Chapter 1: Why capitalism must be democratic and the grandeur it achieves by being so

Submitted by Steven. on June 17, 2013

“You will soon be, thank Heaven, out of the hands of your rebellious
subjects (…) Where they are concerned, my Cousin, I share all of your
feelings, as you can see, and pray God that that He will keep you safe,
but I cannot approve of your repugnance for the type of government that
one calls representative and that I myself call recreational, there
being nothing in the world that is so entertaining for a king, not to
mention the not insignificant utility that it has for us (…) The
representative form of government suits me marvelously (…) Money comes
to us in abundance. Ask my nephew in Angoulême [in France]. Here we
count by the thousands or, to tell the truth, we ourselves no longer
count, because we have our own representatives [ des députés], a
dense majority of them, as one says here; expenses, but they are
small (…) One hundred voices, I am sure, doesn’t cost me in a year what
Mme. de Cayla costs in a month (…) I truly thought as you did, before my
trip to England; I had no love at all for representative government; but
there I saw what it really is. If the Turk suspected as much, he
wouldn’t want anything else, and he would make his Divan a two-chambered
body (…) You shouldn’t be scared off by the words liberty, the general
public, or representation. They work to our benefit, and their products
are immense, the danger nonexistent, whatever one says. . . .”

(These extracts, translated here for the first time into Italian,
come from a secret letter that Louis XVIII sent to Ferdinand VII in
August 1823. In Cadix, this letter fell into the hands of a secret agent
from Canning, and its publication caused a controversy in England. –
The Morning Chronicle [English in original], October

What constitutes the most notable trait of our century isn’t so much
the fact that capitalism has been challenged in a reiterated and bloody
manner by the workers of all industrialized countries and also in some
countries where the economy is still predominantly agrarian (not at all
unexpected phenomena, except to those who undervalued the warnings
issued by the first failed revolutions of the prior century), nor the
fact that serious economic and monetary crises have regularly shaken
internal stability (serious inconveniences, but unavoidable in any
complex economic system), nor even the fact that errors in the
management of power have been quite numerous and very costly in every
country (this fact is inseparably tied to any historical form of
domination). It seems to us that what is notable in our century, quite
the contrary, is that the capitalist system has managed to resist all
that, and that, despite all that, today it still continues to
exist everywhere, in manifestations that are different and even
appear to be contradictory,
as the only existing form of domination
in the world, not only capable of surpassing its own crises, but even
coming out of them reinforced to the point that it has managed to spread
and impose its methods of production, exchange and commodity
distribution upon the whole planet. Even in the Communist countries, the
economic and technological systems of modern capitalism have long since
become the declared preference of the dominant bureaucratic class.

For the first time in universal history, an aggressive [
] system has imposed itself everywhere, annihilating
all of the archaic forms of domination that were opposed to it, at the
same time that it has successfully confronted the questions posed to it
by new social forces, such as the class of industrial workers and
salaried workers in general, who are necessary for the production and
consumption of commodities, but who have an underlying disposition to
combat in the name of their own “emancipation” the world for which they
work and in which they live.

At the beginning of a Report dedicated to the critique of the
current management of our system, it appears to us necessary, and just,
to recognize its unquestionable historical success and its objective
merits, which we risk seeing compromised in the near future because of
current errors. It is fitting to know clearly what to preserve in
what we must fight hic et nunc [Latin for “here and now”], and to
be aware of what we have to lose at a moment when it is indispensible to
choose how to comport ourselves, and what weapons will help us, if we
wish to emerge victorious from the very grave crisis that is the cause
of our worries and the origin of this text.

According to Thomas Carlyle, the French Revolution had the demand for
truth as its essential meaning. It was an historic proclamation of the
fact that all lies, on which one had up until then based the harmonious
organization of a social hierarchy, had to be rejected from then on. If
these ideas are correct, we can determine that, for the last two
centuries, we should have been able to avoid the greatest part of what
harms us.

