeded by the hunting age during which clans formed and strove to increase their chances of survival. Hunting grounds and preserves were staked out from which outsiders were absolutely excluded -- the welfare of the whole clan depended on it. As a result, the freedom gained by settling down more safely and comfortably within the natural environment engendered its own negation outside the boundaries laid down by the clan and forced the group to modify its customary rules in organizing its relations with excluded and threatening groups. From the moment it appeared, socially engendered economic survival implied the existence of boundaries, restrictions, conflicting rights. It should never be forgotten that until now both history and our own nature have developed in accordance with the development of private appropriation: the seizing of control by a class, group, caste or individual of a general power over an socio-economic survival whose form remains complex, ranging from ownership of land, territory, factories or capital to the "pure" exercise of power over people (hierarchy). Beyond the struggle against regimes whose vision of paradise is a cybernetic welfare state lies the necessity of a still vaster struggle against a fundamental and initially natural state of things, in the development of which capitalism plays only an incidental, transitory role; a state of things that will only disappear with the disappearance of the last traces of hierarchical power -- along with the "swine of humanity," of course.
To be an owner is claim a good one prevents others from using -- while at the same time acknowledging everyone's abstract, potential right to ownership. By excluding people from a real right of ownership, the owner extends his dominion over those he has excluded (absolutely over nonowners, relatively over other owners), without whom he is nothing. The nonowners have no choice in the matter. The owner appropriates and alienates them as producers of his own power, while the necessity of ensuring their own physical existence forces them despite themselves to collaborate in producing their own exclusion and to survive without ever being able to live. Excluded, they participate in ownership through the mediation of the owner, a mystical participation characterizing from the outset all the clan and social relationships that gradually replaced the principle of obligatory cohesion in which each member was an integral part of the group ("organic interdependence"). Their guarantee of survival depends on their activity within the framework of private appropriation; they reinforce a property right from which they are excluded. Due to this ambiguity each of them sees himself as participating in ownership, as a living fragment of the right to possess, and this belief in turn reinforces his condition as excluded and possessed. (Extreme cases of this alienation: the faithful slave, the cop, the bodyguard, the centurion -- creatures who, through a sort of union with their own death, confer on death a power equal to the forces of life and identify in a destructive energy the negative and positive poles of alienation, the absolutely submissive slave and the absolute master.) It is of vital importance to the exploiter that this appearance is maintained and made more sophisticated; not because he is especially Machiavellian, but simply because he wants to stay alive. The organization of appearance depends on the survival of the owner and his privileges, which in turn depend on the physical survival of the nonowner, who can thus remain alive while being exploited and excluded from being a real person. Private appropriation and domination are thus originally imposed and felt as a positive right, but in the form of a negative universality. Valid for everyone, justified in everyone's eyes by divine or natural law, the right of private appropriation is objectified in a general illusion, in a universal transcendence, in an essential law under which everyone individually manages to tolerate the more or less narrow limits assigned to his right to live and to the conditions of life in general.
In this social context the function of alienation must be understood as a condition of survival. The labor of the nonowners is subject to the same contradictions as the right of private appropriation. It transforms them into possessed beings, into producers of their own expropriation and exclusion, but it represents the only chance of survival for slaves, for serfs, for workers -- so much so that the activity that allows their existence to continue by emptying it of all content ends up, through a natural and sinister reversal of perspective, by taking on a positive appearance. Not only has value been attributed to work (as a form of self-sacrifice during the old regime, and in its most mentally degrading forms in bourgeois ideology and in the so-called People's Democracies), but very early on to work for a master, to alienate oneself willingly, became the honorable and scarcely questioned price of survival. The satisfaction of basic needs remains the best safeguard of alienation; it is best dissimulated by being justified on the grounds of undeniable necessities. Alienation multiplies needs because it can satisfy none of them; nowadays lack of satisfaction is measured in the number of cars, refrigerators, TVs: the alienating objects have lost the ruse and mystery of transcendence, they are there in their concrete poverty. To be rich today is to possess the greatest quantity of poor objects.
Up till now surviving has prevented us from living. This is why much is to be expected of the increasingly obvious impossibility of survival, an impossibility that will become all the more obvious as the glut of conveniences and elements of survival reduces life to a single choice: suicide or revolution.
The sacred presides even over the struggle against alienation. As soon as the relations of exploitation and the violence that underlies them are no longer concealed by the mystical veil, there is a breakthrough, a moment of clarity -- the struggle against alienation is suddenly revealed as a ruthless hand-to-hand fight with naked power, power exposed in its brute force and its weakness, a vulnerable giant whose slightest wound confers on the attacker the infamous notoriety of an Erostratus. Since power survives, the event remains ambiguous. Praxis of destruction, sublime moment when the complexity of the world becomes tangible, transparent, within everyone's grasp; inexpiable revolts -- those of the slaves, the Jacques, the iconoclasts, the Enragés, the Fédérés, Kronstadt, the Asturias, and -- promises of things to come -- the hooligans of Stockholm and the wildcat strikes. Only the destruction of all hierarchical power will allow us to forget these. We intend to make sure that it does.(1)
The deterioration of mythical structures and their slowness in regenerating themselves, which make possible the awakening of consciousness and the critical penetration of insurrection, are also responsible for the fact that once the "excesses" of revolution are past, the struggle against alienation is grasped on a theoretical plane, subjected to an "analysis" that is a carryover from the demystification preparatory to revolt. It is at this point that the truest and most authentic aspects of a revolt are reexamined and repudiated by the "we didn't really mean to do that" of the theoreticians charged with explaining the meaning of an insurrection to those who made it -- to those who aim to demystify by acts, not just by words.
