Encyclopedie des Nuisances

covers of Encyclopedie des Nuisances

Online archive of English translations of Encyclopedia of Nuisances, a post-situationist review published from 1984-1992.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 4, 2022

Founded in 1984 by Jaime Semprun and the ex-situationist Christian Sebastiani, L'Encyclopedie des Nuisances (The Encyclopedia of Nuisances) was both a group and the name of this group's journal.

The group itself explained the reasons for these formations:

"In 1984, the assassination of Gerard Lebovici, publisher of George Orwell, among others, and the campaign, launched on this occasion, by paid informers against Guy Debord, show that the liquidation of social critique is the order of the day and that such critique eventually passes to its few declared partisans."

Because of its reactive posture, The Encyclopedia of Nuisances was criticized as a form of "situationism" by several para-situationists, including Jean-Pierre Baudet, Jean-Francois Martos and Pascal Dumontier, and by Guy Debord himself, who nevertheless contributed three essays before breaking off relations. The last issue of the journal (#15) was published in April 1992.

(Text above by NOT BORED!)

An online archive of the original French editions can be found here: http://archivesautonomies.org/spip.php?article1792



6 months ago

Submitted by Steven. on December 4, 2022


Encyclopedie des Nuisances #1

cover of Encyclopedie des Nuisances #1

English translation of part of the first issue of Encyclopedia of Nuisances, published in November 1984.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 4, 2022

Preliminary discourse - Encyclopédie des Nuisances

The introductory essay of the first issue of the journal, Encyclopédie des Nuisances (The Encyclopedia of Nuisances, or Encyclopedia of Harmful Phenomena), published by the group of the same name in 1984.

Submitted by Alias Recluse on October 28, 2013

Preliminary Discourse – Encyclopédie des Nuisances

Part One (Encyclopédie des Nuisances, No. 1, pages 3 to 10)

For Diderot and his friends, the practical power that men were attaining thanks to the growth of commodity production heralded a world that would be free of prejudices and governed by reason, a world that would be richer in opportunities for enjoyment, where everyone would be free to pursue happiness. More than two centuries later, although this mode of production modestly believes that it still has many favors that it can bestow, it is obvious that the time has come to judge it in accordance with the facts: for it has transformed the world enough to make its contributions evident, but not enough to cause us to forget all that it has deprived us of. It is surprising, however, that this opportunity of subjecting it to judgment has been so sparingly exercised: never before were discussions concerning the necessity of the market economy as rare as they are now, when, for the first time, everyone can engage in them. Of course, it is true that if our contemporaries were to become aware of the possibility of evaluating their history, they might also embrace the possibility of freely constructing it. We are not at that point now, but, if we want to get there, it would be advisable to disseminate the taste for the first of those two activities. It will be our intention to contribute to the attainment of this objective.

For we can no longer rely on the eventuality that commodity production itself will exhaust, by way of the accumulation of its disastrous results, the patience of those whom it victimizes on a daily basis. This would probably be expecting too much, since it is obvious that, at the same time that it is producing conditions that were only yesterday considered to be unendurable, it is also producing the men capable of enduring those conditions today. Or at least, men who are incapable of formulating and communicating their dissatisfaction, which amounts to the same thing: customs deteriorate; the loss of the meaning of words participates in this deterioration. And that is why we propose to sabotage this aspect of the contemporary production of harmful phenomena, since we have some possibility of acting on it.

We aspire to concretely demonstrate how class society contains (conceals and represses) the historical possibility of its abolition, and why its fight against the threat posed by this possible abolition leads class society to commit the worst excesses of noxiousness. The labor that we shall undertake, which we do not expect will be interrupted for a lack of raw material, thus has two objectives: as a Dictionary of Irrationality in the Sciences, the Arts, and Trades, it must explain the way that each one of these professional specializations that comprise authorized social activity contributes to the general degradation of the conditions of existence; as an Encyclopedia, it must explain the unity of the production of harmful phenomena as the authoritarian development of the arbitrariness which is the inverted and obsessive image of the liberty that is possible in our time. We want at the same time to point out, wherever they appear, the paths that lead to the supersession of the historical paralysis that the owning classes would like to render irreversible by means of its prostheses.

Whereas the Encyclopedists compiled an inventory of a material world liberated from religious illusion, and whereas Marx still perceived “the exoteric revelation of man’s essential powers”, today we can only describe the reign of technologically equipped illusion and the “open book” of the powerlessness of men, subjugated by their own production, to consciously make their own history. We shall devote ourselves to the task of methodically exploring repressed possibilities, compiling a precise inventory of that which, in the midst of so many accumulated means, could be utilized for the purposes of a freer life, and also of that which will never be able to be used for anything except the perpetuation of oppression.

Illusion has not disappeared from social life; to the contrary, illusion has erected an independent realm within social life, undoubtedly due to the fact that those conditions that render illusion socially necessary have been exacerbated. The Reason invoked by the Encyclopedists was, subsumed within ideology, the particular, scientific and technical rationality that was experienced in material production, and whose victory over the chimeras of the old order was supposed to transform men into the masters of their destiny. But this reason did not yield such good results as might have been expected, because material production monopolized by the commodity, due to the fact that it was founded on the separation of men from each other as well as from the product of their activity, brought irrationality in its wake. Thus its development was instead the development of an increasingly more powerful irrationality. It would be demonstrated just how hostile the world is with respect to the miserable people of civilization who, at all points of the compass, are producing that world; more hostile than nature ever was for the most defenseless primitive peoples. At least the latter felt at home in a world inhabited by magical thought. From this subjective point of view, that of the men whose world was supposed to be made comprehensible by modern science, we may define this modern science, in its latest stage, as a magic that is not working.

The belief in progress has traveled such a long road that it is finally getting tired…. The bourgeois substitute for religion, the idea of a guaranteed better future, is inexorably decomposing, but in this dunghill monstrous flowers bloom: the nostalgia that obsesses our contemporaries and which confers an idyllic aspect on all the archaic forms of survival and the states of mind with which they are associated, bears the indelible mark of impotence and puerility. It must be confessed, however, that compared to this nostalgia, the devout apology for technology is humanly even more repugnant. In opposition to the false alternative of nostalgia for the past or modernism, we proclaim as loudly and clearly as possible that nothing is more modern and less complacent with regard to the illusions of progress than the project of total emancipation that was born with the struggles of the proletariat of the 19th century, a project that the considerable development of the means of submission has dialectically compelled to become more precise and more profound. It is evident that the course pursued by the material organization of commodity production, far from creating the foundations for the realization of that project, has rendered its realization more difficult than ever. But perhaps something like this was needed in order for that project to dare to appear for what it really is, that is, the project of a conscious history that cannot base its cause on any kind of needs external to those recognized by individuals themselves.

Despite its vaguely idealistic tendency, Lewis Mumford’s formula in his introduction to Technics and Civilization could serve as an excellent preamble to the historical critique of all allegedly “technical imperatives”: “What man has created, he can destroy. What man can destroy, he can also return to and create in a very different way.”1 The mere perception of such a possibility is nonetheless suppressed by the entire contemporary organization of culture, by the separations that are established between problems by the acceptance of socially dominant compartmentalizations. Today it is a cliché to say that the extreme division of intellectual labor prevents the attainment of an encyclopedic view, or the ability to survey the “circle of knowledge” at a glance. But this cliché conceals, as always, an anti-dialectical apology for what exists, since it makes no allowance at all for the possible unity of knowledge except on the terrain of separate knowledge, and only proposes to reconstitute this unity by overcoming its separation with the exclusive aid of the conceptual and material instruments of separation. In this way, knowledge that has been chopped up into little pieces by intellectual specialization pursues its redemption, in symposiums and conferences, in a vain search for a new “multidisciplinary” collage of its fragments, a caricature of universality which represents the same trend with respect to the “universal and concrete point of view of the totality” that the parodic downtowns (whose construction is the culmination of the destruction of a city) represent compared to cities when they were still full of life. The only possible result of these unitary whims of separate thought in its struggle with the totality, besides the confusionist logorrhea that so often ends in the sewer of mysticism, is the instrumentalization of the totalitarian control over life, where the State concretely embodies the unity of a world without unity, in the search for which so much speculation has been devoted. Unlike the holdings [in English in the original—translator’s note] formed under the tutelage of the State for bankrupt intellectual enterprises, our unitary point of view is the one that is discovered on the basis of everyday misery, including that of the specialists themselves, who must confess that they are totally at a loss when they venture outside their specialties. As a result, we only want to reconstruct the “circle of knowledge” in order to relate each point that composes it with the common center, that is, with the deprivation of all power over life, the fate of the immense majority of men.

Unlike all the encyclopedic attempts since Diderot, the reality that we start from is ignorance. This appears to us to be a human faculty whose exercise must be truly familiar and an everyday experience for all our contemporaries; thus, it is a more solid and more easily observable reality than the immense field of knowledge with which they preserve—and we preserve—less direct or more timid relations. Any Encyclopedia that takes human knowledge as its object and does not begin by asserting and assuming as a general starting point the fact that men are socially separated from that knowledge, can only participate in that popular soup of culture that is nothing but a distribution carried out by specialists of pre-masticated fragments of knowledge that float in a broth of ideology, a distribution that participates in the reproduction of ignorance and its paternalistic maintenance. Instead, our method consists in a development that starts with the immediate sense of privation in the face of science and technology, and with the revolt that this privation inspires; it is a grandiose conception that never loses sight of the totality, and tries to preserve it and to master it; it penetrates directly to the core of unrest in everything that exists and takes nothing for granted.

The revolt against the separation of scientific knowledge is the extra-scientific social truth that subjects science to historical judgment; it reflects consciousness’s recognition that everything affects it and that it must therefore re-appropriate the specific knowledge expropriated by the existing powers, just as the construction of a free life will have to practically assume responsibility for the control of all technologies in order to subject them to its requirements. For regardless of the question under consideration and however it is approached, except perhaps for foreign curiosities, by starting from the circumference of the circle one must recognize, at the convergence of its radii, in the center of the circle, ignorance and dispossession. This rejection of the spectacular culture that constrains the desire for concrete knowledge will allow, by way of the reconquest of all of its possible practical means, the accord between subjective requirements and those of the external world.

Therefore, our Encyclopedia will not derive its principles and its criteria from any of the particular rationalities whose validity in a specialized domain of activity no longer conceals its bankruptcy, due to the fact that its social employment has become dangerously irrational. The perennial “crisis of reason” is never anything but the crisis of the dominant form of reason, the crisis of the rationality of the ruling class. It must be admitted that in such a situation, whereas some ideologues have no reservations about using an irrationalist tone, others do not have any reservations about hurling the reproach of irrationalism. This confusion is the symptom of an era that does not know how to use either rational thought or the other means that are at its disposal. Not because it has too much of it, as is so often maintained, but because it does not possess it where it is most needed. One of the misfortunes of our era is the fact that the contradictions of individual consciousness, due to social censorship, are impoverished as a result of the individual’s inability to fully manifest them in his lived experience, and the individual must be satisfied with miserable substitutes and compensations. These contradictions are not entirely reducible to historically produced forms of consciousness, since what is perceived and expressed by means of those forms, more or less effectively, that is, at the present time most ineffectively, is the universal human experience of the passage of life and of the negation of this passage. From such a perspective, we may say that not only are other possibilities offered by history, but that history itself, as Europe has imposed it on the rest of the world, was merely one possibility among others and, until a new order is established, it is not necessarily the best: a traditional society would have undoubtedly offered better conditions for the realization of this experience than those that our partially historical society offers today; although it is historical enough to destroy everything, it is not historical enough to know how to consciously employ the means at its disposal.

The only possible historical reason, and not only for the purpose of inspiring the publication of an Encyclopedia, is the one that can serve as the practical basis for the activity of a free society by destroying everything that stands in its way, and subjecting everything to the dialogue of associated individuals. And on this terrain that has been cleared of the ghosts created by fear, the aspirations that form part of the anti-historical aspect of consciousness and which are currently reduced to an impotent parody (occultism and neo-sorceries of all kinds) will be able to be unfold rationally and poetically—and will therefore be able to experience a new life.

This revolutionary project that is the obsession of modern history is the only one that is worth defending. Especially for those for whom the current era of falsification has not altered their taste for the truth, because it is only on that basis, both with regard to its advances as well as its retreats, that we can understand the social text of our era, which is otherwise indecipherable. Our objective consists in clarifying this fact by means of the concrete and detailed description of that which, in the hands of its managers, has become what is commonly referred to as human life, although it lacks both life and humanity. It is therefore an exhaustive program for the revolution formulated ex negativo, which will have to reorganize all of the conditions of existence by addressing all of the problems that class society is currently incapable of resolving. By formulating all the considerations of the judgment that this society is pronouncing against itself on a massive scale, we hope to provide an example of that “universal and concrete view of the whole, independent of all authority and all abstract metaphysics” that Hegel admired in the first Encyclopedists and without which the contempt for what exists descends into a passive nihilism. What qualifies us for such a task is the fact that we are by no means possessed of great erudition; the kind of erudition that produces the current social organization. What we learned from such erudition was how to fight it, and with the sole objective of learning how to do so more effectively: that is why our knowledge can by no means be adapted to the criteria of usefulness established by that erudition. This is just what is needed to judge it from the point of view of real proletarianized life, deprived of everything, even of the information regarding the extent of its deprivation. As George Orwell said, who described the beginnings of the bureaucratization of the world, the decisive victories of which we are today able to savor, better than anyone else in his time: “Where I feel that people like us understand the situation better than so-called experts is not in any power to foretell specific events, but in the power to grasp what kind of world we are living in.” This ability is not to be distinguished from the practical choice to have no interests that prevent its exercise.

We must respond, however, to the objection that maintains that formulations like ours are imbued with a complacent catastrophism, in which, in our desire to find a way out of our evil plight, the necessity of its destruction is disguised as a chronicle of lamentations. It is true that every generation of revolutionaries, ever since the proletarian project for a classless society has existed, was convinced that its struggle was decisive and that the prevailing social order had finally reached the point of its inevitable downfall; or at least, the point at which the requirements for its preservation would compel it to subject the majority of men to such conditions of existence that men would be, so to speak, forced to become conscious and to commit to revolution. And instead it was demonstrated that, on every such occasion, the limits of what was endurable could still be further extended, with the invariable result of an increasingly more sophisticated cowardice and simulation among the worthy citizens of ignominy.

It is not our intention to speak ironically about the role played by the illusions that the revolutionaries of the past often cultivated about their own action: we will leave that to those realists who, with regard to their own affairs, obtain immediate consolation and enjoyment by submerging themselves in the current abjectness, which is well adapted, of course, to their minuscule appetites. We shall prefer to always to be mistaken together with those who thought that they were the last generation to endure the mutilation of life and did not conceive that the accumulation of dispossession could be perpetuated, rather than be correct with those who defeated them or with the heirs of their conquerors; it just so happens that today, the best reasons, because they are the least “scientific”, of those defeated rebels, are the most concrete and most urgent. For all those people who, in spite of everything, will not identify with the forces of inertia that are plunging us ever more precipitously down the slope of programmed horror, these reasons are as tangible as the macabre project of making the results of the prolific development of commodities irreversible, and, in a sinister parody of the revolutionary project of the total man, as the project of over-equipping the worthlessness of individuals, of definitively reducing them to the status of convulsive marionettes, agitated by their innumerable commodity prostheses, in response to the rhythm of an ubiquitous telematic machinery. And all of these defeated reasons therefore continue to pass their judgments on the subsequent development in its entirety, so that we shall be able to condemn it with full knowledge of its causes.

Thus, the subjective foundation of revolutionary desire is stripped of all appearances of arbitrariness by the movement of alienated history: the objectivity of the still-existing world is determined from the top down by aspirations that it must endlessly destroy, and at the same time, it must continue to justify by destroying them. Instead, despite or because of a Platonic will towards objectivity that seeks to be sparing with regard to the affirmation of individual choice, the confidence that spoke in the name of a guaranteed future has been cruelly refuted—a confidence that is usually content with the unilateral identification of the possibilities of freedom with a “development of the productive forces” conceived in accordance with the lamentable model of bourgeois progress. We still have to dialectically render an assessment of that which is today revealed to us as illusion: on the one hand, the idea that the mere development of the productive forces, within the framework of bourgeois society, facilitated their revolutionary re-appropriation and made them more suitable for their use by a free society; this idea was not a theoretical error that must now be corrected, but the expression of a historical possibility that was effectively presented and was at the time an opportunity that had to be seized; an expression that was unfortunately mystified since it was no longer based on the conscious activity that had to impose that possibility, as opposed to all other possible outcomes. On the other hand, the idea of this possible re-appropriation, transformed into an ideology by its contemplative abandonment to the course of economic development, contributed to the fact that everything followed its autonomous course, and became, in the next stage, a decisive counterrevolutionary factor. There can be no doubt that the confidence that the workers will inherit the world was not only the basis for bureaucratic ideology, but also, for numerous revolutionaries, the source of their determination and even their willingness to die for their beliefs. But, with regard to the issues that concern us, and that concern everyone who is really determined to bring about the disappearance of the existing world, we shall simply say that we can no longer derive our resolve and the steadfastness of our beliefs from such a notion.

The crucial historic moment in which we find ourselves can be defined by saying that today not only is it true that “every development of new productive forces is at the same time a weapon against the workers” (Marx, “Wages” [1847]), but that such development is above all, and almost exclusively, a machine of war directed against the revolutionary project of the proletariat: it is no longer just the case that a choice among all the applicable technical inventions can be made in response to the needs of preserving class power, and that their organization taken as a whole, the form bestowed on these technologies, is determined by the imperative of the bureaucratic secret to perpetuate the monopoly of their use, but that, what is happening now, is that these famous “productive forces” are mobilized by the owning classes and by their States to make the expropriation of life irreversible and to pillage the world until it is transformed into something over whose possession no one can even imagine disputing.

We therefore do not reject what exists and is decomposing with an ever-increasing degree of noxiousness in the name of a future that we claim to more faithfully represent than its official proprietors. Instead, we think that they eminently represent this future, the whole future that is predictable from the standpoint of the present abjection: they represent only that future, and having made their bed they have to sleep in it. Against this enterprise of planned desolation whose explicit program is the production of an unusable2 world, revolutionaries find themselves in the novel situation of having to fight in defense of the present in order to keep all the other possibilities of changing it open—beginning of course with the very possibility of safeguarding the minimal conditions for the survival of the species—which are the same possibilities that the dominant society is endeavoring to obstruct by means of its attempt to irrevocably reduce history to the extended reproduction of the past and by trying to reduce the future to the management of the wastes of the present.

It is true that the project of producing an unusable world, foreclosing from now through eternity the chance of any revolutionary re-appropriation, is absurd and suicidal, because this means a strictly unlivable world, in which historical nothingness will be catastrophically materialized, to which the owning classes will condemn themselves along with the proletarians, in order to assure the continuation of the economic history of things. However, if the display of supine stupidity continues to prevail in the attempt to construct a world where absolute reification would not mean death, the latter may be the last gift that capitalism will give us, but not in the sense we desire. Because it is possible that by that time no one will be capable of perceiving this world as the finally total counterrevolution from which a no less total revolution must arise, since the bourgeoisie will have successfully brought about, not in its economic ideology but in reality itself, a situation in which there once was history, but not anymore.

In the end, the State is responsible for creating the situation that makes any return to the past impossible, which prohibits men from returning to their own history and reawakening their dormant reason for the purpose of subjecting their power to a consideration without illusions and to freely decide the use to which they must put it. And revolutionaries must take advantage of what could turn out to be a strong position, granted by the demented flight forward of the powers and the autonomized economy to which the fate of those powers is bound. For, as opposed to the attempt to render the current state of affairs irreversible and the affairs of state that are making the consequent harmful phenomena indestructible, the revolutionaries no longer represent merely a different option but simple realism: they defend both a negation and a project, and they can mobilize for their cause, together with the desire of the unknown, the instinct for self-preservation. An admirable convergence: to save what is left of human existence that has not yet been disastrously putrefied by commodity production, and whose preservation is of concern to all of us, a social revolution is necessary; for the social revolution to be possible we need to defend that which serves as the basis for the possibility of imagining and constructing a free life, and for subjecting everything else to evaluation. Beginning with the memory of all free activity in history, in the light of which the economic misadventure will clearly appear for what it is, that is, an endless deviation in man’s production of himself that threatens to become an irreversible deviation. The promising creations of the past, which exemplified or adorned a community full of life, have been pillaged or made incomprehensible by the system itself. With regard to the quality contained in all authentic creation, we may say what André Breton said concerning the art of the Australian aborigines: “May man, with the difficulty he has to survive today, here take the measure of his lost powers, and the individual who, surrounded by general alienation, resists his own alienation, ‘turn back on himself, like the Australian boomerang in the second phase of its flight’.” So that anything that helps us to discern the marvels of which a free humanity would be capable, is for us one more reason to put all our confidence in the unleashed forces of the social revolution.

Encyclopédie des Nuisances
November 1984

Translated from the Spanish translation:

Encyclopédie des Nuisances, “Discurso Preliminar”, Chapter 1 of La Sinrazón en las Ciencias, los Oficios y las Artes. Artículos selectos de la Encyclopédie des Nuisances, tr. Miguel Amorós, Muturreko Burutazioak, Bilbao, Second Edition, 2007, pp. 9-20.

Originally published as “Discours préliminaire” in L’Encyclopédie des Nuisances no. 1, Paris, November 1984.

  • 1 A corresponding original English version of this quotation could not be located in Mumford’s Introduction (1963) to the American edition of Technics and Civilization (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2010); this quotation was therefore translated from the Spanish [American Translator’s Note].
  • 2 Not susceptible to détournement; that which cannot be transformed or utilized in any way.


Encyclopedie des Nuisances #2

cover of Encyclopedia of Nuisances issue 2

English translation of the second issue of the post-situationist Encyclopedia of Nuisances, published February 1985.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 4, 2022

History of ten years - Encyclopedie des Nuisances

Analysis of the outbreaks of class struggle in Portugal, Spain, Italy and Poland that took place between 1974 and 1984, published by the Encyclopedie des Nuisances in 1985.

Submitted by Alias Recluse on June 11, 2011

History of Ten Years – Encyclopédie des Nuisances

Outline for a Historical Depiction of the Progress Attained by Social Alienation

When we reflect upon these ten years and the form they have impressed upon the spirit of the times, and upon the plot they have woven, upon which the figures of unconsciousness have embroidered their predictable entanglements, what first comes to mind is powerlessness, then unrest. The powerlessness of the individuals whose entire lives are more than ever before subject to the delirious demands of the current system of production, and whose lamentable self-justifying charlatanry, false cynicism and feigned euphoria only make their impotence more obvious. The unrest that overcomes them when they see, and they see it almost every moment, that the compensations which they thought they could find in exchange for their renunciations turn out to be, even as minuscule material satisfactions, extremely precarious, because they are completely poisoned by the reality of the alienated labor from which they originated, and whose proliferation does nothing but spread misery and harm.

Despite this objective decomposition of the material basis of illusion, this unrest that corrodes the immense majority of our contemporaries, and particularly those false rich people who are the real “new poor” (those who are so denominated by the upside-down expression of the official lie are, instead, the poor who have always been with us), the employees of the system who have attained to its false wealth, this unrest by no means impels them towards revolt. It appears that, to the contrary, it causes them to cling ever more desperately to the synthetic realities distributed by commodity production, like the neurotic who clings to the symptoms of his illness, surrogates for a satisfaction that did not take place. Generally speaking, for the last ten years we have seen the bonds that keep men tied to their misfortune reinforced; these bonds, although they have not been broken anywhere, were momentarily loosened. And at the same time we have seen this misfortune, the historical misfortune of social alienation, universalized to the point that nothing of what at one time constituted immediate life, with its limited satisfactions, remains beyond its reach.

This world, then, has by no means made itself more lovable, but it has managed to restore the idea that it is the only possible world. In order to break the complicity of men with that which is killing them, their preference for what exists to their detriment, it is necessary for a practical alternative to exist and to be perceptible, a practical alternative that presents to each person the possibility of an increase of power, of directly experienced wealth. The fear of freedom is not a suprahistorical fate, it is determined by a particular situation in which that which has been liberated by the break with the neurotic adherence to the mechanism of misfortune has no direct use, due to the absence of a collective project that could crystallize the desires of the era, and therefore turns against the subject, separating him from the others, as madness. Dialectical thought lies beyond this madness, but, in order to negotiate this difficult road, the “dark night [punto nocturno] of the contradiction”, it is necessary for consciousness to know itself and to recognize itself in communication with other consciousnesses. Dialectical reason is, in principle, senseless in relation to the ruling reason: it has to unmask the partial character of the latter, and precisely formulate, in the context of the given situation, the project of its supersession in order to itself become fully reason. The victory of the old order consists precisely in preventing this, in containing critical thought within the unilateral status of pure denunciation or arbitrary interpretation, and in thereby contaminating it with its own unreality: positivity without a history and negativity without a future are presented then as two mirrors that endlessly reflect the vacuum that separates them, and fills them.


We shall consider the degradation of the subjective conditions for revolution, and the progress made by alienation that has thus been facilitated, focusing our analysis on a few decisive moments of this process in Europe. For it is here that this society has been confronted by the most advanced critical point of view, because it was here that was born, by way of urban conflicts and, later, those of modern class society, historical thought and its heir, the project for the total appropriation of history, for subjecting all existing conditions to the power of united individuals. It is therefore also in Europe that the victories of the dominant society take on ever more characteristic counterrevolutionary forms: Bonapartism, social democracy, fascism, Stalinism, State terrorism. The industries that distribute the most modern means of alienation may very well be located in California or Japan, but their power is measured in Europe, with Europe, because it is here that the most modern form of contestation has always been found, which it has attempted to neutralize and recuperate: the restoration of alienation follows the same road as the attempts at disalienation.

Thus, in the 1960s, the development of modernized alienation could be understood and fought from the European terrain of memory—the memory of the proletarian project for a classless society, the memory of the project of individual emancipation formulated by modern art—and not in that suburb of thought which is the American metropolis of the commodity spectacle. So true is this that the few partial critical formulations produced in the United States after World War Two were essentially results of the revolutionary Marxism of the 1920s confronted by exile in the reality of the most advanced class society, but as they were thus displaced and cut off from their living environment they were incapable of resisting academic recuperation. A critical theory of society cannot exist and develop its truth unless it precisely assesses its social use: it must fight against its integration and falsification by the dominant culture so as to be there in its integrity when the real movement of criticism in acts needs it and can use it. This is what no one knew how to do during those years, except for the Situationist International.


In the movement of May 1968, the social critique of the new conditions of modern capitalism succeeded, thanks to the coherent practice of its bearers, in joining with the subversion of these conditions by the autonomous action of the proletariat. But the merger of these two complementary aspects was not to last: they were present at the same time, mutually related through the communication made possible by the acts carried out during the revolutionary moment, but were still too separated, as a result of the essential success of the trade union bureaucracies in their efforts to isolate the workers in the factories. What was at stake in the era that began then was the realization of what had been left in suspense during the month of May, the appropriation by the real movement of “its own unknown theory”.

The revolution of May 1968 constituted for the world proletariat a new starting point of universal historical importance, and its failure was by no means sufficient to assure an enduring restoration of the old order: it was still necessary to defeat what had then begun. It is easy enough to point out that notable results have been obtained in this sense, but such an assertion is of interest only to those who are interested in understanding how it has achieved this: unlike all those ex-leftists who have unconditionally adhered to the objectivity of the existing world and do not want to see anything in their old critical vagaries except a youthful error or a subjective illusion, it is necessary to understand, from the point of view of the process itself, which opportunities have been lost, how certain possibilities have prevailed at the expense of others which could have been more effectively advocated, and what could have been attempted and with what different results. For anyone who considers, without succumbing to illusions, the history of these years, the first conclusion to be drawn is that the class in power has succeeded in reversing the tendential fall in its rate of control over society. And there is no remedy for this except to see that the obvious decomposition of society does not disprove this reinforcement of state and commercial control: it expresses it. To be pleased by this would be inappropriate, when it means the destruction of everything that still exists independently of the mediation of the spectacle and the State.

A little dispassionate consideration of the matter enables one to see that, during these years that the owning classes have devoted to reorganizing their rule, they have been neither sleeping nor fooling around. But before reflecting upon what they have done, how they have recovered the initiative, one must take into consideration what their enemies have not done, how they have allowed the owning classes to recover the initiative. For this has been above all the determining factor, and it is also the aspect that we can best understand, since we have been in close enough proximity to it. Therefore we must once again speak concerning the truth of power.


During the course of the years following the revolution of May 1968, many people believed that the sentence pronounced at that time against the existing social organization was about to be executed. But the truth is that the question of the means required for this execution had hardly been formulated: it was assumed that an unchecked autonomy and total freedom would take care of everything. This world would come to an end. The only reason why it had been able to last so long was that it existed. And this reason seemed weak compared to all the reasons that proclaimed otherwise. The revolt, born from a dissatisfaction that embraced the totality of life, became generalized; and all the prevailing conditions of existence were attacked as unreal. The leaders themselves spoke of nothing except changing them as quickly as possible.

In a confrontation of this nature, however, forces are measured in relative terms, and not from the point of view of an absolute knowledge that expends little enough effort by speaking of decline while perusing the historical dictionary. One can always satirize the faults of leaders; yet with all their faults they are still supported, they remain in power, and this is all that matters to them. This weak reason for persistence that the system’s own existence constitutes has turned out to be strong enough, since it must be admitted that the reasons with which it was opposed were revealed to be even weaker.

In France, the critical social current that had developed on the basis of the experience of rejection in May did not know how to organize in order to permanently break the spectacular monopoly of explanation. It is true that the theory of such an organization was as new as the revolutionary conditions that made it necessary. It was easy enough to recognize what no longer worked (parties, trade unions, militantism), but this rejection of intermediaries made the understanding of the necessary mediations even more vital. Those who had found in May a direct use for their rebelliousness in the course of the first wildcat general strike in history, now had to learn something for which they previously had neither the time nor the need to learn: how to effectively employ their forces, how to calculate the correct point of application, in short, how to think strategically. Most did not succeed in doing so, and many were those who not only lost the thread of historical intelligence, but also lost themselves in the diverse varieties of resignation. The continued practical implementation of what had been directly felt above all as the total will—quite unarmed—of subversion, but really understood in all its determinations, was certainly an immense task. But the program of the modern revolution, formulating the project of a total historical presence of individuals, cannot in any case be forwarded by means of abstention, not even then, when so many people everywhere tried to intervene against the conditions of existence that had been imposed upon them.

Ultimately, the principal weakness of the post-May radical current was that it did not know itself, with its limitations and its necessary tasks. By abstractly identifying itself with the “proletariat”, it also lost, in this radical indetermination of a night of the totality where the real difficulties of an activity that was still in its essentials a vanguard activity conveniently disappear, the intelligence of what it did and what it could do and of what the workers struggling against their autonomized representation were doing and what they could do. At that time when so many things were possible, those who found themselves in the most advanced revolutionary positions thus left in the hands of the various leftist fractions the terrain of the particular struggles being unleashed everywhere against each aspect of alienation. It is certainly true that these struggles often still spoke in mystified language, but the scorn for the “piecemeal”, of which the purists who proudly retire to the tent of the totality boast, was instead a scorn for the living totality, which is not a finished product but a practical process, a struggle by way of the particularity of each experienced contradiction, to achieve conditions of unity and general conclusions.

The States and the various forces of the counterrevolution, for their part, did not have, as is usual, any need to understand the whole historical scope of what they did, and easily found in their threatened situation the content and the material of their activity: all they had to do was to finish under the pressure of the contestation what they had begun in the euphoria of the social peace, and all their particular repressive tasks spontaneously merged in this enterprise of subjecting the whole of life to the imperatives of the self-developing economy. As long as the oppressive coherence of the commodity, as universal social relation, is not questioned, the cunning of commodity reason guarantees to its servants sufficient intelligence: realizing their interests produces that hidden other thing concerning which their consciousness was unaware and did not enter into their plans. See, for example, how the Stalinists, conscious enemies of the proletariat everywhere, by breaking the strikes to preserve their power, have cleared the way for the “industrial restructuring” that undermines the basis of that power!

The social movement that turned to the proletariat to combat its modernized misery and to rediscover its lost history could only derive its coherence from the consciousness of its project. Its road had to be long and difficult, since it was faced with the necessity of understanding itself and then of creating from scratch the practical means for this understanding. What thus became necessary was the autonomous organization of the proletariat, the workers councils, entirely redefined in light of its modern tasks, since the movement of the economy, ever more visibly becoming the negation of life, destroyed the illusion of a self-management built on the foundations of existing production. The radical current of the advocates of a modern social critique, principally developed among the youth, undoubtedly supported the idea of the councils. But, powerless before the task of clarifying its content through its own activity by effectively fighting against everything that the power of the Councils must definitely abolish (urbanism, culture, leisure, etc.), it was led to expect everything, with an increasing lack of realism that was sometimes comically manifested as critical spite, from workers struggles that it was nonetheless incapable of either supporting or understanding, magically denying that which separated it from them. In France, this separation was enhanced, together with the power of the trade union bureaucrats who were its guardians, by the fact that numerous young workers chose after 1968 to abandon the factories, over the doors of which they had written: “Here freedom ends”. Thus, the movement that in 1968 had stopped short of creating autonomous organizations that would have directed the anti-trade union struggle towards a positive project of total democracy, far from growing stronger as a result of the memory of the proletarian attempts of the past, is so weakened that it has forgotten what it did.

In Italy, the process of the struggles that were becoming more openly anti-trade union during the “Rampant May”, and were irresistibly approaching an open confrontation, was interrupted by the police bombs in Milan in December 1969. And everywhere, throughout a Europe that was riddled with wildcat strikes, the proletariat, after its first victory, after its reappearance as historical subject, was unable to extend its offensive. It was capable of causing a crisis in the existing system, but then it stopped, as if it was not convinced of its ability to reorganize the world in accordance with its desires. And with regard to such affairs it suffices for men to believe they cannot do something for them to be effectively rendered incapable of doing it.


It was in Portugal, more than anywhere else, that this subjective weakness was most clearly manifested as an internal limitation, since the revolutionary crisis that unfolded there from April 1974 to November 1975 witnessed an almost complete disappearance of the State and its powers of repression for which history offers few other examples of such duration. This extreme slowness of the revolutionary process is explained by the weakness of the opposing forces, that for quite a long time spared each other the obligation to conclude: If dual power lasted so long it was because it never finished crystallizing.