All of the historically dominant forms of society have been imposed
on the masses, who quite simply must be made to work, either by
force or by illusion.[2] The greatest success of our modern civilization is
that it has been able to place an incomparable power of illusion
at the service of its leaders. Later in this pamphlet, we will see that
this is also where the weakness of our power lies and threatens to
become a serious crisis at any moment, because this illusion must
never be shared by the ruling elite [French in original]
that produces and makes use of it. Accumulative and rapid economic
development (accumulative in the dimension of its rapidity), as well the
positive technological upheaval that incessantly accompanies this
development as its corollary, have caused in the totality of production
and distribution an extreme concentration and a control that tends to
become absolute. What has unfortunately challenged the current state of
the world is the fact that this control possesses a strategy on the
scale of its immense means. We will return to this point. But what is
beyond doubt is the fact that economic development itself has demanded
and brought about (in previously unimaginable proportions) the
separation and passivity of the agents of production, that is to say,
the very same ones who are identified by another branch of the social
sciences as “consumers” and “citizens.”

This situation has produced, as a natural product of our stage of
historical development, the social necessity for contemplation,
which Bergson, in his time (in the pages of Creative Evolution),
called “a luxury.” This contemplation is opportunely satisfied by the
privileged part of our technology that is dedicated to the fixation and
diffusion of images. The reason for this cannot escape anyone of good
faith. The objective and measurable successes of our society are
completely economic and technical. This society produces more and more
things to watch [Ce que cette société produit, il n’y a plus qu’à le
]. Some people have asked us, moved by perfectly irrelevant
sentimentality: “Must we also love this society?” The question is asked
in vain or, rather, if one admits that posing such a question from any
transcendent point of view means that real society would be a pure
absurdity, we can only say that the question is effectively asked in
vain in the sense that it has already fully found its response from the
moment that one poses it in terms of real society, that is to say, in
terms of social classes, by wondering, “Who must love this system
of production?” Those who appropriate surplus-value necessarily love the
existing form of production. As for the others, why should they love it?
Production in itself appears to them as a simple necessity, and this is
what it really is. As for the particular form this necessity assumes,
those who hold capital don’t find it any more defensible than any other
form, and are only attached to it due to the specific advantages that
they draw from it. If the excessive hypocrisy of the social thought of
our epoch hadn’t so mixed up and dirtied the playing cards that,
cheating as always, it has ended up being unable to cheat intelligently,
we would blush to recall such truisms. Our workers have in no way
decided upon what they produce. And this is quite fortunate, because we
might wonder what they would decide to produce, given what they are. It
is quite sure, whatever the infinite variety of conceivable responses,
that a single truth would be constant: they would assuredly not produce
anything suitable for the society that we manage. And as these workers
cannot be dazzled (no more than you or we ourselves) with happiness by
the enlargement of the organizational chart of a multinational
corporation or by the rate of growth in the sales of fighter planes to
the Middle East, but find themselves deprived of any real compensation
in the existence that is created for them, we must distribute to them
some other compensation. This is what is accomplished by the massive
diffusion of images that can be contemplated, though they no longer
constitute the “luxury” spoken of by Bergeson, but a contemplative
necessity, a diversion [French in original] like the Roman
circuses [Latin in original] or Pascal’s definition of the

Whatever the importance, and even the gravity, of the dangerous
weaknesses of our power that we must criticize today, we must not lose
sight of the fact that all this is subordinate to these brilliant
successes. One only defends a social order that is alive. And if
bourgeois society hadn’t won this victory at the universal level, we
wouldn’t be here today to discuss its defense, because it would
otherwise be as dead as Darius’ Empire.

If we take a moment to remember (and that would be a healthy
propaedeutic during the current struggles) that, for the last hundred
years, we have run the risk of having the world escape from of our grasp
in a short period of time, we will ascertain the importance of the
reprieve that we have obtained, which, in addition, has permitted us to
undertake a profound transformation of all the conditions for this
strategy – a transformation that we can define as follows: the
construction [l’aménagement] of a new terrain of battle in which
we await a disoriented adversary who must at first recognize it
as such and then is constrained to advance while surrounded by the
powerful defenses that we have wisely set up.