All acts contesting power call for analysis and tactical development. Much can be expected of:
a) the new proletariat, which is discovering its destitution amid consumer abundance (see the development of the workers' struggles presently beginning in England, and the attitudes of rebellious youth in all the modern countries);
b) countries that have had enough of their partial, sham revolutions and are consigning their past and present theorists to the museums (see the role of the intelligentsia in the Eastern bloc);
c) the Third World, whose mistrust of technological myths has been kept alive by the colonial cops and mercenaries, the last, over-zealous militants of a transcendence against which they are the best possible vaccination;
d) the force of the SI ("our ideas are in everyone's mind"), capable of forestalling remote-controlled revolts, "crystal nights"(2) and sheepish resistance.
Private appropriation is linked to the dialectic of particular and general. In the mystical realm where the contradictions of the slave and feudal systems are resolved, the nonowner, excluded as a particular individual from the right of ownership, strives to ensure his survival through his labor: the more he identifies with the interests of the master, the more successful he is. He knows the other nonowners only through their common plight: the compulsory surrender of their labor power (Christianity recommended voluntary surrender: once the slave "willingly" offered his labor power, he ceased to be a slave), the search for the optimum conditions of survival, and mystical identification. Struggle, though born of a universal will to survive, takes place on the level of appearance where it brings into play identification with the desires of the master and thus introduces a certain individual rivalry that reflects the rivalry between the masters. Competition develops on this plane as long as the exploitive relations remain dissimulated behind a mystical veil and as long as the conditions producing this veil persist; or to put it another way, as long as the degree of slavery determines the slave's consciousness of the degree of lived reality. (We are still at the stage of calling "objective consciousness" what is in reality the consciousness of being an object.) The owner, for his part, depends on the general acknowledgment of a right from which he alone is not excluded, but which is seen on the plane of appearance as a right accessible to each of the excluded taken individually. His privileged position depends on such a belief, and this belief is also the basis for the strength that is essential if he is to hold his own among the other owners; it is his strength. If he seems to renounce exclusive appropriation of everything and everybody, if he poses less as a master than as a servant of the public good and defender of collective security, then his power is crowned with glory and to his other privileges he adds that of denying, on the level of appearance (which is the only level of reference in the world of one-way communication), the very notion of personal appropriation. Denying that anyone has this right, he repudiates the other owners. In the feudal perspective the owner is not integrated into appearance in the same way as the nonowners, slaves, soldiers, functionaries and servants of all kinds. The lives of the latter are so squalid that the majority can live only as a caricature of the Master (the feudal lord, the prince, the major-domo, the taskmaster, the high priest, God, Satan). But the master himself is also forced to play one of these caricatural roles. He can do so without much effort since his pretension to total life is already so caricatural, isolated as he is among those who can only survive. He is already one of our own kind (with the added grandeur of a past epoch, which adds a poignant savor to his sadness); he, like each of us, was anxiously seeking the adventure where he could find himself on the road to his total perdition. Could the master, at the very moment he alienates the others, see that he has reduced them to dispossessed and excluded beings, and thus realize that he is only an exploiter, a purely negative being? Such an awareness is unlikely, and would be dangerous. By extending his dominion over the greatest possible number of subjects, isn't he enabling them to survive, giving them their only chance of salvation? ("What would become of the workers if the capitalists weren't kind enough to employ them?" the high-minded souls of the nineteenth century liked to ask.) In fact, the owner officially excludes himself from all claim to private appropriation. To the sacrifice of the nonowner, who through his labor exchanges his real life for an apparent one (thus avoiding immediate death by allowing the master to determine his variety of living death), the owner replies by appearing to sacrifice his nature as owner and exploiter; he excludes himself mythically, he puts himself at the service of everyone and of myth (at the service of God and his people, for example). With an additional gesture, with an act whose gratuitousness bathes him in an otherworldly radiance, he gives renunciation its pure form of mythical reality: renouncing the common life, he is the poor man amidst illusory wealth, he who sacrifices himself for everyone while all the other people only sacrifice themselves for their own sake, for the sake of their survival. He turns his predicament into prestige. The more powerful he is, the greater his sacrifice. He becomes the living reference point of the whole illusory life, the highest attainable point in the scale of mythical values. "Voluntarily" withdrawn from common mortals, he is drawn toward the world of the gods, and his more or less recognized participation in divinity, on the level of appearance (the only generally acknowledged frame of reference), consecrates his rank in the hierarchy of the other owners. In the organization of transcendence the feudal lord -- and through association with him the other owners of power or means of production, in varying degrees -- is led to play the principal role, the role that he really does play in the economic organization of the group's survival. As a result, the existence of the group is bound on every level to the existence of the owners as such, to those who, owning everything because they own everybody, force everyone to renounce their lives on the pretext of the owners' unique, absolute and divine renunciation. (From the god Prometheus, punished by the gods, to the god Christ, punished by men, the sacrifice of the Owner becomes vulgarized, it loses its sacred aura, becomes humanized.) Myth thus unites owner and nonowner, enveloping them in a common form in which the necessity of survival, whether mere physical survival or survival as a privileged being, forces them to live on the level of appearance and of the inversion of real life, the inversion of the life of everyday praxis. We are still there, waiting to live a life less than or beyond a mystique against which our every gesture protests while submitting to it.