At first, the universal content of the revolution was obscured by the strangeness of its genesis, which concealed it to some extent from its principal protagonists, the workers, who had taken advantage of the breach opened up by the army, and this allowed it to be all the more easily hidden from its possible allies in Europe, and in Spain most of all. The power vacuum created by those soldiers who, when ordered to fight overseas so that nothing would change in Portugal, chose instead to change everything in Portugal so that they would not have to fight overseas, rapidly aggravated afterwards by proletarian subversion, explains why this revolutionary movement was so easily capable of going much further, in certain respects, than its Italian and French predecessors: critique of political parties, demand for direct democracy, rejection of manipulation of the assemblies, contempt for the State, critique in acts of private and state property, appropriation of the means of communication by the workers, and finally, an anti-hierarchical movement in the army, which became useless for the repressive schemes nurtured by the State. But this ease also explains the weakness of a revolution that owed its victories less to its organized consciousness as a practical force than to the inconsistency of its enemies and the benign neutrality of the leftist populist fraction of the army that was at that time the only power in the country. And, as one could see again on November 25, 1975, when the military left was finally eliminated by the moderate officers, nothing is as weak and unstable as the reputation of a power that does not rest on the foundation of its own force: this proletarian movement that had gone so far disappeared almost overnight, without having attempted even the least defensive struggle.

This conclusion was merely the last of a series of blows delivered within the army by the various projects to restore the State and to neutralize the proletariat. Finally, the open mutiny of the paratroopers on November 24 provided the legal pretext for the setting in motion of an operation that had been prepared for several months and had been ready for implementation for several weeks. With the help of only one military unit that was vastly outnumbered, but benefiting from decisive action, the moderate wing of the AFM (Armed Forces Movement) successively suppressed all the leftist or rebel formations, whose officers allowed themselves to be arrested without resistance, thereby demonstrating by this legalism that their leftism, although armed, was nothing but an anachronistic parody of Leninism. This pusillanimous defeat was also a defeat for the revolutionary workers to the precise extent that they were incapable of freeing their movement from the tutelage of its incompetent guardians and underwent a transition from the unrealism of an excess of confidence to an excess of discouragement. Obviously, any abstract criticism of this lack of fighting spirit would be ridiculous, but it must nonetheless be pointed out that when one ceases to be an actor in history one is not thereby protected from its blows: they are still received in a struggle that was not chosen.

If the Portuguese revolution was nevertheless, despite the archaism of the domination against which it arose, a modern revolution, this is because the autonomous organization without which the proletarians would be unable to begin to communicate their real needs was present and active. This autonomous intervention resulted in the fact that the principal struggle did not take place between the preservation of the past and its revolutionary transformation, but between two general conceptions of change. The one effective and positive, since it is the owners of society who apply it every day, constructing with ever greater means the necessary framework and preconditions for life for the development of the economy and the State; the other spontaneous, indecisive, negative, without a means of expression and without a project at the beginning, but pushed by the struggle itself against what it rejects to rediscover itself as the historic enemy of the economy and the State. The demarcation of these two conceptions of change never attained such a degree of clarity in Portugal, but came close enough that all the resources of spectacular confusion were mobilized against it. The modern character of the Portuguese revolutionary movement is thus revealed less by what it did than by what the forces raised against it did.

On this occasion, it was possible to measure the progress achieved by the production of unconsciousness since the epoch when Rosa Luxemburg, on the eve of her assassination by the social democracy, discovered in that representation of the workers which had been turned against proletarian autonomy the secret of the new conditions in which the central question of the revolution could no longer be posed openly and honestly by means of an open struggle, the primitive accumulation of the modern spectacle that, having expropriated from men all historical intervention, can now provide them with the version chosen by it for their contemplation. The concealed international connections involved in the coup of November 25 (the moderate officers having inherited the support that Spínola had first received) had their visible counterpart, which was all the more visible insofar as this was all that was seen, in the universal collaboration of the agents of information and the monopoly of appearances (politicians, experts of the communications media, etc.) who demonstrated that they had learned some lessons from 1968 by breaking every record for falsification and censorship; this was so successfully accomplished that the profound movement of workers autonomy was barely discernable in the news reports while, on the other hand, the armed leftism of the captains, the main parasite of the Portuguese revolution, was bathed in the limelight. It is of course true that this Holy Alliance is not itself any more modern than the interests it serves, but its means, its procedures and its field of action are quite definitely more modern. They therefore define, ex negativo, what a revolutionary movement must do in order to break out of its isolation and find its allies. Spectacular information is not just the old bourgeois lie technically equipped, but a necessary moment in the construction of a reality that escapes control and understanding as well as historical correction. For the same reasons, this perspective must inform our understanding of the choice of modern states to avoid bloody repression as long as possible. This is because they are in a position to know that they need above all to dissimulate the lines drawn by the social war, to dissimulate the reality of the possible choices and interventions and to prevent this confrontation that concerns the totality of social practice from shattering the screened image of manipulated everyday life, where the reality of the facts is always that of the fait accompli, and the fait accompli is always the channel that leads back to the old hierarchical ways. Thus, the authorized commentators, driven mad by their own lies, have even spoken of the “surrealist” character of the Portuguese revolution, making its development perfectly incomprehensible from the very moment that the proletarian threat was hidden which determined the action of all the other actors.

Even in Portugal, however, the effect of the spectacle, the dispossession that causes men to see their own history as something alien, and that causes them, thinking in the language of power, to fail to see what they are doing against that power, weighs heavily upon the development of the autonomous movement of the workers. Those who should have been capable of fighting against this retreat of consciousness, the supporters of a program of total subversion, demonstrated to the point of caricature the revolutionist defect of a contemplative identification with the proletariat, whose absolute radicalism, postulated by its impotence, allowed them to spare themselves the effort of making their perspectives victorious. At the moment when the assembly movement was confronted with the necessity of inventing its own language to communicate what it was doing and what it was capable of doing, they did nothing to assist in its self-defense against the ideological bombardment to which it was subjected, from Stalinist falsification to leftist confusionism. This shameful resignation certainly influenced the unfolding events, although it does not by itself explain why the direct coordination sketched by the assemblies was so easily stifled and neutralized, thus leaving the movement increasingly dependent on outside news organizations (Radio Renascença y República) partially controlled by the workers and more vulnerable from every point of view; but above all by not formulating in their truth all the practical problems that came to confront the assembly movement, and which were the same problems that have always been posed to the entire proletarian movement, the inactive extremists allowed this movement to be defeated and to disappear without having left behind in its wake a maximum number of general conclusions that could be used by a more conscious struggle.

It is true of course that history is not made by theories and it is not theory that incites the proletarians to try to overthrow a social organization: the proletariat takes this upon itself because otherwise nobody can do it in its place. But when a few individuals engage in such an enterprise by attempting to combat a particular infamy, the fact that they possess a general historical conception, conceived and formulated for this purpose, can greatly facilitate their acquisition of access to the understanding of their own action. And the time thus gained can be decisive, in a confrontation where generally everything happens very suddenly. Meanwhile, whatever the outcome of the struggle, if the proletarian party has been capable of boldly proclaiming its goals and the universal interests at stake, it will have thereby achieved a considerable victory over the organization of passivity and historical amnesia. Otherwise, if it has not clearly asserted its autonomous perspective it will have to lose, together with the memory of what it has done, the consciousness of what was effectively possible.


The scope of the tasks faced by a modern proletarian movement was once again manifested in Spain in the social crisis whose depth was revealed by the exhaustion of Francoism and the policies of the transition. The assembly movement that became generalized between 1976 and 1978 by virtue of the strike wave signaled the autonomous intervention of the proletariat in the war of succession inaugurated by Franco’s death. This movement, although it rediscovered the best libertarian tradition of direct action in the class struggle, never managed to know itself by knowing all its enemies. It is true that it lacked the project of total emancipation and the organic experience that the libertarian movement possessed to the highest degree prior to the civil war. It is also true, however, that it was less disposed to rhetoric, less anti-intellectual and more demanding with respect to the leading comrades and the “prestigious militants”. In short, it was, for good and for ill, more modern: without ideology, but also without language and without memory.

From its inception, due to its very existence, the assembly movement refuted all the liars who, speaking in the name of the proletariat reduced to silence, took for granted that it would be subjected to the capitalist sectors that favored change—those which had recognized the fact that Francoism had lost its control over Spanish society—and who were only prepared to engage the proletarians in a discussion concerning their proper role in the new managerial team. It was thus verified in practice that representative democracy, in its perfected form, is not an approximation to real democracy, but its exact opposite: it is necessary for men to cease to speak directly of their own affairs in order for the political spectacle to occur, with the monopoly over speech which constitutes its precondition. The construction of its lie is accomplished by way of the destruction of the practical means of truth, where all the problems of society are posed in such a manner that they can be resolved.

Unlike their counterparts in Portugal, the Spanish proletariat did not benefit from a weakening of the State caused by a poorly conceived attempt at reform. The party of modern counterrevolution—those who by remaining in the State were ready to accept those who wanted to be part of it—had undoubtedly learned something from the misfortunes of their neighbors: it sacrificed as much as was necessary, but no more, and knew how to prevent its retreat from being turned into a defeat, withdrawing step by step to the point where equilibrium was reestablished, principally thanks to the dispersion of the proletarian forces. The assembly movement, however, because it had to advance against everyone and everything right from the start, provided evidence of notable decisiveness and determination. Since it opposed the modernization of the State at the very moment when the college-educated elements—who were in Spain even more dependent on the State than their counterparts in other countries, due to the weakness of that country’s private capitalism—were looking forward to the development of the administrative, political and cultural apparatus that would finally create the jobs they coveted, the workers struggles immediately aroused the ferocious hostility of this subaltern personnel of social control; the Stalinists, on the other hand, found in this milieu, as is to be expected, their most devoted supporters.

The offensive reached its high point in Vitoria (February-March 1976). If the Madrid strikes of January had convinced the bosses of the need for trade unions to control the workers, the general strike in Vitoria definitely torpedoed the Stalinist project of rehabilitating the vertical trade union and revealed the embryonic pact between the regime and the opposition. This marked the end of the relative tolerance with which the government sought to demonstrate the good faith of its promises of reform. The workers of Vitoria were machine-gunned, the opposition assuming responsibility for isolating its uprising. From that moment, with the failure of Francoist reform, the bourgeoisie, wherever it was not bound by its vital interests to the institutions of the dictatorship, had to accept the legalization of the parties and trade unions; and the opposition united in order to negotiate political reforms and a social pact with the new government that would liquidate the least appealing aspects of the Francoist legacy and begin preparations for elections.

Of course, no political settlement could really satisfy a movement that was a critique in acts of politics and all separate representation. But in order to unify its forces it now had to unify its demands, and to summarize them in a simple slogan that, expressing the transcendence of dispersed struggles, would provide them with the form of a general goal that the vast majority of the workers would be able to recognize as an essential necessity, in order to impose their satisfaction. With their goal of really fighting for themselves, the assemblies had to fight against the opposition, apprehend all the consequences of what they had learned in the struggle and treat the political-trade union bureaucracy as an enemy, like Francoism. “Either the assemblies or the trade unions”, such was the alternative posed by the most conscious proletarians, and this was undoubtedly the tactical need that contained the seed of the possibilities for unification in a coherent revolutionary project. The necessity of self-organization was vividly experienced and, as a result, the trade unions were extensively boycotted, but serious coordination of these efforts only rarely spread beyond local struggles. The absence of an organized assemblyist current that would present itself as such by clearly formulating the critique of the trade unions that was on everyone’s mind, contributed to the trend towards dispersion and confusion. And the strikes of autumn 1976, although more organized and more militant, had no result except the demonstration of November 12 which, instead of providing a platform for the expression of the combative enthusiasm of the workers, saw the workers accepting the leadership of the trade union bureaucracies, thus transforming an anti-Francoist demonstration into a demonstration of trade union discipline. The resulting retreat of consciousness could no longer be remedied, and that which did not know how to make itself visible at the time was only repressed with increasing effectiveness by the organization of democratic appearances. The assembly movement had let that decisive moment pass when a bold initiative could have completely altered the correlation of forces, so that conditions would change from that moment for everyone, making the revolutionary perspective tangible by obliging each person to determine his or her self in relation to it.

This is not the proper place for a detailed analysis of the mechanism of the subsequent defeat and its principal results. Instead we have to discern how the modern forces of counterrevolution, which we already saw in action in Portugal, behaved in this instance.


In fact, men never engage in a lasting movement to overthrow a social organization only because they detest what exists: it is necessary for them to also have, in one way or another, a positive conception of the life they want to live. This is what the old revolutionary workers movement had, above all in its anarchist fraction, which is just the one that made the most progress, during the Spanish revolution of 1936, towards the liquidation of the old order. Of course, the proletarians can acquire this positive conception during the struggle itself, the community that serves as a means for the delineation of the contours of the end. But it is still necessary for the practical values thus produced to be transmitted in an autonomous language and to be unified in an historical project.

The various successes of those who during the 1980s obligingly broadcast to us the propaganda of commodities and States—successes which all merge in the deepening of separation and an over-abundant equipping of passivity—were made possible thanks to a more profound achievement concerning which, on the other hand, absolutely nothing is said, it is not even mentioned: the repression and concealment of the project of higher historical activity, the latent content of the proletarian movements after 1968. The crystallization of a collective project that would unify the revolutionary necessities of the era has always been a long-term undertaking, but now it is even more difficult because the theoretical or practical contributions to its formulation are immediately confronted by the unprecedented capacity for falsification and concealment acquired by class society. Not only does this lead to a situation where during normal times no problem can be socially posed and debated in its true terms, but also to one where should the latter be successfully achieved—and this outcome would require nothing less than a revolutionary movement—it is either prevented from being accurately portrayed or else caused to be quickly forgotten.

The assembly movement in Spain posed in its simple truth the question of an historical liquidation of Francoism that would truly connect with the will for revolutionary emancipation that was so characteristic of that country: obviously, such a liquidation can only be effective and irreversible with the abolition of the class rule that the opposition politicians aspired to serve, and of the means of State that they hoped to inherit for carrying out this task. Where such is lacking we once again witness one of those hybrid monstrosities spontaneously produced by a system of oppression that discourages critique by making it more unnameable with each passing day. This challenge went practically unnoticed in a Europe where, for almost forty years, leftist false consciousness had expatiated hypocritically on Francoism, and even more so, on the image of Francoism that could conveniently stand in for everything it did not fight at home. Even in Spain, the truth of which the assembly movement was the bearer was not able to impose itself irreversibly enough to provide a practical basis for the judgment of the world that must be pronounced by those who must fight it. While it is true that the replacement democracy installed in Spain is a particularly crude and repugnant lie, with its king, its Francoist military and police, its Stalinists and its socialists governing under the guardianship of the military as if they were ministers under Primo de Rivera, it is nonetheless also the case that, according to the principle that rules all the realities produced by the spectacular system, this replacement was not manufactured so much in order to be believed as in order to occupy all of the terrain of social expression. And in order to be accepted as such, without anything to compare it to, like any falsified food. This is when the truth becomes an extravagance and a scandal. If something is bitter it must be spit out: the anniversary of the 1936 revolution will be tranquilly commemorated by all its reconciled victors, and the attempt will be made to render it incomprehensible to the satisfied citizens of the neo-democracy, just like the qualities traditionally attributed to the Spanish people: pride, independence and courage.

To shatter the monopoly of appearance that reinforces the authoritarian production of the lie, it is not enough, as we see confirmed every day, for facts which refute the official truths to accumulate: it is also necessary for them to be presented in society, by all possible means, in a unified critical point of view and a transcendent perspective that can redirect people towards the true facts and therefore make the lies and the arrogant sophisms appear for what they are. As long as men do not venture to speak without intermediaries concerning their needs and aspirations, giving a new meaning to the facts by means of their dialogue, and by the historical possibilities that they will discover in that dialogue, the facts do not speak for themselves, except insofar as they repeat the unalterable postulates of submission. The new conception of real life that has constituted the latent content of all modern revolutionary risings is now compelled by the very development of the dominant mechanisms of falsification and obfuscation, either to show itself, or to be repressed in such a way that it will be utterly incapable of distinguishing itself from the coming barbarism of wealth.

With the disappearance of the old workers movement, which has been either broken or integrated, the proletarians also lost the ideological formulations of an autonomous project for the organization of society. But this loss was not enough to teach them to formulate this project on their own. When they have to reconstruct it without any illusion of an historical guarantee, they need, now and always, to derive it from the recognition of the total meaning of their own action, because this action is the only truth that they can possess that is truly theirs. And, because it is not a question of action for short-term goals, the need for which Lenin purported to provide an answer—with his model of the hierarchical party that was the depository of memory and accumulated experience—it cannot remain unsatisfied. The revolutionary movements of Portugal and Spain were, after May 1968, important practical contributions to the construction of a project of emancipation capable of attracting the immense majority by presenting to each person the possibility of a profound, immediate change. Its defeat in isolation, without having obtained through its struggle either general irreversible conclusions or new lines of demarcation with respect to the enemy—above all with the Stalinists and the whole political-trade union apparatus of the left—marks a threshold and a limit to the revolutionary offensive that began in 1968. The organization of an international revolutionary current did not occur, and the vast and amorphous party of subversion that is still active in Europe is, without being aware of it, losing the initiative over the course of the intervening years. Because “two armies in conflict can be equally disadvantaged; in this case the first to be informed of the condition of its enemy will be victorious” (Macchiavelli).


Proletarian subversion, whenever it has been deployed, has clearly demonstrated its ability to disorganize the system of survival, but not its ability to organize life. This weakness was already present at the inception of the new era, in 1968, but it was generally forgotten or underestimated. The occupations movement, however, only began to realize one of the two tasks of the proletarian revolution: the critique in acts of all aspects of alienated life. The other task, the reorganization of social life by the direct democracy of the workers assemblies, was hardly addressed, and then by only a few people. The May movement thus did not bequeath new practical principles to the revolutionary era which it had itself inaugurated, appropriate for the development of more complete needs and desires that would surpass all authorized satisfactions, but only the memory of a total rejection, not so easy to implement in itself. This seemed to be enough at the time: because even there at the beginning, present in the spirits and the hearts of so many people, is everything that shook the foundations of the established order. It was thought that the battle would soon pick up where it had left off. But with the passage of time it became more difficult to take advantage of the opportunity that once seemed to be just around the corner. The taste for criticism was lost, as its very use became insipid. What had been so intensely experienced receded into a depressing representation. And it was all the more depressing the more that contestation spread and a wave of rejection diffused through all aspects of life, which, in the absence of a perspective of supersession, had the principle effect of modernizing false consciousness and the roles allocated by commodity consumption, making resignation sophisticated. A moment of life was growing old, and could not be rejuvenated by the variegated colors of its spectacular recuperation.

What the new revolutionary movement initially lacked was not acquired in the course of further attempts. Its real defeat was not so much in its end as in the fact that it left in its wake nothing that could be used to re-impassion a program of total subversion by clarifying its qualitative means, the means which contain the movement’s goal because they are already an example of a more free use of life. Such a powerful force for exasperating its enemies must seek not to uselessly tire out its supporters. The main failure of a movement of social critique that could count on the contempt for work practiced by numerous proletarians is therefore that of not having convinced itself by its acts of its ability to organize life on other foundations, and in not having known how to show to the workers as a whole what they could gain by ceasing to be workers. It is true that, in order to possess the consciousness of a possible transformation of life, it is necessary to radically reject the existing organization. But to implement this rejection, it is also necessary to have the basis of an understanding of another possible way of life. What smashes this all-too formal circularity in real life, is the movement of supersession, revolutionary practice, “the bringing together of the transformation of circumstances and human activity or self-transformation”, which is simultaneously practical critique and production of the positive values upon which it is founded. This tension between apparently contradictory demands is the only thing that can constitute the qualitative force, the rationality but also the poetry, of an activity that must make apparent to all the existence in society of the material basis for a more complete life.

The supersession of the commodity economy indisputably assumed the highest priority due to its own objective crisis, both as a general form of social relations as well as a form of the appropriation of nature. It did not, however, become a subjective factor in a positive perspective in the practice of a revolutionary movement: the aspirations that were expressed in the rejection of work (by means of strikes, sabotage, etc.) never posed, in their own terms and on the basis of their own subversive truth, all the problems of society, in order to destroy the falsified terms that prevented their solution. They therefore remained prisoners on the terrain of the economic blackmail, in the confusion of this terrain. If the question concerning a new use of life is not violently posed by the workers, that of the use of the workers by the existing organization of life is there to repress it. This is how the famous “economic crisis”, the object of so much hype, must be understood, at its deepest level, as a moment of the social war, where the very foundation of the functioning of the laws of the economy is stripped bare: “The unconsciousness of those who form part of it.” It is the way that all the forces of unconsciousness, including those that operate in the heads of the proletarians, have sought the perpetuation of their world. It also therefore assumes the form of a neurotic fixation, the repetition of a past disgrace, destined to ward off the uncertainty of the present, the risks and the possibilities of an unknown reality.

This resistance of the social unconscious is, of course, above all the resistance of the owning classes and of all the managers of unconsciousness. At the very moment that society discovered, as a result of the struggles against commodity abundance emancipated from human needs, that the economy depended on it, it then became a matter of persuading it that it depended on the economy: in this way all leaders have become Marxists. Wherever the ego emerged, the subject of history that freely judges its action, it became necessary to restore the power of the economic id. The intelligence that those responsible for the economy could possess as a result of this necessity is obviously inscribed on the image of the spontaneous development which leads the fundamental tendency of capitalism to continuously increase the domination of dead labor over living labor. But this materialization of the autonomized economy, when it crosses a certain threshold, itself becomes the object of bureaucratic management that programs its development; a management that has a tendency to want to combine, by way of the contradictions and vagaries of local politics, the bureaucracy of the managers and the bureaucracy of the State, in a bureaucracy composed of varying proportions of each, but for which the Nazi technocrat of the Albert Speer type would be the ‘ideal type’. It is not that the bourgeoisie can no longer manifest the least degree of independence in relation to the State, but that it no longer needs to do so, because the logic of the market has integrally become the reason of the State.

This bureaucratic management, with the disastrous failures and catastrophic results that follow in its wake, is at the very least victorious insofar as it ceaselessly reproduces and spreads the material conditions of its domination, because no strategic calculation is necessary for this, it suffices for it to follow its natural tendency by always pushing its true reason for existence yet farther, the desertification of life. The system of commodity production, having experienced its fragility in the face of modern proletarian subversion, as it was confronted by the first struggles for generalized historical life, as well as by the ‘energy crisis’ that was only one particular effect of an aberrant management of natural resources, has reacted by accelerating the concrete construction of its independent reign. And, consequently, the proletarianization of real life. Capital is thus no longer the invisible Weltgeist that irresistibly drives men towards something they neither wanted nor understood, it is, directly, in the practical life of each individual, the fantastic autonomy of all material conditions, the ‘crushing of individuality by contingency’.

Nuclear power and information technology are at this moment the two most obvious aspects of the deterministic technological development adopted by an alienated production that has become strictly the production of alienation. Both artificially recreate the equivalent of those natural conditions that, with the need for irrigation, favored the birth and development of oriental despotism. What now irrigates the desertified society and constitutes the material foundation of the power of the specialists of monopolized survival is the circulation of energy and information, complementary preconditions for the mobilization of human labor in its last historical form. And in this sick society one must therefore admit that one can no longer survive except by submitting to the machinery that makes the heart of a heartless world beat, in every respect like those triumphs of modern medicine thanks to which the human organism is only the prosthesis of its prostheses. For it is not society that has been emancipated from the economy, but the economy that has been emancipated from society.


The fulfillment of this process by means of which commodity reification attains its concept by definitively expelling living activity, and reducing it to the pure contemplation of its circulation, first had to take the form of a profound reorganization of industrial labor, progressively introducing automation, simultaneously neutralizing the human energies thus liberated, planning the absence of the use of this freedom. The destruction of the labor milieu, that is, of the old practical base for autonomous proletarian self-affirmation, has for twenty years been the Delenda Cartago of all innovative discourses of technocratic capitalism; and, as openly and ideologically proclaimed as this has been (as the end of the proletariat and the class struggle), it corresponds no less clearly to a real necessity of capitalist rule, a necessity that finds its idyllic version in the mythology of integration. Capitalism extends its existence by ceaselessly revolutionizing the means of production, that is, the relations of production, or social conditions as a whole; by its bureaucratization, however, it is trying to program this permanent alteration and to plan, with the help of the trade unions and of all the agents of social control, its tolerance thresholds. It must be pointed out that, in western Europe, it has succeeded, for the present, in actively breaking up the labor milieu, demoralizing and dividing it, and the latter has been incapable of recovering its autonomous revolutionary tradition (Council organization), which, evidently, had been a model for all the workers, for the whole proletariat. The time thus lost for the revolution has allowed capitalism to continue to reorganize social labor as a whole as a function of the imperatives of its rule. Every instance of the progress of social alienation derives from this fact.

The workers revolts of the sixties were essentially the result of the arrival in the factories of a generation of young proletarians who were without any trace of ‘loyalty to their trade’ and a first response to the de-skilling of labor. In them could be traced the confluence of the traditional demands of the working class in its resistance to exploitation, and the modern refusal of brutalizing wage labor. The correlation of forces (the weakening of the trade unions, etc.) temporarily interrupted the continuity of capitalist rationalization, but, with the decline of the struggles, rationalization continued where it left off. One of its principal aspects is the transfer from Europe, homeland of the workers movement, of important sectors of industrial production, exported to places where bureaucratic or dictatorial regimes deliver over to exploitation enormous reserves of labor power without any tradition of struggle or historical consciousness. Another aspect is the institutionalization of turnover (1), extensively practiced by young workers, to some extent reversing the precariousness of subjection to an employer and the subjection to the precariousness of employment. There is no reason at this point to delve into a detailed elaboration of a trend whose principal result, as far as the relations of forces in the social war are concerned, was that unemployment was used to break up the strongholds of workers resistance; and, above all, the threatening prospect of the crisis of the economy as a crisis of life for all men, the consciousness of which was suppressed under the pressure of the crisis of survival imposed on the workers.

The first effect of this pressure of unemployment was to break forever the alliance, which had been ephemerally concluded during the high points of the proletarian subversion, between the traditional workers sectors, generally more subject to the influence of the trade union bureaucracies and Stalinist ideology, and the younger or less integrated workers, who expressed a modern revolt. This reassertion of the prevalent separations (whether socio-professional, racial or ‘generational’) must not be taken, however, as a comprehensive explanation of the failure of a unifying project to crystallize: it is, instead, one of the principal manifestations of this failure. Only the consciousness of common perspectives, practically overcoming separations in order to attack the world in its totality, that is, the wage labor that constitutes its basis, is capable of preventing those who still had a job and were exploited from relapsing to defend it under the control of the trade unions, while those who did not have a job fell back, in a disastrous ideological flight forward, into all the illusions of that marginality more often imposed than chosen; and which, even when it was chosen, in no way endangered the system, but rather constituted a safety valve. These illusions, which varied from the alienated use of drugs to retail terrorism, and included as well all those attempts to build a new way of life on the foundation of misery, finally destroyed the consciousness of a rebel generation, who were twenty years old at the end of the sixties. This is why those who, in the factories, could directly encounter the means of their struggle, either did not use them or used them badly, and those who, outside the factories, wanting to struggle, only encountered alienated means to do so: the former, who did not know how to defend themselves, were defeated along with the latter, who did not know how to attack.

This result, expressed in this way, takes on the aspect of a schematic assertion, since, in fact, it is a general tendency whose realization still unevenly affects Europe; but it is nonetheless the principal and victorious tendency. We have seen the concrete deployment, in a society’s space-time, of the contradictions of the era in which the attempt to construct the project of a different life matched the speed of the effective transformation of the world attained by the autonomous movement of the economy and the State that serve it. This era is now on the verge of ending, because the transformation of the objective conditions, the commodity transmutation of every particular thing, that particular talent of the system thanks to which improvement of what is bad produces what is worse, obtains such monstrous results, that each individual is in his or her life obliged, with regard to the simplest necessities, to pass judgment on what exists and no longer on what could exist.

The last opportunity to proclaim a perspective of revolutionary change in western Europe, with enough force to counteract the opposed perspective of change, that of the owning classes, was produced in Italy. What was at stake in this first era of the modern proletarian revolution appeared there in a particularly clear form, with all the problems we just referred to being posed concretely by a much larger and more profound movement of subversion than ever seen anywhere else before. This movement, born in 1968 and briefly interrupted by the police bombs of 1969, only grew over the following years, leaving no aspect of everyday life untouched by its practical critique. It was finally defeated, largely by the artifice of terrorism. But one must not overestimate the role of such devious tactics in the conflicts, because they are only useful over the long term for the victors.

During the mid-seventies, the Italian State, which had never been very strong or cohesive, was even more weakened and corrupted by criminal maneuvers improvised by its secret services, following in the wake of the success achieved with the Milan bombings: those of the Italicus in 1970, Brescia and Bologna in 1974, conveniently attributed to the neo-fascists, because the neo-fascists were within the secret services, showing just how and with whom that State intended to continue to rule Italian society. Fortunately for this State it did not have only provocateurs to rely on to fight against the subversive party of the radical workers, but also, and with much more efficacy, the unfailing support of the Stalinists. The latter, unhesitatingly committing themselves in this bloody history by becoming ever more complicit in the official lie, sought to derive a few governmental posts, but, in order for this to happen, no matter what else took place, they had to fight on their own behalf against a movement that completely escaped their control. The vast informal party of subversion, powerful in the factories due to a rich experience of struggle and a social hatred that, stoked by the first attempts at capitalist restructuring, limited the possibilities of trade union recuperation, was swelled in the streets by all those who had been marginalized by unemployment and the repression of absenteeism and workers indiscipline. Advancing at the rate of their practical consciousness towards their radical means, towards posing the threat of a split in society even more unfavorable for the supporters of power insofar as the latter had become, as a result of its excesses, more hated than feared.

In such a process of pre-revolutionary offensive, everything that separated itself from the social movement in order to practice armed violence in hierarchical secrecy precipitated the arrival of the moment when the formation of the antagonistic parties ceased and only the destruction of the other mattered to each. For its part, the State had an interest in provoking the violent struggle sooner rather than later, because it has all its forces while the forces of its adversary had to increase. The Leninist vampire, which had not been sufficiently denounced and combated, favored the emergence of an easily infiltrated and manipulated terrorism, and providentially allowed the State to administer a dose of tension in order to test the ability of its enemy to respond and to prepare for a counter-offensive.

In 1977 the enemies of the State had one last opportunity to escape from this trap. The irreconcilable opposition of all the rebels who had produced ten years of social struggles was openly manifested, and the Stalinists were treated on this occasion for what they were: the most abject supporters of this disgusting society. This movement presented all the workers of Italy with the possibility of a decisive choice, through which they could have ceased to be merely bad workers, but, after a moment of uncertainty, they retreated: only they, however, could have, by means of the general strike, opened up the terrain of revolutionary action by permanently breaking with the everyday reproduction of brutalizing wage labor and creating the conditions of dialogue in which everything is subject to debate, beginning with the proper use of violence. The most unrealistic and desperate members of the movement also found themselves exposed on the streets. For the State, it was easy enough to hunt them down, but what it needed was to end any chance that the disturbances would recur. It accomplished this with its usual methods, the Stalinists and terrorism, which found in the failure of the movement and in the confusion that followed the conditions for their effectiveness.

In February of 1978, the trade unions, condemning the strikes and absenteeism, undertook to make the workers return to work. A pretext was needed to attack subversion everywhere outside the factories and to provide the Stalinists with the justification that would allow them to effectively fulfill their role as informers: this was the kidnapping and assassination in March of Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades. Moro’s assassination certainly took place at the instigation of a faction within the State, which could appear a posteriori to have been the most lucid faction due to the way they led the Stalinists down the garden path but no further, but this was useful not only to this faction: it was the power of the State as such, and none of its supporters was misled in this regard, which benefited from the recent escalation in the spectacle of a possible civil war, reducing the population to the status of a disgusted and skeptical, but above all passive public, watching a history that was outside its power. At this level, the question of the precise degree of manipulation of a group like the Red Brigades (whose activity, whatever may have been the role of the arch-Stalinist fanatics compared to that of the agents infiltrated by the State, is essentially counterrevolutionary) loses all interest: the most profound and most real manipulation is, on a completely distinct scale, that which controls all the news media, thanks to which only the explanation of reality authorized by the State appears. The manipulation of the representation of reality contains within it, however, the manipulation of reality itself as one of its necessary moments. In this respect, the number of ‘penitents’ among the fearsome brigadistas is enough to provide some idea about the security of their organization. They could even end up, when they did not return to the fold of the church, as technical advisers for a movie about the Moro case; which undoubtedly did not help what already seemed like a bad movie in reality from becoming any more convincing.

It is true that, with terrorism, the State did not get any positive support from the population, but at least it obtained the latter’s neutrality in the brutal struggle against subversion that constituted terrorism’s true purpose, and this was more than enough. For the price of a couple of hundred dead (the Bologna bomb conveniently came at the right moment to rejuvenate the spectacle of horror) and a few thousand political prisoners (the arrests that began with the Moro affair continued for four more years), the State not only succeeded in defeating the offensive that threatened it, but also paralyzed the workers’ capacity for resistance, thus clearing the way for the long awaited economic restructuring. As Moro himself said after his kidnapping: “After a while public opinion understands”; but for the spectacle any truth is better if it is spoken when its time has passed: it can then be integrated in the rewriting of history where it can rule over an eternal present. Since then in Italy, everything is known, about the P2 Lodge, the Mafia, the Vatican or the secret services, but this truth is useless because the only force that could have taken advantage of it in order to make it a practical truth, a conclusive demand concerning what is essential, has been defeated.


The Italian laboratory of counterrevolution has thus provided experimental proof concerning the immense field of application the techniques of the State lie, assayed in Stalinist Russia, have found in modern capitalism, where they are all the more effective due to the fact that passivity is not achieved here by means of police terror but by an abundance of commodities and information. The fact that there is no such thing today as democratic public opinion has been irrefutably proven by the Italian State, which has accumulated enough accusations against it and committed so many abuses so as to test the patience of even the least demanding citizens of a bourgeois democracy, and to provoke the electoral destruction of all the parties involved, that is, of all the parties. The enunciation of such a hypothesis suffices to demonstrate its implausibility and to shed light on the impunity enjoyed by the leaders of the State, the freedom of action offered to the arbitrary actions of the State by the decomposition of all powers of judgment and of all political debate. This lesson has not gone unnoticed, and we have since seen all the States compete with each other in their audacity to remind their subjects how modern democracy has so simplified the use of their rights, freeing them from the bother of having to take a stand on any important issues.