One can say that the 19th century, in the wake of the frightening
revolutions of 1848, discovered political economy. Society divided into
classes and private property had already been challenged: the critique
of them seemed inexorably tied to the progress of knowledge, notably
among the working classes. Thus, because the ruling class feared the
education of the working classes and universal suffrage (and apparently
quite legitimately so), it tied its defense to a position in the past,
to an attitude of retreat, which continually became more pronounced.
Modern industry required education, at least a summary one, and
education, by spreading, necessarily worked in favor of universal
suffrage. The bourgeoisie remembered that the progress of its leading
lights had accompanied its own march to political power, and it feared
that the same route would be followed by the proletarians. Fortunately,
the proletarians also believed in this identification of their
respective destinies; both classes thereby deceived themselves, because
the two revolutionary projects were so different that they could not
make use of the same leading lights, nor their diffusion and usage by
analogous means. Thus, both the fears of one class and the hopes of the
other were in vain.

Over the course of the century, the development and expansion of
political and economic power changed the face of the world, much more
than any past revolution had been able to do. What have been the
characteristics and the permanent effects of this change? What did it
destroy, and what did it create? It seems to us that the moment has come
to define and set forth the distinctive traits of the new reality,
because today we find ourselves at the precise point where we can best
evaluate the results of a series of upheavals. Though we are far enough
from their beginnings to be sheltered from the passions of those who
began them, we are close enough to them to distinguish their essential
elements. Soon it will be difficult to make an objective judgment of
these events, because, by making their causes disappear, the great
historical changes that succeed subsequently become less comprehensible
due to the very fact of their success. Thus we will now consider the
secrets of our victories in the old campaigns, not to seek some hollow
compensation in our pride in the successes of bye-gone days, but rather,
at the heart of a new war that has suddenly been revived throughout the
entire social field, to pull together and consciously use these secrets
in other battles that we are called upon to fight anew. In the epic tale
of the old social war, what were our decisive battles, our Salamines and
our Marengos?[3]

To be brief, we will distinguish five of them.[4]

First, we have in a certain manner challenged Carlyle’s remark by
quantitatively and qualitatively realizing the progression of the lie
in politics
to a degree of power never before seen in history, with
its content growing alongside the proliferating extension of its means.
It developed with the “radical” bourgeoisie and its journalistic and
parliamentarian practices, which managed to survive the workers’
movement organized as socialist political parties. The process begun by
the parliamentary representation of the citizens has been quite
naturally and considerably reinforced by the success of the unionized
representation of the workers, since it is true that all
representation plays our game. What one has customarily called
brainwashing [French in original], that is to say, the propaganda
of false news diffused day after day by all the governments during World
War I, has subsequently crossed a threshold beyond which, in normal
times, one wouldn’t have believed it possible to take literate citizens.
Cardinal Carafa’s remark, made at the time of the Inquisition, remains
true: As far as the people can be deceived, that is as far as one
should go
[Latin in original]. Fascism was a pathological excess of
the unlimited lie, but also a remedy in a time of crisis. But it is
fitting to note that fascism completely failed due to its very nature,
but by no means on the terrain of its means of propaganda, to the point
that Hitler could theorize the fact that “the masses . . . will be more
easily deceived by a big lie than by a small one.” The advertising of
the modern market then came to exploit the possibilities more
rationally, and it has proved its excellence as an autonomous power,
although one must naturally criticize the excessively unilateral results
that have followed from this very autonomy, which too often hasn’t
conformed to the higher interests of the entirety of our economic
order. And, no doubt, the most significant result of this entire period
was the identification of communism with the totalitarian order that
reigns in Russia and, subsequently, with the perspectives of its
partisans in our countries, who, over the years, have believed that
Lenin and Stalin abolished capitalism. It pleases us to remember the
remark by our friend the eminent economist Piero Sraffa, who, years
before the translation [into Italian] of Karl Marx’s Grundrisse,
placed this passage in the book that settled the question: “To let
salaried work continue and, at the same time, suppress capital, is an
action that contradicts and destroys itself.” Thus the social revolution
that had been desired in the 19th century quite effectively became
utopian, since it no longer existed anywhere in the global
society where it might have been able to assert itself as what it could
truly be.