Myth -- the unitary absolute in which the contradictions of the world find an illusory resolution, the harmonious and constantly harmonized vision that reflects and reinforces the reigning order -- is the sphere of the sacred, the extrahuman zone where an abundance of revelations are manifested but where the revelation of the process of private appropriation is carefully suppressed. Nietzsche saw this when he wrote "All becoming is a criminal revolt from eternal being, and its price is death." When the bourgeoisie claimed to replace the pure Being of feudalism with Becoming, all it really did was to desacralize Being and resacralize Becoming to its own profit. It elevated its own Becoming to the status of Being, no longer that of absolute ownership but rather that of relative appropriation: a petty democratic and mechanical Becoming, with its notions of progress, merit and causal succession. The owner's life hides him from himself; bound to myth by a life-and-death pact, he cannot see himself in the positive and exclusive enjoyment of any good except through the lived experience of his own exclusion. (And isn't it through this mythical exclusion that the nonowners will come to grasp the reality of their own exclusion?) He bears the responsibility for a group, he takes on the burden of a god. Submitting himself to its benediction and its retribution, he swathes himself in austerity and wastes away. Model of gods and heroes, the master, the owner, is the true reality of Prometheus, of Christ, of all those whose spectacular sacrifice has made it possible for "the vast majority of people" to continue to sacrifice themselves to the extreme minority, to the masters. (Analysis of the owner's sacrifice should be examined more carefully: isn't the case of Christ really the sacrifice of the owner's son? If the owner can never sacrifice himself except on the level of appearance, then Christ stands for the real immolation of the owner's son when circumstances leave no other alternative. As a son he is only an owner at an early stage of development, an embryo, little more than a dream of future ownership. In this mythic dimension belongs Maurice BarrÃ¨s's famous remark in 1914, when war had arrived and made his dreams come true at last: "Our youth, as is proper, has gone to shed torrents of our blood.") This rather distasteful little game, before it became transformed into a symbolic rite, knew a heroic period when kings and tribal chiefs were ritually put to death according to their "will." Historians assure us that these august martyrs were soon replaced by prisoners, slaves or criminals. The penalty was delegated, but the rulers kept the halo.
The concept of a common fate is based on the sacrifice of the owner and the nonowner. Put another way, the notion of a "human condition" is based on an ideal and tormented image whose purpose is to try to resolve the irresolvable opposition between the mythical sacrifice of the minority and the really sacrificed life of everyone else. The function of myth is to unify and eternalize, in a succession of static moments, the dialectic of "will-to-live" and its opposite. This universally dominant factitious unity attains its most tangible and concrete representation in communication, particularly in language. Ambiguity is most manifest at this level, it leads to a lack of real communication, it puts the analyst at the mercy of ridiculous phantoms, at the mercy of words -- eternal and changing instants -- whose content varies according to who pronounces them, as does the notion of sacrifice. When language is put to the test, it can no longer dissimulate the misrepresentation and thus it provokes the crisis of participation. In the language of an era one can follow the traces of total revolution, unfulfilled but always imminent. They are the exalting and terrifying signs of the upheavals they foreshadow, but who takes them seriously? The discredit striking language is as deeply rooted and instinctive as the suspicion with which myths are viewed by people who at the same time remain firmly attached to them. How can key words be defined by other words? How can phrases be used to point out the signs that refute the phraseological organization of appearance? The best texts still await their justification. When a poem by Mallarmé becomes the sole explanation for an act of revolt, then poetry and revolution will have overcome their ambiguity. To await and prepare for this moment is to manipulate information not as the last shock wave whose significance escapes everyone, but as the first repercussion of an act still to come.
Born of man's will to survive the uncontrollable forces of nature, myth is a public welfare policy that has outlived its necessity. It has consolidated its tyrannical force by reducing life to the sole dimension of survival, by negating it as movement and totality.
When contested, myth homogenizes the diverse attacks on it; sooner or later it engulfs and assimilates them. Nothing can withstand it, no image or concept that attempts to destroy the dominant spiritual structures. It reigns over the expression of facts and of lived experience, on which it imposes its own interpretive structure (dramatization). Private consciousness is the consciousness of lived experience that finds its expression on the level of organized appearance.
Myth is sustained by rewarded sacrifice. Since every individual life is based on its own renunciation, lived experience must be defined as sacrifice and recompense. As a reward for his asceticism, the initiate (the promoted worker, the specialist, the manager -- new martyrs canonized democratically) is granted a niche in the organization of appearances; he is made to feel at home in alienation. But collective shelters disappeared with unitary societies, all that's left is their later concrete embodiments for the use of the general public: temples, churches, palaces... memorials of a universal protection. Shelters are private nowadays, and even if their protection is far from certain there can be no mistaking their price.