In the course of this Stalinization of the world we have also witnessed the shameful resignation of the intellectuals before the totalitarian development of the lie of unilateral communication. In a truly Orwellian fashion, their denunciation of an unreal Stalinist totalitarianism has constituted the ideological expression of their contribution to the real Stalinization. It was a heroic struggle that probed the most neglected historical nooks and crannies in search of the germs of the totalitarian plague: nobody and nothing was forgotten, and our doctors of anti-Stalinism established that all revolutionary thought or activity (or perhaps even any historical thought or activity) implies totalitarianism, the Gulag and the GPU as a necessary consequence. Plato, Saint-Just, Bakunin . . . they are all the same. The unbreakable foundation of all their syllogisms is the identification of the revolution with terrorism and therefore with Stalinism. And it could be said, in effect, that they never committed to the revolution, since they never publically expressed the least doubts on the origin of terrorism.

What is expressed in this variety of automatic writing of spectacular inversion is simply the fact that Stalinism—including its diverse exotic variants—has completely lost the ability to appear as a revolutionary model, or even as a rival of the western system of exploitation. Therefore, on the level of vulgar sociology, we may content ourselves with seeing, in the rise of a new generation of submissive intellectuals, the recycling of their careerism after the failure of leftism. Meanwhile, the ideological renovation in spectacular culture—with the recruitment of all those who hoped to rid themselves of their bad conscience by breaking with the image of the revolution in order to serve understudies of the lie—this confidence won by apology demonstrates on a deeper level that Stalinism, where it is not the owner of society, has ended up by fulfilling its counterrevolutionary function in this century by helping to defeat the first attempts at autonomous affirmation by the modern proletariat.

In all the countries where the capitalist transformation of the productive apparatus, and above all of the greatest productive force, the proletariat, is now underway, the representation of the worker that had in Stalinism its ideology and its model could only represent labor power in the process of liquidation. And although Stalinism must defend the condemned industrial sectors in order to preserve its social base, it cannot really fight against the economic rationality that presides over the whole process. As for the workers themselves who are being liquidated together with the factories, it seems impossible for them to organize a practical critique by opening new perspectives, when their desperate actions are more isolated than ever before. Their only chance lies in an autonomous alliance with the unemployed, that reserve army of the revolution, and with the workers in the modernized sectors; but the practical and theoretical foundations of such unity are now cruelly lacking.

The destruction of the labor milieu in the countries where the most modern capitalist conditions prevail does not signify, obviously, except for the discouraged old workerists, the disappearance of the proletariat: the expropriation of life continues, and so does the class struggle. The system of falsification simply proceeds with regard to this concrete side of the critique of the economy—the proletariat—as it does with the other, pollution: not being able to suppress it, it camouflages it, it seeks to make it invisible, and first of all, invisible to itself. In this process, the proletariat loses some of its illusions, but acquires others. It is the task of revolutionary critique to disabuse all those workers who are transferred from a machine to a computer screen of their illusions of having been promoted in the hierarchy (i.e., more often than not, when they are directly placed in positions of servitude to the machines of the independent economy where they lose, under the glare of these same computer screens, the relaxation of leisure as well as the activity of labor). So they are proletarians after all, these wage workers who have no power over the programming of their lives, although they do not know it. Here man has lost himself more radically than ever, but can still acquire the theoretical consciousness of this loss.


The Stalinist bureaucracies associated with the management of the first stage of modern capitalism have combated workers autonomy to the end; and as so often happens in these circumstances, they, too, would get their turn under the lash. Through one of history’s vagaries demonstrated by a particularly meaningful manifestation of the contradictions that continue to corrode the world of the commodity, it is there, where the bureaucratic class holds power as the local auxiliary of the planetary power of capital, that workers autonomy is still active and preserves its perspectives. But, as it stands, for the new protest to be rebuilt in the west on the basis of a program of the suspension of anti-historical production, the living memory of the revolutionary past that must be realized, can neither understand its own scope nor possess its total consciousness if it does not strive to extend the critique of the economy beyond the point where it has remained until today.

During the summer of 1980, the Polish workers began their revolution, which could only be pursued via the definitive destruction of bureaucratic power. The first such revolution in the history of all the countries subject to totalitarian rule which has succeeded in organizing autonomous communications media and clarifying its project without being immediately defeated in isolation, it has drawn an indelible line of demarcation in Polish society between the monologue of the State lie and the supporters of the truth obtained through social dialogue. Disarmed as always before the military power of the old Russian invader, surrounded as always by the hostility of the European States united in their support for the status quo, and more isolated from the proletarians of other countries than any Polish insurrection during the 19th century, the revolution of 1980-1981 represents the highest point reached by the proletarian subversion of our era in search of its means, located where it had the least chance of victory. Through the scandal of its sixteen months of existence, it showed the truth of bureaucratic usurpation, and the fragility of a system of oppression where arbitrariness is measured by the submission of those who are obliged to represent it. But the most beautiful victory of the Polish proletariat, was to have reestablished in our time the youth of the revolutionary project of a classless society, and to have refreshed the historical memory of all those involved in this project, which since 1956 was never lost. Nothing is final; the fate of this world is still undecided.

The magnificent chain reaction of the strikes of August 1980 had such an effect that within a few months the entire society rose against its bureaucratic representation. The freedom to discuss everything that deserved to be discussed was the minimum program of this social movement. It is this explicit program that made the Polish revolution a modern revolution, by situating at its very heart the demand for truth; and the means employed to realize this program, the organization of delegates of Solidarity, was what transformed it into the heir of all the proletarian revolutions of the past. Solidarity was the organization of the society in revolution, just like the CNT in Spain in 1936, for better and for worse. And the critiques directed at this organization must be directed at the proletariat that created it as it was and not otherwise.

In this revolution that they had themselves launched, the workers had to reinvent everything from scratch. At first, they only knew one enemy, the Stalinist bureaucracy, and they had to learn, over the course of the struggle, to identify all their false friends. One should therefore not be surprised that the advance of the Polish revolution could be stopped from within, but rather that, in spite of everything, it was able to go so far. It is true that the Church was always accepted as the guardian of the movement’s unity and that, from this position, it could lend its support, either directly or by way of its ‘experts’, to the reformist, i.e., defeatist, tendency in Solidarity. And it is also true that the intellectual opposition, organized since 1976 in the KOR (2), when the victory of 1980 had ushered in completely new conditions, persisted in advocating a perfectly unrealistic perspective of compromise. All of this was, however, subjected to continuous debate within Solidarity, where numerous delegates took more realistic and more radical positions. And the only way that the proletarians could acquire historical understanding was from the direct experience of a struggle that constantly confronted them with the consequences of their choices.

In early 1981 the bureaucratic regime, having had to renounce military intervention and being incapable of gaining any more time by making new concessions, decided to probe the status of the correlation of forces: this was the provocation at Bydgoszcz. In response, the workers actively prepared for an unlimited general strike scheduled to start on March 31. But Walensa succeeded at the last moment in having it cancelled. This retreat itself was not as serious a setback as the way it began, through secret negotiations and the abuse of power characteristic of a delegate acting without a mandate; and it did not matter so much that the workers thereby lost the initiative in their struggle against the bureaucracy, because they could always win it back, but that they lost it within their own organization. Walensa was, like all the moderates who incarnated that first moment of the euphoric unity of a revolution, both a transient good and a necessary evil that would have to be left behind sooner or later. When the moment of truth arrived on March 30, and he did not support the strike, by allowing him to make a mockery of the democratic rules that they had given themselves, the revolutionary workers allowed part of their power to fall into the hands of an uncontrollable delegation whose separate interests and resultant policy would later obscure the needs of the struggle.

Because everything continued: in the autumn, throughout Poland, various ‘social committees’ took responsibility for production and distribution, inaugurating a new legitimacy against the bureaucracy. And the delegates of Lodz announced that on December 21 all the workers in the region would carry out an active strike and would organize workers guards for their self-defense. This decision precipitated the test of force and the provisional conclusion of December 13: bureaucratic order was reestablished rather easily, because the confusion and bewilderment provoked by the delaying tactics of the majority of the leaders of Solidarity saved Jaruzelski’s coup from being immediately defeated, but with a minimal result, in view of everything that had to be reconquered. The workers chose the path of passive resistance, but continued to make progress, thanks to their organizations and clandestine publications, with regard to the consciousness of their unaltered historic task. Henceforth the fate of the Polish revolution depended more than ever on what the Russian proletariat did, but what it had already accomplished constitutes the most important instance of the construction of a generalized anti-bureaucratic movement.

As for France, that country where internationalism is so easy to practice, the Polish revolution has been the moment of truth for all those who proclaim their support for the modern revolution and for the ideas by means of which it has begun to enunciate its goals. It is true that most of them have only used these ideas to pass judgment on the Polish movement rather than for the purpose of giving it aid and support. But whatever their judgments, they have been reduced to reacting to every blow, without being capable of breaking enough of the spectacular mechanism of our day which is so well constructed to manipulate realities as stimuli, events that are contemplated with indignation, enthusiasm or rage, it does not matter, they are all contemplated as externals. This dependency vis-à-vis spectacular mediations has culminated in a kind of perfection and, when forgetfulness and silence have followed the conspiracy of noise, we may reflect upon the fact that once again there has been no cumulative process, that the ‘solidarity’ with the Polish revolution has produced no enduring lines of demarcation, no terrain of agreement for an anti-bureaucratic regrouping, whatever else may have occurred.

Just as the time and the opportunity passed, the possible confluence between the workers struggles of the past (the model outline of the autonomous means of the proletarian revolution) and the new revolt spontaneously born from the fate of the society of the spectacle (the critique of work, of the commodity and of all alienated life), a confluence that momentarily almost took place in some of the developed countries, could no longer be considered and expected as the inevitable result of the objective unfolding of the dominant conditions: it has now become, in memory and consciousness, the task of a new epoch where the global division of repressive labor stops at nothing to define what is desirable and what is possible. When the force of practical unification by “the real movement that dissolves existing conditions” disappears from social life, then the need for a unified critical theory reappears.

The current organization of confusion, amnesia and ignorance as a result of the bombardment of information, has successfully prevented the revolt commenced in youth from becoming a cumulative phenomenon or even from presenting a cyclical character; today’s adults, if they have not committed suicide or disintegrated in madness or drug abuse, are, for the most part, resigned. And for those who are not yet adults—if anyone can be an adult in this society of extended infantilism—are satisfied, in their overwhelming majority, with modes of expression programmed from dissatisfaction. On the other hand, and for the enemy this is a far-reaching victory, the intensified penetration of commodity production that determines and upholds all the above phenomena is on the verge of decomposing everything that in the life of individuals could still serve as a basis for the resumption of practical critique: language, customs, urban neighborhoods, memory, everything that was once a rearguard of the revolution in the clandestine refuge of everyday experience is methodically subjected to the withering crossfire of destruction and recuperation.

In this same process, however, the reason of the commodity, becoming totalitarian and therefore increasingly and obviously practically insane, inexorably sinks into the horror of its uncontrolled results. And, for those who already fought against it when its reputation was not so bad, for those who, deserting the factories and turning their backs on culture, now find themselves at this moment of universal history when the perspective of the social revolution has come to occupy the center of the world and serves as a measuring rod for everything, for those who saw the door half-open in the closed palace of time, and will never forget it, the ten years that have passed since the Portuguese revolution seemed to announce the extension to all of Europe of the subversion of 1968, will have been nothing but inevitable price of the conflict they chose to participate in personally, a price also paid, and more harshly, by those who did not choose to do so.

It was up to France, where this new springtime of revolt was born, to see its negation more explicitly realized. Mitterandism, presented as the “victory of May ‘68”, is effectively the victory of the most modern counterrevolution, which in 1968 had to resort to Gaullism for carrying out the task that it was not yet capable of fulfilling. In 1984, a recuperator of such standing as Attali is the official thinker of Mitterand, an old leftist bureaucrat like July directs the official newspaper of the technocratic left and an stale old leftover of Maoist confusionism like Castro is delegated the responsibility for humanizing the urbanistic leprosy of the suburbs (3). In 1984, the ‘situs’ are everywhere, but it is the computers that transmit the orders for the conditions of circulation in a destroyed Paris, thus realizing a program exactly the opposite of that of the derive proposed by other situs for the purpose of rebuilding the world. In 1984, the assassination of Gerard Lebovici, publisher of George Orwell, among others, and the campaign of slander launched afterwards against Guy Debord, shows that the liquidation of social critique is today’s agenda, and eventually assumes the form of the liquidation of its rare declared supporters. In this matter, as in those of food and housing, it is a question of destroying the poles of comparison, so that the restored monopoly of social expression does not have to fear a reactivation of that which momentarily confronted it.

With respect to this point, as with all those where it realizes its program, the enemy reveals enough to us, ex negativo, to show us what we have to do to defend the opportunities for free thought and life. If we have tried to write this "History of Ten Years", it was not for the purpose of ridding ourselves of the past, but to preserve the possibilities that it contained. Today, many individuals who had once recognized these possibilities wander, without having denied it, in the ‘labyrinth of perturbation and resentment whose random paths indefinitely prolong the suspension of an unfinished revolution’.

To escape from these labyrinths there are times when one can pass through the walls, and there are others when the walls are too solid, and require that memory should once again take up the thread of time, in order to recover the central point of view from which one can discern the road.

Beyond this labyrinth begins the reconquest of a capacity for critical judgment that responds, with respect to every verifiable fact, to the debasement of life, and which precipitates the split in society, preliminary to a revolution, on the historical question par excellence, the question of progress. It is undoubtedly true that we are shockingly incompetent when it comes to reestablishing the truth of the facts about all the aspects of a production that escapes our control, precisely because it is out of our control. But those who possess the necessary powers have offered sufficient proof by how they put them to use that we do not feel obliged to have too many scruples in this regard. We hope to bring to the world, by means of methodical research, the truth of the facts, a truth that is today totally scandalous, since there is no detail of material production concerning which it is not necessary to lie in order to more effectively conceal the fact that it by no means controls its consequences. Considering everything elucidated above, it will be understandable that we shall not exhibit the modesty of believing our task is of little importance.

Encyclopédie des Nuisances
February 1985


(1) Anti-work tactic that consists in working just enough to pay expenses or to qualify for unemployment insurance, for the purpose of remaining unemployed for as long as possible. Job cuts and more restrictive labor legislation put an end to this.

(2) Workers Defense Committee.

(3) Jacques Attali, member of Mitterand’s cabinet; Serge July, director of the daily newspaper, Libération; Roland Castro, urbanist of power, responsible for the Mitterandist plan to remodel the suburbs of Paris, ‘Banlieues 80’.


Encyclopedie des Nuisances #5

cover of Encyclopedia of Nuisances issue 5

English translations from the fifth issue of Encyclopedia of Nuisances, published in November 1985.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 4, 2022

Hunger Abatement (Abat-faim) - Guy Debord

The original illustration for the article which is a black and white line drawing of three male heads facing left

An unsigned article by Guy Debord from Encyclopedia of Nuisances #5, November 1985. Translation by NOT BORED!

Submitted by Fozzie on December 4, 2022

One knows that this term [1] designated a "meal's principal dish, which one served first to quiet down, to reduce the hunger of the dinner guests" (Larousse). In their dictionary, Hatzfield and Darmesteter refer to the term as "antiquated." But history is the infallible master of dictionaires. With the recent progress of technology, the totality of nourishment consumed by modern society is uniquely becoming hunger reduction.

The extreme degradation of nourishment is a banality that, in the manner of other banalities, is generally tolerated with resignation: as a fatality, a ransom paid for progress that one knows can't be stopped because one is overwhelmed by it everyday. Everyone keeps quiet about it. Some because they don't want to speak of it, others because they can't. The immense majority of the population that tolerates this degradation, as well as their strong suspicions about it, simply can't face such an unpleasant reality. It is never agreeable to admit that one has been played for a fool, and those who have created "beefsteak" [2] -- and its claims -- in the form of a "reconstituted" shadow of itself are also little disposed to admit what they have lost by allowing convenient ersatz semblances into their habitats. Those who can refuse nothing for fear of going back upon all that they have let happen in their lives are habitually the same.

And yet, one can easily date with precision the arrival of the global phenomenon that affects nearly all of the economically advanced countries and that immediately acts upon the countries that are subject to the retardation of the same process. Although the loss of quality has resulted from gradual modifications, the threshold -- a sudden reversal of all the old "alimentary habits" -- was crossed in two or three years. This anti-qualitative leap took place in France, for example, around 1970; about 10 years earlier in Northern Europe; and about 10 years later than that in Southern Europe. The criteria that permits one to very simply evaluate the state of advancement of this process is, of course, taste: modern necessities are prepared precisely by an industry that one calls "agro-alimentary," a phrase [3] that summarizes the character of its disastrous results, because its colorized appearance didn't guarantee taste or innocuous insipidity. First of all, chemistry is massively imposed upon agriculture and animal husbandry so that the yield can be augmented to the detriment of all other considerations. Then there was the use of new techniques of preservation and stockpiling. Dating back as far as the beginning of industrialization, each instance of this "progress" has been a reversal of what the experts of hunger abatement call our "mental barriers," that is to say, our the long-standing experiences of quality and taste. Thus, the techniques of freezing and rapid de-freezing at first served to commercialize "poultry thighs" that are composed of materials that have been ground up and reconstituted by "forming." At this stage, the materials in question still have a certain connection with the word "poultry," which isn't stretched too far from "poultry" that wasn't produced by industrial breeding. But once this form has been accepted, its content can be altered all the more easily: new examples from Japan -- from the East comes the light [4] -- are "crab legs" and "shrimp" that are in fact industrially produced from low-cost fish that has been reconstituted into these forms. Developments such as these make optimistic someone like Jacques Gueguen, who is "in charge of research at the I.N.R.A. [5] station in Nantes," at which one studies the conditions under which we will swallow steaks made of "protein material derived from vegetables." They [these products] certainly have faults, but these can be remedied. "The color isn't all there, Jacques Gueguen recognizes. 'The soy isolates are creme-white, with a perceptible aroma of cabbage. The sunflowers in it have grey fibres. As for the rape-seeds, they are yellow, and always have an aftertaste of cabbage. In any event,' he affirms, 'the fibres are ground up, re-colorized and aromatized, and so you won't see them when they take the form of beefsteak, veal, pork or turkey.' Sceptical, you say that you will never eat such meat. Well then, cast an attentive glance upon the composition of your favorite ravioli or hamburger that you buy in the frozen-foods section: a very banal package, with a photo of a medium-grilled steak resting on a bed of lettuce. Made of beef, just like the others? Not at all, if you read what is written on the carton: 69% (sometimes as low as 65%) ground beef, 'seasoned' with vegetable proteins. In fact, the 31% of vegetable proteins don't have any flavor but constitute a kind of additional stuffing for the true meat" (Cosmopolitan, June 1985).

But the same logic that tells us that we have already swallowed this crap has no need to be frank about what is coerced: it suffices that we forget all that we can't taste. Thus, after we have bought beer infected by whatever conditions in which it was stocked, we will no longer regret our adaptation to the necessities of its market circulation: "The Adelshoffen-on-Schiltigheim brewery in the outskirts of Strasbourg has launched a beer-concentrate. One volume of beer to five volumes of water. Thanks to modern techniques of ultrafiltration, the brewer is simply a mechanic who separates out each element: water, alcohol, aromatic sources. . . . Like Coca-Cola, Adelshoffen already dreams of shipping the reconstituted syrup from Alsace to local bottlers all over the world [...] 'This reduces the costs of transportation and packaging, since the brewers are more and more becoming the retailers of the packaging, which one regards as part of the price of the liquids in the final product,' Michel Debuf explains. 'The beer-concentrate is a fantastic project for the global outlets,' he says enthusiastically. Henceforth, there will be simple local bottlers trying to break the monopoly of the breweries. 'With the concentrate, all a chain of bottlers has to do is add the water and carbonic gas. All bottlers of soda of the Coca Cola type can do it'" (Liberation, 29 July 1985).

This senseless pursuit of economies of time and the minimumization of the costs of labor and materials (which cut into profits) reinforces the logic of the commodity in all of its abstract purity, which, over time -- for example, the accumulation of human history necessary to acquire the know-how to make a good beer -- pretends to ignore the qualitative. But the qualitative doesn't fail to return negatively, as sickness. For the qualitative, one substitutes various ideological claims -- State laws that are supposedly imposed in the name of hygiene or simply to guarantee the appearance of it -- that favor the concentration of production, which serves to better support the normative weight of the new infected products. At the end of this process, the monopoly of the market aims at letting the choice be between hunger abatement and hunger itself.

The United States thus has the Food and Drug Administration [6], which visibly provides the abstract consumption of abstract commodities with its own laws, although these don't function too well in the regulations of what's called the "Common Market." One might say that this is the principal reality of this institution. All historical traditions must disappear and the abstraction rules in the absence of quality (see the article "Abstraction"). All countries obviously don't have the same characteristics (geographical and cultural) in nourishment. To abide by the requirements of Europe, France has the worst beer (except for that of Alsace), very bad coffee, etc. But Germany drinks good beer, Spain drinks good chocolate and good wine, Italy has good coffee and wine. France has good bread, good wine, numerous cheeses, lots of poultry and beef. In the framework of the Common Market, all of this becomes reduced to equally polluted merchandise. Tourism plays a certain role here. On the spot, the tourist gets used to the misery of commodities, which have been polluted just for him; he comes to consume all that has deteriorated precisely because of his presence. In effect, the tourist is treated as badly everywhere as he is at home: he is the displaced voter.

The essential utility of the modern commodity, which is developed at the expense of everything else, lies in its being bought; by a miracle of which it has the secret and by the mediation of capital, the modern commodity can "create jobs"! As for the employment or use of the commodity, it is authoritatively postulated or fallaciously evoked, in the case of food, in the artifical preservation of some of its old characteristics. But these appearances are of course addressed to meanings that are the easiest to abuse: "Thanks to the new methods employed in the avoidance of food spoilage, in our markets in all seasons of the year one can find fruits and vegetables that used to appear only a few weeks out of every month. For example, the apples that one stocks in gigantic refrigerators. The only big problem is the fact that fruits placed in cold storage lose a lot of their natural flavor" (Cosmopolitan, ibid.). When months didn't count as several weeks, there was a season for each thing: today we lack both the reality of time and the reality of things. The meanings that are the most directly practical are the ones that are sacrificed: the flavor, aroma and touch are abolished to the profit of the delusions that permanently lead sight and hearing astray (see the article "Abbe"). When the usage of certain meanings becomes hazy (it is certain that one wants to abolish odors when one lives in a large town) and the usage of others becomes misplaced, one assists in the general revocation of sensuality, which goes hand-in-hand with the extravagant revocation of intellectual lucidity, which itself begins with the disappearance of reading and the bulk of vocabulary. For the voter who drives a car and watches television, taste has no importance whatsoever: this is why one eats Findus and votes for Fabius, or swallows Fabius and reads Findus. [7] The voter's important activities, his growing passivity, don't allow him the time to develop acquired tastes that, most opportunely, commodity production itself doesn't have time to satisfy: this marvelous adequation between the absence of use and the use of absence defines the current loss of all criteria of value. We thus recover the crucial question of time, of time saved for not living. Thus, the time formerly devoted to the preparation of meals has, today, been absorbed by the contemplation of television, "conumers are demanding less and less the cheap cuts that require long alimentary preparations." "Cheap cuts," with which one used to prepare a number of excellent dishes of popular French cuisine, are now recycled in the forms most convenient for rapid preparation: "If one looks at them closely (but not too closely) and tastes them, one is deceived. It seems to be sirloin steak: it has the look, the texture, the 'tenderness.' But this sirloin is made of round steak, flank, and collar beef, in short, of the cuts that are usually reserved for the preparation of braised meats or simmered ragus. Braised beef transformed into beefsteak? It is this that is prepared by the researchers and industrialists who destroy the architecture of meat, taking more-or-less finely chopped cuts and putting them back together in the created form of 'reconstituted' meat" (Le Monde, 25 September 1985). We don't doubt that this reconstitution will very quickly extend its field of action beyond the domain of the bovine. "One has succeded in making appetizing and tender 'beefsteaks' from poultry or pork, which are cheaper than beef, and 'the future of the bovines is behind them,' M. Dumont emphasized" (Ibid.). This full-of-the-future Dumont is the director of a meat research laboratory at the National Institute of Agronomic Research; he is a specialist in hunger abatement, as is he who -- regarding the technique of "extrusion cooking" that permits the fabrication of "cell-structured products" such as those destined to be consumed by dogs and cats -- declares: "As concerns the application of this process to human nourishment, 'everything remains to be done'" (Ibid.). As concerns our acquiescence to this bestiality without instinct, a lot has already been done.

A long time ago, the bourgeoisie said: "There was history, but not any more" (Marx). When it bureaucraticizes its domination, the bourgeoisie adds to the mix: "There was taste, but not any more." Each person no longer has an individual history in and through which he discovers and forms his own tastes. It is necessary to accept all this without making any distinctions, without pretending to hold on to some criteria by which judgments can be made. Only those who listen to the proclamations of experts -- who, for example, dazzle us with visions of the radiant future of irradiated vegetables -- believe that "vegetables never looked so good" (L'Express, 6-12 September 1985). Such are the last looks [8] of the society of the spectacle. All individual looks [9], as connected as they want to be, can't be connected to the society of the spectacle, because it controls the entire network. And so, the "mashed meat" that is the hunger-abater for poor salaried workers, who eat it standing up in the decor of train stations, can give itself the allure of modernism, chosen by those who eat McDonald's [10] and think Actuel.

How did we get to this point? Who wanted this? Previously, no one did. Ever since the Physiocrats, [11] the bourgeois project has explicitly been to improve, both qualitatively and quantatively, the products of the earth, which had previously been more immutable than the products of industry. This project was effectively realized during and since the 19th century. Critiques of capitalism are sometimes more preoccupied with the highest qualities. In particular, Fourier [12] -- who favored pleasure and passion, and loved pears -- expected the reign of harmony to provide a tasty variety of this particular fruit. But, as elsewhere, the progress of civilization accomplished the opposite result. Today, the problem can be concretely defined by taking a classic recipe from traditional French cuisine and examining what each ingredient has become under current consumption (see the article "Agro-Alimentaire").

The harmful effects of hunger abatement aren't limited to the things that it eliminates, but also include the effects that its schema, by virtue of its very existence, has upon each new product of the old world. The food that has lost its taste presents itself in every case as perfectly hygienic, dietary, and healthy in comparison to the risky adventures of pre-scientific food preparation. But it lies, cynically. Not only does this food contain an incredible amount of poison (see the sadly famous example of the powerful agricultural products manufactured by Union Carbide[13]), but it produces deficiencies that are only measured later, after the fact, in the health of the general public. In the completely scientifically euphemistic words of a doctor: "It seems that the intensification of agricultural productivity has been realized without sufficient attention to the notion of quality, of which trace elements are an important factor" (H. Picard, Therapeutic Use of Trace Elements). Terrifying in its own right, what's legal in food processing is accompanied by blatantly illegal activity that, nevertheless, is tolerated (growth-hormones in veal products, antifreeze in wine, etc.) The principal form of cancer spreading in the United States doesn't affect smokers of polluted tobacco products or the inhabitants of the most polluted towns, but President Reagan and other diners of that type. [14]

The practice of generalized hunger abatement [abat-faim] is also responsible for the famine [la famine] among the peripheral people who are absolutely at the mercy of what one dares to call the global capitalist system. The process is simple: living cultures are eliminated by the global market, and the people of so-called underdeveloped countries are magically transformed into unemployed workers in vast shantytowns, which one sees growing rapidly in Africa and Latin America. The fish that was formerly caught and eaten by Peruvian peoples is now monopolized by the proprietors of the advanced economies, who use it to nourish the poultry that they sell on the market. To get rid of the fishy taste, without creating another after-taste, the manufacturers secretly add acroline, a very dangerous chemical substance made right in the middle of Lyon, without the knowledge of the town's inhabitants. Currently dangerously uninformed, both consumer of the product and neighbor of the manufacturer won't fail, one of these days, to become informed of these matters in the light of catastrophe.

The world's specialists in hunger (there are a lot of them, and they work hand-in-hand with other specialists, who create the impression of a banquet of abundant delights) communicate the results of their calculations to us: the planet produces enough cereals to feed everyone, but what troubles this idyll is the fact that the "rich countries" abusively use half the world's cereals as feed for livestock. But when one has experienced the disastrous taste of butchered creatures fattened on cereals, can one really speak of "rich countries"? Surely not. While a part of the planet is dying of famine, the inhabitants of these countries are not living like Sybarites [15]: they live in shit. But the voter is flattered when reminded that, strictly speaking[16], he is the one who has the hard heart, because he lives so well while the graves of underprivileged countries are fattened by the cadavers of children. He loves to believe the agreeable things that he has been told.

Like medicine and some other things, nourishment is becoming a State secret. During the rise of the proprietary classes, which, not without reason, feared what democracy would effectively mean for them, one of the most forceful objections to democracy was the evocation of the ignorance of the masses, which effectively prevented them from knowing and taking care of their own affairs. Today, the proprietary classes believe themselves to be protected by recently discovered anti-democracy vaccines or by the small dosages of democracy-residue that they pretend to guarantee us. Because people ignore the mysteries of the economy that are put on their plates, the cut-rate performances of "choices society must make" concerning the deployment of strategic weapons and other subtlties can be staged again and again.

When the secret thickens everywhere, even on our plates, it isn't necessary to believe that everyone ignores everything. But it is necessary that the experts in the spectacle do not spread dangerous truths. They must keep quiet. It is in their interest to do so. The individual, who is really isolated, who cannot trust his own tastes and experiences, also cannot trust socially organized deceptions. A union spoke up? Not without being irresponsible and revolutionary. In principle, unions defend the interests of salaried workers within the framework of salaried work. Unions defend the workers' "bread and butter," their right to "bring home the bacon." [17] But this "beef" is abstract (today, work itself is abstract and abstractly defended). Although real beefsteak has almost disappeared, these specialists [unions] haven't disappeared, at least officially. Beefsteak, meat free of chemicals, still exists clandestinely, is expensive, and, simply by its existence, forcefully shakes the columns of the temple of "contractual politics." In Western nomenclature[18], one well knows the returns on investment that can be gained from selling high-priced health food.

In the period that immediately preceded the Revolution of 1789, tentative and moderate efforts to falsify bread caused large-scale riots. Many bold experimenters in corrupt bread were hung from streetlamps after being made to explain their reasons for doing so. All through the entire 19th century, it was the retailer who engaged in marginal and artisanal falsifications; it wasn't until the war of 1914, which gave birth to the ersatz, that manufacturers began to falsify their products. But it stirred up anger among the masses. Different times, different habits. Said another way, the benefits that class society derives from its spectacular equipment and personnel out weigh the expenses of the ballyhoo that inevitably accompanies the ersatz. And so, in the last ten years, bread has disappeared from France and been replaced by a pseudo-bread (non-panifiable flour, chemical yeast, electric ovens), but these traumatic events, unlike the recent closings of so-called free schools, didn't incite protests or defense movements. Quite literally, no one said anything. Now that we have lost the taste of bread, one can -- full of cynicism -- pretend that extending the bureaucratization of culture is instructive: "It's a question of an education in taste that begins with elementary things: making one's bread, identifying the elements of its composition. This is bread that one should make the object of a national campaign: 'bread considered as an object of patrimony,' as 'living national treasure,' as the Japanese say" (Jack Lang, quoted by Le Monde, 7-8 April 1985). With the advent of this new "national bread," one knows better than ever that the authentic world has no place in current life and will end up in a museum.

The pleasures once thought to be "simple" will soon disappear and thus become the objects of scholarly museography. Modern architecture has already suppressed a large part of the simple life's previously vast field of action. Certainly, as pleasure becomes spectacular enjoyment, consumers are happy when they find images to graze upon. But the dangerous dialectic threatens to return, because everything works to decompose the dominations of this world. While critique preserves the management of domination, its results kill it. This is the syndrome of the fatal malady of the end of the 20th century: in a constant and omnipresent effort, the society of classes and specializations tries to immunize itself against all pleasures. The collapse of its immuno-defensive system against the poisons that it produces will be total.

Note: Written by Guy Debord and published without attribution in Encyclopedie des Nuisances, #5, November 1985. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! in August 2004. For the manuscript version of this text, see letter from Debord to Jaime Semprun dated 16 September 1985.

Translator's notes:

[1] There is no equivalent in English for the antiquated French term abat-faim, which was typically a piece of high-quality beef to which one returned again and again (la piece de resistance). The abat-faim didn't satisify hunger: it merely reduced hunger or abated for a little while. And so, for our purposes, the phrase "hunger-abater" will have to do.

[2] The word Debord uses is Bifteck, a piece of steak.

[3] The term agro-alimentaire can be translated as either the "food processing industry" or "agribusiness."

[4] Latin in original.

[5] Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (National Institute of Agronomic Research).

[6] English in original.

[7]. Laurent Fabius was a French politician (Socialist Party) and Findus a manufacturer of food products that contain genetically modified organisms.

[8] English in original.

[9] English in original.

[10] English in original. Spelling of "Mac Donald" corrected.

[11] The Physiocrats were a group of French Enlightenment thinkers of the 1760s who surrounded the French court physician, Francois Quesnay. They proposed to advance the interests of agriculture by adopting a system of economic freedom.

[12] Charles Fourier was one of the favorites of Raoul Vaneigem and others members of the Situationist International, of which Guy Debord was a co-founder.

[13] English in original.

[14] In 1985, the American President Ronald Reagan had cancerous growths removed from his colon and nose.

[15] In an ancient Greek city in Italy, the Sybarites indulged in sensuous luxury.

[16] Latin in original.

[17] The word Debord uses here is bifteck.

[18] Russian in original.


Stupefaction (Abasourdir) – Encyclopédie des Nuisances

Bouvard and Pécuchet

A 1985 article denouncing the fake “communication” disseminated by the mass media of our time that is really nothing but a unilateral flood of “information” or “socially harmful noise” in which nothing is called by its real name, as a force of stupefaction and for the creation of well-informed ignorance, where, amidst the generalized falsification of reality, “a view of the whole can never be formed”, and even self-evident truths “dissolve in the surrounding cacophony” in which they recede into the distance of unverifiable hypotheses, as exemplified in the endless media speculation concerning the Moro kidnapping.