Second, we have witnessed the imposing reinforcement of the
power of the States
as economic powers, political authorities and
evermore refined organisms of surveillance. We can even say that, in
this sense, the dream of the bourgeois economists of the 18th century (a
legitimate dream, but one that often aroused the hostility of the
aristocrats of the time) has been realized, but in a different form. The
State theorized by these economists not only had to command the nation,
but also to form and educate it in a specific way. According to Turgot,
Quesnay, Letronne, Mercier de La Rivière and so many others, it was the
task of the State to shape the spirit of its citizens according to a
certain model that it proposed; the State must inculcate in them certain
ideas and sentiments that it judged to be useful and necessary to
overcome the obstacles that social reality presented to its activity.
The economists of that period said that the State had to reform its
political and civil institutions, and even the conditions of the lives
of its citizens, so that they could be transformed. Bodeau summarized
these ideas by advancing this prophecy, which was very radical for his
times: “The State makes men as it wishes them to be” [French in
original]. In the 19th century, a very cultivated aristocrat, who was
nevertheless too attached to the past, accused these economists of
trying to create “an immense social power that isn’t merely greater than
all those that currently exist; it is also different from them in its
origin and character. It does not proceed directly from God; its origin
doesn’t lie in tradition; it is impersonal; it doesn’t identify with the
King, but with the State (…) This democratic despotism (abolishes) all
hierarchies in society, all class distinctions, all fixed ranks;
composed of individuals who are almost identical and completely equal,
this confused mass recognizes only one legitimate sovereign (the State),
but it has been carefully deprived of all the faculties that could
permit it to lead or even oversee its government.” The economists
defended themselves against these accusations by invoking public
education. Quesnay said, “despotism is impossible if the nation is
enlightened” [French in original]. The demands that these economists
advanced were indeed better founded. Before the French Revolution,
Letronne noted that, “for centuries, the nation has been governed by
false principles; everything seems to have been done by chance” [French
in original]. Today we see what they foresaw. Perhaps it is fitting to
emphasize that, a century before Marx, contemporaries of these
economists, working in the same direction, advanced the current of
thought that was subsequently called socialism. For example, one finds
in Morelly’s Code de la Nature all of socialism’s doctrines
concerning the necessity of reinforcing the power of the State, and in
this work he foresees “the right to work, absolute equality, the
uniformity of all, [and] mechanical regularity in all of the movements
of individuals.” It is surprising to see that in 1755, when Quesnay
founded his school, Morelly recommended what is only today being fully
realized everywhere. For example, we read in Code de la Nature
that “the towns will be built according to the same plan; all the
buildings used by individuals will be similar (…) Children will be
removed from their families and educated in common in a uniform fashion,
at the cost of the State” [French in original]. The Statist
centralization engineered by the bourgeoisie and the socialist
bureaucrats was the product of the same necessity and the same terrain;
each of these powers is, with respect to the other, like the cultivated
fruit and the natural tree. But everywhere the State has become the
protagonist that, with more or less efficiency, plans and programs the
life of modern society. Therefore, the State is the palladium of
market society, which converts even its enemies into property owners, as
has happened in Russia and China, for example. And this fact allows us
to remark that we do not fear resurrecting the old and noble term
“market society.” All of the grandeur of the world has been provided by
merchants and the societies that they have built. Art, philosophy,
knowledge in all its scientific and technical forms, political freedom
in its actually practicable modalities – all this only appeared in
history, and has lasted, with the emergence and survival of the
mercantile bourgeoisie and within the exact limits of its local or
universal domination.

Third, the isolation and the separation of people from each other
has been highly perfected.
[5] Everything that could more or less
directly disturb the tranquility of the social order, everything that
could unite individual communities, corporate bodies, the neighborhoods
of old towns or villages, and even the customary clienteles of cafés and
churches, have been almost completely dissolved by the putting in place
of the new conditions of everyday life and the new urbanistic
countryside. We can say that each person now finds him- or herself in a
direct relationship with the powerful center of the system that commands
even the details of existence, and this center appears to each person,
either successively or simultaneously, in its restrictive aspect as
governmental authority, in the choices made by industrial production as
to what will be available on the market, and in the selection of images
to contemplate. Thus the masses consume and watch what they want among
the diverse things that are programmed for them, but they can only want
what is available.