"Private" life is defined primarily in a formal context. It is, to be sure, engendered by the social relations created by private appropriation, but its essential form is determined by the expression of those relations. Universal, incontestable but constantly contested, this form makes appropriation a right belonging to everyone and from which everyone is excluded, a right one can obtain only by renouncing it. As long as it fails to break free of the context imprisoning it (a break that is called revolution), the most authentic experience can be grasped, expressed and communicated only by way of an inversion through which its fundamental contradiction is dissimulated. In other words, if a positive project fails to sustain a praxis of radically overthrowing the conditions of life -- which are nothing other than the conditions of private appropriation -- it does not have the slightest chance of escaping being taken over by the negativity that reigns over the expression of social relationships: it is coopted like an inverted mirror image. In the totalizing perspective in which it conditions the whole of everyone's life, and in which its real and its mythic power can no longer be distinguished (both being both real and mythical), the process of private appropriation has made it impossible to express life any way except negatively. Life in its entirety is immersed in a negativity that corrodes it and formally defines it. To talk of life today is like talking of rope in the house of a hanged man. Since the key of will-to-live has been lost we have been wandering in the corridors of an endless mausoleum. The dialogue of chance and the throw of the dice(3) no longer suffices to justify our lassitude; those who still accept living in well-furnished weariness picture themselves as leading an indolent existence while failing to notice in each of their daily gestures a living denial of their despair, a denial that should rather make them despair only of the poverty of their imagination. Forgetting life, one can identify with a range of images, from the brutish conqueror and brutish slave at one pole to the saint and the pure hero at the other. The air in this shithouse has been unbreathable for a long time. The world and man as representation stink like carrion and there's no longer any god around to turn the charnel houses into beds of lilies. After all the ages men have died while accepting without notable change the explanations of gods, of nature and of biological laws, it wouldn't seem unreasonable to ask if we don't die because so much death enters -- and for very specific reasons -- into every moment of our lives.
Private appropriation can be defined notably as the appropriation of things by means of the appropriation of people. It is the spring and the troubled water where all reflections mingle and blur. Its field of action and influence, spanning the whole of history, seems to have been characterized until now by a fundamental double behavioral determination: an ontology based on sacrifice and negation of self (its subjective and objective aspects respectively) and a fundamental duality, a division between particular and general, individual and collective, private and public, theoretical and practical, spiritual and material, intellectual and manual, etc. The contradiction between universal appropriation and universal expropriation implies that the master has been seen for what he is and isolated. This mythical image of terror, destitution and renunciation presents itself to slaves, to servants, to all those who can't stand living as they do; it is the illusory reflection of their participation in property, a natural illusion since they really do participate in it through the daily sacrifice of their energy (what the ancients called pain or torture and we call labor or work) since they themselves produce this property in a way that excludes them. The master can only cling to the notion of work-as-sacrifice, like Christ to his cross and his nails; it is up to him to authenticate sacrifice, to apparently renounce his right to exclusive enjoyment and to cease to expropriate with purely human violence (that is, violence without mediation). The sublimity of the gesture obscures the initial violence, the nobility of the sacrifice absolves the commando, the brutality of the conqueror is bathed in the light of a transcendence whose reign is internalized, the gods are the intransigent guardians of rights, the short-tempered shepherds of a peaceful, law-abiding flock of owners and owner wannabes. The gamble on transcendence and the sacrifice it implies are the masters' greatest conquest, their most accomplished submission to the necessity of conquest. Anyone who intrigues for power while refusing the purification of renunciation (the brigand or the tyrant) will sooner or later be tracked down and killed like a mad dog, or worse: as someone who only pursues his own ends and whose blunt disdain for "work" lacks any tact toward others' feelings: serial killers like Troppmann, Landru, Petiot were doomed to defeat because they murdered people without justifying it in the name of defending the Free World, the Christian West, the State or Human Dignity. By refusing to play the rules of the game, pirates, gangsters and outlaws disturb those with good consciences (whose consciences are a reflection of myth); but the masters, by killing the encroacher or enrolling him as a cop, reestablish the omnipotence of the "eternal truth": namely, that those who don't sell themselves lose their right to survive and those who do sell themselves lose their right to live. The sacrifice of the master is the essence of humanism, which is what makes humanism -- and let this be understood once and for all -- the miserable negation of everything human. Humanism is the master taken seriously at his own game, acclaimed by those who see in his apparent sacrifice (that caricatural reflection of their real sacrifice) a reason to hope for salvation. Justice, Dignity, Nobility, Freedom... these words that yap and howl, are they anything but household pets who have continued to reliably return home to their masters since the time when heroic lackeys won the right to walk them on the streets? To use them is to forget that they are the ballast that enables power to rise out of reach. And if we imagine a regime deciding that the mythical sacrifice of the masters should not be promoted in such universal forms, and setting about tracking down these word-concepts and wiping them out, we could well expect the Left to be incapable of combating it with anything more than a plaintive battle of words whose every phrase, invoking the "sacrifice" of a previous master, calls for an equally mythical sacrifice of a new one (a leftist master, a regime mowing down workers in the name of the proletariat). Bound to the notion of sacrifice, humanism is born of the mutual fear of masters and slaves: it is nothing but the solidarity of a shit-scared humanity. But those who reject all hierarchical power can use any word as a weapon to punctuate their action. Lautréamont and the illegalist anarchists were already aware of this; so were the dadaists.
The appropriator thus becomes an owner from the moment he puts the ownership of people and things in the hands of God or of some universal transcendence, whose omnipotence is reflected back on him as a grace sanctifying his slightest gesture. To oppose an owner thus consecrated is to oppose God, nature, the fatherland, the people. In short, to exclude oneself from the whole physical and spiritual world. "We must neither govern nor be governed," writes Marcel Havrenne so neatly. For those who add an appropriate violence to his humor, there is no longer any salvation or damnation, no place in the universal order, neither with Satan, the great coopter of the faithful, nor in any form of myth, since they are the living proof of the uselessness of all that. They were born for a life yet to be invented; insofar as they lived, it was on this hope that they finally came to grief.
Two corollaries of singularization in transcendence:
a) If ontology implies transcendence, it is clear that any ontology automatically justifies the being of the master and the hierarchical power wherein the master is reflected in degraded, more or less faithful images.
b) Over the distinction between manual and intellectual work, between practice and theory, is superimposed the distinction between work-as-real-sacrifice and the organization of work in the form of apparent sacrifice.