Submitted by Alias Recluse on March 6, 2018

Stupefaction – Encyclopédie des Nuisances
(Encyclopédie des Nuisances, No. 5, pages 89 to 95)

Merely by examining the modern means at its disposal, the process of stupefaction—deafening, “extreme bewildering by means of a loud noise”—leaves us vaguely dazzled by the multiplicity of transmitters that contribute with “noise” of every kind to the stupefying present, to the loss of consciousness of our time. We shall encompass a large number of them under one heading, by tranquilly asserting that all existing information must be considered, by virtue of its most general function, to be socially harmful noise.1

The very use of language is being lost, not to speak of communication. It is of course clear that the latter is actually unilateral communication, i.e., information; when, for instance, a specialist in authoritarian monologue boldly asserts that he is “a passionate devotee of communication”. But the corresponding realities have become so rarified that the coexistence of the words, “passionate” and “communication”, in the mouth of an advertising executive itself passes largely unnoticed, while the suggestion that there might be a conflict between information and communication sounds almost bizarre, for the former has developed only to the detriment of the latter until it appropriated its very name with impunity, the final homage rendered by the lie to the truth. Such a claim is in any event illogical; as if there could be a kind of communication that was not perfectly satisfied with the accelerated circulation of information and would therefore evoke an essential need to dissimulate this fact when in the presence of genteel company. No other theory of modern revolutionary critique, however, has been as overwhelmingly confirmed as this one. Yet this is the case only because its truth is today almost impossible to communicate: the evidence that confirms it, amidst the media noise that stupefies our contemporaries on a daily basis, is precisely that which at the same time actually renders it inaudible. Just like other basic truths, amidst the general resignation, it seems to be of use to no more than a handful of people, and is nothing more than the personal fantasy of a few isolated individuals, since it could be quite useful to everyone but no one wants to make use of it. There are times when lying does not entail any risk because the truth has no friends: then the truth takes on the semblance of a mere hypothesis, and is taken even less seriously insofar as no one wants, or is able, to verify it. Almost no one cohabits with the truth. It is as if it was some kind of useless toil in a world full of pleasures easily within the reach of everyone. But these pleasures, which are not so easily obtained after all, are not really pleasures, either. And the reality of unhappiness compels dissimulation, giving rise to a vicious circle from which few are able to escape.

When there is no intention to communicate anything that is true, the need arises for regular supplies of lies and fairy tales. And when it is the existing information that is placed at the disposal of the citizens, it is more than likely that it does not need to communicate anything: there is an abundance of means within the reach of all that enable everyone to speak of everything concerning which they have no experience, so that they do not have to say even one word about the disastrous experiences of their own lives. “Bouvardism and Pecuchetization”2 are therefore the two teats of informed ignorance from which a generous torrent of the contaminated milk of modern inanity flows. If you want to talk about real life, you would have to begin—let us observe a little hygiene—by cutting off the flow of information to the citizens, to wash their minds clean of everything that has been dumped into them by the media sewers, the only authorized sources of information. Otherwise, the simplest things would be the hardest ones to express, because there is almost no agreement about a language that can name them. The reason why information, although its flow is renewed on a daily basis, is still capable of delivering an infinite quantity of trash, is actually quite simple: there is an infinite number of ways to not call things by their names; many more than those that apply the correct term. But once this term has been discovered, there would be no use in repeating it every day, because those whose recognized social usefulness, or remunerated social usefulness, consists in talking every day, never use the correct term. When people agree on a precise definition, they do not need someone to inform them of it on a daily basis; when they know what a State is, for example, they don’t need anyone to reveal the nature of its secret services to them. Do they tell us every day that the world is round? To the contrary, it seems that they go to extremes to pound into our heads the beliefs that the commodity is basically honest, that our leaders are competent and, should the question ever arise, that we can “obtain pleasure” and even “realize our potential” from our jobs. Information of this quality would not stand on its own merits for more than one day at a time, or even more than one hour, if it were to have the least competition. Thus one can understand that the only power of the lie and of the confusionism of information consists in their being our daily bread, without any other side dish.

If one is particularly fastidious with regard to precision, we could discuss, for example, when considering a French socialist, the respective advantages of the epithets, crook and bum; bastard sometimes sounds too strong, while lout usually sounds too weak. But when it comes right down to it, if we are really determined to faithfully describe something, all these terms fall far short of the countless expressions that we could apply, and therefore, we only increase our distance from reality. These days, any kind of relation can be established between the most disparate realities, while the compellingly necessary relation between, let’s say, the Findus brand of frozen foods and the thought of a Fabius,3 will never be expressed, and no one will point out how nonsensical, illogical and intellectually despicable it is to allow two things that are so similar to exist and not unite them in a harmonious whole, in order to vomit them up together.

With regard to information as to other matters, quantity attempts to supplant quality, with the inevitable result of the proliferation of the arbitrary and the useless, since the necessary and the useful have become spectral and imperceptible. It is true that in a system that evinces a tendency to become, strictly speaking, nobody’s business (although, of course, some people make it their business to promote this loss of control), everyone has a lot to learn, from the composition of a chemical food to that of the P2 lodge, and from the public intrigues of occult powers to the occult intrigues of public powers. When the realities and problems we experience are never managed by those of us who are affected but by other people who are completely beyond our control, we have to endlessly inform ourselves, in order to know where the world is heading in its out of control race to doom. Since such a task is an overwhelming undertaking, some information technology busybodies propose to comfort us with this sort of consolation: “It has been calculated that, on average, during the course of his life, one human being is exposed to one billion bits of useful information. Eighty billion men have lived before us. Therefore, throughout the course of human history eighty billion billion bits of information have been processed. Thanks to computers, however, 30 billion bits of information will be processed by each human in 1985 and twice as many in 1986. Therefore, in just two years more information has been processed than was processed during the entire previous history of humanity until our time. Today, one human life corresponds to 100,000 lives of the men of the past, in terms of information processing” (Thierry Breton, Les Échos, supplement of June 28, 1985). His vaguely anthropoid computer terminal seems to have short-circuited its microprocessors in its calculations, but who cares, you definitely do not need to process billions of bits of data, not even one, to recognize what a “man’s life” means when it is devoted to data processing, a life so “connected”, so “wired”, so “digitalized”, that in two years he will participate in a more substantial history than all past history combined. In other times, men who lived 100,000 times less than what we can today experience by way of computers would have easily found the word to define that type of life. Abject, for example. But now, the simple expression of such a judgment is nothing, in the ears of well-informed people, but the sign of a desperate bitterness worthy of the most turbulent failures of the past: an era that produces by the bucketful intellectual prodigies of the caliber of Thierry Breton, discovers with a great deal of logic or much logical support, that Machiavelli was a mediocrity, a calamity, a failure.

The publication where this non-thought multiplied by 100,000 is expressed has a decidedly polysemic title, “Les Dynasteurs”, and one of its publishers instructs us that it is the “outcome of a project built upon various words that evoke dynamism, creativity, life-giving faith, devoted to the reality and the usefulness of the entrepreneur within our modern industrial society”. Leaving aside the qualities this over-elaborated neologism attempts to evoke, we shall observe that the quality that it unfailingly does evoke is the only one that is not mentioned: if that repugnant word has any meaning, it is that of expressing the ambitions of the dynastic entrepreneurs and their new feudalism. Ambitions that are clearly manifested, that is, with perfect foolishness, when these creative dynamos, a few lines later, tell us about the symbols thanks to which they expect to spread their faith in the usefulness of the entrepreneur and to evangelize the masses of heathen consumers: “We have entered the information society. Businesses, large and small, know the role and the importance of their logos in communicating with their various publics…. The coat of arms of the knights of the Middle Ages was and still is synonymous with moral values and physical qualities. The coat of arms and the logo have many more things in common than just analogies. They share the same will to overcome.” Neither more nor less. Therefore, we can dream of a new heraldry that will faithfully transcribe the “moral values” and the “physical qualities” of entrepreneurs and their commodities. We shall see, in the kingdom of the Frigidaires, how barons will ride to battle bearing a shield blazoned with croquettes on a field of vomit….

Sometimes, we must confess that words fail us, not because the realities they describe are too multifarious but because they are all too similar, too full of the redundant ordinariness of a world with no other perspective than the consecration of what exists. With regard to coats of arms and heraldry, the creation of words and pertinent descriptions, we must speak of the popular argot, concerning which it has been said that, having been born from hatred, it no longer exists. Since odious realities have not disappeared, they must have engendered the capacity for hatred. Passionate men capable of loving much and also of hating their world seem like dinosaurs in an era marked by amorphous indifference, where venality and the lack of courage pass for cynicism and cleverness. Like all passions, hatred requires energies that cannot be mobilized by those who must process billions of bits of data, energies that no machine can give them. But even mere insults are beyond the capacity of the slave chained to his computer screen. Like a man of the past, honest and ill-informed, Chesterton called attention “to the words that are like weapons rusting on the wall, to the most choice terms of abuse becoming obsolete in face of rich and even bewildering opportunities in the way of public persons to apply them to”. And his observations deserve to be quoted in extenso, since they are unfortunately most timely: “It is indeed strange that when public life presents so wide and promising a field for the use of these terms, they should be suffered to drop into desuetude. It seems singular that when the careers of our public men, the character of our commercial triumphs, and the general culture and ethic of the modern world seem so specially to invite and, as it were, to cry aloud for the use of such language, the secret of such language should be in danger of being lost” (G. K. Chesterton, William Cobbett).

Here is a simple and concrete truth which, in short, judges for an entire epoch those who are considered to be assiduous depositaries of the secrets of language, the intellectuals, those old specialists in public expression whose craft only survives in symbiosis with the great industry of media-induced stupefaction. Responsible for vague lies and arbitrary revelations, without scruples, without conscience and without honor, foul, necessarily foul, they are so corrupted by the habit of spectacular monologue that they can only perpetuate the mere semblance of what was in the past called the “debate of ideas”. In order to do this, however, they need ideas and the ability to debate them, neither of which they possess. Interchangeable puppets of mass brutalization, satisfied with the fact that they still enjoy some prestige and that they still receive their salaries, their positive support for what exists distances them ever more from the method and the medium of an intellectual activity worthy of the name. It will be understood that we shall not go into details concerning the cultural conformism amidst which even the boldest are too respectful of too many things to avoid being held in contempt. When these people expatiate on the general conditions of non-communication, within which they have the power to speak, a power that entails a proven powerlessness to make the slightest critical use of it, they do so in order to show how grateful they are for the information they are made privy to by lifting, once in a while, the veil that covers a few state secrets, in order to be able to pride themselves on this supply of nourishment that is precisely calibrated to the weak development of their capacity for indignation. For anyone who has not renounced the desire for authentic communication, for anyone who is not an impotent intellectual, the real scandal is not the fact that the information technicians lie to us more or less often, but the reinforcement, by way of their falsifications as much by way of their revelations, of our separation from the practical means of truth; a separation that is evidently the origin of the imposture of the communications media and all their particular lies, rather than the unfortunate result of their policies and their interests.

And above all, they never stop talking to us about extremism, when the harsh realities that they try to address are too big to handle, ever since the origins of the modern stupefaction, for the kind of people who never concerned themselves with social critique, or in any case, not in the revolutionary sense of the term. Thus, Charles Nodier writes in The Country of Dreams: “The peasants of our villages who, for hundreds of years, have been reading fairy tales and believing them, now read newspapers and proclamations, and they believe them. In the past there were fools. Now they are stupid: this is progress.” And Chesterton, in the book quoted above: “The chief mark of the modern man has been that he has gone through a landscape with his eyes glued to a guidebook, and could actually deny in the one anything that he could not find in the other.” This ability has evidently proven to be more and more useful, and has therefore further developed, as the countryside has deteriorated with the progress of civilization. It was in this same sense that Musil also wrote, more than fifty years ago, that in this society, “There are always many more possible ways of approaching an extraordinary event through the newspapers than there are by actually experiencing it; in other words, in our times the essential takes place in the abstract, and reality is only an accessory”. The abundant information is precisely the invasion of the abstraction, which confines to the accessory the concrete part of reality that each person can experience for himself. For the isolated individual, this part of reality must decline yet more in a subjective sense due to a lack of a communication that would be capable of verifying it. And we have thus been transformed into so many ignoramuses who are subject to being taught by other ignoramuses; since our media educators have themselves been educated according to the needs of the dominant non-communication, where all problems must be posed in such a way that the solution depends on those who possess the means of leaving it unresolved. The underdeveloped state of information, in its almost total reign over social expression, has dialectically demonstrated that it was necessary, in order to prevent the possible, to falsify the real.

From the days of Musil to our times, we have seen that the very reality of the “accessory” cited above, concerning which everyone can have direct experience and knowledge, so to speak, has evaporated: even the most trivial everyday things have become extremely mysterious, concerning which it is impossible to know anything for certain. Of course, we are still officially informed, as consumers, of certain monstrous deformities inflicted on things that, in other times, when you did not have to deal with so much information, we did not have to be informed about, and which transparently and easily corresponded with their outward appearance. We can, for example, consult the Dictionary of Food Additives in order to decipher the hieroglyphics that decorate the commodities disguised as foods, to identify them as the stigmata of the extinction of their use value. Just as ignorance of the law is no excuse, from now on everyone must know chemistry; and if you are poisoned, your have only your own ignorance to blame: you were not well-informed, you were like a man of the past.

One thing is certain, however: we are not so naïve as to believe that they normally give us such precise descriptions of the multiple anomalies that comprise our environment. We shall just point out that this periodic “frankness”, which is announced with so much fanfare when such incidents do take place, always postulates the same resignation as before the fait accompli, an acquiescence that it had already in fact obtained by its manner of appearing without the possibility of reply and then disappearing without any consequences. The bombardment of information to which the broad-based party of artificial unintelligence is devoted, which proclaims the absurdity of synthesis, has no other purpose; it is the preventive attack against the formation of a critical judgment capable of drawing conclusions based on the facts. “Things are not so simple!” will be, for the informed spectator, the last word in knowledge. And when the facts are too compelling to avoid drawing some conclusions, and extracting some pure truth, it is too old-fashioned for the mill of confusionism, and the smallest particle of evidence is immediately contradicted, adulterated, expanded, and distorted by ten, a hundred or a thousand more bits of information, so that a view of the whole can never be formed, even when there is a desire to offer something like a coherent explanation; but instead this sum of information overwhelmingly establishes the impossibility of reaching the truth of certain facts, the memory of which tends moreover to dissolve in the surrounding cacophony.

This manner of preventing the drawing of a conclusion has been perfectly utilized, for example, in the assassination of Moro, concerning which all kinds of things and their contraries have been said, so that the basic truth, the fact that the Red Brigades were used by a faction of the Italian State, could be tolerated as one possible interpretation among many others, so that, no matter what happened, it would have no consequences at all. Speculation could therefore proceed endlessly concerning the Mossad, the CIA, the KGB, and all the rest. For this very reason, when the forests of the northern hemisphere die and the ignorant population establishes a relation of cause and effect between “acid rain” and the disappearance of those forests, all kinds of experts will appear from nowhere who will attribute the death of the forests to some kind of virus, totally independent of, and without any relation to, acid rain, “which gets the blame for everything”. This has the effect on us, contrary to the dissuasive blackmail of the specialists of every stripe, according to whom one never has enough information to pass any judgment, of causing us to think, first of all, that one must know how to judge this world as an oppressive unity, from which we all suffer, in order to be capable, on that basis, to recognize information as consisting of confusionist interference, propaganda, falsification and the lie, which reveal essential realities of the Economy and the State.

Indeed, we have no qualms about acknowledging the fact that the information dispensed by the communications media can be used and, as any reader will have noted by now, we have used it. This information is not legible, however—there is no connection between the different bits of information that can contribute to a more or less accurate account of the social terrain—if we do not start from a point of view that is radically hostile to the system that is responsible for our dependence on the information of the communications media. Where the monolithic nature of the lie does not reign as it does in the bureaucratic countries, the truth is in effect even more evanescent because it cannot be recognized even as a contrary. The western system of the lie has been revealed, with the passage of time, to be more disconcerting than its foolish eastern precursor, due to its way of informing us about everything so that nothing is really known.

We are confident that this Encyclopedia will offer our contemporaries a means of reaching an agreement in order to counter the immense means of modern stupefaction. Faced with the evident coherence of our intentions, only two solutions are possible: either we are totally out of our minds, or else we are very much in accord with reality. Between these two interpretations, each may choose according to his experience, his tastes, and his interests. But if someone adopts the second interpretation, he will also have to accept the fact that by working in this manner we pose a threat to all the managers and opportunists of stupefaction. For no one, nowhere, says what we are saying. It is therefore necessarily the case that there are vital interests that want to conceal such important evidence, but we shall reveal it, to their misfortune. And this is only the beginning.


Translated in 2013 (revised in 2018) from the Spanish edition entitled, “Aturrullar”, published in Encyclopédie des Nuisances, La Sinrazón en las Ciencies, los Oficios y las Artes: Artículos selectos de la Encyclopédie des Nuisances [Irrationality in the Sciences, the Trades, and the Arts: A Selection of Articles from the Encyclopédie des Nuisances], tr. Miguel Amorós, muturreko burutazioak, Bilbao, 2nd ed., 2007.

A different translation by Not Bored is below in PDF form.

The original article in French, entitled, “Abasourdir”, may be consulted with all the other articles published in the journal, Encyclopédie des Nuisances, online at: http://archivesautonomies.org/spip.php?article1792.

  • 1 The French word, “abasourdir”, can mean, among other things, “to stun” by means of a loud noise, as well as “to stupefy” (from the Latin, stupere, to be struck senseless). For reasons of readability, the word is translated in this text as “stupefy” although in two places the word “stun” would perhaps be more appropriate (where the effect is attributed to “noise”). [American translator’s note.]
  • 2 From the title of Flaubert’s unfinished novel, Bouvard et Pécuchet. These characters embodied the bourgeois spirit of that era, typified by imbecilic vulgarity and well-informed ignorance, qualities that are also the dominant spirit of our era. [Spanish translator’s note.]
  • 3 A socialist cabinet minister, a grotesque champion of the kind of modernization required by the Market [Spanish translator’s note].


abasourdir.pdf (136.16 KB)


Encyclopedie des Nuisances #6

cover of Encyclopedie des Nuisances #6

English translations from the sixth issue of Encyclopedia of Nuisances, published in February 1986.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 4, 2022

Primer (Abécédaire) - Encyclopédie des Nuisances

An article first published in 1986 in the journal Encyclopédie des Nuisances addressing the decline of literacy, critical thought and books in the era of mass communications and the spectacle and the broader implications of this trend for liberation.

Submitted by Alias Recluse on October 28, 2013

Primer - Encyclopédie des Nuisances
(EdN no. 6, pages 131-136)

A primer is “a small book for teaching children how to read”. Furthermore, a literate person is, according to the definition published by UNESCO in 1962, one who “has acquired the essential knowledge and skills which enable him to engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning in his group and community, and whose attainment in reading, writing and arithmetic make it possible for him to continue to use these skills towards his own and the community’s development”.

When we reflect today, both in modern societies as well as those that are on the path to modernity, on what it means to be capable of “effective functioning in [one’s] group and community”, not to speak of “[one’s] own” or “the community’s development”, it immediately becomes clear just what is meant by “essential knowledge and skills”. The brief period of time that has elapsed since this definition was elaborated, during which the standards for these measurements have changed, throughout the world and at the various levels of the social hierarchy, cannot conceal the fact that everywhere the only thing that this literacy requires is the ability to read the user’s instructions in the manual of servitude, of writing the answers to the questionnaires of the state, and of calculating precisely the share of survival allotted to each person. And so that they do not come talking to us about the spiritual riches that we shall egotistically enjoy, and to which we shall easily have access, we need only mention the case of the peasants of the Haute Loire or those of Upper Volta. In fact, the majority of humanity must be maintained in a vaguely literate state of ignorance, not so that they may like esthetes appreciate the treasures of culture, but so they can endure the most sophisticated obscurantism of spectacular culture. Who could possibly think that the culture of an American student constitutes anything like a “privilege”?

The UNESCO definition thus has the merit of revealing, thanks to its involuntarily restrictive character, the step taken from the old illiteracy, which was really incompatible with the functioning of a modern economy, to the illiteracy of extended ignorance. The new illiteracy never ceases to display, of course, particular traits that seem to link it to the old illiteracy: inability to write, extreme impoverishment of vocabulary and syntax. In this case, however, language has also been equally affected, since the new illiteracy palpably responds to a decomposition of language, by way of which the famous gap between spoken French and written French has been abolished, a gap concerning which many foolish things have been said, and on the basis of which, in order to more or less authentically abolish it, some famous writers (Céline, Queneau, et al.) have easily introduced a dubious stylistic originality. The richness of spoken French, from the diverse argots to the simple language of the people, has degenerated in the appalling melting pot [in English in the original—translator’s note] of the jargon of journalism, technocrats, advertising, etc. In this decomposition one can see, as in the disappearance of popular songs, the effects of the loss of all collective autonomy in relation to the commodity and the state. The pseudo-argotic terms that enjoy an ever-diminishing period when they are fashionable, far from expressing the agreement of a community to break with the social norm, proclaim a servile attachment to false complicity in conformity and in a familiarity with the commodity. And their rapid dissemination is not a result of their promulgation by an institute or a government ministry, but due to the fact that they respond to a furious need for identification (with spectacular fashions, with imposed roles, with what exists) that is wreaking havoc. Faced with the stereotypes of conformism and the language of slogans, the use of the resources of the common language of the past takes on the cast of an argot (insofar as it represents an act of rejection), just as the affirmation of the general interests of humanity seems like a personal obsession.

According to recent assessments, the vocabulary and grammar skills of a large majority of Americans do not advance after the age of twelve or thirteen years (and what years! What did they do during those years!) This is why many of them have a great deal of difficulty understanding a subordinate clause. In France, there are those whose efforts are devoted to trying to make us take a step backwards that would enable us to read Proust instead of bothering with the basics: “The specific difficulties of French grammar and writing are currently holding back the development of machines and programs capable of using and addressing the written and spoken French language. This situation causes France to seriously run the risk of cultural marginalization and technological and industrial regression.” (Sud-Ouest, October 21, 1985). Thus, linguists and computer programmers are going to feed our antique French through their grinders and we should have no doubt that they shall emerge from them as poetically transfigured as the verse, “The flesh is sad, alas, and I have read all the books”, which was restored by a translation machine to read, “The food is spoiled, unfortunately, and my library is empty”.

Other linguists, whose buffoonery is less disturbing because they work for decrepit social-Mitterandism, have been given the responsibility by the “Left Priority” club “for inventing 86 new words that will make history”: the result is “serpub” for “public services”, “map” for “modernization of the apparatus of production”, and even “rasmod” for “reorganization and modernization” (Le Canard enchaîné, November 6, 1985). The retreats prepared by this Fabius-style agit-prop, being the hasty attempts to create a Newspeak that they are, are poorly-inspired by an electoral campaign based, contrary to all the rules of the game, on the certain victory of the opponent (“Help, the Right is coming back!”). But they are not even very notable or scandalous, since the entire language is no longer anything but a huge redundancy indefinitely repeating the syllogisms of conformity; which undeniably justifies the mobilization of simplifying formulas abbreviating the proclamation of the nullity of thought, so that even the slightest hint of language will be a useless complication. Thus, when a bureaucrat of what is still called a trade union (in this case, the CFDT) declares, with regard to a new method of labor integration—the “quality circles”: “After all, why shouldn’t what is good for business be good for the workers?” (Libération, December 14-15, 1985), he lets us understand that such open support for the interests of what was previously called the employer will be successful if it is expressed in terms of “map” and “rasmod”. We, recalling 1968 (“The trade unions are whorehouses”), shall more adequately summarize this conclusion of the old reformism by means of the formula, “close the houses of ill-repute”.

The particular fate of reading is inscribed within the general loss of judgment and therefore also of language and of vocabulary. Even if the spectator knows how to read in accordance with UNESCO’s definition, because he is saturated with images, noise and lies, the barrier that separates him from important writings, Swift’s humor, for instance, is just as real as the strictly defined inability to read a text. Furthermore, there is an irrefutable practical criterion that can be applied to this theme. If only a few individuals know how to read Swift (or Marx, or Debord), so what! But the problem is not exactly that people do not know how to read subversive texts. Despite the fact that the Bible appears to be the all-time bestseller, the book has been the principal material instrument for the establishment of a secular culture. At first, preserved in monasteries, and then multiplied in university libraries, the book, when it spread throughout the world thanks to printing (and the introduction of paper in Europe), made the memory of what had been done, thought and felt by previous generations accessible to everyone: modern historical consciousness which, based on the framework of the city and the direct dialogue that it allows, placed the general interests of humanity on the horizon, is in this respect the offspring of the book. Was it Lichtenberg who pointed out that the inventions of the printing press and gunpowder took place at about the same time? The book in any case was a long-range weapon in the historical struggles of the modern epoch and, considering its long history, one can say that it has served above all the forces of emancipation.

Indeed, the book, which can be manipulated and reproduced at will, gave writing a larger audience, a veritable collective existence, and at the same time generalized the freedom of individual reflection, the ability to judge based on evidence, which was previously restricted to a tiny minority. And this material change transformed intellectual activity at the same time. It was soon said that thought put into writing and thus made fully public, partook of the nature of time: unlike the language of magical-religious revelation, it has to be admitted that its truth is oriented towards the future, towards a possible verification; it understood itself in the continuity of a history of consciousness, as memory and as project. And this can be demonstrated in any writing of value, regardless of the “genre” in which it is placed by scholarly classification. On the other hand, what is characteristic of the literature that turns people into idiots, regardless of any esthetic criteria, is precisely the fact that, ingested for the purpose of taking one’s mind off a stretch of time, it remains a dead letter, without any project, without any poetry, because it has no time ahead of it. Because it is only a matter of greater or lesser skill in the use of a stereotyped convention, and this applies not only to romance novels of the Harlequin variety but also to those refinements of that genre such as Pérec.1

On the other hand, in the confrontation between memory and imagination that makes reading a more intense passage of time compared to the prevailing poverty of feelings and ideas, there is a merit that allegedly can compensate, but in the final accounting in a vulgar and despicable way like all compensation. The book, like “a special way of living” (Flaubert), can also be, for both the writer as well as the reader, a way of not living, of resignation, such as is abundantly demonstrated by authors and intellectuals; indeed, they demonstrate this trait all the more, insofar as today the specialists of the written word must compete with great difficulty with the spectacular substitutes for life. The book, however, only poses the question of the historical scope and the human use of a text as a privileged technique of memory and of the dissemination of thought, such as used to exist in the old pre-spectacular culture: the answer belongs, in every epoch, to those who know how to refresh this memory by making the truth live in the present (such as, for example, the Surrealists or the Situationists). In short, the book is only a means, but it was the means of a society in which culture represented its partially conscious historical dimension: that is still too much, of course, for the dominant dream of a final glaciation managed by the automatic memories of machines and their programs. With regard to this point, with the final solution of the problem of language, the life of words will yield to the circulation of signs.

It is not possible to review the subjective aspect of the question—language resonating with reading, time passing with the rhythm of the daydream or meditation, all that is so trivial and unprofitable for the dominant organization of brutalization—without being overwhelmed by a vindicating nostalgia for the past, a survival of a buried world. In the schizophrenic time occupied by programmed leisure, a succession of dispersed instants with neither result nor process, one loses the subjective ability to read, to inhabit objectivized time; one loses the memory deposited in a book, and the ability to reconcile the latter with one’s own time. Likewise, a constructed space is adapted to the time of those who use it; a different time, a different life, they can always readapt to it. Except when it is a matter of a product of modern architecture, that is, of the very impossibility of adapting to it, since it creates the need to watch television, to consume prefabricated time. Thus, a product of modern publishing, which is not made to be read, is fully justified by its buyer’s inability to read. And conversely, the disappearance, qualitative and quantitative, of the time set aside for reading in the everyday life of the consumer, reinforces the tendency towards the liquidation of written memory.

Literacy, as a factor of integration into the world market, acknowledged by every underdeveloped bureaucracy as a fundamental task of the local economy, cannot be considered, in view of its destruction of the old forms of memory and culture, with the tranquil satisfaction exhibited by Marx when he spoke of the commodity as the heavy artillery that will knock down all the Great Walls of China. Precisely with relation to China, the adoption of the Roman alphabet will allow, better than any kind of censorship, for the ruling power to assume control over the fate of all the writings of the past, to rewrite them or to reserve them for specialists and official experts. This extreme case, however, is not limited to such exotic locations. In our countries, the continuity of the system of writing cannot be shattered in such an abrupt way, yet the ability to read the works of the past is just as seriously endangered as it is in China. The habituation to the passive reception of spectacular signs, the obscuring of the meaning of words by the propaganda of the mass media, the artificially constructed amnesia that consists in not going beyond the modernity that we can only with difficulty call the educational system, everything combines to make the writings of the past fall into the domain of pseudo-erudition, the corporatist code of bureaucratized culture. The history of consciousness (in its diverse theoretical, poetic, etc., forms) will become inaccessible and incomprehensible as such, and all of its possible future, deposited in books; the consciousness of history will be blocked much more easily. Elsewhere we shall speak of the “hieroglyphs emitted by these commodities stripped of nourishment, as the stigmata of the extinction of their use value” (see our article, "Abasourdir" [“Stupefy”]), such as we now recognize in the obesity of the “critical apparatus” that smothers important texts from the past, the sign of the extinction of their common use. For example, a text as brief and as decisive as the Discourse on Voluntary Servitude by La Boétie, can become so overwhelmed with thought-debris of the Lefort type that it is hard to locate the text itself, as was also the case with the volume published by Payot that was inflated with university steroids.

We shall undoubtedly return to the theme of modern publishing, considered as the production of “non-books” (which is what the professionals themselves call them), in which the decomposition of logorrhea only anticipates that of the paper upon which it is printed, destined for the pulp mill within thirty years. Meanwhile, it is evident that the superabundance of books is no proof at all in favor of reading, any more than the abundance of images testifies to the advance of the visual sense. And above all, because real culture does not reside in the university nightmare of the impossible exhaustive bibliography, but in a qualitative use that brings to life the texts that testified to a higher humanity, which has nothing to do with the bored admiration of a guided tour, conducted by self-proclaimed experts.

A good indication of the capacities of an era in this regard is provided by its manner of translating: indeed, we know that every translation is at least faithful to the spirit of its time. The translations of our time give one a sense of its misery and sterility from the moment that one attempts to restore all the things that it is incapable of encompassing. When the professors undertake to translate Kafka, for example, we cannot determine whether they know German any better than Vialatte,2 but we can be sure that they are less familiar with French. And we may mention the terribly intuited realities of the machine in The Penal Colony, since in our time the chains of tortured humanity are made of computer printouts. As for these professors, there will be those who would say that they have to make a living, too. We do not think so. And if we do not soon put an end to their excesses, you may be sure that other victims will bear the burden of their pedantry: we must fear for Poe, since it is well known that Baudelaire was no assistant professor of English. The day will come when they will give us a detailed list of their inconsistencies.

The fact that the fate of the reader is of such concern to the authors of an Encyclopedia should not surprise anybody; although we would consider the possibility of a complete loss of the ability to read with the greatest indifference if it were only to affect our work and not so many others of such proven value. Nor, in such a case, would we feel obliged to add new pages to those that already exist, which are for anyone sufficient confirmation of the reasons to strike a blow for liberty. We disapprove of those words of Mallarmé where he says that, “everything in the world exists in order to become a book”. But there are some books that allow one to get a glimpse, as is also true of a lesser number of encounters, of a more accomplished world than the present pestilential decomposition.

Encyclopédie des Nuisances

Translated from the Spanish translation:

Encyclopédie des Nuisances, “Abecedario”, in La Sinrazón en las Ciencias, los Oficios y las Artes: Artículos selectos de la Encyclopédie des Nuisances, tr. Miguel Amorós, Muturreko Burutazioak, Bilbao, Second Edition, 2007, pp. 52-60.

Originally published as “Abécédaire” in L'Encyclopédie des Nuisances no. 6, Paris, February 1986, pp. 131-136.

  • 1 Pérec, recuperator, fellow-travelling intellectual of the Stalinists, pseudo-breaker of fashion trends, author of La Vie, mode d’emploi. He has since kicked the bucket.
  • 2 A strange choice, since Vialatte was a truly accomplished writer[Spanish translator's note].


Encyclopedie des Nuisances #8

cover of Encyclopedie des Nuisances #8

English translations from the eighth issue of Encyclopedia of Nuisances, published in August 1986.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 4, 2022

Abyss (Abîme) - Jaime Semprun


A powerful post-Chernobyl critique of nuclear power, its fallout, the science and society that produced it: a critique that remains, unfortunately, as relevant as ever...
First published in L'Encyclopedie des Nuisances No. 8, France, August 1986. Translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith, 1989.

Submitted by libcom on May 29, 2006


des Nuisances (1986)

A bottomless
chasm, or at any rate one that cannot be plumbed, we call an abyss.
What of the gulf into which this society of dispossession is plunging
before our very eyes? That there may be no end to this descent, or that
it may end only with the self-destruction of the human race -- these
are, of course, mere hypotheses, much like the famous "China syndrome"
itself. The crushing presence of such a possibility, however, already
sits in judgment over all human actions and governs the construction
of the various "safety barriers" whereby a world at war with
its own power hopes to avoid a terrifying end by surviving in an endless
terror. The real question is therefore: How many Chernobyls will be
needed before the truth of the old slogan "Revolution or death!"
is recognized as the last word of the scientific thought of this century?

That the demand for life itself
has now become a revolutionary programme is demonstrated, at least negatively,
by the following fact: carried farther and farther into madness by the
necessities of their dominance, those social forces that would once
have been described as conservative are no longer concerned even with
the conservation of the biological bases for the survival of the species.
Quite the opposite, because they are in fact bent on the methodical
destruction of those bases. The dimensions of the gulf that they are
digging for us are forever being calculated and recalculated, right
down to the likely speed of our descent into it, right down to the bottom
line -- which is, in the event, the lifespan of cesium or plutonium.
For this society is mad in Chesterton's sense: it has lost everything
except its reason -- everything except that abstract rationality of
the commodity that is its ultimate raison d'etre, and the one that has
outlasted all the others. No doubt one could find other ruling classes
in history which, having lost all historical perspective beyond that
of their own survival, sank into a suicidal irresponsibility; but never
in the past has a ruling class been able to press such vast means into
service of such a total contempt for life.