Fourth, we have witnessed the unprecedented increase in the
power of the economy and industry.
The modern economy has succeeded
in giving a value and a price to everything, thus permitting everyone to
consume the commodities that industry produces. We might even say that,
to the extent that it has satisfied the essential needs of the
population, the modern economy has been in the position to offer that
population unnecessary things. Thereafter, what was inessential became
necessary and this in the double sense that, subjectively, those things
came to be perceived as such by the consumer and, objectively, they came
to constitute a necessity for the industrial expansion that produced
those precise commodities. Thus, at the moment that the citizen as
consumer gained free access to the superfluous, all that was appreciated
by the people of the past and all that was indispensible to guarantee
them the maintenance of poorer and more precarious realities became
useless and disappeared. From food to the entertainments of free
time or vacations, there no longer exists anything that cannot be
produced industrially, that is to say, cannot bring in an economic

We do not want to deny that these developments also resulted in
previously unknown inconveniences, such as new diseases caused by
pollution, etc. But, in any case, the very progress of science – the
science of pharmaceuticals, for example – in its turn furnished
antidotes that, industrially produced, constituted more commodities that
could be sold to the population.

The system came to make use of (as an attribute of its sovereignty)
the still growing distance between these rapidly changing realities and
the words and feelings that now only correspond to appearances.

Popular notions, rooted in place for generations, no longer bear any
relation with the completely different realities that have been produced
by the most modern industries. Whether it is a question of what one used
to call work, vacation, meat, influenza, or house, economic and Statist
power makes use of all its elements to make known the modifications
introduced into these realities. This power itself experiences
modification, either by chance or by pursuing deliberate goals. And yet
people still speak of other things, the things that have
disappeared, using the same old words, which are also used during their
debates on electoral programs.

Fifth and last – and this result concentrates together all the
previous ones that we’ve enumerated – we have seen the vertiginously
growing complications of the daily intervention of human society on all
aspects of the production of life, and the replacement of all apparently
natural elements by new factors that we could call artificial, fully
justify the indivisible authority of every expert who builds or corrects
the new economic and ecological equilibriums without which no one could

Therefore, there are now only experts in the [workings of the] State
and the economy, because there are no operational fields or diplomas
outside of these areas. And so the existing hierarchy is forced to
develop the secret and control in everything,
even when it doesn’t
want to do so. But all the hierarchies in history have always wanted to
develop these things, even though doing so wasn’t obviously necessary
for everyone’s interests. The double advantage that we derive from this
situation resides in this: discontent with our society no longer makes
sense, at the very moment that it has spread wider than ever before and
concerns every single detail. Today, only total refusal, which is always
difficult to formulate and put into practice, has a meaning that is
threatening to our social order. And this threat is itself attenuated to
the extent that a refusal of this kind, deprived of an exact
comprehension of the totality and disinclined to envision the
repercussions of real, historical confrontations, has the greatest
chances of being stupid and contenting itself with some ideological
illusion that leads its adherents astray.

Here, in brief, is how modern capitalism has been able to make the
entire population participate in the freedom that it has built. And it
is right to rejoice in this fact, because this enterprise had never been
undertaken before, and bad omens piled up at the beginning. Perhaps a
more lucid comprehension of history – for a century neglected in favor
of economic studies that were themselves poorly disengaged
intellectually from theology – would have inspired more confidence in
the elite [French in original] of the time, who certainly could
not have exactly foreseen the appearance of forms of domination that we
have characterized here, but who could have speculated more boldly along
the general line of the evolution to come, and thus perhaps more
consciously hastened the useful formations? At the same time, one might
have been spared a certain number of inconveniences from which we still
suffer, such as the regressive mutation of capitalism in Russia. Let us
reaffirm the point: despite the often legitimate, but many times
exaggerated worries that the question has aroused in the dominant
classes of almost all the countries, capitalism must be
because it can be nothing other. A glance at history, not
to mention the most attentive and sharpest study of it, always leads us
to the undeniable result that capitalism could never have grown,
whatever the location, without a democratic society, [that is to say,]
in the precise layer of society that lives the democratic life, wants it
and needs it. And to deploy itself fully and completely, to transform
everything into a commodity and incessantly renew the totality of
commodities, capitalism must permanently give the entirety of the
population a choice, the terms of which have been fixed by capitalism
itself. Because one must be able to choose between two equivalent
commodities, one must also be able to choose between two
representatives. He who remembers fascism, who knows how badly State
capitalism is managed by the totalitarian bureaucracies in the East, or
who considers the permanent atrophy of the development of the merchant
class in ancient Oriental despotism, will find the proof a
of this axiom.