It would be tempting to explain fascism -- among other reasons for it -- as an act of faith, the auto-da-fé of a bourgeoisie haunted by the murder of God and the destruction of the great sacred spectacle, dedicating itself to the devil, to an inverted mysticism, a black mysticism with its rituals and its holocausts. Mysticism and high finance.
It should not be forgotten that hierarchical power is inconceivable without transcendence, without ideologies, without myths. Demystification itself can always be turned into a myth: it suffices to "omit," most philosophically, demystification by acts. Any demystification so neutralized, with the sting taken out of it, becomes painless, euthanasic, in a word, humanitarian. Except that the movement of demystification will ultimately demystify the demystifiers.
RAOUL VANEIGEM (April 1962)
(Concluded in the next issue)
* What will become of the totality inherent in unitary society when it comes up against the bourgeois demolition of that society?
* Will an artificial reconstitution of unity succeed in hoodwinking the worker alienated in consumption?
* But what can be the future of totality in a fragmented society?
* What unexpected supersession of this society and of its whole organization of appearance will finally bring us to a happy ending?
IF YOU DON'T ALREADY KNOW, FIND OUT IN PART TWO
1. Erostratus burned down a famous Greek temple in 356 BC so that his name would be remembered for all time. Jacques: French peasants who revolted in the Jacquerie of 1358; by extension, a jacquerie is any particularly violent peasant rebellion. Enragés: extremist current during the French Revolution (1793). Fédérés: insurgents of the Paris Commune (1871), particularly those massacred in its last stand.
2. The "Crystal Night" was a Nazi-orchestrated mass reaction against Jews in Germany in 1938, so called because of the enormous number of store windows broken.
3. Reference to Mallarmé's poem "A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance." Vaneigem's sense is somewhat obscure (as is the poem), but seems to refer to the inadequacy of indifferent alternation between arbitrary decision and leaving things purely to chance. "Stéphane Mallarmé, in the great poem that expresses and sums up the idea he pursued throughout his life, declares: A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance. By the game of dice he symbolized pure thought, which is in essence Number. What he meant by chance is everything that escapes conscious thought and that arises out of its very lapses. He somberly proclaimed the failure of the human spirit, its inability to succeed in mastering itself." (André Rolland de Renéville, Expérience Poétique.)
End of Part 1. Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).
The Fifth SI Conference in GÃ¶teborg (excerpts)
The 5th Conference of the Situationist International was held in GÃ¶teborg, Sweden, 28-30 August 1961, eleven months after the London Conference. The situationists of nine countries were represented by Ansgar-Elde, Debord, J. de Jong, KotÃ¡nyi, D. Kunzelmann, S. Larsson, J.V. Martin, Nash, Prem, G. Stadler, Hardy Strid, H. Sturm, R. Vaneigem, Zimmer. [...]
Next the Conference hears an orientation report by Vaneigem, who says notably: "[...] The point is not to elaborate the spectacle of refusal, but to refuse the spectacle. In order for their elaboration to be artistic in the new and authentic sense defined by the SI, the elements of the destruction of the spectacle must precisely cease to be works of art. There is no such thing as situationism, or a situationist work of art, or a spectacular situationist. Once and for all. [...] Our position is that of combatants between two worlds -- one that we don't acknowledge, the other that does not yet exist. [...]"
[...] Kunzelmann expresses a strong skepticism as to the powers the SI can bring together in order to act on the level envisaged by Vaneigem. KotÃ¡nyi responds to Nash and Kunzelmann: "Since the beginning of the movement there has been a problem as to what to call artistic works by members of the SI. It was understood that none of them was a situationist production, but what to call them? I propose a very simple rule: to call them 'antisituationist.' We are against the dominant conditions of artistic inauthenticity. I don't mean that anyone should stop painting, writing, etc. I don't mean that that has no value. I don't mean that we could continue to exist without doing that. But at the same time we know that such works will be coopted by the society and used against us. Our impact lies in the elaboration of certain truths which have an explosive power whenever people are ready to struggle for them. At the present stage the movement is only in its infancy regarding the elaboration of these essential points. [...]
The responses to KotÃ¡nyi's proposal are all favorable. It is noted that would-be avant-garde artists are beginning to appear in various countries who have no connection with the SI but who refer to themselves as adherents of "situationism" or describe their works as being more or less situationist. This tendency is obviously going to increase and it would be hopeless for the SI to try and prevent it. While various confused artists nostalgic for a positive art call themselves situationist, antisituationist art will be the mark of the best artists, those of the SI, since genuinely situationist conditions have as yet not at all been created. Admitting this is the mark of a situationist.
With one exception, the Conference unanimously decides to adopt this rule of antisituationist art, binding on all members of the SI. Only Nash objects, his spite and indignation having become sharper and sharper throughout the whole debate, to the point of uncontrolled rage. [...]
Prem resumes in more detail the objections of his friends to KotÃ¡nyi's perspectives. He agrees with calling our art antisituationist; and also with organizing a situationist base. But he does not think the SI's tactics are good. There is talk of people's dissatisfaction and revolt, but in his view, as his tendency already expressed it at London, "Most people are still primarily interested in comfort and conveniences." He believes that the SI systematically neglects its real chances in culture. It rejects favorable occasions to intervene in existing cultural politics, whereas, in his view, the SI has no power but its power in culture -- a power which could be very great and which is visibly within our reach. The SI majority sabotages the chances for effective action on the terrain where it is possible. It castigates artists who would be able to succeed in doing something; it throws them out the moment they get the means to do things. [...]