When nihilism in power manifests
itself into the ravages of those state-owned Dadaists who scatter their
geometrical rubbish over what remains of the city like so many territorial
markers of bureaucratic abstraction, it suffices to note that all decadence
is not equal even from a strictly aesthetic point of view. [Trans: an
allusion to various modernist nonentities whose 'works of art' have
recently been imposed on the historic center of Paris.] But when this
nihilism threatens to assume cosmic proportions in the shape of a "Star
Wars" programme, it must be conceded that, albeit without abandoning
the mode of farce, it has every prospect of extending the range of the
macabre. Alongside such a project the apocalyptic fantasies of a Sade
seem like the product of a distinctly timorous imagination. According
to some experts, however, this system of automated apocalypse cannot
claim complete infallibility because it cannot be properly tested under
"lifelike" conditions. Such, at any rate, is the chief objection
of one pundit who, in view of his contribution to the computerization
of the Vietnam War, must be ajudged a thoroughly qualified connoisseur
of high-tech extermination: we are speaking of David Lorge Parnas, author
of "Software Aspects of Strategic Defense Systems" (Communications
of the Association for Computing Machinery, December 1985). French experts,
meanwhile, estimate that in order to be able to rely blindly on a system
of this kind, "We must be certain of having, in perfect working
order, a logical base of more than ten million commands working in real
time on a set of machines able overall to carry out a trillion operations
per second; this raises the problem of the speed of political decision-making
and the achievement of consensus" (Le Monde, 11 June 1986).
But no doubt the promoters of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI)
will ignore such quibbles and rely instead on a procedure whose rigor
was borne out by an official report on the in-flight explosion of the
space shuttle Challenger on 28 January 1986: having been informed nearly
nine years earlier about "bad design" in the part that proved
to be at the root of the accident, the heads of NASA, along with the
directors of the subcontracting firm involved, "first of all refused
to address the problem, then refused to apply a proposed solution, and
finally treated the problem as an acceptable risk" (Le Monde,
11 June 1986). Naturally, all risks are acceptable when things are so
arranged that those who take them have no choice in the matter.

It is just such an impeccably
"realistic" approach on the part of our bureaucratic managers
(who in this case happened to be American) -- an approach democratically
seconded by their scrupulously honest suppliers -- that has allowed
them in any number of spheres to carry out in-vivo experiments of a
kind that they have not as yet conducted in the context of their research
on catastrophes (in the context, as it were, of their catastrophic science).
Admittedly, no matter how strong one's attachment to the truth, in the
event of an all-out nuclear war waged by machines, the distinction between
truth and error -- between an "appropriate" strike and an
accidental one -- is liable to have a distinctly evanescent quality.
And with whom exactly, thereafter, shall we be able to share the irony
of history's "Nothing is true, so everything is allowed"?

In the light of such oppressive
realities, it needs to be remembered how much scientific thought has
in common with gardening in a graveyard: there may be a few flowers,
but they are rooted in death and decay. We have told elsewhere (to remain
for a moment in the vegetable kingdom) how the wise men could not see
the vanished forest for the trees of their abstract hypotheses about
that forest (see Encyclopedie des Nuisances, s.v. "Abetissement").
The devotion with which these sages prune their hypothetical trees clearly
shows that they are ready to sacrifice all the real forests -- and all
real life -- in order to perfect their knowledge of the deserts of abstraction.
The religion of science, just like more traditional religions, has its
own priests, martyrs, fanatics and visionaries (see Encyclopedie
des Nuisances
, s.v. "Abnegation"). Yet no matter
how impartial this religion claims to be, nothing can prevent it from
serving a social order that, though doubtless governed by more immediate
interests, is working vigorously everywhere to create the very conditions
-- the very experimental tabula rasa -- that it itself so urgently requires
for its calculations and operations. However lofty science's ideals
and ambitions, however worthy its scruples, it cannot but recognize
its earthly realization in the profane practice of the forces of social
domination: it thus treats every new folly as just one more route to
Reason, as a test from which faith will emerge strengthened -- for each
new disaster serves to justify the intervention of the specialists who
are alone able to interpret and understand it. The true reign of Science
will begin once human existence, that tiresome source of error, has
at last been reduced to nothing; after all, catastrophes only underscore
the fundamental unreliability of humanity and its whims. . . .

We may fairly say of the present
organization of society that, no matter what angle it is viewed from,
it simply cannot afford life. For one thing, it is generally admitted
that all the basic necessities of life, whether the life of trees or
the life of human beings, are far beyond the means of our economic system.
A lifestyle that in the past would have seemed simple, not to say ascetic,
is an unheard-of-luxury today, in a world where simply to breathe fresh
air and to enjoy peace and quiet is practically impossible anywhere.
At the same time -- and certainly more importantly -- the technical
means that this society has chosen to develop are those that enable
it to dispense more and more thoroughly with living activity and individual
initiative (and hence with those practical skills that once underpinned
the proletarian project). It does without them so easily already, in
fact, that it cannot see the need for them at all: the production of
robots is naturally (or, rather, unnaturally) accompanied by the development
of an environment suitable only for robots. The contaminated areas where
robots best prove their usefulness bear witness, meanwhile, to our superfluity.
One thinks of a remark made by an early atomic scientist: "Energy
derived from nuclear fission is in the long run incompatible with the
human race." Everything suggests, however, that the powers-that-be
took the nuclear option for this very reason, as part of their war against
life and history.

At Chernobyl, in the Ukraine,
the ideology of progress has just reached its disintegration point.
People more knowledgeable than us will no doubt pinpoint the technical
causes of the disaster. So far as we are concerned, Chernobyl's fallout
(in all senses of the word) tells us all we need to know about what
happened, and enables us to put this event in its proper historical
context without much difficulty. The fact that it occurred in a country
where the ideology of progress is considerably more rampant (to put
it mildly) than progress itself cannot obscure its universal significance:
here for the whole world to see, lit up with terrible clarity, was all
that remained of "enlightenment." All the glitter was gone
and total darkness prevailed. Here, distilled, was the end-product of
a mode of production, the practical form of a mortal truth: the truth
that we have no choice but to suffer such an unnatural catastrophe without
understanding it, just as its preconditions have been created in ignorance,
and above all that we must accept our complete inability to learn any
lesson whatsoever from it. After the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, Voltaire
-- the ever prudent Voltaire -- came to doubt divine providence and
its benefits: "We must face the fact that evil exists on earth,"
he concluded. After a disaster like Chernobyl, the new theodicy of technological
progress appears to all in the shape of a dark fatality, a dispenser
of insidious, ineluctable evils that can only be conjured away by the
incantations of a priestly caste of experts (see Encyclopedie des
, s.v."Abracadabra"). The sometime difference
between history and nature -- namely, that we make the one and not the
other -- has been abolished by the reign of dispossession in the context
of one and the same rout of humanity. Our pro-nuclear leaders dub this
dispossession "consensus" -- while their consensus of lies
and prevarications passes for mastery. But the order that reigns over
these ruins did not govern their production.

The Ukrainian disaster was followed
by a veritable bacchanale of unreason wherein not a sober voice was
to be heard. For more than a month, as the winds from Chernobyl continued
to blow, power's experts, who in France regretted having upset us at
first by saying nothing, now undertook to reassure us by saying anything
at all. Flanked by their communications people, they put on a show that
defied parody. It is hardly possible to caricature traits that one would
be hard put to portray in their simple objectivity. All of a sudden,
it seemed that the only thing that mattered was to inform us. How many
curies, how many becquerels, were now thrust upon us in order to satisfy
our hunger and thirst for knowledge! Not a day would pass without the
authorities producing figures purporting to show that the (formerly
nonexistent) radioactivity level had dropped considerably and was now
"insignificant." They also worried about how difficult it
probably was for us to calculate our chances of survival in so many
different units of measurement, and suggested "standardizing the
definition of the level at which radioactivity begins to present a threat
to human beings" -- in other words, pushing that danger level high
enough to spare us all those endless calculations. On 13 May [1986]
one government minister forbade the sale of becquerel-heavy spinach,
hastening to make it clear that his concern was more of a dietetic kind
than anything else, because one would have had to "eat two tons
of this spinach within a few weeks in order to reach the point beyond
which medical consultation might need to be considered." How fortunate
that we don't eat spinach by the ton -- otherwise the point beyond which
the nuclear power industry becomes a menace might need to be considered!
One creative advisor, eager to "convince the French people that
we had no wish to lie to them," suggested that the Prime Minister
appear on television eating salad. Was this another way of saying that
there would be nothing but becquerels -- but that there would be plenty
for everyone? Quite likely so, because the proposal was rejected: no
doubt even the government realized that we needed no information about
something so obvious. If we are not often reminded of truths so self-evident
that they may be grasped without benefit of supporting facts and figures,
and confirmed without using any special equipment, it may well be because
(in Custine's words) "Humanity is quite willing to let itself be
scorned and ridiculed, but it is quite unwilling to let it be said in
explicit terms that it is being scorned and ridiculed. Violated in fact,
it finds refuge in mere words" (La Russie en 1839). Most French
people knew full well on this occasion that they were being scorned
and ridiculed; indeed in their great majority they told the pollsters
so in as many words. But they wanted to be "informed," to

"find refuge in mere words," to use words to preserve what
the facts had already obliterated. Once more political illusion came
to the rescue; once more the individual was content to be, as Marx put
it, "an imaginary member of a fictitious sovereignty." As
for those leftist academics who saw this as a chance to bemoan "the
old ideal of the responsible citizen abdicating in the face of the reality
of the television viewer" (Le Monde diplomatique, June 1986),
did it not occur to these nincompoops that the latter is merely a perfected
version of the former?

The glut of "information"
that besieges us creates a sort of white noise causing everything to
be quickly forgotten (see Encyclopedie des Nuisances, s.v."Abasourdir").
In the case we are considering, for example, the only truly informative
item, the only piece of news worth thinking about, was naturally bound
to disappear from our awareness along with the vast mass of nonsense
in which it was buried. The item in question was the fact that the people
who have opened up the abyss so clearly revealed at Chernobyl are actively
pushing us towards its brink. But what chance is there of finding people
courageous enough to confront this truth head-on in a country so degenerate
that it mounts a sort of state funeral for a media-mad clown like Coluche?
It would nonetheless be fatuous and puerile to explain the general passivity
by blaming some kind of "conspiracy" for suddenly depriving
honest citizens of their powers of discrimination, for the pro-nuclearites
make no secret of the fact that they have made an irreversible decision
to follow nobody's judgment but their own. For once, moreover, their
self-assurance is convincing, for for it reposes on the one power they
exercise fully, the power to constrain us -- a power, certainly, that
they use more effectively than any control they exert over the diverse
ventures (and adventures) of their technology. Assembled in Tokyo a
few days after the Chernobyl disaster, for example, a group of Western
heads of state declared that "Nuclear power is and always will
be, if suitably managed, a more and more widely used source of energy"

(Le Monde diplomatique, art. cit.). At the beginning of June
1986, in Geneva, Hans Blix (director of the International Atomic Energy
Agency), upped the ante even further by declaring his complete confidence
in the results of the pro-nuclearite blitzkrieg: "To my mind, atomic
energy has reached the point of no return; it is simply a reality with
which we have to live" (Le Figaro, 3 June 1986). This despotic
fatalism of dispossession does not even bother with the calming reassurances
generally given out by the media hacks, such as the totally spurious
claim that certain essential differences in Western reactors or in their
confinement systems make an accident like Chernobyl impossible in the

One member of the US Nuclear Regulatory
Commission by the name of James Asseltine, who came into public view
once before, during the "incident" at Three Mile Island, has
recently rather earnestly declared that, unless other security measures
are taken, "we may expect to see a reactor-core meltdown within
the next twenty years with the emission of as much radioactivity as
at Chernobyl, if not more." Asseltine adds that US reactors "were
not designed for major meltdowns" (AFP, 23 May 1986, quoted
by the World Information Service on Energy

(WISE) bulletin, 31 May 1986). So much for "suitably managed"
nuclear energy. It is plain that no extra "safety measures"
could change anything in such a "design" -- in fact, they
would probably only introduce extra risk factors. The fact that "state-of-the-art"
technology -- supposedly standing guard as we sleep -- offers a degree
precisely equivalent to that enjoyed by the Challenger astronauts --
the same degree of safety as that guaranteed by any piece of industrial
junk produced under the prevailing conditions of irresponsibility, corruption,
deliberate trickery and waste: the conditions, in a word, of exploitation.
One has only to think of those "sophisticated" electronic
components, allegedly meeting military standards, which Texas Instruments
was obliged to recall at great expense from missile-guidance systems
because of manufacturing defects that had survived the most Draconian
tests. The same parts, of course -- or their clones -- are responsible
for the "automated" functioning of nuclear-power plants.

So what we did learn, despite
everything from Chernobyl, was that the managers of this redoubtable
energy have eliminated the danger of a "major" accident from
their engineering with exactly the same rigor as that with which they
have eliminated that possibility from the picture they paint when estimating
"costs and benefits" or trying to demonstrate the "competitiveness
of the nuclear option." At least no one can accuse the scientific
method underpinning the various enterprises of death and desolation
to which this society is so attached of inconsistency: just as our scientists
know everything about a tree in vitro, but nothing about its disappearance
in vivo, all the safety reports on French nuclear reactors carefully
avoid any mention, not only of accidents, but also of the real conditions
that must necessary lead to such accidents. Consider, for instance,
the fact that the development of cracks in the boilers and pipes of
French reactors, which got a certain amount of play in 1979, had already
occurred during experimental simulations. As a Framatome engineer remarked
with a degree of common sense truly unheard-of among his ilk: "Are
we really supposed to believe that this development of cracks is characteristic
of the sample components in tests but not of those same components once
they are in an operational setting?" One kind of guarantee against
such cracks, of course, is simply to dub them "undercoating faults."
Short of such sheerly magical thinking, there is a form of logic peculiar
to the proponents of nuclear power according to which, should a serious
accident per impossible occur, it would gravely compromise, after the
fact, the accuracy of the instruments designed to record it and account
for it; what point would be served, therefore -- runs this argument
-- by contemplating the possibility of events so inaccessible in any
case to scientific measurement? We are nonetheless supposed to be much
edified to learn that "EDF [the French state electricity authority]
technicians undergo training in a mock-up control room where they learn
how to respond instantly to the most unimaginable accidents"? It
is certainly reassuring to know that the unimaginable has been taken
into account! Unfortunately, the imaginable is given short shrift: thus
we learn that in this "practice alert" a computer program

"simulates the Three Mile Island accident in order to teach the
technicians in the control room how to respond to the most bizarre of
situations: (Paris Match, 4 October 1985). One does not have to be a
genius to tell that there is one "bizarre situation" that
will always be left out of such simulations: the next one. . . .

All the historical wisdom of this
discreetly flawed technocratic despotism is contained in the celebrated
Bonapartist dictum, "Let us hope it lasts. . . ." But as long
as it does last, and as long as specialists of this stripe continue
to exploit and thrall an ignorant world, they may as well inscribe their
banner, as they watch humanity sinking ingloriously into disaster, with
the words attributed to Napoleon at the crossing of the Berezina: "Look
at those toads," he is supposed to have said as he contemplated
the seething mass of his soldiers drowning in the river. Despotism's
one and only idea is contempt for mankind, the idea of mankind dehumanized.
This idea is superior to many another inasmuch as it at least corresponds
to a real fact. In the language of the technonuclear variety of despotism,
it has the following form: "Standard man: a theoretical representation
of the average adult human body (chemical makeup, weight and size of
organs) established by the ICRP as a yardstick in the assessment of
maximum acceptable concentrations of substances in the body" (Dictionaire
des sciences et techniques nucleaires, Commissariat a l'energie atomique,
1975). For the nuclear-bunker experts, then, a human being is merely
a degree of tolerance to a "concentration" of a substance.
And -- although the ICRP is referring here to a concentration of radioactivity,
it is worth pointing out that this approach applies equally well to
the concentration of power -- a tendency that has been proceeding apace
throughout the history of this century, with the "maximum admissible
level" subject to continual adjustment (upwards, needless to say).

Perhaps the foregoing remarks
lack some of the trenchancy that our readers, including our opponents,
have come to expect from us. Perhaps we have failed fully to convey
the violence of the revulsion that these appalling exercises evoke in
us. In point of fact, the trenchancy really called for here -- the required
cutting edge, so to speak -- would be one capable of ruthlessly abbreviating
the noxious reign of a "Death's Head Pellerin" [translator:
Director of the French government's central department for protection
against ionized radiation (SCPRI), and a leading member of the pro-nuclear
lobby who is notorious for his lies and prevarications]. Nor do we despair
of seeing the day when this madman and his acolytes are as universally
detested as a farmer general on the eve of the French Revolution. Meanwhile,
since the activity of writing is still needed to help bring that day
closer, what better source could we have than the pro-nuclearites' own
words to describe what their Leviathan's poison breath is silently bringing
forth? Their contempt for humanity is expressed just as masterfully
in their discourse as it is in the facts themselves, so we may as well
offer them the same tribute here as the one they enjoy in society at
large; at least here we have some prospect of offsetting their eloquence
by injecting a small dose of reality.

Consider the following account,
offered by a mildly apologetic journalist, of a conference in Geneva,
in early June 1986 (attended by some "two thousand proponents of
nuclear power from twenty-eight countries"):

"The participants
here are first and foremost 'brothers in the faith of science and technology.'
Indeed, their unshakeable faith and determination is at times expressed
from the podium with a naive candor which is not always in the best
of taste. Hans Blix, for example [...] declared unhesitatingly that
'Chernobyl has not caused any more deaths than a notorious football
match in Heysel about a year ago.' Blix then proceeded to berate the
press for publishing 'provocative headlines' about Chernobyl, and made
the claim that the production of a quantity of energy equal to that
generated at Chernobyl using a coal-fired power station would give rise
to just as many accidental deaths and injuries, whether on-site in the
mines or in the form of pollution-related cancers. As he spoke, venerable
conferences were somewhat shamefacedly passing around an issue of the
Village Voice
[translator: that of 13 May 1986] containing a coolheaded
but terrifying account of the most serious pre-Chernobyl nuclear accident,
that at Three Mile Island (TMI), near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on 28
march 1979. There are two reasons for the considerable impact that this
issue of the Village Voice has had here. In the first place, it is very
frightening. One article recounts how -- although the TMI accident,
unlike that of Chernobyl, claimed no immediate victims -- plants in
the vicinity affected by radioactivity have degenerated and mutated
over time, while the incidence of adult and childhood cancer has increased
amongst people living along the path taken by the escaping radioactivity
to a level 700 percent higher than normal. Secondly, it is significant
that these 'revelations,' confirmed only after several earlier scientific
studies had produced ambiguous results, are the outcome of a collaboration
between the local population as a whole, which is by definition ignorant
of nuclear matters, and a number of highly qualified scientists who
are not afraid to speak in ordinary language. This is what is new --
and not a few of the participants here have been shaken up by it. The
chief proponent of such an adjustment is the German Klaus Barthelt,
a producer of nuclear electricity with Kraftwerk Union. According to
Barthelt, 'The credibility of nuclear experts is on the wane, and our
task today is to find new ways of making ourselves understood.'"

(La Croix, 5 June 1986.)

The problem address by these fanatics
has thus absolutely nothing to do with the placing of restraints, however
limited, on the appalling capriciousness of their deadly machinery.
On this point, at least, they are unshakeable. No, the only thing that
disturbs whatever they have for minds is the fact that their hapless
victims have the temerity to rebel against their state of ignorance
and demand access to precise knowledge of what is being inflicted upon
them. Such persistence is liable to compromise the chief advantage enjoyed
by nuclear energy as compared with other power sources such as coal.
Despite oil's efforts to hold its own, at Maracaibo or elsewhere, radioactivity
remains unarguably superior to the side-effects of all other technologies
in that its main results become tangible only long after the egregious
sets of circumstances that make the front pages of the newspapers. In
this sense, too, radiation is marvelously adapted to the needs of the
spectacle: we talk about it, forget it, then we suffer its effects,
and die from it, in silence. Thus what needs to be concealed -- the
essential reality of the phenomenon -- is conveniently relegated to
a hypothetical future time, there to dissolve into statistical abstraction
in company with the dangers of smoking and the death toll on the roads.
This is what makes it possible to compare the Chernobyl catastrophe
to a football riot.

Occasionally, however, what we
learn about the past can make this future a little less hypothetical
and bring it distinctly closer to our present. Thus official statements
seeking to minimize the deadly largesse of the winds from Chernobyl
made much, all of a sudden, of the nuclear tests of the early Sixties,
and we now learned just how much those had contributed to the development
of such notions as "maximum admissible concentration" and
"acceptable risk." Going back even further in time, an AFP
dispatch recently brought us some "fresh news" from 1949:
"A veil of secrecy has been drawn aside at Spokane (Washington
State) concerning an incident that took place at the Hanford nuclear
power plant on the West Coast of the United States. It has been revealed
that, on that occasion, 5,500 curies of iodine 131 were released into
the atmosphere during experiments conducted in connection with the manufacture
of plutonium for atomic bombs. At the time, contamination affected both
[the states of] Washington and Oregon, though no medical investigation
was ever undertaken. The Three Mile Island (Pennsylvania) accident in
1979 resulted in the release of only 15 to 30 curies of radioactivity"

(Le Monde, 18 March 1986).

Comparisons serving to relativize
what we are now obliged to put up with by means of appeals to what has
successfully been imposed on us in the past are thus no longer confined
to the horrors of pre-nuclear capitalism; we are now asked to contemplate
for the first time -- and be appropriately enlightened by -- the ghastly
results achieved by the nuclear-power industry from its lively beginnings
on. The Village Voice article that so rattled the nuclear experts in
Geneva does provide us, fortunately, with a little perspective on the
real dimensions of Three Mile Island's modest contribution to the contamination
of our atmosphere:

Seven years
after the accident, the Bechtel Group subsidiary that has the $1.2 million
contract (plus cost overruns) for the "cleanup" of the damaged
TMI Unit 2 reactor has only managed to remove 36,000 pounds of highly
radioactive material. Since the remaining 308,00 pounds that could melt
down at any minute, thereby contaminating the entire Eastern seaboard,
it is kept in the reactor chamber under twenty feet of chemically-treated
coolant water. Over 600 workers involved in the cleanup have suffered
contamination, even though they are attired in protective clothing and
are not allowed to approach the material [...] In 1984, TMI's owners
pleaded guilty or no contest in federal district court to seven criminal
charges of falsification of data on leaks of radioactive material. The
company has also admitted the falsity of its assurances that there was
no meltdown during the accident. In fact, partial meltdown occurred
and there is strong evidence that transuranic elements, including plutonium,
escaped into the atmosphere. The company also admitted that the temperature
during the partial meltdown reached 5,100 degrees Fahrenheit. At the
time of the accident, a National Regulatory Commission commissioner
stated that if temperatures had approached 2,100 degrees, it would have
been mandatory to evacuate Harrisburg. (Anya Mayo, "You Wore
A Tulip
," The Village Voice, 13 May 1986, p. 29.)

In time, no doubt, we shall get
to know practically everything about our accumulating radioactive past.
We may be sure, however -- since we depend for our information on the
very forces that produced that past -- that we shall never learn anything
that is not in some sense saleable, whether from the point of view of
the state bureaucracy, or from that of business interests, or both.
Decontamination follows the self-same route as contamination, and here
that route is the madcap pursuit of profit. "Living with nuclear
energy" is merely shorthand -- in accordance with the abstract
logic of the commodity -- for maximizing the profitability of that energy,
including even the fallout from it. Thus what was initially characterized
as belonging to a qualitative realm of the catastrophic -- as "unmeasurable"
and "incalculable" -- nevertheless falls under the sway of
market forces just like anything else, and ends up with its own market
niche and proper market value. Even if we live in a world where all
solidity and permanence is liable to evaporate into the atmosphere,
there to disperse like a radioactive cloud, this does not mean that
the resulting noxious fumes are not suspectible of financial appraisal
and subject to contract law. The rebirth of the abstract form of the
commodity from its own ashes, its seeming ability to thus snatch victory
from the jaws of defeat, has in fact nothing Phoenix-like about it,
nor does what takes flight in this dusk have anything in common with
the owl of Minerva. A closer analogy would be with the living dead of
science fiction, for it is as though plain old commercial greed has
died, only to return in mutant form under the effects of all the "transuranic
elements" volatized in the air. For surely all these numbers, all
this talking of costs and benefits and searching for bureaucratic norms
-- these waters of pure self-interest icy enough to cool the melted-down
heart of a heartless world and turn a profit on it -- are a macabre
travesty of economic calculation.

A mockery, too, are all the techniques
and interests that depend -- or, rather, are believed to depend -- on
realities that have in actuality already vanished into the abyss that
a materialized historical unconscious -- the Mind of a mindless world
-- is opening up as easily as radioactivity passes through meters of
solid concrete. Never has it been more apt to compare our society to
one of those cartoon characters who is carried out over a void by the
impetus of some wild chase, but only falls when he looks down and becomes
aware of his plight. Society likewise plunges onward, completely ignoring
the fact that its mechanical existence is underpinned in its every aspect
by the sheer force of illusion. This simple fact was starkly apparent
at the May Day parade in Paris, on a day when, as fate would have it,
Death's Heath Pellerin and his agency for the protection of scum that
serve the French state once again ought to have us swallow the absurd
claim that the radioactive cloud from Chernobyl had stopped in its tracks
on arrival at the frontier of our proud and fiercely independent country.
(Was it perchance daunted by its own insignificance in the face of France's
immense homegrown potential for nuclear pollution?) Anybody with half
a brain knew that the nuclear contamination was at that very moment

"imperceptively yet perceptively" blanketing the country.
Even supposing that this fact could somehow be concealed for a few more
moments by those in charge of the management of appearances, there was
simply no way its reality could be prevented from exposing what was
indeed unblushingly perceptible that day in the street as an unreal,
grotesquely irrelevant and utterly doomed absurdity. The sudden warmth
of a spring day offered this nonsense a perfect setting in which to
strut about and puff itself up to gigantic proportions. After all, this
was the Feast of Work, wasn't it? That it was. And history, one might
say, had no qualms about "celebrating" it, what with the uncontrollable
products of work's alienation -- none the less dangerous for being disseminated
in the upper atmosphere -- floating above these relics of the trade-union
movement. One wing of these leftover had taken the vulgarity of its
self-parody so far as to substitute a boat trip on the Seine for the
inevitable street parade of yore, while the more conservative section
remained loyal to the tried and true vulgarity of Stalinism. Meanwhile,
thanks to a nice twist of the dialectic, it was leisure rather than
work that was being fittingly hailed by the grimy pall that overlay
these doings; one could not help but wonder how much of this pea soup
was due to "normal" car-borne pollution, how much to the heat
-- and how much to more exotic "transuranic" factors. At all
events, in this city that had once been Paris -- not that Paris's famous
elegance means much to us, but this was nevertheless a place where both
rich and poor, each after their own fashion, had once been able to pursue
their tastes and enjoy themselves -- in this city, then, there now reigned
an unbuttoned, seaside-like mood, blending natives and tourists in a
socially promoted exhibitionism where bodies and clothes, people and
commodities all bespoke nothing but a cruel absence of pleasure -- an
absence, moreover, which itself bore a price tag. But to linger on such
abominations would necessitate a complaisance in the sordid and the
heartsickening worthy of the repellant Celine.

Had a literary allusion been called
for, one might have been forgiven, in that subtly doom-laden atmosphere,
for thinking rather of Edgar Allan Poe's "Masque of the Red
." This society's festivities had nothing of princely
refinement about them, it is true, nor did Death appear amidst the revelers
under such openly horrifying hues as in the Poe story, yet the uninvited
participation of Chernobyl in the day's jollifications undoubtedly foreshadowed
even more terrible catastrophes to come. "And Darkness and Decay
and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all." But it was
above all more pressing memories that came to mind as one contemplated
this festival of unhappy consciousness. The memory of Libertad, for
example, on an earlier May Day, denouncing the illusions of the "unionized
working class" and calling for a strike against "useless gestures"

-- a call so interestingly similar to Mallarme's, as he invited the
poet, "on strike against society," to "reject all corrupt
means that may present themselves to him." The memory, too, of
everything that the old revolutionary workers' movement did in its efforts
to deflect the economic course of things and put whatever had been won
under the reign of alienation into the service of a free life. And most
of all the memory -- closer to us in time -- of those critical theses
and slogans that, as the production of commodities diverged from human
needs and crossed the threshold beyond which dispossession approaches
its finished material form, took the refusal of work as a basis for
the clear formulation of the necessity for conscious domination of this
irrational development -- the necessity, in other words, for revolution:

Material liberation
is a precondition of the liberation of human history, and it can only
be judged by that yardstick. Any conception of a minimum level of development
to be reached in one place or another must depend, precisely, upon the
nature of the liberatory project chosen, and hence upon who has done
the choosing -- the autonomous masses or the specialists in power. Those
who accept the definition of some particular group of managers as to
what is indispensible may perhaps be freed from want in respect to the
things those managers opt to produce, but they will certainly never
be freed from those managers themselves. The most modern and unanticipated
forms of hierarchy can only be costly remakes of the old world of passivity,
impotence and slavery, no matter how great the material force that society
possesses in the abstract; such forms can only represent the opposite
of mankind's sovereignty over its environment and its history [...]
The alternative before us does not consist merely in a choice between
real life and a realm of survival that has nothing to lose but its modernized
chains: it also appears within the realm of survival itself, in the
shape of the ever worsening problems that the masters of mere survival
are unable to solve. (Internationale situationniste, No. 8, January

A quarter century ago formulations
such as these were denounced, in the name of realism and moderation,
as extremist and irresponsible. With the benefit of hindsight, however,
we see that that same realism and moderation has led us to extremes
far more terrifying in their irresponsibility than all the revolutionary
excesses imputed in advance to the promoters of a critique that made
no concessions. What has been liberated in the intervening years, except
for the arbitrary authority of the specialists in power? Certainly nothing
constrains their ravings about what they consider indispensible, ie,
our perpetual submission to their whims; and they have undoubtedly freed
us from any shortage of their chief products -- namely impotence, historical
paralysis and death. The material force that society possesses in the
abstract henceforth takes the concrete form of an "inscrutable
power" that enslaves society and reveals itself to all as the opposite
of mankind's sovereignty over its environment and its history. And what
have those who wanted to preserve something of the old culture and the
old politics managed to save? They felt that guaranteed survival was
a sufficient demand, but even that they have failed to obtain. All that
remain to them are the promises of society's protection agencies --
empty promises if ever there were.

Such a world tends to neutralize
irony; it renders even black humor ineffective, so outrageous is its
own absurdity, so dispossessed is it to answer each of its own horrors
with a cure that is worse than the disease. Dean Swift himself, were
he to come back to life, would be hard put to match the atrocity of
the news items that fill the media day after day. Consider this, for

The government
in Washington has offered to furnish the Soviets with an anti-radiation
pill to be tested on a range of more or less contaminated subjects.
This pill, whose existence is still classified as a top secret, is the
outcome of research begun in the United States in 1981 on behalf of
the Pentagon, which wants to find a chemical shield against radioactivity
for use in the event of nuclear war. Experiments carried out at the
Walter Reed Army Institute in Washington led to the production, in 1985,
of a prototype product named WR2721, which could be administered via
intramuscular injection. WR2721 was reportedly capable of increasing
resistance to the effects of radiation by a factor of 3 or 4. There
was one serious contra-indication, however: the destruction of nerve
cells. The Pentagon then invested further colossal sums in an attempt
to improve the product. In view of the probable difficulty of injecting
oneself in the midst of battle, or during nuclear explosions, the Pentagon
was especially eager to find a substance that could be administered
in some other form, as a capsule, tablet or pill. Since early 1986,
in fact, Walter Reed's specialists have been testing a version of WR2721
in pill form, designed for the use of the military and of anyone working
in a nuclear plant. The drug is particularly appropriate for the safety
personnel at nuclear plants, who are the most at risk of exposure in
case of accident. To date, the American scientists have had to restrict
their testing to animals, however, because no sufficiently serious accidents
have as yet occurred in American nuclear plants. -- (VDS, 15-21,
March 1986)

Note that the destruction of nerve
cells is still provisionally considered a "contra-indication."
On the other hand, one assumes that the more in-depth research that
will become possible as nuclear accidents proliferate will bring out
all the benefits to be derived from WR2721. This will doubtless be greatly
reassuring, in the first place, to "safety personnel," who,
as is well known, tend to be rather nervous, and hence prone to "human
error." It will also be of much comfort to the public at large,
who, at the moment, must rely on less radical chemistries to cope with
their anxiety (see Encyclopedie des Nuisances, s.v."Ablation").
They will at least be forearmed against the "malaises experienced
by certain population groups in Eastern Europe, living thousands of
kilometres from Chernobyl," who, in the expert opinion of Professor
Tubiana -- a piece of shit who deserves to be more notorious than he
is -- "display all the characteristic signs of psychosomatic disorder"

(VSD art. cit). In the meantime, all citizens would do well,
one imagines, to take their inspiration from the model calm displayed
by certain cesium-laden sheep in the English West Country.

Leaving Fischer
Farm, we drove the length of Valley Road down to historic Goldsboro.
The TMI sirens go off frequently, and when there's a problem out on
the island, people in Goldsboro can hear the personnel shouting back
and forth on loudspeakers. With much of the population either moving
away or dying, Goldsboro feels like [a] cluster of hovels [...] at the
mercy of inscrutable powers (Mayo, Village Voice, art. cit. p.

These "inscrutable powers,"
at whose mercy we all find ourselves, can of course only be our own
material strength, sequestrated by the unreason of the State and turned
against life to buttress an order that nobody wants, but to which everybody
must resign themselves. The absurdity of this order is by now so much
taken for granted that it is an easy matter to pile on yet more absurdity,
no matter what the cost may be; and justifying such proceedings in advance
on "scientific" grounds presents no serious problem at all.
In his own age, [Jonathan] Swift was able with confidence to advance
the hypothesis that a man would have rather few spectators were he to
offer to demonstrate, for threepence, how he could thrust a red-hot
sword into a powder keg without its catching fire. Here we have a convenient
gauge of the great strides made by unreason in less than three centuries,
for today the French electricity authority (EDF) can draw crowds of
spectators -- and convinced spectators at that -- with its miracle-working
patter. Perhaps, if Swift's time had not been so simple-minded, superstitious
and resistant to change, his contemporaries would have immediately seen
the sense in what has elsewhere been called "tuyere-style thinking"

(see La nuclearisation du monde, Paris: Editions Gerard Lebovici,
1986). For example: (a) It is unscientific to talk of things one knows
nothing about, and furthermore nobody who ever happened to be within
thirty meters of an exploding powderkeg has ever said anything about
it. (b) Playing on the word "powder" serves to evoke the age-old
fear of battle, whereas in this case no cannons are present. (c) For
any individual who keeps at least 1200 meters away, the auditory impact
of this explosion will not differ significantly from that of a medium-sized
fireworks display. (d) AIDS is a bigger killer. And people still drink
and smoke, don't they? (e) The modern spectator handles neither gunpowder
nor swords; his world is one of plastic and ballot boxes. The socially
responsible thing to do, when it comes to matters of which the ordinary
citizen is completely ignorant, is to leave all decisions to those properly
qualified (and paid) to make them. (f) You have to learn to live with
gunpowder. (g) Practical human error must not be allowed to detract
from the superhuman beauty of the principle. (h) The envious may carp,
but there's no denying threepence is a damned hard price to beat.