Those who do not understand the necessity of remaining free quite
simply do not have the [good] taste to do so, and we must give up trying
to convince mediocre minds that have never known this sublime taste. The
impassable limits that democratic freedom implies are its own safeguard,
and it is reality that imposes them on it. Nevertheless, we can conclude
that the peoples of the world have been more interested in concrete
reforms put into action by democratic capitalism than in the multitude
of sermons in favor of an abstract and total “freedom,” a “freedom” that
no one has ever seen because it has never been realized. Thus freedom
can only be understood on the basis of the actual reality of democracy,
without being frightened or getting enthusiastic about the monotonous
illusions that are always springing up about it.

No sensible person would think to deny the fact that, from its first
admirable appearance in history, participation in the political
management of democracy has been a domain reserved for a class of rich
merchants or property owners, whether it was in the Athens of the 5th
century [BCE] or the Florence of the 14th century. We see nothing
different [from this pattern] in the famous year 1793 or anytime since
then – beyond the fact that the dominant class of today isn’t as well
served by the always more numerous personnel to whom it has delegated
the tasks of political administration, and nowhere as scandalously as in
Italy where these roguish and incompetent domestic servants have allowed
the roast to burn while they have nabbed the loose change from the
pockets and drawers of their masters. As for the quite notorious other
side of the democratic republics, we would like to say that the
always-resurgent excesses of the infinite pretentions of the working
classes quite clearly constitute the opposite of this democracy. The
proof of this is that they have always resulted in immediate loss. But
we are no longer at that moment in history when democracy – put into
place or realized in a few cities – could have succumbed under the blows
of these pretentions without impeding the general growth of a capitalism
that was still generally sheltered in its previous social relations.
Capitalism seized hold of the world for its own ends. The democratic
order must be defended without any thought of retreat, “not only with
the spear, but with the axe”[6] because, at the same moment that it is
defeated, capitalism will definitively succumb, too.

Of those minds and hearts that have become discouraged because, for
the last ten years, they have taken the end of the troubles of a
particular time for the end of the time of troubles, we ask, “Must we
be resigned to the idea that any certainty that has been triumphantly
conquered will be ceaselessly put into question, and is the crisis in
society destined to always last?” We will respond coldly, “Yes.” We must
confront the harshest truth, “the truest cause” (to quote Thucydides) of
this social war, which is unfortunately but unavoidably permanent. Our
world is not made for the workers, nor for the other strata of
impoverished salaried workers whom our reasoning must place in the
simple category “proletarian.” But every day our world must be made
by them, under our command. This is the fundamental contradiction
with which we must live. Even during the calmest days, the spark that
could rekindle all of the masses’ insatiable passions and their
limitless and unstoppable hopes always exists in the cinders. This is
why we never have the right to abstain from being intelligent for too

[1] As Sanguinetti would later point out in his text “Proofs of the
Nonexistence of Censor by His Author” (December 1975), “the letter
attributed to Louis XVIII is in fact a celebrated literary fake by
Paul-Louis Courier.”

[2] Machiavelli, Chapter VI, The Prince.

[3] The Persian Emperor Darius, who ruled from 522 BCE to 486 BCE,
suffered a crucial naval defeat at the hands of the Greeks at Salamine
Island. In 1800, Napoleon won an important battle in Marengo, Italy.

[4] See “The Chief Features of the Revolution” in Arnold Toynbee’s
The Industrial Revolution (1881).

[5] See “Separation Perfected” in Guy Debord’s The Society of the

[6] A quote from Herodotus, Chapter CXXXV of The Histories. It
also appears in “Investigations without a Guidebook,” an essay published
in Internationale Situationniste #10, March 1966.