Other German situationists strongly oppose Prem, some of them accusing him of having expressed positions in their name that they do not share (but it seems, rather, that Prem simply had the frankness to clearly express the line that dominates in the German section). Finally the Germans come around to agreeing that none of them conceives of theory as separate from its practical results. With this the third session is adjourned in the middle of the night, not without violent agitation and uproar. (From one side there are shouts of "Your theory is going to fly right back in your faces!" and from the other, "Cultural pimps!"). [...]
The German situationists who publish the journal Spur [...] stress the urgency, already made evident by the Conference, for them to unify their positions and projects with the rest of the SI. [...] On their request, the Conference adds Attila KotÃ¡nyi and J. de Jong to the editorial committee of Spur in order to verify this process of unification. (But in January this decision is flouted by their putting out, without KotÃ¡nyi and de Jong's knowledge, an issue #7 marking a distinct regression from the preceding ones -- which leads to the exclusion of those responsible.) [...]
It is voted to hold the 6th Conference at Anvers, after the rejection of the Scandinavian proposal to hold it secretly in Warsaw. The Conference does decide, however, to send a delegation of three situationists to Poland to develop our contacts there. [...]
SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (1962)
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).
Geopolitics of Hibernation
The "balance of terror" between two rival groups of states -- the most visible basic aspect of global politics at the present moment -- is also a balance of resignation: the resignation of each antagonist to the permanence of the other; and within their frontiers, the resignation of people to a fate that escapes them so completely that the very existence of the planet is far from certain, hinging on the prudence and skill of inscrutable strategists. This in turn reinforces a more general resignation to the existing order, to the coexisting powers of the specialists who organize this fate. These powers find an additional advantage in this balance since it permits the rapid liquidation of any original liberatory experience arising on the margin of their systems, particularly within the current movement of the underdeveloped countries. It was through the same method of neutralizing one menace with another -- regardless of who the particular victorious protector may be -- that the revolutionary impetus of the Congo was crushed by sending in the United Nations Expeditionary Corps (two days after their arrival in early July 1960 the Ghanaian troops, the first on the scene, were used to break a transportation strike in Leopoldville) and that of Cuba by the formation of a one-party system (in March 1962 General Lister, whose role in the repression of the Spanish revolution is well known, was named Assistant Chief of Staff to the Cuban Army).
In reality the two camps are not actually preparing for war, but for the indefinite preservation of this balance, which mirrors the internal stabilization of their power. It goes without saying that this will entail an enormous mobilization of resources, since it is imperative to continually escalate the spectacle of possible war. Thus Barry Commoner, head of the scientific committee assigned by the United States government to estimate the destruction that would result from a thermonuclear war, announces that after one hour of such a war 80 million Americans would be killed and that the survivors would have no hope of living normally afterwards. The Chiefs of Staff, who in their projections now count only in megabodies (one megabody = one million corpses), have admitted the impossibility of calculating beyond the first half day since experimental evidence is lacking to make any meaningful estimates at such a level of destruction. According to Nicolas Vichney (Le Monde, 5 January 1962), one extremist faction of American defense doctrine has gone so far as to argue that "the best deterrent would consist of the possession of an enormous thermonuclear bomb buried underground. If the enemy attacked, the bomb would be detonated and the Earth would be blown apart."
The theorists of this "Doomsday System" have certainly found the ultimate weapon for enforcing submission; they have for the first time translated the refusal of history into precise technical powers. But the rigid logic of these doctrinaires only responds to one aspect of the contradictory needs of the society of alienation, whose indissoluble project is to prevent people from living while it organizes their survival (see the opposition of the concepts of life and survival described by Vaneigem in Basic Banalities). Thus the Doomsday System, through its contempt for survival -- which is still the indispensable condition for the present and future exploitation of human labor -- can only play the role of last resort for the ruling bureaucracies: the insane proof of their seriousness. But in order to be fully effective in reinforcing people's submission, the spectacle of a war to come must henceforth extend its sway over the organization of our present peacetime existence, while simultaneously accommodating itself to the basic requirements of that organization.
In this regard the extraordinary development of fallout shelters during 1961 is certainly a decisive turning point in the Cold War, a qualitative leap that will one day be seen as of immense importance in the formation of a cybernetized totalitarian society on a global scale. It began in the United States, where Kennedy in his State of the Union Address last January was already able to assure the Congress: "The nation's first serious civil defense shelter program is under way, identifying, marking and stocking fifty million spaces; and I urge your approval of federal incentives for the construction of public fallout shelters in schools and hospitals and similar centers." This state-controlled organization of survival has rapidly spread, more or less secretly, to other major countries of the two camps. West Germany, for example, was first of all concerned with the survival of Chancellor Adenauer and his team (the disclosure of the plans to this end led to the seizure of the Munich magazine Quick). Sweden and Switzerland are at the point of installing collective shelters under their mountains, where workers buried with their factories will be able to continue to produce without interruption until the grand finale of the Doomsday System. But the launching pad of the civil defense policy is the United States, where a number of flourishing companies, such as the Peace o' Mind Shelter Company (Texas), the American Survival Products Corporation (Maryland), Fox Hole Shelter, Inc. (California) and the Bee Safe Manufacturing Company (Ohio), are advertising and installing countless individual shelters built as private property to ensure the survival of each family. This fad is giving rise to a new interpretation of religious morality, certain clergymen expressing the opinion that one's duty will clearly consist of refusing entry to friends or strangers, even by means of arms, in order to guarantee the salvation of one's own family. Morality had to be adapted to this process of intensifying the terrorism of conformity that underlies all the publicity of modern capitalism. It was already hard, faced with one's family and neighbors, not to have the given model of automobile which a given salary level enables one to buy on credit (a salary level always recognizable in the American-type urban housing developments because the location of the dwelling is precisely determined by the level of salary). It will be even more difficult not to guarantee one's family's survival status once that commodity is on the market.