Nuclear madness represents the
"maximum acceptable level" of class power; as such, it is
a pathological development that may at first have seemed reasonable
and tolerable enough to those who found nothing particularly shocking
about the "normal state" of that power. Eventually, however
-- here as elsewhere -- even the nature of "normality" itself
has been forgotten, making the acceptance of the malady's mutations
(and their scientific investigation) that much easier. Nuclearization
has in any case merely afforded an avenue of expression to the inherent
self-destructiveness of a world carried along by the irresistible impetus
of its accumulated power, and that power has thus been turned back in
all its explosive violence against the very bases of its own existence,
as though to deprive any prospective tendency toward revolutionary transcendence
of all the purchase it would also inevitably need on those same foundations.
The highly technical tenor of their discourse notwithstanding, the midwives
of nuclear power's despotism -- the midwives, that is, of a historical
monster -- are really saying nothing different from what Agrippina said
when she learned from a soothsayer that Nero would becomes Emperor,
but that he would also kill his mother: "Let him kill me -- but
let him reign!"

Consider the fact that EDF's propagandists,
truly "electrified" by Chernobyl, were able in triumphant
ones to cite the report of a so-called Institute for Nuclear Protection
and Safety (IPSN) which describes the measures "taken in order
to reduce the effects of the accident":

According to
the IPSN, 'the contaminated land is being covered with a neutralizing
film to prevent the radioactive dust from making its way into the soil.
Two or three hectares are said to be treated in this way daily.' In
the vicinity of the plant, the earth has been frozen by injecting it
with liquid nitrogen, so as to obviate any possible contamination of
underground water reserves through the filtering down of radioactive
water.' The nearby river, meanwhile, 'has had its banks reinforced and
raised to prevent its pollution by rainwater running off the contaminated
land around the plant.' As for the roofs of buildings, the IPSN believes
that they 'will be treated by a special (liquid-gas) method to stop
rain from washing radioactivity off them.' All in all, in the estimation
of the IPSN's experts, 'it seems probable that the Soviets have succeeded
in avoiding any major and rapid pollution of water sources via the subsoil.'
And they conclude: 'At all events, one cannot but be very impressed
by the scope of the safeguards that have apparently been set up.'"
-- (Supplement to La Vie Electrique, May 1986.)

Clearly perceptible here is the
elation that fills these would-be monopolistic controllers of survival
when they glimpse a time coming when they will at last be able to exercise
complete power, when their "protection" will be unquestioningly
accepted as indispensible. Their encomiums to those other "heroes
of safety" doing battle on the Eastern front are suitably epic,
august and virile in tone, but one senses that the authors are chafing
at the bit for a chance to show off their own prowess.

Indeed, the arms destined for
use in the campaigns to come are already being polished up, to the accompaniment
of much stamping of anticontamination boots, as we prepare, having sown
the wind of risk, to reap the whirlwind of disaster.

Isere has just
been designated a high-risk department by Alain Carrignon and Haroun
Tazieff. Yesterday afternoon, the reception rooms of Grenoble police
headquarters witnessed the inauguration of the "Bhopal Group,"
cornerstone of the policy of the new Minister for the Environment (who
is also President of the Isere General Council and Mayor of Grenoble).
On the face of it, no more appropriate choice could have been made.
The population of this department, just under a million, will by the
end of the year be playing host to almost 10 percent of France's nuclear
power industry, yet in no other metropolitan area but that of Grenoble
can one find 400,000 people overshadowed by such a vast quantity of
water: one thousand million cubic meters are contained by the dams closest
to the city. Meanwhile, three of France's fifteen most dangerous chemical
plants are also to be found on the outskirts of Grenoble. Nor can nature
be left out of the picture: to get out of the city, which is only 200
meters above sea level, one must pass through a gorge with walls 3,000
meters high, whole sections of which periodically collapse. Last but
not least, a seismic fault runs beneath the most densely populated section
of Isere; it extends in an arc from Swizterland to Provence, and produces
two major shocks per century on average, although it is now almost a
hundred years since any serious seismic activity has occurred -- "yet
another reason," as Tazieff points out, "for anticipating
a devastating earthquake in the near future." To avert all these
potential disasters, the "Bhopal Group" has chosen to work
under the banner: "In time of peace, prepare for war." --
(Liberation, 31 May-1 June 1986.)

So it goes for Isere -- and for
all of us. We are assured that our mandated powers (which of course
we never mandated) are being used to prevent imminent disasters by preparing
us for them (rather, one supposes, as those same powers were earlier
and secretly used to create the very threat that we now need protection
from). Much is made of the judiciousness of the preventive measures
taken -- on the model, no doubt, of the "good judgment" shown
in the erection of nuclear power plants over seismic faults. A system
that can justify its existence by evoking the need for protection from
catastrophes of its own making has stolen a page from George Orwell's
recipe for social control, which was based on the fear of war with an
enemy without. In a society at war with its own deviated possibilities,
a permanent mobilization is called for against what appears as on omnipresent
enemy within, an inscrutable force whose agents, like so many pyralene
transformers, are liable at any moment to unleash an offensive and release
their indestructible toxins. According to the promoters of the "Bhopal
Group," "the lessons drawn from one high-risk department,
as it is transformed into a model of safety, may then be applied on
a national scale" (ibid). It is not hard to see that the only purpose
of such a model, as "safe" as it might be, is to habituate
people to the idea of performing on command all the large and small
actions demanded by a regime of militarized survival. The only real
utility of all the nuclear evacuation plans and drills is as a means
of gauging and hence of reinforcing people's docility; the one real
aim is to manipulate that docility and press it into the service of
an ever greater concentration of power.

In the vanguard of this campaign,
the pro-nuclear forces, whose task it is to translate the refusal of
history into exact technical realities, believe that they have found
the ultimate weapon for ensuring submission in the permanent blackmail
of their "safety imperatives." Catastrophe, meanwhile, has
the paradoxical function -- albeit logical enough in what is after all
an old-fashioned protection racket -- of serving as a guarantee of seriousness:
if the credibility of the nuclear zealots should ever falter, the spectre
of disaster will always be there to back up their arguments -- so long,
at any rate, as humanity does not make up its mind to reconquer the
territory of real life and -- as an indispensable part of that project
-- to evacuate the evacuators. In the meantime, as pure spectacle of
catastrophe, each Chernobyl can meet other basic needs of bureaucratic
capitalism, and advantageously open up new markets in the tooling of
dispossession. Thus, along with sets of desirable objects designed to
fully outfit each happy consumer with a pseudo-personality, complete
with supposedly human qualities, we are now also offered trendy products
for unhappy consumers -- a panoply of state-of-the-art gizmos for detecting,
and protecting ourselves from, those very real properties of today's
world that constitute its own noxious "personality." Along
similar lines, the French supermarket chain Mammouth -- boldly introducing
a style of sales promotion well adapted to the new conditions -- equipped
all of its Alsatian outlets with devices for measuring radioactivity
(becquerel scales, so to speak). In the words of Mammouth's advertising
copy, "While France debates, Mammouth acts. Be absolutely sure
your fruit and vegetables are safe" (Le Monde, 17 May 1986.)

By thus aspiring to resell to
us, at retail, that survival on which the bureaucrats have the ultimate
monopoly, such shopkeepers behave as profiteers always do in times of
crisis, and by their cynicism merely underwrite the status quo. The
status quo, in the event, is expressed in the war-like proclamations
of the pro-nuclear terrorists, whose programme corresponds exactly to
Custine's evocation of "the discipline of the military camp substituted
for the order of the city, and a state of siege substituted for the
normal state of society." To muster support for such a programme,
its promoters are obliged to make clumsy appeals to brute necessity,
and to pose as the handmaidens of scientific objectivity. In reality,
of course, these clamorous perverters of life speak only for a power
that is utterly indifferent to any human necessity, and that every day
dispenses only those objectives truths that accord with the lies of
the moment. The French state, which has gone further along the path
of nuclear insanity than any other -- though it has not yet achieved
the "energy independence" that it seeks -- has certainly achieved
complete independence from society (and, in the process, rendered society
for its part more dependent). This creation of dependence on the state,
planned in an authoritarian manner on the bases of unreality and the
Big Lie, calls for a concentration of the means of conditioning comparable
to the concentration required by the planning process itself. In other
words, it is the same hierarchical networks, of which the electorate
has not only no control but also no knowledge, that both impose the
vital decisions and generate the propaganda that is then obediently
disseminated by the media. For example, the moderately critical members
of a scientists' Group for Information on Nuclear Energy (GSIEN) have
shown that one investigator, Arvonny -- who was so resourceful when
facts needed to be denied (see Encyclopedie des Nuisances, s.v.
"Abetissement") -- was quite content to fill the need
for "fresh data" by simply quoting the communiques issued
by the EDF [the French state electricity authority] itself for the edification
of readers themselves apparently conceived of as "models of safety."

Arvonny did not pretend to have done any original research -- he did
not even bother to examine the blatant internal contradictions of other
EDF documents. We have elsewhere examined the similar way in which the
periodical appearance in the press of articles hailing the marvels of
agribusiness is entirely a function of the propaganda-mongering of the
French National Institute of Agronomic Research (see Encyclopedie
des Nuisances
, s.v. "Abat-faim").

Indoctrination of this kind, so
poorly disguised as information, always bears the clear marks of its
origin. Uncontrollable statistics and unverifiable figures are solemnly
trotted out, for all the world as though the whole of society consisted
of docile civil servants; and incomprehensible acronyms -- designating
obscure but presumably powerful institutions -- are pompously produced
one after the other, like the litanies of a self-satisfied cleric who
can be sure of awed respect from his audience. Marx observed that bureaucrats
were the Jesuits of the State. Those [bureaucrats] of today are true
to the tradition of their predecessors (perinde ac cadaver), but they
have lost all their means of persuasion. Not that the current age is
ill-disposed in this regard, but the most insouciant credulousness must
have pause in face of the sheer stodginess of the mental fare our bureaucrats
have to offer. In any case, figures are not something one believes in:
one either knows them to be true, or not. What this means in this instance
is that we must resign ourselves to the impossibility of any verification.
(Interestingly, no sooner are we tempted to conclude from such statistical
data that they indicate a more dangerous state of affairs then our informants
hasten to tell us that they are false or "insignificant.")
In the unilateral discourse of the proprietors of technology, figures
are a crude replacement for any recourse to rationality, a recourse
that has in fact become impossible as a result of the detachment of
this discourse from all historical reality. The mind-numbing piling
up of statistics is also supposed to persuade the impotent spectator
that what he or she cannot understand is understood perfectly by others
-- who are as at home amidst these numbers as fishes are in the sea
(a sea warmed, perhaps, by the radioactive effluent of a nuclear power
station?). Thus the "precision" of quantification is supposed
to come to the rescue of a bureaucratic language that is otherwise notoriously
ill-equipped to sustain any appearance of logic. A tic-like feature
of all the pseudo-reasonings of spectacular power is the use of expressions
such as "moreover" and "furthermore" as devices
for implying logical relationship, where none exists, between an element
A and another, B, whose only real connection with B is the fact that
it has been chosen from an infinite number of possibilities to be thus
brought into conjunction with it. When it comes to the quantative description
of the public nuisance known as radiation, however, the basic verbal
tic is the use of the phrase "which is equivalent to." The
trick here, though less subtle, is reminiscent of the deception involved
in the paradox of Achilles and the tortoise: the overall cumulative
process is ignored in favor of the particular instant under consideration,
and a mean is then extrapolated from this isolated segment of reality.
In this way, dangerous trends are as effectively abolished as the forward
movement of Achilles. A remarkably pertinent response to such sophistry,
both in form and in substance, was the following observation published
in the Corsican autonomist paper Arriti on 20 June 1986, at a time when
Corsica was ingesting what Death's Head Pellerin had authoritatively
pronounced to be a "normal" becquerel level: "Let's kicks
the daylights out of one of those experts for one hour exactly. If he
complains, we'll explain to him that, since there are 8,760 hours in
a year, if he spreads our beating out over that many hours, he will
hardly feel a thing." (Quoted in Liberation, 8 July 1986.)

In sharp contrast to this straightforward
suggestion -- which sets an excellent example for any future programme
of action for "nonspecialists" -- it has fallen to the Stalinists
(as well it should) to out-Herod Herod in this sphere: in their eager
anticipation of a perfected nuclear totalitarianism, the vision of which
for them no doubt represents a kind of glorious home-coming, the Communists
unintentionally expose the truth behind all the Big Lie's conjuring
tricks with numbers. Thus, L'Humanite, attempting to succuor "Professor
Pellerin and the other experts who stand alone against the onslaughts
of the anti-nuclear faction and all those who would like to go back
to the days of the Cold War," summed up the stance of their materialism-of-disintegration
towards Chernobyl's contribution to ambient radiation as follows: "One
hundred times nothing, or four hundred times nothing, is still nothing."
Any and all rational argument having been transcended, what is also
manifestly being set at naught here, because nobody has the means to
invest it with value, is reality itself; all that remains is the majestic
progress of abstraction, and there is no countervailing force to challenge
it. What better measure could we have than this zero, which annihilates
all contradictions, for the future of a society that so resolutely turns
its face towards nothingness. We shall leave it to others to decide
whether post-Chernobyl Stalinism may also expect that the plant mutations
so rigorously promoted in the Ukraine will realize Lysenko's genetic
dreams -- and that the results of a science gone mad will thus furnish
an a posteriori justification for that earlier application to science
of an ideology gone mad. For our part, we are sufficiently persuaded
by the inevitable spread of the effects of State-generated dementia
by the words of one Soviet television announcer, who asserted that "it
is impossible to prevent the progress of knowledge," adding --
as though wishing to carry the ideological inversion of reality into
the realm of out-and-out caricature -- that the "peaceful atom
must continue to serve humanity" (Liberation, 2 June 1986).
The peaceful atom, in short, must serve humanity even if humanity has
to be wiped out in the process. . . .

In the future, the nuclearites
will not need to be forever preparing their next accident, for they
have by now accumulated a vast inventory of as-of-yet undiscovered disasters.
Instead, they will be able to focus all their efforts on the job of
helping us catch up with our backlog of ignorance, while at the same
time learning to live with their immense capacity to impose such backwardness
upon us. The very forces of which we have lost control are thus revealed
to us in their most baleful form, while their mouthpieces invite us
to believe that they can measure and manage these forces with perfect
ease. "Ah yes, bequerels -- well, we have released some everywhere,
more or less." The spokesmen who inform us of these things even
assume a tone of scientific satisfaction as they do. All the same, the
continued lying with statistics, which is designed to reassure us on
the specialists' high degree of competence, and on the "model of
safety" which that competence guarantees, is beginning to have
an effect opposite to the one intended. Once it is known that a danger
exists, figures giving no concrete notion of what exactly is to be feared
encourage one to fear only the worst. Quantitative illusions thus eventually
have a backlash effect that irreversibly shatters the "confidence"
carefully built up on a foundation of ignorance of what is involved.
If the nuclearites have suddenly evinced great concern about the ignorance
of the populace, it is because they see that this ignorance is on the
point of turning into suspicion. It no longer suffices to bury past
and future under an avalanche of figures, because their increasingly
transparent falsehoods and increasingly obvious impotence disclose a
present that is itself a bottomless chasm, an unknowable "black
hole" -- something perhaps like that "great black hole you
never come back out of" evoked in Ubu's beloved "Debraining
Song." It has thus recently been discovered that the public is
in need of "new aids to understanding" in this domain. Fortunately
these new methods do not present too great an intellectual challenge.
What is called for , seemingly, is the "normalization of the definition
of thresholds" of harmfulness, and this is readily achieved by
the simple process of adjusting the thresholds just as often as may
be necessary to keep the harmfulness level at . . . zero. A similar
approach was used earlier when the method of counting power-plant mishaps
was revised in order to "reduce" their number. The practice
of altering the map to conceal a pitiful state of affairs on the ground
is of course widely and effectively applied; we have elsewhere drawn
attention to the way in which our "planners of ignorance,"

confronted by an alarming resurgence of illiteracy, simply changed their
marking system -- scientifically, of course -- so as to produce the
desired percentage of passes come exam time (see Encyclopedie des
, s.v."Abecedaire"). Simply another instance,
in short, where the bureaucracy, "being unable, naturally, to suppress
nuisances, seeks to manipulate the perception of them" (see "Discourse
," Encyclopedie des Nuisances, No. 1).

The spread of scepticism cannot
be prevented by this kind of subterfuge, however; one reason being that
it is based on a very simple observation, and one which, unlike claims
about numbers of picocuries, millirems and whatnot, is easy to verify:
the observation that the owners of the means of contamination also monopolize
the means of contamination's detection and control. If it is true that
the soul of bureaucracy is secrecy, a secrecy "preserved within
the bureaucracy itself by means of hierarchy, and vis-a-vis the outside
world by virtue of bureaucracy's having the characteristics of a closed
corporation," then the technical content appropriate to this form
is certainly to be found in a nuclearized domination under whose sway
it is not merely the "spiritual essence of society" which
becomes bureaucracy's private property, but rather society's material
existence as a whole. The chief result of this monopolization is that
all attempts publicly to establish the truth about any aspect of reality
become treason against the "mystery" of the bureaucracy. "The
suppression of the bureaucracy is only possible if the general interest
effectively becomes [...] the individual's interest, and this can only
come about if the individual's interest effectively becomes the general
interest" (Marx). The task of dismantling the nuclear walls
behind which the oppressive forces are massed is the liberatory task
that now subsumes all others, for here the individual's interest indeed
effectively becomes the general interest. This Encyclopedia has on occasion
come in for criticism to the effect that it has no "central historical
perspective," or even that it has nothing really original to contribute.
Now, we have no quarrel with those who recognize that in this unhappy
age all kinds of theoretical works are called for: such research is
indeed absolutely necessary in order continually to hone the critique
of all of alienation's concrete forms. Defining a "central perspective"

of history, however, is one of those tasks that is accomplished by the
facts themselves, and direct confrontation with these facts is the only
way here of steering clear of pure speculation. Real history has continued
to advance with its (unconscious) bad side foremost, and its results
have continued, paradoxically as ever, to define the consciousness necessary
to any social movement capable of acting effectively against the over-accoutred
negation of life. The building of such a movement is a long-range project,
but at least many of the obstacles that once lay in the path of endeavours
of this kind have now been removed.

The critique of politics, for
example, must now presumably be considered gratuitous, the extraordinary
continuity maintained by the state in the sphere of nuclear policy having
put to the last surviving intimations of difference between the programmes
of the political parties. Furthermore, just as any consistent anti-nuclear
movement must situate itself from the outset beyond parties, and seek
to express a unity of particular and universal, so too it is bound to
recognize in its own situation the basis for a critique of political
economy made not by one but by all: in this way the simple question
of the human use of material production, repressed by all "progressive"
ideologies, returns as a question of vital urgency. Solved, too, en
passant, is the old "national question," pollution notoriously
being no respecter of frontiers. Much the same may be said of all the
false dilemmas nourished by the (largely ideological) alternative between
reform and revolution, for it is now plain that no change, not even
the most limited, can be expected to occur so long as all those interests
that control the social whole are not brought into question. The "revolutionary
action" of the atom has even exploded what will turn out to have
been the last mystification propagated by a submissive intelligentsia,
namely the notion that there is something in our "democracies"
worth defending against the totalitarian peril. For what remains of
our famous "freedoms" -- except perhaps the freedom, so beloved
by the intellectuals, to spout nonsense with impunity -- now that the
charade of democracy has debouched into nuclear despotism? Custine,
so often cited since the beginning of the Cold War and in support of
an alleged "Russian bureaucratic tradition," may now be seen,
much more accurately, as the prophet of a Stalinization of the world
that has nothing to do with geography and everything to do with history.
In short, the nuclear question is the social question in its most naked
form -- in the essential form down to which it has been stripped in
the last years of a century that once believed itself capable of avoiding
it altogether.

It will no doubt be replied that
a movement with a consciousness of this kind exists nowhere -- and in
France less than anywhere. It is true that in West Germany, for example,
a government minister called the violent anti-nuclear demonstrations
of May 1986 an attack upon the state, thus putting his finger on the
true nature of the movement -- on something, in fact, that is rarely
acknowledged even by the movement's own participants. In France, by
contrast, the pathetic relics of the ecology movement have sunk to the
level of volunteering to run civil-defense exercises and lobbying for
information about evacuation procedures to be broadcast via Minitel.
Nevertheless, the development of an adequate response to the ultimatums
of alienated history -- whether these be delivered a la Chernobyl or
in quite a different form -- is already profoundly real; and this remains
true even if at the surface of society the monopoly of appearances held
by power's dream factories continues to derail the search for it. The
call for truth in the life of society is liable to be dismissed as the
product of a purely ethical or idealistic stance. In point of fact,
however, the eminently practical nature of such a demand becomes more
and more apparent as the toxic effects of bureaucratic secrecy spread
into every last corner of life. As the gulf widens between the unrealistic
monologues of power, on the one hand, and a realism deprived of legal
expression, on the other, lies must be increasingly detrimental to those
who rely on them. It is as though its long sojourn in oblivion had invested
a re-emergent truth with fresh youthfulness and vigor, and hence with
a fresh influence on the course of things.

Chernobyl also provided an opportunity
to re-learn an old lesson, namely that social truths -- and the existence
of truth in society -- can never be ensured by theoretical debate, never
established by means of objective knowledge alone, but rather have to
be fought for on the battleground of social existence itself: no specialized
point of view -- neither that of nuclear physics nor any other -- can
claim to be emancipated from the material bases of a perverted truth,
unless it has allied itself with a social movement that effectively
challenges those bases. In Poland, scientists linked to the underground
opposition were thus able at the time of Chernobyl to get exact information
to the people about this latest expression of Soviet friendship, borne
by that same "East wind" that had hitherto been responsible,
in accordance with leftist meteorology, for dispensing pollution of
an exclusively ideological variety. In France, by contrast, such scientists
as were prepared to break the law of omerta imposed by the pro-nuclearites
were able to reach only the most restricted of audiences. What this
shows is that there do exists specialists, in all sectors, who are ready
and willing to become dissidents, but that practical forces capable
of offering them a sphere of action -- and an emancipatory use of their
abilities -- are still lacking. Sadly, such forces are likely to continue
to be wanting for some time to come. The issue of dual power, however,
cannot be put on the back burner until the moment of revolutionary transformation
arrives: it is inherent in the very formulation of such a project, since
any exact knowledge of the reality to be transformed is itself predicated
on practical communicational abilities totally independent of the official
media. Our task, in fact, is to help set up a network of this kind,
as a way of federating all those partisans of the truth who are resolved
to plan for the inevitable struggles ahead.

In conclusion, we feel confident
in asserting that henceforth this world can contain only two kinds of
seriousness: the seriousness of the extremists of domination, as obvious
as the means at their disposal for perpetuating it any price -- and
ours, the proof of whose existence is supplied, paradoxically, by the
scale upon which those same means are deployed. Between the two lies
a gamut of unrealistic attitudes that are, in the last analysis, of
negligible import. On the one hand, then, is the will to maintain a
society of dispossession at whatever cost, and the attendant conviction,
reminiscent of Macbeth's, that once one is "in blood stepp'd in
so far [...] returning were as tedious as go o'er." For our part,
in face of the material changes that demonstrate day after day that
there is nothing so bad that it cannot become worse, we want merely
"to keep the door open to all other possibilities of change --
first and foremost, of course, to the primordial hope that the minimum
conditions for the survival of the species may be preserved. The changes
we desire are, of course, the very ones that the dominant society seeks
to obstruct by limiting history, irrevocably, to a broader reproduction
of the past, and limiting the future to the management of the debris
of the present" ("Discours preliminaire," Encyclopedie
des Nuisances
, No. 1).



14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by anarchyjordan on July 21, 2008

here's something else from the encyclopedia of nuisances people


Encyclopedie des Nuisances #9

Encyclopedie des Nuisances #9

English translations from the ninth issue of Encyclopedia of Nuisances, published in November 1986.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 4, 2022


Ab irato - Guy Debord

Guy Debord on particular medical practices.

Submitted by BNB on July 27, 2009

Ab irato

This Latin expression, which means "in an angry movement,"[1] should return to usage today, when it is hardly possible to write about any subject without being gripped by anger. And yet, among so many other offenses that one could use to "anger the people" (as one said during the French Revolution), perhaps none are more monstrous than the document(s) we reproduce here.

A woman named [Mrs] Antoine had kept from a previous, dissolved marriage a six-year-old daughter who was condemned to a short life by a serious disease. There was no possible intervention, except for simultaneous heart and kidney transplants; maybe even transplanted lungs would be necessary. All the surgeons of France and America, whose taste for experimentation and guinea pigs is well known, refused to undertake such a barbaric and obviously vain intervention. But a British physician was ready to make a name and some money for himself through such a publicity stunt. Mrs Antoine, ensconced in [cadresse dans] the Salon-de-Providence region, raised money through several appeals to public charity in the media. The intervention was made, with the success that one might imagine; on 30 July 1986, Mrs Antoine went on RTL [French radio] to proudly give a suitable victory cry. The radio station in question found her remarks so exemplary and so favorable to the voters' ideas about "medical progress" that it recorded them on tape. One could listen to it by telephoning a certain number.

Ten years ago, comparable infamy was achieved by Ginette Raimbault, "doctor and analyst" (see annex).[2] This couch louse proposed to create a new metier, one at the boundaries of psychoanalysis and cultural promotion:[3] namely, to teach dying children that they are dying and what death is. We note the complementary usefulness of these two operations -- teaching children to die and prolonging their agony -- before returning to Mrs Antoine's revolting remarks.[4]

"I knew that I might lose Aurora. Aurora knew that she might die; she told me so. She said: 'Mommy, I know that I might die.' But she also said, 'I can't suffer anymore and there's no other choice; we must do it.'

"For the first month, there was the possibility of rejection, even . . . uh. . . infection, and if she got through that month, that wasn't bad. And then there was the third month where -- Mr. Yacoub explained it to me -- the third month was also unstable. And is she got through the sixth month, then, on the whole [pour le compte], we'd won.

"She was at her strongest the day she was operated on, this past Wednesday. She came out of surgery at exactly 5:30 pm. At 5:45 pm, she asked me for a Coca Cola. The next day, the little lady no longer needed artificial ventilation. I'd expected a child comatose for eight days. . . . And then, the day after that, she left intensive care, at 2 pm, and this morning she began to take her first steps.

"At the moment of entering the operating room, uh . . . [we were] psychologically well prepared, because I'd gone to the surgical unit with my daughter, whose last image was -- it was of me, and the last words that I said to her -- I said, 'You know, Aurora, that today is it. Mommy can no longer help you. I have helped you with the surgeon; I helped you with the money. Now it must beat you, OK? And so, my dear, go to sleep thinking I have won, I have won, I have won. ' She said to me, 'Mommy, don't worry. I think this will work.'"

Question [from RTL]: She was six and a half?!

"Yes, she was six and a half! (Laughs.) This was at 11:30 am. The operation began at noon. The organ arrived two hours later. Mr Yacoub and his team began the transplant at 2 pm and, at 4:30 pm, the operation was concluded.

"And so, all the parents who have children with problems like this, truly . . . incurable or previously thought to be incurable . . . I ask them to have hope because absolutely extraordinary things are being done; and tell your child, do not hide the truth from them, because they will be much stronger for hearing it."

This Media Mom -- whom we are calling out in the interests of science and who rivals the famous Madame Kaufman, who, with a kind of satisfaction, has been elevated to the spectacular status and almost the [official] profession as "female hostage" -- hides things in the habitual manner of such people, that is, by lying with the most inept clumsiness. Mrs Antoine attributes the responsibility for the decision to poor Aurora (who informed her? who taught her the affected phrased "there is no choice"?). Mothers can now happily declare that, if their daughters survive the month, this "isn't bad." And if they survive six months, then "one" has won! In the style of a sports broadcast, she goes on to present a play-by-play report. It takes more money to make the horses run, but this race ends up with Aurora dying in the arms of her mother. One might admire the delicacy -- quite typical of the era itself and this [particular] social milieu -- of mentioning to a child, and a child in these circumstances, that you found both the money and the butcher, and that this child must in her turn pay her share to her sponsor, who in sum is responsible for the [operation's] impossible success. Here, contrary to an old advertising campaign for an American undertaker, dying isn't enough.[5] Madame Antoine joyously insinuates that her daughter was a kind of gifted child (at six and a half!); as if she was unfortunately in the avant-garde of pathology. And, in her miserable narcissism [son narcissisme de la misere], this winner frankly says that her daughter was happy, because "the last image that she had" before facing her agony was the image, so successful, of her remarkable mother.


It was Prof. Jean Royer, one of the "great patrons" of the Children's Hospital in Paris, who appealed to her in 1965. At the time, Ginette Raimbault, a doctor and analyst, worked at Inserm. As a researcher, she was dedicated to pediatrics and specialized in kidney diseases: one of the most competent in France and perhaps all of Europe, as well.

Particular specialties: death [l'agonie] and bereavement. At a time when dialysis machines were rare and transplants were even rarer, her services to Prof. Royer concerned "suffering" when one is confronted each day with the most unacceptable of injustices: the death of a child. His question to her was, How do those of us who survive live, and is there a way of living better? A way of confronting this failure syndrome, because death is a failure; a means of escaping from the enormous burden of guilt, because death is an error and felt as such by all the people concerned: its the fault of the parents, who feel guilty for not having bestowed "health"; the fault of the doctors, who feel guilty for hardly doing anything; and, finally, the fault of the child, who feels guilty for not being able to live like the others. And for dying.

This compact error, which each person admits [endossait] in their own way, is like a supplementary illness. More confusion in the chaos of life and death. Someone needed to put order into the ambiguity of anguish. Someone had to put into words what is never clearly said. So that each person understands his or her place, their respective roles, in this pathetic game.

Ginette Raimbault's work provided relief. Because she was an analyst, perhaps because she was a woman, surely because she possessed the "virtue of listening," which is one of the most effective human abilities, she [was able to] put herself at the bedsides of others. She especially gave speech to the other that is in each of us, but whose broken speech can only be heard by a psychoanalyst.

Exorcism: she listens to the parents -- the mothers, especially -- who are, she says, "demolished." They are so implicated by the drama that they suffer so as to find their places in it. They look for "reasons" for the illness, a lack, a bad gene. Etiological inquest well known by doctors: all the parents of sick children are in search of pardon. They accuse themselves or they accuse the physician. They come and go in their questions, their grief; they are at once revolted and resigned, lucid and yet silent, desperate and yet ready to deny the undeniable approach of death.

The child who is "in the death situation" tries to tell his parents what he knows. And he knows everything. "Almost all the children," Ginette Raimbault affirms, "have a clear knowledge of their coming death." They feel it be to the logical outcome of their destiny as sick children who are habituated to their own "suffering baggage." Jeannette, who is eleven, says, "They do not say anything, but I know." Camille, who is eight, says "You know, mommy, one day I will go far away and I will no longer see you again."

Ginette Raimbault has an extraordinary clairvoyance that sends our famous question "Must we tell them the truth?" to the warehouse of false problems.

"Which truth?" she asks. The medical truth? The brutal timetables of chances (a month, six months, a year)? The truth is not what one says but what one hears. Something that the other needs to express. That surfaces in a child's dream or nightmare, in the story that the child invents or the landscape that he sketches out in front of us. And so Gabrielle, eleven years old, drew "a stroll in the countryside." A kind of joyous picnic. The people are clear; the colors are vivid. She explains: "Afterwards, we'll have fun, and run, but it is dangerous because of the poles." And she traces out two poles that make a barrier [marked] "Danger of death." She says, "If there are flowers, I'll pick them. If there's bread, I'll give it to the swans. If I can, I'll snack on wild herbs. But there are poles and you can die if you touch them."

This is Gabrielle's truth. It isn't to be commented upon, but accepted. It especially isn't to be "contradicted": the counter-truth is the "fib," the lie, the rejection in anguish with [all] its destructive effects. Because "the greatest shame for the child remains in the fact that no word from the entourage allows him to name the event and inscribe it in his history." Ginette Raimbault doesn't respond to questions. She is not an investigator of fear. Quite simply, when a child tells her "I'm going to die," she never denies it. She asks, "Why, what's happening to you? What makes you say that this morning?" And this gives the child an extraordinary [extravagante] permission: to evoke his own death. By showing him that he has the right to speak of it, that it isn't taboo or shameful. So that he can finally hear what he needs to hear from the other: "I am also preoccupied with your death -- I know that you . . . are afraid . . . you have desires . . . expectations . . . you would like to pursue them . . . you hope to live. . . . What you experience doesn't separate you from me."

Nursery rhymes that go "I stay with you, I am close-by you." Reassurances that "I know, too." Words and attitudes of non-separation, because above all the child desires "to be with." The child says "Don't go, don't leave me, turn yourself towards me so I can see you," because it is he who is leaving. For an unknown solitude. Which he presses, which he learns about, which he conjures away by asking to take his Teddy Bear with him: those whom he loves, close to his face; those whom he doesn't love, on their feet.

Is it enough to be there? Yes, but with honesty. Without seeking to fool the child. Without imposing silence on him for our comfort alone. Raymond, who is seven, says, "Words that remain inside aren't good." If the child doesn't speak about what he knows, this is already solitude for him. "Its not a question of helping them to die," Ginette Raimbault says, "but helping them live until the end." In sum, extend a hand to get them across. . . .

A frail woman [dressed] in white, Ginette Raimbault pursues her task, which, perhaps, is to once again teach people that we can understand death. In a sweet voice, this nice looking woman says, "I can only write my book after . . ." After what? After this truly difficult period in which there was too little hope for the children. Today, thanks to dialysis and transplants, the balance sheet is less desperate. But there remain sick and endangered children everywhere. For them, the hospital remains a place of suffering and separation, which calls for its "humanization." This one is in the right track: today, at Villejuif, there are two part-time analysts in the service of infantile cancerology; one working with Prof Jean Bernard; another working in pediatrics with Prof Alagille at Bicetre.

Ginette Raimbault has formed a team that includes health care personnel. Because the sick person is a whole, that is to say, a person, even when it is a child, and it shouldn't be treated by a physician who only treats the body, on the one hand, and a woman who is tasked with dealing with the anguish of the dying child, on the other hand. Humanization is also a global look at the suffering person [both medically and emotionally].

This task isn't spectacular. A technical invention is not involved. She doesn't recoil from the blows delivered by what we shut away behind the word "illness." Through attentiveness, she joins with those who perhaps will not survive. She shares their solitude; she helps them separate themselves from life and accept [assumer] the event that approaches. With dignity.

An attempt at a better "lived" death? The paradox of these words is only superficial. . . . But this necessitates that we are capable of living better the bereavement that awaits us.

(Written by Guy Debord, but published anonymously in Encyclopedie des Nuisances tome I, fascicule 9, November 1986. Translated by NOT BORED! July 2009.)

[1] In Latin civil law, ab irato means "a man in anger."

[2] It would seem that this annex was attached by Debord himself, and not "as an after-thought" by the editorial board of the Encyclopedie des Nuisances.

[3] The French phrase here, l'animation culturelle, could mean many things, because "animation" signifies activity, life itself, animation, demonstration and promotion. "Cultural promotion" was chosen because of its resonance with the unnamed British physician's publicity stunt [operation publicitaire].

[4] What follows appears to be a written transcript of the RTL interview with Mrs Antoine aired on 30 July 1986.

[5] Presumably the slogan had been "Dying is enough," as in, "You do enough by dying; let us take care of the rest."

[6] Article written by Genevieve Doucet and published in Elle, 16 February 1976.


Encyclopedie des Nuisances #11


English translations from the eleventh issue of Encyclopedia of Nuisances, published in November 1989.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 10, 2022


Abolir - Guy Debord

An unsigned article by Guy Debord. Published in L'Encyclopedie des Nuisances #11, June 1987. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! June 2007. All footnotes by the translator.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 10, 2022

To Abolish

To abolish, which in its Latin etymological meaning simply means to destroy, quickly became specialized in its juridical and social dimensions. Antoine-Leandre Sardou, in his New Dictionary of French Synonymes (1874), thus compares it to Abrogate: "To abolish concerns many things, customs, usages laws, etc: to abrogate only concerns laws, decrees, public acts having the force of law. Non-usage suffices for abolition, but abrogation necessitates a positive act: a law fallen into desuetude is abolished in fact: it can only be abrogated by another law or by a formal authoritative declaration."

The French Revolution abolished in rights the privileges of the nobility and the clergy, so as to found bourgeois civil equality. The 19th century abolished slavery in the colonies that depended upon the European powers and, later on and not without resistance, in the United States. The revolutionary program, which must obviously encounter more durable resistance, proposes to abolish the State, classes, the commodity, etc. Some points of this program have, to some extent, been realized already -- but upside-down -- by the progress of the counter-revolution of this century, thereby abolishing much of what had existed and always in the sole perspective and by the sole practice of absolute, policed and psychiatric control, and the elimination of all liberty outside of the "deciders" of the State.

Thus, the futile ideology of the "rights of man" is nothing other than an epitaph on the tombstone of all that all of the States have buried. The abolition of the town/country separation has been attained by the simultaneous collapse of both. The work/diversion separation is undone when work becomes so massively unproductive and inept (in the derisory "tertiary sector") and when diversion becomes a boring and tiring economic activity. The inequalities in culture have been abolished almost everywhere and for almost everyone with the new illiteracy -- the old project of the suppression of ignorance has been transformed by suppression of the ignorance deprived of diplomas -- and this in its hard version (primary school) as in its soft version (the neo-university), because the formula of A.-L. Sardou verifies its exactness everywhere: "Non-usage suffices for abolition." Money is in the process of being abolished in a special way by the use of plastic money,[1] through which the citizen-child -- confident and well-educated -- must leave the management of their small piggy-banks to machines that are more competent than they are, that indubitably know better than they do what suits them and from what they should abstain.

One knows that Christian thought, whose tenacious life has unfortunately lasted nearly two thousand years, undertook to establish that the world was only a "valley of tears." Thus it disapproved of, under the name "deadly sins," the principal tendencies of real humanity, but without flattering itself with ever arriving at suppressing them in the vast expense of the societies that it controlled for so long.

The list of these deadly sins is quite forgotten today and the small minority of our contemporaries who maintain a certain familiarity with reading and language remember that there were seven of them. The sources of all the others, the deadly sins were pride, avarice, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and laziness.

In the roar of uninterrupted proclamations that inform us of the triumphs of the dominant society on the terrains of its overwhelming, energetic power, its gross national product, its modernized crises and its cultivated computers and so many other pleasant abstractions, one too modestly forgets a concrete phenomenon of an immense significance: the worldwide organization of society that is being put into place, with an always-increasing speed, in the second half of the 20th century has succeeded in abolishing six of the seven deadly sins (or, to put it in the terms that are more transmittable today, a percentage approximately equal to 86%). We will prove this is a few words: that each person simply thinks of examples of what he no longer dares to call "his country"!

Pride is obviously dead for the administered voter, the sounded-out automobile driver, the polluted telespectator, the inhabitant of the HLM[2] and the highway vacationer. No one who has accepted surviving in this way can even hope for the possibility of experiencing a fleeting moment of pride.

Avarice no longer has any basis, since property tends to become concentrated in the State, which squanders on principle. Read individual property, accessible to very few people, is gnawed at by hairsplitting control and the right to intervention by a thousand public or corporate authorities. The salaried worker can no longer hoard a little poor money, which is of a value that is always changing, fictive and as fluid as water. This same money distances itself into an always-further away abstraction, simply "plastic," a game of accounting that is played without the worker's participation. And if he thinks of accumulating a few more precious objects than what is offered daily on the market, a thief carries them off.

Lust has disappeared almost everywhere, with the liquidation of real personalities and real tastes. Lust has withdrawn before the flood of ideology that is too obviously insincere, cold simulation and the comic pretensions of the robot to automatic passion. AIDS arises to perfect this rout.

Gluttony has surrendered its weapons in the face of the findings of the food-processing industry. Moreover, the spectator - here as well as at the theater -- no longer believes himself capable of judging the taste of what he eats. Thus he is guided by the stimuli that are the names of the fashionable dishes, advertising and the judgment of gastronomical critique.

Anger has so many reasons [for existing] and so few manifestations that it is dissolved into the general cowardice and resignation. In good faith, does a voter have the occasion to become angry with the final result of an election, which in truth is always the same and thus precisely foreseeable and guaranteed? Ill-advised to play with disappointed and humiliated innocence, the voter is in any case guilty. He can only feel anger at himself and this is an uncomfortable position that he ordinarily wants to avoid.

Laziness is no longer hardly possible: there is too much noise everywhere. It is even worse for all those unfortunate people who hurry to work or their vacations. Laziness is only a pleasure for the one who is pleased with himself and in his own company.[3] The modern countries can have an elevated number of unemployed people and others who work on many completely useless things. But they cannot preserve laziness for anyone; they are not rich enough for that.

One might object to us that this exposition, despite its profound truth, is a little too systematic because reality in history is always dialectic and that it is an impoverished schematization that presents all the deadly sins as being condemned to the same ruin. This objection is not founded: we have not at all forgotten envy, which contradictorily survives and which is the only inheritor of all the other annihilated powers.

Envy has become an exclusive and universal motive. Envy has always proceeded from the fact that many individuals measure themselves according to the same scale. Most often, this is power and money. Beyond this common measure of limitation, reality remains diverse and those who do not care too much for power and riches obviously remain sheltered from envy. On another side, some envious characters can always be in rivalry with people in their spheres of activity. A poet might envy a[nother] poet. And such envy can be manifested by a general, a prostitute, an actor or an owner of a cafe. But the largest number of individuals hardly arouse the envy of others. Today, when people have almost nothing and love nothing, they want everything, without neglecting the contrary. Any [given] spectator envies almost all of the stars. But he can also simultaneously envy all of the traits of all the stars. He who has the baseness to make a career, and who is thus hardly satisfied with that career (others are always higher up), would also have the honor and pleasure of being considered as someone who is misunderstood, insubordinate and "cursed." And since this pursuit of the wind is absolutely vain, all of today's cuckolds are thus condemned to run unceasingly. Ignoring real life, they do not know that almost all the human traits are actually grounded by necessarily excluding many of the others.

Antiquity said: "It is not given to everyone to go to Corinth." At present, one can add that this prevents the simultaneous inhabitation of Tokyo.

One easily understands the triumph of envy, the uncontrollable fusion of its radioactive heart and the dispersal of its fall-out everywhere. The deadly sins that have disappeared concern the personal traits of the individual acting on his own (or, in the case of laziness, preferring not to act). But envy is the only trait that concerns others. It is normal that it remains alone, to amuse and goad those who have been dispossessed of everything. In our century, these are the stupefying findings that one is not allowed to forget about. Previously, Cesar Borgia did not envy Michel-Ange, Frederick II did not envy Voltaire and Mr Thiers himself certainly did not even think of envying Baudelaire.[4] More recently, President Valery Giscard did not reject the satisfaction of making it known that he admired Flaubert (this same Giscard was Homais, Bouvard and Pecuchet[5] in a single person) and that he would have quite willingly renounced a year of political activity if, during this period, he was assured of making an artistic work at Flaubert's level, which in his eyes would have been quite worth the renunciation of two semesters of other, more sure gifts. And many contemporary illiterates, from their [university] chairs, envy the culture of the editors of this Encyclopedia and the richness of its information!

We say that the intensive and extensive repression of personality inevitably involves the disappearance of personal taste. What can actually please someone who is nothing, has nothing and knows nothing -- other than lying and imbecilic hearsay? And almost nothing displeases such a person: such is exactly the goal that the owners and "deciders" of this society propose, that is, those who hold the instruments of social communication, with the aid of which they find themselves in a position to manipulate the simulacra of disappeared tastes.

Edgar Poe's "The Colloquy of Monos and Una," which takes as its subject the impending destruction of the world and which long ago anticipated what our contemporaries have so recently discovered concerning the accumulation of irreversible and blind ruptures of the ecological equilibrium, said in 1845:

Meantime, huge smoking cities arose, innumerable. Green leaves shrank before the hot breath of furnaces. The fair face of Nature was deformed as with the ravages of some loathsome disease. And methinks, sweet Una, even our slumbering sense of the forced and of the far-fetched might have arrested us here. But now it appears that we had worked out our own destruction in the perversion of our taste, or rather in the blind neglect of its culture in the schools. For, in truth, it was at this crisis that taste alone -- that faculty which, holding a middle position between the pure intellect and the moral sense, could never safely have been disregarded -- it was now that taste alone could have led us gently back to Beauty, to Nature, and to Life.[6]

Nothing has better shown at which point taste and knowledge have both disappeared, along with the senses of the improbable and the ridiculous, than the clumsy archeological-cultural imposture of this century, which (it seems) people still laugh at and which its principal dupes prefer to believe has been forgotten without any other explanation. Around 1980, one was ecstatic about an army of statues of thousands of soldiers and horses, a little larger than life-size, that the Chinese claimed to have discovered in 1974 and that were supposed to have been buried with Emperor Tsin Che Hoang Ti [Qin Shinuangdi] twenty-two centuries ago.[7] Hundreds of newspapers and dozens of publishers swallowed the bait and the line, and -- guaranteed, moreover, by the enthusiasm of the aforementioned Valery Giscard -- this treasure was displayed in many great cities of Europe. Inevitably, subaltern doubts about whether these traveling marvels were the originals, as had been affirmed by the neo-Maoist government, or copies, as it was forced to admit later on. Here, the formula of Feuerbach, which already said that his times preferred the copy to the original, was quite surpassed by progress, since these were copies of originals that had never existed. With a single glance at the first photos of the "excavation," one could only laugh at the imprudence of the Chinese bureaucrats, who so shamelessly took foreigners to be cretins. But still more extravagant than all of these absolute improbabilities was the fact -- easily discernible from the images of the soldiers' heads (all of which were strongly similar) -- that nowhere and at no moment in the history of the world were such figures produced in molded forms, that is, not before the first third of our century (in fact, they were fabricated in the last years of Mao's reign to be an abundant and miraculous discovery that compensated for all that had been destroyed during the insanity of the pseudo-"cultural revolution"). To compose the poor, basic forms of these gigantic marionettes, one needed to already have the die-casting capabilities of the factories of the early 20th century; the paintings of [Paul] Gauguin, which had relatively recently traced a new artistic figure of the exotic in Western art; and, finally and especially, Stalinist and Nazi statuary -- which were the same things -- , which had existed since the 1930s.

Two centuries of deepening in the history of civilization, the history of forms, and all that Winckelmann and Schiller, Burckhardt and Elie Faure, and a hundred others from Schlegel to Walter Benjamin[8] were able to show -- all this is forgotten in the same obscurity, since those who hold the floor, as the people of Paris say when they still speak, have been persuaded that there is not, neither here nor elsewhere, anything scientific that one must know and that ignorance can say anything, since they know that they no longer have to fear a response.

It is perfectly definite that thousands of people in the world, without need of being an archeologist or a Sinologist, understood all this [about the Chinese statues] straight off, as we did. But what about the spectacle and those that it informs? They are purely ignorant people, who pour disinformation into the masses.[9] And as far as the rather mediocre professionals who treat such questions: when they finally learned of their error through the confidences of certain insiders, they thought that it would surely be more elegant on their part to not remember anything. And here is why the tyrant, as La Boetie showed,[10] has so many friends. There are many people with small interests who, on behalf of those with large interests, want to see history and memory abolished.

[1] That is to say, credit cards, debit cards, et al. "Plastic" or electronic money is in fact the very subject of the article entitled Abolition.

[2] Huge subsidized housing-blocks in France.

[3] See Raoul Vaneigem's text on the subject of refined laziness.

[4] Ceasar Borgia (1475-1507) was a ruthless Italian Duke, military leader and cardinal. Michel-Ange (1475-1564) is better known as "Michelangelo," the famous Italian painter, sculptor, poet and architect. Frederick II (1740-1786) was brilliant military leader and the King of Prussia; he was also a friend of Francois-Marie Arouet, aka "Voltaire" (1694-1778), a celebrated essayist and philosopher. Louis Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877) was a French politician infamous for the suppression of the Paris Commune. Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) was a great French poet and translator.

[5] Three characters in Flaubert's Madame Bovary.

[6] Rather than translate Debord's Poe back into English, we have quoted directly from the original text.

[7] Debord would briefly refer to this affair in his Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1988).

[8] Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768) was a German art historian and archeologist. Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805) was a German poet and philosopher. Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897) was Swiss art historian. Elie Faure (1873-1937) was a French art historian. Karl Wilhelm Schlegel (1772-1829) was a German poet and scholar. Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) was a German historian and social critic.

[9] Debord would again take up the theme of disinformation in his Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1988).

[10] In Discourse on Voluntary Servitude.



An old computer console and landline telephone. Hands type on a small keyboard

A text on money and magic, published anonymously in the 11th issue of L'encyclopedie des Nuisances, dated June 1987. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! October 2006. All footnotes by the translator.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 10, 2022

In the 14th Century, the Archpriest of Hita had already said that money had the power to "make truths into lies and lies into truths." Today, fully developed in the spectacle, where exchange-value is present everywhere (and so it is almost useless to represent it in a monetary form), this power even permits one to speak of a "society without money." The economic abstraction, which carves monetary values into all sacrificed life, envisions that electronic money will allow it to accede to autonomous functioning, the pure accountability of the administration of reified things and people, and the direct expression of a measure of the subjection that abolishes the agitational power of money.

An advertising campaign that pushes upon us, under the name LIBERTEL,[1] "a new art of experiencing the bank," tells us: "Magic is finding money in a minute without asking anyone for anything." One has known since Marx that the magic of money lies in dissolving the social yield into the formation of value, and that money appears as the "immediate incarnation of all human effort."[2] If one can now add to this ancient magic a new one, it is only that the opacity of social relations is still thick and that the alienated appearance of the totality of human effort in money tends to dissolve, in its turn, so as to leave room -- in bureacratized management and its electronic instrumentation -- for a total alienation without appearance. The general equivalence incarnated in money, and manifesting a general interdependance, becomes -- in the form of information stockpiled in the machines of power -- the object of a particular activity, less and less controlled by its nominal "owner." The salaried employee then sees the price of his work, as well as his work itself, escape from him so as to circulate (far away from him) among the diverse bureaucracies that manage his survival. And the abstraction thus rendered even more abstract by being reduced to the pure quantitative is, in a certain fashion, in its electronic circulation, good for the abolition of the need for money, which is "the true and unique need produced by political economy," but through a heavier constraint in which money, the power of all reduced to an abstraction, defines its own needs in an authoritarian fashion.

Elsewhere, all this is proclaimed loudly and clearly by advertising, if one knows how to listen. Those who can, thanks to the magic of LIBERTEL, "find money in a minute without asking anyone for anything" are the executives [le cadre], the model employees, those to whom one no longer needs to guarantee anything, since one already knows everything about him, about his "cash on hand" [encaisse]: he has actually sunk [encaisse] and is so completely surrendered to those who hold his purse-strings that he is no longer certain who "to ask." His margin of liberty is calculated by his just price, by the pro-rata of his submission: "On 20 January you will obtain your LIBERTEL reserve. We suppose that it will rise to 40,000 Francs about two months after your revenues . . . " This reserve, having been liberally accorded to him so that he could frolic in the luxury of permitted consumption (". . . the due-date for your taxes has arrived, your Christmas vacation was costly and the balance of your checking account is quite modest"), our executive tries to respond to the agonizing question that is posed to him by those who are careful to pressure him more scientifically: "How are you going to manage without disorganizing your budget?" It will suffice for him to manage at home, on his Minitel, his "treasury," his "finances," that is to say, it will suffice for him to calculate himself to what degree he will be eaten, how much this "deficit" [decouvert] (as one would have said in a less free era) will cost him. Henceforth, dressed [couvert] in the exact limits of his integration, he can instantly report each thing -- a trip to Egypt, a session of wind-surfing -- one at a time: his work time, his "income." Because he must do all for his benefactors, including the satisfaction of being able to lighten their tasks a little, by organizing the reordering of his debts himself, so as to ineluctably end up in the definitive crash that will represent the discarding of his work-force. In brief, this "new art of experiencing the bank" is only a survival that is more narrowly controlled by the economy, in which one inhabits a computer terminal and in which, by fits and starts, one circulates thanks to electronic "chips," as a function of the motive force through which one's plastic money has been credited.

To find money in a minute, without having to furnish a commodity (his work in general) in exchange: this is what is quite extraordinary. And if this becomes common, it can only be because all social relations, of which money is the measure, have collapsed and that, before one loses even the memory of the old alienation, one will play in the streets with the fetish that has become derisory. But beyond the advertising proclamation of LIBERTEL communism, we possess enough supporting indications as to be assured that this world has not begun to organize the gratuity in abundance (see the article "Abundance"[3]). The society "without [bank]notes" (the cashless society[4]), the beauties of which one describes to us, is thus merely a society in which the capillary penetration by computerized networks have attained such a degree that, with respect to the omnipresence of the instruments of market calculation, the fugitive materialization of money in currency henceforth appears as an obstacle that slows down its circulation and declines to the profit of electronic accounting, in which exchange is no longer anticipated (as in the monetary form) but controlled in "real time." However, it isn't data processing that, with it immaterial electronic money, renders commodities instantly commensurable (between them, that is to say, for each has its own price, its salary) without them needing to have their respective values represented outside of themselves, in hard cash [especes sonnantes] or at least in palpable cash. On the contrary, it is the occupation of social space-time by the commodity that permits one to directly bring back all commodities to their shared value, the time of work; that they can measure altogether their value without passing for money. The time-commodity of production is thus stripped of its diverse consumable disguises (services, diversions) so as to crudely manifest its "essential characteristics of exchangeable, homogenous unities and the suppression of the qualitative dimension" (The Society of the Spectacle).[5] And the "real time" of informatics, at first used as a particular technique of control over market flows, now finds its field of application in all of society.

Thus, what one has here is a manner of bureaucratic realization of the utopia of the "good timetables of work," to which Marx objected that it is impossible to abolish money insofar as exchange-value remains the social form of products. With its delirium of electronic money, the spectacle seeks to prove that it is at least possible to abolish the appearance of money, the sign of the socially alienated community, to the profit of its own network of hierarchical signals. But to prove this, the spectacle must conform point-by-point to the description made by Marx of the banking system, which the Saint-Simonians would have liked to make the "papacy of distribution." If only to make the asses who treated Marx like an old dog bray, when they weren't agitating about the gulags, we would thus quote at length from the pages of the Manuscripts of 1844 in which the emaciated Marxology of a Rubel[6] sees a "vehement charge" rather than a "scientific analysis"; because these manuscripts clearly show that there is more science in this vehemence than there will ever be in all of the professorial excuses and prudences.

Marx remarked at the beginning that -- deceived by the disappearance of the materiality of the "strange power," alienation -- the Saint-Simonians saw in the "banking system," in credit, "a progressive abolition of the separation of man and objects, capital and work, private property and money, money and man -- the end of the separation of man from man." Today, this illusion of disalienation is no longer the hobby-horse of a sect, but finds itself propagated by all of the spectacular pharmacies that press everyone to invest and improve themselves in all the coarse advertising of its inversion into "a dehumanization much more infamous and exhaustive because its element is no longer the commodity, the metal, the paper, but the moral existence, the social existence, the intimacy of the human heart itself; because, under the appearance of the confidence of man in man, it is supreme distrust and total alienation." It is the usage that the economy makes of him, the guarantee that his non-life offers to his exploiters, that is at every instant calculated and recalculated by the machines of market abstraction, the credit accorded to each person. And Marx exclaimed, unfortunately almost obsolete in his appeal to indignation: "Think of what there is of abjection in the fact of estimating[7] a man in [terms of] money, as is the case with credit." Today, man is estimated by pushing abjection to the point of making him display his price himself, with the pride of the executive who exhibits his rosary [chapelet] of credit cards, the amulettes that assure that he is counted part of the Elect of the Kingdom of the Commodity. But in any case no one can dream of shrinking from this "judgment that political economy pronounces on the morality of a man"; he must apply himself to all the levels of the hierarchy of dispossession, because -- confronted with the bureaucratic concentration of social richness -- there are only debtors and credit is everywhere presented as "the convenient intermediary of exchange, that is to say, money itself elevated to a completely ideal form."

Thus a work that describes the dematerialization of money for the benefit of the "Bank Card Group" can envision that, in the near future, the "card with a chip" will become "the obligatory intermediary for all of our dialogues with the environment" (Invisible Money: The Era of Electronic Flows). It is assuredly not the obligatory character that will be lacking from this intermediary, but, whatever technical procedure is adopted, the dependance created will, in any case, only be a new form of the mutual and generalized dependance of indifferent individuals that is the content of money. If this expresses itself electronically as information about each consumer, it is that, with the generalization of the salariat and the concentration of economic decision-making, the management of credit can itself be centralized. "It isn't money that abolishes itself in man at the heart of the system of credit; it is man himself who changes himself into money, in other words, money incarnates itself in man." How much each incarnates money, that is to say, how much social labor can he exchange himself for: this is what credit estimates and puts on to cards. And "as far as he has no credit, he isn't simply judged to be poor, but also morally, as someone who neither merits, nor trusts, nor estimates; as a pariah, a wicked man"; in brief, as a traitor to the economy. He must submit himself to "the humiliation of lowering himself to beg for credit from the rich," under the diverse, impersonal forms that are today adopted and that are expected to objectively measure if there is still some profit to be extracted from him. So as to find grace in the economy, it is necessary to enter into the system of reciprocal deception and to make of his entire existence an advertisement for his market value. Because each person is accountable for all the moments of his life in their economic estimation: "Thanks to the completely ideal existence of money, man is in a position to practice counterfeiting, not only in another matter, but concerning his own person: forced to make false money with his own person, he must simulate, lie, etc., so as to obtain credit; thus credit becomes -- as much on the side of he who accords trust as he who solicits it -- an object of illegal trade, deception and reciprocal abuse." Our readers will easily recognize here all of the door-mats who, thinner than the thin wall-to-wall carpeting that flaps at La Tapie, must ceaselessly bluff so as to support the rate of their fiduciary value. Finally, "it appears with a burst that, at the basis of what political economy calls confidence, there is mistrust, the distrustful calculations that reveal if it is necessary or not to accord credit; the spying upon the secrets concerning the private life of the borrower, etc." And, by describing in detail the instruments with which this police control is today endowed, one adds nothing essential to this conclusion.

Nevertheless, the magic of monetary value, the total value of its immaterial life -- if it has had a sordidly repressive and police-like development -- has also had, as compensation, its dream-like and almost poetic development. Because, after banking at home, it is now the stock exchange that invites itself even more informally and comes to haunt those who decidedly are not part of it at home and at home less than anywhere else. The salaried employee, already relieved of his pennies, and the care of having to find out how to dispense them, thus sees himself telematically plugged into the most vast financial flows and can thus participate in the global circulation of capital by generously pouring into it the remainder of the accountable signs that the automatic deductions have eventually left to him. The same computerized financial pumps permit him -- after having it pass before his eyes, so as to respect the forms, the price of his work -- to instantly mobilize his evanescent nest-egg (he himself also being evanescent). Because when one knows a little of what today is the financial market, such a proposition must rather be welcomed with fright, if something like the good sense of the petite-bourgeoisie is retained by the executive. Nevertheless, the aberration has its logic and it is quite normal that the loss of control over the signs of the computerized general equivalent is completed, for the privileges of dispossession, by an enthusiastic contemplation of the endless round that makes these signals travel [tourner] across the world. The telematic racket[8] that envisions scientifically raking in what can no longer be called savings can thus be accepted as progress, thanks to which each person knows, sitting in front of his or her screen, the ecstasy of the stock-market crash. There is obviously never a question about being amazed by the crash.

Beyond democratized dabbling in the stock market, this progress in the circulation of abstraction actually has a more sincerely cheerful aspect, that of amplifying -- with its speculative effects reverberating from one end of the planet to the other -- a monetary instability that has irrepressably grown since 1971, the year that the convertibility of the dollar [into gold] was abolished and that -- for the first time in times of peace -- one has assisted in the disappearance of all international money of reference. The monstrous coupling of telematics and the flows of capital is not simply a technique of marginal collection, but is at the center of this "financial revolution" that has, for several years now, permitted the birth of the only perfect market that one has ever seen: a global market in dematerialized capital. This perfection has already displayed a few of its beauties; one has the right to hope for others.[9] And perhaps even the savory spectacle of a global financial shipwreck. The same magic that permits us to find money in a minute without asking anything of anyone apparently functions so as to permit others to make money disappear in huge quantities, without anyone being able to understand exactly how. Thus, one learned one fine morning that the Volkswagen company lost, in a single blow, the equivalent of its annual revenues due to a swindle that was in fact an unfortunate speculation upon the dollar. This limited case of the volatility of capital (to the point of its pure and simple valorization) illustrates quite well -- with the fantastic piracy of the Wall Street "raiders"[10] -- the type of perfection of a market in which arbitrariness is the norm and in which capital, rather than depositing itself in investments, prefers to ceaselessly travel across the globe in search of speculative profits.

In the same way that the degradation of nature is much more profound than what one has been left to suppose, the decay of the mechanisms that used to regulate intercapitalist relations is much more advanced than what one would like us to perceive. Because, here as well, those who know do not speak, and those who speak know nothing. Yet the agonizing confidences concerning the uncontrollable reality of the international financial system that must be the guarantee and the measure of all the economic processes more and more often slips out from the "deciders." One of these experts sighs that "one no longer knows with certitude who borrows from whom, nor who loans to whom" (quoted by H. Bourguinat, The Vertigo of International Finances). Another expert improves upon this: "Everyone exchanges debts, and one ends up no longer knowing who is at the end of the chain, who is the creditor and who is the debtor" (Dynasteurs, March 1987). Here is an ignorance from which several financial adventurers can advantageously draw profit, but to which no one really puts an end: the inextricable entanglements of debts and the ultra-rapid electronic circulation of credit, of which no one can guarantee the clear expression in the language of a financial pathology that is informatically equipped. This is a forward flight that is comparable, in what concerns the forced course of economic abstraction, in the order of its authoritarian materialization, to the development of a nuclear industry. The ideal form of money, credit experiences an inflation that is in itself "ideal," the nominal illusion of the richness that capitalism gives to itself. The artificial multiplication of speculative profits rests or, rather, skids upon a boom in the deficit that the system is forced to accord to itself, always more liberally, so as to compensate for the profits that it cannot attain in the circulation of commodities.

In a situation in which the general abstract equivalent of social richness becomes even more abstract, because this richness is itself quite doubtful, a financier can remark with an air of chagrin that the first function of money must be to "facillitate exchanges and not to dominate them," and that "the sign (money) and reality (the commodity, the product) henceforth obey different laws" (J. Peyrelavalde, President of the Stern Bank, Le Monde, 17 April 1987). These groans of an anarchronistic bourgeois realism -- like all lamentations that denounce the too-flagrant unreality of the financial boom[11] -- want to be ignorant that this in fact expresses the most profound economic reality, the outrageousness of a concentration of the social richness that pushes itself beyond all usage, which obeys the foolish laws that prescribe the perpetual domination of exchange-value. What the currect director of the International Monetary Fund calls "the enormous surplus of a proliferating financial sector that recoups the real economy from its shadow" (Dynasteurs, March 1987) is thus, rather, the enormous surplus of a market economy that recoups real life from its shadow, that is, when it doesn't crush it by plummeting head-long. So as to relocate a measure, a social usage that has been defined in an authoritarian manner -- so as to restore laws that are capable of judging all of this -- the reformers must turn one more time to the State, the "savior of last recourse." But who will save this savior, when the States themselves -- like the borrowers and investors -- are buried up to their necks in waves of indebtedness that permit the artificial auto-valorization of the monetary abstraction? In his time, Hegel had already seen the commodity, the autonomous movement of the non-living, "as the wild beast that calls for the firm hand of a tamer." Since then, one has seen on the historical stage a number of apprentice tamers (or at least learned experts in taming), the instruction of whom is well summarized by Keynes when he declared that the totalitarian bureaucratic system "neither holds nor knows how to hold, in what concerns economic technique, any useful element to which we might have recourse, if we ever decide to do so in the framework of a society that conforms to the ideals of the British bourgeoisie" (Laissez-faire and Communism, quoted by Paul Mattick, Marx and Keynes). The ideals of the British bourgeoisie were in fact nothing, but -- although this isn't the place to attempt to precisely evaluate the current relations between the wild beast and its governmental [etatique] tamer -- it is certain that they have sometimes thought that it is, rather, the senile hand of the one that calls for the jaws of the other. In any case, the image that contains this confused mixture hardly resembles the ideal portrait of the bureaucracy as the "universal class," which, "disengaged from work directed towards needs," "occupies itself with general interests, with social life." Instead it evokes, in the manner of the end of Animal Farm, a danse macabre of the State and the commodity in which one no longer knows very well who is the wild beast and who is the tamer . . . but in which one still knows who is endlessly trampled upon.

The confusion of Statist politics and their erratic economic order is such that a mediocre commentator can remark on the occasion of the most recent of the "summits" periodically charged with putting an end to this confusion: "One wants to stimulate domestic demand in the United States thanks to the diminution of public expenditures (and thus the loans to finance them). One presses the Federal Republic [of Germany] and Japan to revive their respective economies by an augmentation of budgetary expenditures (and thus loans). No mediatic[12] operation can exhaust this contradiction" (Paul Fabra, Le Monde, 7-8 June 1987). Thus one understands that a system henceforth incapable of understanding itself prefers to contemplate the machines that represent the magic of its uncontrollable functioning as pure rapidity of the circulation of abstraction, for which all human perception is deficient: "Certain days, the computers themselves must work at different speeds. When the fever seizes the market, they inscribe themselves in the phase of the 'accelerated market' (fast market[13]): the exchanges are so rapid that the prices appearing on the screens only announce approximations" (Le Monde, 21-22 December 1986).

If the power of money is not abolished here, where one says it is abolished, but, on the contrary, is reinforced as a police constraint, then money encounters -- in its very autonomy, as the bureaucratic calculation of planned survival -- its limits and contradictions. Its arbitrary appearance [eclate] at the most elevated level of abstraction, in the dementia of the financial fiction in which what is rationalized (that is to say, repressed) at the basis of society reappears as global irrationality. Because all the progress and all the inconsequences of such a system can only be a new regression and the new consequence of dispossession.

[1] Still offered by HSBC France: "With Libertel credit, you benefit from a permanent reserve of money: you utilize it when you wish and then you reconstitute your reserve through the reimbursement by your due dates."

[2] Karl Marx, "The Power of Money," in Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.

[3] In issue #11 of L'encyclopedie des nuisances.

[4] English in original.

[5] Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (1967): Thesis 149 in Chapter 6, "Spectacular Time."

[6] See, for example, Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, edited by Maximilien Rubel and John Crump (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987).

[7] Note that estimer can mean both "to estimate" and "to esteem."

[8] English in original.

[9] Four months after this text was published, that is, on 19 October 1987, there was a terrible crash: $500 billion was lost in one day.

[10] English in original.

[11] English in original.

[12] The French word used here is mediatique, for which there is no equivalent in English.

[13] English in original.



A text published anonymously in Encyclopedia of Nuisances, #11, 1986. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! June 2007. All footnotes by the translator.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 10, 2022

In the so-called developed countries, where one noisily claims to have acceded to abundance, evoking this notion immediately leads one to wonder what there is such a profusion of. Less overwhelmed with uncertainties in this regard, some societies have easily defined their abundance in the practices of potlatch, ritualized waste [dilapidation], and festival. And before the simple determinations of the necessary and the superfluous lost themselves in market abstractions, repetitive work and the routine satisfaction of stable needs attained their outcome and their meaning, their consecration, in the idleness or the excess of those who represented the expensive usage of life by manifesting its values for everyone. One had to wait until today for work to annul itself in the indefiniteness of needs -- among the simplest, like breathing -- the satisfaction of which is nothing less than routine, so that one comes to ask oneself what can be desirable in the excess of such misery or the idleness that must still live with all this. Thus, market abundance, which was supposed to satisfy all of the needs that it recognized, and those that it created as a bonus, has finally enriched privation to the point of destroying all kinds of satisfaction. A society without luxury, in which the necessary is lacking: such is the most expeditious definition of what is proposed worldwide as the highest accomplishment of human history.