It is generally estimated that in the United States since 1955 the relative saturation of the demand for "durable goods" has led to an insufficiency of the consumer stimulus necessary for economic expansion. Hence the enormous vogue for trendy gadgets of all sorts, which represent an easily manipulable development in the semidurable goods sector. It is easy to see the shelters' important role in this necessary boost of expansion. With the installation of shelters and their foreseeable offshoots and by-products, all the appurtenances of life on the surface will need to be duplicated for the new duplicate life underground. These investments in subterranean strata as yet unexploited by the affluent society are boosting the sale both of semidurable goods already in use on the surface (as with the boom in canned foods, of which each shelter needs a huge supply) and of particular new gadgets, such as plastic bags for the bodies of people who will die in the shelter and, naturally, continue to lay there with the survivors.
It is easy to see that these (already widespread) individual shelters could not possibly work, if only because of such gross technical oversights as the absence of an independent oxygen supply; and that even the most perfected collective shelters would offer only the slightest possibility for survival if a thermonuclear war was actually accidentally unleashed. But here, as in every racket, "protection" is only a pretext. The real purpose of the shelters is to test -- and thereby reinforce -- people's submissiveness, and to manipulate this submissiveness to the advantage of the ruling society. The shelters, as a creation of a new consumable commodity in the society of abundance, prove more than any previous commodity that people can be made to work to satisfy highly artificial needs, needs that most certainly "remain needs without ever having been desires" (Preliminaries Toward Defining a Unitary Revolutionary Program) and that do not have the slightest chance of becoming desires. The power of this society, its formidable automatic genius, can be measured by this extreme example. If this system were to go to the point of bluntly proclaiming that it imposes such an empty and hopeless existence that the best solution for everyone would be to go hang themselves, it would still succeed in managing a healthy and profitable business by producing standardized ropes. But regardless of all its capitalist wealth, the concept of survival means suicide on the installment plan, a renunciation of life every day. The network of shelters -- which are not intended to be used for a war, but right now -- presents a bizarre caricatural picture of existence under a perfected bureaucratic capitalism. A neo-Christianity has revived its ideal of renunciation with a new humility compatible with a new boost of industry. The world of shelters acknowledges itself as an air-conditioned vale of tears. The coalition of all the managers and their various types of priests will be able to agree on one unitary program: mass hypnosis plus superconsumption.
Survival as the opposite of life, if rarely voted for so clearly as by the buyers of shelters in 1961, can be found at all levels of the struggle against alienation. It is found in the old conception of art, which stressed survival through one's works, an admission of a renunciation of life -- art as excuse and consolation (principally since the bourgeois era of aesthetics, that secular substitute for the religious otherworld). And it is found just as much at the level of the most basic needs, those of food and shelter, with the "blackmail of utility" denounced in the "Basic Program of Unitary Urbanism" (Internationale Situationniste #6), the blackmail that eliminates any human critique of the environment "by the simple argument that one needs a roof over one's head."
The new habitat that is now taking shape with the large housing developments is not really distinct from the architecture of the shelters; it merely represents a less advanced level of that architecture. (The two are closely related and the direct passage from one to the other is already envisaged: the first example in France is a development presently being built in Nice, the basement of which is designed to serve as an atomic shelter for its inhabitants.) The concentration-camp organization of the surface of the earth is the normal state of the present society in formation; its condensed subterranean version merely represents that society's pathological excess. This subterranean sickness reveals the real nature of the "health" at the surface. The urbanism of despair is rapidly becoming dominant on the surface, not only in the population centers of the United States, but also in those of much more backward countries of Europe and even, for example, in the Algeria of the neocolonialist period proclaimed since the "Constantine Plan." At the end of 1961 the first version of the national plan for French territorial development (whose formulation was later toned down) complained in its chapter on Paris of "an inactive population's stubborn insistence on living in the capital" despite the fact that the authors of the report, licensed specialists of happiness and practicality, pointed out that "they could live more agreeably outside Paris." They therefore urged the elimination of this distressing irrationality by the enactment of legal measures to "systematically discourage this inactive population from living in Paris."
Since the main worthwhile activity in this society obviously consists in systematically discouraging the plans made by its managers (until such point as the latter are concretely eliminated), and since those managers are much more constantly aware of this danger than are the drugged masses of executants, the planners are erecting their defenses in all the modern projects of territorial organization. The planning of shelters for the population, whether in the normal form of dwellings or in the "affluent" form of family tombs for preventive habitation, in reality serves to shelter the planners' own power. The rulers who control the architectural incarceration and isolation of their subjects also know how to entrench themselves for strategic purposes. The Haussmanns of the twentieth century no longer stop at facilitating the deployment of their repressive forces by partitioning the old urban clusters into manageable city blocks divided by wide avenues. At the same time that they disperse the population over a vast area in the new prefabricated cities which represent this partitioning in its purest state (where the inferiority of the masses, disarmed and deprived of means of communication, is sharply increased compared with the continually more technically equipped police), they erect inaccessible capital cities where the ruling bureaucracy, for greater security, can constitute the whole of the population.
Different stages of development of these government-cities can be noted. The "Military Zone" of Tirana is a section cut off from the city and defended by the army, wherein are concentrated the homes of the rulers of Albania, the Central Committee building, and the schools, hospitals, stores and diversions for this autarkic elite. The administrative city of Rocher Noir, which was built in a single year to serve as the capital of Algeria when it became evident that the French authorities were no longer capable of maintaining themselves normally in a large city, has exactly the same function as the "Military Zone" of Tirana, though it was erected in open country. Finally, there is the supreme example, Brasilia, the bureaucratic capital that is also the classic expression of functionalist architecture. Parachuted into the center of a vast desert, its inauguration came just at the moment when President Quadros was dismissed by his military and there were premonitions of civil war in Brazil.
Things having gone this far, many specialists are beginning to denounce a number of disturbing absurdities. This is due to their having failed to comprehend the central rationality (the rationality of a coherent delirium) that governs these partial, apparently accidental absurdities, to which their own activities inevitably contribute. Their denunciations of the absurd are thus themselves inevitably absurd, both in their forms and in their means. What is one to think of the naÃ¯veté of the nine hundred professors of all the universities and research institutes of the New York-Boston region who in the New York Herald Tribune (30 December 1961) solemnly addressed themselves to President Kennedy and Governor Rockefeller -- a few days before Kennedy proudly issued an initial order for fifty million shelter spaces -- in order to convince them of the perniciousness of "civil defense" development? Or of the horde of sociologists, judges, architects, policemen, psychologists, teachers, hygienists, psychiatrists and journalists who never cease gathering in congresses, conferences and committee meetings of all sorts, all urgently seeking some way to humanize the housing developments? Humanizing housing developments is as ridiculous a notion as humanizing atomic war, and for the same reasons. The shelters reduce not war but the threat of war to "human proportions" -- "human" in modern capitalist terms: marketable human consumption. This sort of investigation of possible humanization strives quite explicitly for a joint working out of the most effective lies for the repression of people's resistance. While boredom and total lack of social life characterize the suburban housing developments in a way as immediate and tangible as a Siberian cold wave, some women's magazines now go to those new suburbs to photograph their fashion models and interview satisfied people. Since the stupefying power of such environments is discernable in the intellectual underdevelopment of the children, their maladjustment is blamed on their previous slum upbringing. The latest reformist theory places its hopes in a sort of culture center -- though without using that particular term so as not to frighten anyone away. In the plans of the Seine Architects Union (Le Monde, 22 December 1961) the prefabricated "bistro-club" that will everywhere humanize their work is presented as a cubic "plastic cell" (28 x 18 x 4 meters) comprising "a stable element: the bistro, which will sell tobacco and magazines, but not alcohol; the remainder will be reserved for various craft activities. . . . It should become a seductive showcase. Hence the aesthetic conception and the quality of the materials will be carefully designed to give their full effect night and day. The play of lights should in fact communicate the life of the bistro-club."
Thus is presented to us, in profoundly revealing terms, a discovery that "could facilitate social integration on a level that would forge the spirit of a small city." The absence of alcohol will be little noticed: in France youth gangs no longer need alcohol to inspire them to go on rampages. The French delinquents seem to have broken with the French tradition of mass alcoholism, which is still so important in the "hooliganism" of the Eastern bloc, while not having yet come around, like American youth, to the use of marijuana or stronger drugs. Though stuck in such an empty transitional period, between the stimulants of two distinct historical stages, they are nevertheless expressing a sharp violence in response to this world we are describing and to the horrible prospect of occupying their dismal niche in it. In any case, if we leave aside the factor of revolt, the unionized architects' project has a certain coherence: their glass bistros are intended as a means of supplementary control on the way to that total surveillance of production and consumption that actually constitutes the famous integration they aim at. The candidly avowed recourse to the aesthetics of the show-window is perfectly illuminated by the theory of the spectacle: in these nonalcoholic bars the consumers themselves become as spectacular as the objects of consumption, for lack of any other attraction. Totally reified man has his place in the show-window as a desirable image of reification.
The internal defect of the system is that it cannot totally reify people; it also needs to make them act and participate, without which the production and consumption of reification would come to a stop. The reigning system is thus in conflict with history -- including its own history, which is at once the history of its reinforcement and the history of the opposition to it.
Today (after a century of struggles and after the traditional or newly formed rulers' liquidation, between the two world wars, of the entire classical workers movement which represented the force of general contestation), in spite of certain appearances, the dominant world more than ever presents itself as permanent on the basis of an enrichment and an infinite extension of an irreplaceable model. We can comprehend this world only by contesting it. And this contestation is neither true nor realistic except insofar as it is a contestation of the totality.
This explains the astonishing lack of ideas evident in all the acts of culture, of politics, of the organization of life, and in everything else -- the lameness of the modernist builders of functionalist cities is only a particularly glaring example. The intelligent specialists are intelligent only in playing the game of specialists; hence the timid conformity and fundamental lack of imagination that make them grant that this or that product is useful, or good, or necessary. The root of the prevailing lack of imagination cannot be grasped unless one is able to imagine what is lacking -- that is, what is missing, hidden, forbidden, and yet possible, in modern life.
This is not a theory without links to the way people see their own lives; it is, on the contrary, a reality in the minds of people as yet without links with theory. Those who really "cohabit with the negative" (in the Hegelian sense) and explicitly recognize this lack as their platform and their power will bring to light the only positive project that can overthrow the wall of sleep; and the measures of survival; and the doomsday bombs; and the megatons of architecture.
SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL (1962)
Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).