On 25 August 1686, the Day of Saint-Louis, the pirate Grammont -- having taken Campeche, feasted for two months and fired the cannon in honor of the king of France -- illuminated the last orgy with a blaze in which was consumed all of the wood, at the time reputed to be the most precious in the world, found in the warehouses of the town. And this man, who exceeded the customary irregularity of the pirates who accompanied him and declared themselves to be libertines, that is to say, atheists, exclaimed while contemplating this most useless and expensive of pillages: "What can they attempt at Versailles that is not salad dressing compared to what we have done?" Several weeks later, quite far in advance of another wastrel [dilapidateur], Arthur Cravan, Grammont disappeared off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and so one could not see what decisive continuation of his disastrous career could have added to this superbly launched challenge (made under the pretext of celebration) to a king whom he only recognized so as to surpass him in luxury. In the manner of Blanqui, exclaiming "Crush the romantics!" during the revolution of 1830, one exulted from being able to "Crush the Sun-King!" before the brutal overthrow of the hierarchies established in the access to abundance. Crush the pharoahic pretensions of the king who, assimilating "the regal and useful course of the sun" to the "infinite good that royalty produces," especially achieved the centralization of his court in the decorum of absolutism, which is the preliminary to all subsequent Statist impoverishment; until then ostentatious expenditure had been put in play in the disorder of the aristocratic rivalries of which the Fronde was the last and paroxysmal example.

A clumsy and authoritarian retort to the feast of Fouquet, Versailles -- thanks to the pageantry capable of enchanting generations of petit-bourgeois republicans who laboriously attained a discounted luxury, of which the "Great Century" remains the inaccessible model -- gave one the feeling of the accomplished passage from effervescence to etiquette, from excess to pomp: if it is not certain that this is a factory, the construction of which imposes itself between the chateau and an ornamental pond, it is no less the case that the beautiful disorder of life is inhibited there, like the urban troubles from which it was necessary to distance oneself, through all the heavy harmony of the decor. With respect to repression and pomp, one knows, moreover that Marly's machine,[1] which had water to play with at Versailles, was the most powerful machine of the 17th Century. Nevertheless, even though the technical machinery was still relegated to the wings of power, like an instrument of its hydraulic fantasies, this already tempered -- symbolically, at least -- its ostentation and its pomp according to some notion of public interest, and the equestrian statue constructed on demand by Bernin -- too exuberant in its illustration of an insolubly unproductive glory -- was finally set aside by its sponsor for a more edifying allegory that presented the benefits of his reign to the judgment of history.

However dubious these benefits might have appeared to its contemporaries, it is, on the other hand, certain that the harnessing of what, until then, had expended itself without reserve to the profit of economic accumulation was greatly favored by the constitution at the Court of a model of hierarchical consumption, governed by fashion and ruling over luxury according to a ladder of appearances that each person strove to climb. Parallel to the military excesses of the Fronde, aristocratic prodigality could still illustrate itself as a mundane and already private diversion in the games of the precious men and women, the charming seriousness of which Tallemant des Reaux[2] described well. But henceforth what was free fantasy became an obligation to appear on the stage of absolutism, to hold a rank from which the State drew glory: "The life of the Court becomes the criteria for a beautiful life. The luxurious standards of consumption that were established in it little by little spread throughout society." Lewis Mumford showed in Technics and Civilization how this standardized luxurious consumption, along with the equipment of military slaughter, at the origin of modern industrial production. And the essential is the fact that luxury progressively ceased to be represented in the unproductive feasts of religion and the fantastic games of those who were beyond needs, so as to be consumed, acquired under the form of commodities.

Material production was then no longer limited, as it had been previously, on the side of poverty as well as on the side of wealth: on the former, by the stability of needs, and on the latter, by expenditures of the excess in pure loss. The accumulation of the means of production, the indefinite growth of the economy, began with the creation of new needs that opened an unlimited field of deployment of dissatisfaction: by promising the democratization of luxury, and by actually banalizing it, the commodity simultaneously attacked what was beyond needs, the free play with wealth and the limited satisfaction that, if it was still not attained, was at least accepted as the sole horizon. As Goethe had one of his characters say, in praise of the incessant movement of commercial activity: "Therefore, consider thus natural or manufactured products, from all parts of the world, and dream of the fashion by which the have, by turns, become indispensable objects." And further on: "You will discover the most insignificant commodity in its relations with the ensemble of commerce and from then on you will hold nothing as insignificant since everything increases the circulation on which your own life nourishes itself" (Wilhelm Meister). But this philosophical satisfaction, which wants to save the commodity from insignificance by discovering in it the exuberance of a movement that exceeds it, is no more than an ideological travesty of what is in fact a worrisome investigation of a wealth that each time escapes in the disappointment of possession; pursued abundance retreats, and demands as compensation that the individual identify his own life with "the ensemble of commerce," and find its nourishment in "circulation." Because wealth is not deposited in any particular commodity; it is, rather, what is missing from each particular commodity and what foils it; like excess and luxury, it is the exclusive property of the infinite movement of negation of all particularity that animates the market abstraction. Money itself, when it is possessed, merely represents the negation of rest: it is the infinite quantified. "This contradiction between the always-definite quantity and the quality of the infinite power of money ceaselessly leads the hoarder to the work of Sisyphus. He is like a conqueror whose each new conquest only leads to a new frontier" (Marx).[3]

Thus, only this "infinite power" that money incarnates, the permanent self-valorization of the world of things, socially represents the true wealth, not as a result but as a process, in which the preceding know-how must each time be thrown into the furnace of production, of economic progress. To the movement that carries society far from all previous stability, the revolutionary bourgeoisie in vain opposed its ideal of Spartan frugality and voluntary egalitarianism; it no longer had time to restore the old bases of satisfaction and historic action. Instead of enjoying itself and periodically exhausting itself in disorders and institutionalized, ritualized destruction [dilapidation], human negativity was at once repressed and captured by the cycle of productive work, in which it turned 'round, thereby making the economic machine turn. Hegel -- more radical than Goethe and anyone else [at that time] because he was less concerned with positive consolations -- could thenceforth praise in technique the "restlessness of the subjective, of the Concept, placed beyond the subject": the Spirit of the World functioned all alone. It has not ceased to do so today, when it manifests itself under the modest signature of Chernobyl,[4] for example, so well placed "beyond the subject" that this subject, the real human being, is no more than the lack of spirit, the source of error. But Hegel also foresaw this: "Finally, the abstraction of production makes work ever more mechanical and, in the end, it is possible that man will be excluded and that the machine will replace him" (Principles of the Philosophy of Right).

The attachment to things, the anguished need for their possession, is the ordinary neurosis through which the desire for abundance seeks to satisfy itself, "curbed" in production and deprived of the ritualized forms of its sublimation: the mania of the collector, the vain search for a useless accomplishment, represents the shrill form of the frustration of the consumer. But, for all that, what announced itself as an ascension to luxury was realized as an extension of necessity. Thus Mumford wrote the following to summarize how the banalization of the conventional signs of luxury contributed to the growth of manufacturing production: "One can remark with irony that it is with the capital amassed in his workshops of junk in Soho that Matthew Boulton helped James Watt during the period in which he was perfecting the steam engine." Junk is, among the savages who aspire to practice luxury in gratuitousness and unproductive expenditure, the fallacious ambassador of efficiency, of the economy that always enslaves them more and more to work. Junk carries the flag [les couleurs] of the commodity, but it must borrow them from the world that the commodity is in the process of abolishing. Its false brilliance reflects for a moment longer the splendor of a disappearing luxury, which the powers in their rivalries dilapidates; and which testifies to the beauty of many Italian towns that are, in the overlapping of ostentatious architectural expenditures, like a petrified potlatch. To the Towers of San Gimignamo, which uselessly fly towards the sky, to play with the wealth that is offered to all as decor, the world of junk replied with the somber and solitary obstinacy of William Beckford, who twice rebuilt the Tower of Fonthill, which he wanted to be always taller and which, due to its repeated collapses, consumed the most important fortune in England. At least Beckford, still enjoying the aristocratic privileges of wealth, could really celebrate -- to the great scandal of his milieu -- the sumptuous festival of which [his novel] Vathek was the literary echo. If the whole life of he who was like Louis II without a kingdom or a Ferdinand Cheval without a wheelbarrow (but who inscribed on his Ideal Palace "The fairies of the East come to fraternize with the West"), if the meditated disaster of his excess -- which wasn't only architectural -- was a violent challenge to what began to unfurl with the industrial revolution, one can say more generally that, beyond aesthetics and his taste for the Gothic and its profusion of vain ornaments, it is fitting to understand that, under the name of Romanticism, he above all expressed a protest against the downfall of luxury, against the poverty of a world in which splendor had to be borrowed from the past and in which art, like junk, is essentially nostalgia. Schiller's famous affirmation, according to which man is only fully man when he is at play, is inscribed upon the threshold of the modern hell of production, in which the principle of efficiency no longer leaves any place for play, in which mutilated man works to produce the consumable substitutes for the faculties that have been amputated from him.

Considered in this way, not in the perspective of necessity but of its contrary, "luxury" -- as was attempted, not without several quite ridiculous blunders concerning modern problems, by Georges Bataille in "The Notion of Expenditure"[5] and The Accursed Share[6] -- the economic and anti-economic history of human societies assuredly acquires different, brilliant colors than those that -- thanks to the people who retroactively impose the stinginess of market calculations -- spoil the beauty of what was accomplished, what was made in the depth of the desire to accede to the free expenditure of life, to the affirmation of human prodigality. Nevertheless, the action that pushes the question of abundance, of the collective access to abundance (and thus the idea that we must own all that has been manifested the luxurious values of life in the past), to be posed lucidly and rationally must not, in its turn, led us to retrospectively consider history by loaning to the recovered epochs the possible freedoms that are ours in this respect. Abundance has always existed, but nowhere has it existed abundantly: either because everyone did not enjoy it or because, when everyone did enjoy it, they did not do so all of the time. No doubt abundance really lived can only be particular to a human group engaged in a collective adventure, when it has its own practical values, its own language, its own rules of the game. Thus, Huizinga wrote the following with respect to the descriptions furnished by Malinowski of the rituals of reciprocal gift-exchange practiced by the Melanesians: "The entire event unfolded in an atmosphere of reciprocal obligation, trust, friendship, free hospitality, noble exploits, generosity, honor and glory. The navigations were often adventurous and full of dangers" (Homo ludens). But today, to recover the particularity of practices of abundance, this diversity and all the rival requirements of which it can be the occasion, it is necessary to attack the general form that has taken dispossession in market wealth, abstract abundance, in which all direct pleasure is denied.

The universal right to wealth that the commodity instaurates by destroying all privileged and ritualized participation in expenditure: this abstraction realizes itself in the always-increasing distance from the usage of abundance. The ostentation of the rich only realizes itself with the aid of signs of an absent life, in the accumulation of objects that are irremediably deprived of all that their mode of usage does not know how to provide. The consumer of the abundant commodity is the secularized version of the ascetic ideal embodied by the hoarder. He also pursues the appropriation of wealth under its general, abstract form, by renouncing wealth in its material reality, in the particularization and in the manifestations of his life. Because he is ignorant of his real needs, to the profit of the arbitrary forms that they assume in the spectacle, he misrecognizes both deprivation and its reversal. One can see the point at which one can revive the meaning of human abundance at the opposite extreme of the existing counterfeits in this paradoxical luxury, in which the spectacle has taken its completed form and where the ideal of the hoarder's renunciation has attained its best formulation in the motto of Benjamin Franklin, who developed the famous precept time is money[7]: in American society, the truth of wealth -- which flees from all parts of the needy ostentation of the privileged consumers of appearances -- is experienced in the exuberant and desperate life of the most miserable: the Blacks. Faced with the sordid American dream, the Black shave thrown -- as a denial of all that one wants to reduce them to, and of all that one has believed to gain thereby -- the insult of a sovereign scorn, which is dispensed in the most useless of luxuries: music. In hardly more than 50 years, jazz[8] has completed the cycle that leads all art to detach itself from the collective practices of a game with repertory forms and to affirm itself in an individualized production that takes innovation as its rule, and thus sinks into a negative movement in which it only expresses the loss of a common language. But previously, at its point of incandescence -- disengaged from the conventions of folklore,[9] but without losing itself in the cacophony of impossible communication -- it had, as a savage postface to the history of art, prolonged for another instant the ability to represent an authentic luxury, to manifest the gratuitousness of life. Having passed beyond this point, but without betraying the negation that it incarnated in a positive expression, jazz only has the choice between the beaten tracks of formal decomposition, which would reduce it to the sub-dadaism of official American culture, and the difficult road of a supercession of all representation in the insurrection of the Blacks. One knows what has become of jazz, and today it remains something to be collected by the aesthetes of the microgrooves.

Bataille wrote in 1933: "Today, the great and free social forms of unproductive expenditure have disappeared. However, it is not necessary to conclude from this that the very principle of expenditure has ceased to be situated as the end of economic activity [...] Only generosity and nobility have disappeared and, with them, the spectacular counterpart that the rich would render to the poor" ("The Notion of Expenditure").[10] Since the time that Bataille wrote these lines, the progress of class society has manifestly consisted of endowing itself with the means that allow it, with neither generosity nor nobility, but with the efficacy of cold calculation, to render to contemporary poor people the "spectacular counterpart" from which they were excluded; that is to say, today practically everyone, from the satisfaction of elementary needs to participation in luxurious expenditure. Conforming to the particular logic of the economy, such a counterpart absorbs an always-growing part of the excess productivity that one does not put to emancipatory usage: the spectacular substitute for life consumes the energy that could be devoted to surpass this substitute. But, as this expenditure still does not suffice to maintain the pressure of economic necessity, the unleashing of the artificial and the construction of a pseudo-reality is accompanied by the destruction of all the realities on which survival rests: this is a recoil in which the arbitrary in the usage of technical power negatively expresses possible freedom. And in this indefinite outbreak of the struggle for the satisfaction of need, society disastrously consumes the power that it could joyously waste in surmounting the economy.

When it began to reformulate itself upon the refusal of work, including the artistic work that represented for subservient society an activity that was emancipated from necessity -- a luxurious game -- , the revolutionary programme of communist abundance could still, with the grain of Marxist reasoning, consider that capitalism had accomplished its historical task by creating a productive apparatus that could permit an egalitarian satisfaction of needs, and that this very development, with the material powers thus accumulated, thenceforth posed to humanity the problem of a free expenditure of life that, generalized, was at the same time the supercession of art and the economy. Against the retrograde claims of reformism -- which only gave as its objective to the workers' struggles the ascension to a minimum of survival, condemned them to indefinitely pursue the satisfaction of needs under the arbitrary forms and the always-increased artificial necessities of this society -- it [the revolutionary programme] affirmed: "Life is to be lived beyond" (Potlatch, #4, July 1954).[11] It seems established that, on the basis of technical development, with the possibility of an automation that would discharge men from all the constraints of non-creative activity, the content of the modern revolution thenceforth becomes the employment of the time and energies thus liberated: to give it a programme that really responds to the principal problem of the era -- overdevelopment without wealth -- , which could pass for the definition of a new wealth, in total opposition to the inept lie of the so-called "society of consumption." Beyond the socialization of vital goods, it would be a question of indicating my means of appropriate propaganda the excessive liberty of a possible game, which alone would give a passionate meaning to the fact that the question of subsistence can be rationally dominated: "Revolutionary thought must make the critique of everyday life in bourgeois society; [it must] spread another idea of happiness. The Left and the Right are in accord on the image of poverty, which is a matter of having no food [privation alimentaire]. The Left and the Right are also in accord on the image of the good life [...] Beefsteak will be replaced as the sign of the masses' right to live" (Internationale Situationniste #2, December 1958).[12]

Thirty years later, it is not deceptive to summarize the situation by saying that we have gained nothing beyond beefsteak, and that we have lost beefsteak itself.[13] That is to say, by acceding to abundant consumption, we have seen beefsteak effectively "replaced" by something in which there is a lot of merchandise and very little meat. Not only has the dominant society (in its own way, that is, by gradually and partially automating production) succeeded in surmounting technical development by neutralizing human energy, which is thereby rendered vacant, but also by creating "jobs" [emplois] in this sector (thus preventing the creation of a new use [emploi] of life), but this society has also ceaselessly lengthened the detour by which we reach vital goods, diligently unburdening at each stage of sophistication a part of its content (to the profit of costly synthetic substitutes). And the end of the day, what everyone accedes to (if everyone indeed accedes to it, because it is still necessary to pay for these aliments[14] of death) literally no longer exists. The threshold of abundance has thus paradoxically been freed from both the costs of the satisfaction of elementary needs, with the result that beefsteak -- if one has the least interest in quality or even merely the non-noxious -- once again becomes a revolutionary demand. In a world turned upside-down, the most absurd excesses are the rule where proportion [la mesure] and exact knowledge obviously impose themselves (in the appropriation of nature); and in those places where the free effervescence of human freedom can manifest itself completely at its leisure, there reigns the most sordid parsimony, passivity and repetition.

Nevertheless, unproductive activity suppressed by the anti-historical maintenance of market profitability returns as an irrationality that is socially supportable by the compulsive absurdity of individual behaviors. Thus, as if to justify the idea that the automobile should principally be an idiotic plaything, and secondarily a means of transportation, we see the young generations, unable to construct a way of life [savoir-vivre], devote themselves to an expedited way of death [savoir-mourir], by employing the means of permitted circulation in a superabundantly aberrant fashion. This destructive excess -- excessive with respect to the normally programmed rate of usury (concerning the vehicles as much as their users) -- evokes the operations of snipers who act on the margins of the great campaigns of destruction in which this society catastrophically expends its power. There obviously are not a lack of humanists to be indignant about the irresponsibility of all those who throw themselves down the roads, after making themselves suitably intoxicated, but these protectors of survival want to ignore the fact that it is not drunkenness that is absurd, nor the will to play with machines, but the constraints that weigh down upon the deployment of all this, determining a usage that is so poor that its only excess is auto-destruction (if one dares to say so). The modern poor people who give the end of work such a rivalry of risks and waste use the commodity that best summarizes the cost of this work, what it costs and what it allows; it is all this that they put into play in the sole goal of recovering the real prestige that attaches itself to the scorn of riches. It is for this prestigious sacrifice that alcohol prepares people: alcohol would only be an obstacle if it was a question of circulating efficiently, and it is precisely this that is not a concern.

No matter what the drug, only the construction of superior games could put an end to the pathology of substitute expenditures that, in their repetitive fixations, reproduce the world of constraints that these expenditures want to repudiate. How could this society -- which only knows how to organize the muddles of material and human resources on a grand scale -- really judge the muddles that so many desperate people make of their own lives and demand that each person subscribe to this madness as a necessity? All the successes of domination over the last thirty years have consisted of planning a regularized destruction of goods, which replaces the old economic function of war. Without difficulty, market abundance has been, at the simple level of consumed objects and supposed satisfactions, the contrary of what it said it was: the subservience to an indefinitely renewed productive labor, integrated usury supporting the methods of advertising so as to impose the change of what remains fundamentally identical, and the ephemera of the necessary thus began to annul the material conditions of luxury. But the perpetuation of what can define as the monstrous paradox of this society, which makes people work to maintain work, obliged one to carry the destruction further, quite beyond the sphere of the usual objects. The current disaster -- from ordinary waste to regularized catastrophes -- is like a frightening potlatch of destruction by which humanity searches to recover, in the ruins of its illusions, the truth of its needs as well as its true wealth. The fact that the costs of its own devastations today become properly incalculable by the existing society: in its way, this fact expresses how accumulated power can come forth from the economy without, for all that, surmounting it: by prolonging beyond all proportion the enslavement of men and the destruction of life.

In the light of this overturning of abundant production by its contrary, one can re-read what the situationists wrote in 1960 concerning the supercession of "the old division between imposed work and passive diversions" that must allow "the automatization of production and the socialization of vital goods": "Thus liberated from all economic responsibility, liberated from all debts to the past and others, man will dispose of a new use-value, incalculable in money because it is impossible to reduce it to the measurements of salaried work: the value of play, of life freely constructed" ("Manifesto of 17 May 1960," Internationale Situationniste #4).[15] The surplus-value that has been expropriated from us henceforth shows itself in the monstrous excess of Statist arbitrariness, of which it can certainly be said that it is "liberated from all debts to the past and others" and even all economic responsibility. Material power, accumulated in the hierarchical framework of the past, instead of being reoriented by an emancipatory project, can no longer be distinguished from the powers of the owners of monopolized survival. In 1776, bringing Boswell to the workshops in which he manufactured Watt's steam engine in serial fashion, Boulton is said to have said: "Here, sir, I sell what everyone desires to have: power." The crux of the matter being that the English word power signifies both ability and power (in the sense of energy). What everyone wants to have -- the material ability to emancipate oneself from immediate needs -- is thus returned to and against us by socially taking the form of a power that undertakes to definitively keep us in the "system of needs" that already convinced Hegel to conclude upon the necessity of a State bureaucracy: a "system of mutual physical dependency" as constraining and coherent as the surveillance of the stockpiles of nuclear waste.

Thus the project of revolutionary reappropriation cannot today hold anything as historically established: satisfaction and excess must be reconstructed together, and only a society that can rationally organize this can devote itself freely to reinventing them. It will be a question -- in the autonomy of individuals and groups, as a moving frontier in dynamic contradiction -- of recovering the opposition of needs and luxuries, of which the alienating forms -- in the division between work and leisure -- have finally ruined all aptitude to produce and enjoy, to measure and play, to accumulate and squander. But from now on, in this decomposition -- which we defined in the "Prospectus" that announced the publication of this Encyclopedia as "one of the paradoxes of our situation" -- "it is necessary for us to develop a critique that leads beyond this state of affairs and, at the same time, re-takes for our account certain qualities and values (made precise and deepened) that bureaucratization annihilates and that, previously, it seemed possible to directly supercede in the abundance of a free construction of life." And this is why, we, who are so little disposed to have a sense of proportion, must also acquire it.

[1] Completed in 1684, Marly's machine was a series of 14 gigantic water-wheels installed along the Seine.

[2] Tallemant des Reaux (1619-1692), the author of Historiettes, a collection of short biographies.

[3] Karl Marx, Capital, Part 1, Chapter III, Section 3: Money.

[4] The phrase "the modest signature of Chernobyl" occurs in a letter from Guy Debord to Jaime Semprun dated 12 June 1986.

[5] "The Notion of Expenditure" was first published in French in 1933. A translation into English appears in Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939 (University of Minnesota, 1985).

[6] The Accursed Share was first published in 1949. A translation into English was published by Zone Books in 1989. In our review of this book, we denounced Bataille for his cynical justifications for Stalinism.

[7] English in original. Note: we think that the rest of this paragraph is total bullshit.

[8] English in original. For similar bullshit, see Theodor Adorno's awful essay "On Jazz" (1936).

[9] English in original.

[10] See "The Notion of Expenditure," Visions of Excess, p. 124.

[11] "In the Minimum of Life." Note that in Reuban Keehan's translation of this text, which appears on the Situationist International Online, this entire sentence -- intended ironically -- is missing.

[12] "The Collapse of the Revolutionary Intellectuals." Note that in Reuban Keehan's translation of this text, which appears on the Situationist International Online, privation alimentaire is rendered as "basic privation," which loses the flavor of the pun on food ("beefsteak"), and the entire sentence "The Left and the Right are also in accord on the image of the good life" is missing.

[13] See Guy Debord's essay Abat-Faim, which was also published by Encyclopedia of Nuisances.

[14] This word can mean both "food" and "necessities."

[15] Note that in Fabian Thompsett's translation of this text, which appears on the Situationist International Online, l'homme disposera d'une nouvelle plus-value is rendered as "humankind will exude [sic] a new surplus value." (For an incisive critique of the entire Encyclopedia of Nuisances project and the pronounced "pro-situ" or, if you will, sub-situ tone of articles such as this one, see Guy Debord's letter to Jean-Pierre Baudet and Jean-Francois Martos dated 9 September 1987.)


Encyclopedie des Nuisances #13

EDN issue 13 cover

English translations from the thirteenth issue of Encyclopedia of Nuisances, published in July 1988.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 10, 2022


Aboutissement - Encyclopedie des Nuisances

1988 text published by the French group Encyclopedie des Nuisances in the aftermath of Chernobyl discussing the ongoing collapse of the "guaranteed survival" offered by spectacular society and the prospects for the reassertion of the revolutionary impulse in new conditions and "the revolutionary abolition of all forms of irresponsible hierarchy".

Submitted by Alias Recluse on June 5, 2011

Aboutissement – Encyclopédie des Nuisances

No one doubts that modern history is on the verge of some kind of culmination. No one, however, says what this culmination is. The only real alternative posed is that between the concluding act of the long war for liberty, and the state of siege proclaimed by those who see their ultimate justification in the disaster they have unleashed.

One cannot obtain a faithful picture of the catastrophic decomposition of class society by means of a simple juxtaposition of all the calamities about which we are daily informed. And even if one adds all the calamities about which we know absolutely nothing, we would still be far behind the truth.

The most profound and genuine historical catastrophe, the one which in the last instance determines the importance of all the others, lies in the persistent blindness of the immense majority, in their resignation of any will to act upon the causes of so much suffering, and in their inability to even think lucidly about them.

This apathy will be more and more violently shaken in the coming years by the collapse of guaranteed survival in its entirety. And those who represent and uphold the latter, preserving a precarious status quo of tranquilizing illusions, will be swept aside. The emergency will be imposed upon everyone, and domination will be compelled to speak as loudly and as clearly as the facts themselves. It shall all the more easily adopt the terrorist tone which is so suitable for it the more it seeks its self-justification amidst effectively terrorist realities. A man suffering from gangrene is hardly disposed to discuss the causes of the infection, nor will he be opposed to the authoritarianism of amputation. Again we find ourselves faced with the insurmountable model of nuclear blackmail: first, an uncontrollable process is imposed, and immediately thereafter, as the threat proliferates, the necessity of confining the process is imposed by the specialists in power.

All the instances of “Modernization” now in progress, from one extreme of the planet to the other, are condemned to end up in the common grave of a nameless disaster, the sole perspective of economic development. The uninterrupted fabrication of pseudo-necessities (among which one must include the continuous creation of artificial nutritional needs) implies, together with the concentration of decision-making powers, a bureaucratization of existence which ignores, in an increasingly authoritarian way, individuals’ real needs and the objective necessities of the survival of the species. But when the reality of life’s exhaustion is imposed together with the consequences of so many delirious manipulations, the concentration of power will have probably reached such a level that the latter will enable its usurpers to reorient the whole system in view of the new situation, in which survival is reduced to the indispensable minimum, survival in extremis, to dictatorially mobilize the totality of social labor. According to this hypothesis, the cleverness of alienated history will provide the promoters of catastrophe, via the pursuit of very different objectives, the means of exorcising it or at least of controlling it, just enough to benefit from the consequent state of siege.

It is obviously not necessary to predict the precise order of the various ineluctable dysfunctions of the system, or the more or less rapid concatenation of their effects. A house of cards does not collapse due to the removal of any particular card, but because it is after all just a house of cards.

Whatever the pace of the irreversible rupture of natural and economic equilibria, the owning classes must take the authoritarian control of everything to ever greater lengths. The very logic of the means at their disposal obliges them to do so, and they will not have to confront any kind of organized opposition that could prevent them from doing so any time soon.

From now on, the obligatory program of all social organization, whatever its form, is the conservation, and as more time passes, the restoration of the biological foundations of human history. This historical undertaking can be partially realized, and consequently indefinitely perpetuated, by way of an authoritarian rationalization of domination carried out at the expense of certain factions of the owning classes, or it can be taken over and superseded through the revolutionary abolition of all irresponsible hierarchy. Posing this alternative does not rule out the possibility of a pure and simple annihilation of humanity, but merely suspends such a hypothesis, insofar as the latter outcome requires no kind of strategic reasoning.

The radical simplification of survival is the order of the day. The “liberation of the complexity of life”, as the aim of a revolutionary program, is tragically deprived of means for its realization. Instead, in its oppressive version, it has already witnessed a beginning of its implementation with the programmed pauperization which is practiced on a grand scale by those who control certain supply networks. These vanguard sectors, such as, for example, the most modern monopolists, tend to disconnect themselves from any kind of competitive reality of the market. They are harbingers of the only coherence to which this system of production can aspire: the guarantee of monopolized survival and forced dependence.

The ship is sinking: who benefits more, the captain or the mutineers? In this frantic race, whose outlook is that of a shipwreck, we are a little late, once we understand that we have to save the ship and liberate it at the same time. The only advantage we possess is a better understanding than most of domination’s executors concerning the nature of the abyss towards which we are heading and the speed of our progress in that direction. But we cannot avail ourselves of this lone advantage soon enough. We must respond to the same emergencies as our enemies, and to do so clearly as enemies we must first dispel once and for all the equivocations supported by ecological neo-reformism, which mixes a vague touch of libertarian protest with what is fundamentally nothing but a vanguard’s statist voluntarism, which demands of the state that it should be what it says it is: the guardian of the general interest. Those who ask this society to work better than it possibly can must be relentlessly denounced until they are definitively discredited.

Propaganda for the revolutionary approach to the problems accumulated by class society will be effective to the extent that it proves that the latter has not obtained any of the results which it claimed to secure: freedom of thought or behavior, individual autonomy, the mastery over nature. The old bonds have been severed, and with them the relative security they provided has been lost: the local community, the participation in an immutable harmony; and what have we received in exchange? Dependence without community, hierarchy without security, the end of tradition without creative invention, and above all a veritable proletarianization of nature, which rebels in a thousand different ways against its exploiters. People can clearly discern what kind of hoax this is, but hesitate to denounce it, since they know that they cannot recover what was lost and they prefer the hope of some kind of compensation, which is offered to them in many forms. We must therefore provide every positive reason for negation, demonstrating that the promises of bourgeois society, which are hardly ever fulfilled and even then are fulfilled in such a paltry fashion, are endangered by the irreversible bureaucratization of the world.

As for the strictly negative part of the critique, one need not fear painting too dark a picture. In this regard nothing is too excessive, since the excess is all on the side of the ruling arbitrariness. It is necessary, however, not due to any inappropriate scientific principles, but in the interests of such a denunciation’s effectiveness, to precisely distinguish oneself from everything which, by means of impotent assertions, renders the excessive insignificant. Predictions of catastrophe are more useless today than ever before for the party of consciousness. An unyielding critique, which seeks to employ its resources as effectively as possible, cannot waste any time with any kind of theoretical or aesthetic compensations, and certainly not with any apocalyptic lyricism, a useless reprise of the old romantic pathos which “submerges itself in the dual splendor of an eternal sorrow and an eternal and extravagant hope.” This emphasis on a despair consoled by its own melodious expression must be opposed, since no description of catastrophe measures up to the current situation, by the sober determination which, advancing beyond vain lamentations and vague aspirations, knows how to wait for the right moment to strike.

The conscious limitation of activity to the direct result of each moment of conflict without ever forgetting what is at stake, total engagement in a struggle whose partial character is not dissimulated; this is the prosaic road for everyone to participate in a revolution which does not need to magnify its own content, since nothing else can be so universal. “In the past the sentence overflowed its contents, now the contents overflow the sentence.” The mythology of the cataclysm—with its promise of starting from scratch, of resurrection—is the proletarian avatar of the “parallel time” of the bourgeois revolutions, whose protagonists carried out a particular historical task while laboring under the illusion of being its heroic founders in a vacant eternity where past and future are equally abolished. In reality, of course, men must reconstruct their world in its entirety, but cannot begin unless they lucidly recognize the limits of all historical action.

Attentive readers of this Encyclopedia will see that we absolutely reject the illusion that the collapse of class society, however brutal it may be, will assure the triumph of a project of total emancipation. Men will not organize their freedom under the reign of fear; consciousness is not born of panic. Rather the contrary: “if the weight of the tragedy should cause the bridge of time, over which historical consciousness progresses, to collapse, and throw action into the abyss of myth,” then once again “the proletarians, forced into revolt, will be defeated, victims of the beliefs and the impulses that will have overwhelmed them before their class could free itself by means of its own action” (Harold Rosenberg, “The Return of the Romans”, in The Tradition of the New).

What is most lacking today wherever the sense of urgency is gaining ground is the exact knowledge, enthusiastic and without illusions, of those practical measures experienced throughout history that could inspire a will, so often disarmed, for subversion and critique. This ignorance must be combated with the example of a positive reappropriation of the values and methods of the old revolutionary movement. Against the bureaucratized workers movement and all the ideological consequences of the failure of the first proletarian assault, it was necessary during the epoch which has just passed to emphasize precariousness as the hallmark of any authentic value; that is, to make the immediate practice of negation the primary criterion of truth, at the expense of any preoccupation with the cumulative historical continuity of subversion, a continuity which was believed to be safe enough, and whose deceptive image presented by the professionals of false contestation was the first thing that had to be denounced. A world of illusions had to be demolished. It falls apart at the first touch. Certain methods prove to be useless for this purpose. It is necessary to promote others. When the continuity and cumulative progression of historical consciousness are threatened with extinction, when the immediate practice of negation frequently loses itself in the reigning nihilism, which manifests itself in the temporal field by valuing the instant above the process, one must instead put the accent on consistency, the other side of the dialectical existence of real practical values. In this manner one discovers, going beyond the caricature-like remains which counterrevolutionary history has assumed the responsibility for sweeping away, the greatness of the old workers movement; a greatness which is reaffirmed for us by the stubborn struggle of the Polish proletariat.

Those groups which have come together for the purpose of practicing a social critique without concessions see themselves, now as before, confronted by the dual necessity of taking it easy, that is, rejecting the ultimatums of activism and its ideology of immediate efficacy; and of finding the space they need, their terrain of autonomous action, which is to say, of also rejecting the confusionist obstruction of more or less “theoretical” chatter. But this has never been so difficult. On the one hand, time is objectively running out, while the counterrevolution, after 20 years, is now able to see that “its moment has arrived”. On the other hand, the social terrain of critique has almost completely decomposed with the systematic destruction of the old sites of the practical community of the proletariat. The current situation is defined by the near impossibility and the absolute urgency of finding a point of application for the collective practice of critical judgment.

During the first stage of our activity, we were able to verify that our way of moving forward by assuring that every step was a fragile “point of time” that we wanted to suspend between two epochs coincided with the necessities which above all demanded of the dispersed revolutionary party, which is nonetheless present under the surface of society, that it reestablish its lines of communication and rediscover its self-confidence, its courage and its capacity for initiative. There was the fear of an enduring victory for atomization, which seemed so much more to be feared because of the fictitious individualism that rushed to its aid, that individualism said to be so subversive but which amounted to nothing more than disguising the impotence of the isolated individual as sovereignty, and deserves even more than Stirner’s individualism to be described as “the self-conscious essence of present-day society and today’s man, the final argument which this society can oppose to us, the flower and cream of all theory within the reigning stupidity” (Engels, letter to Marx dated November 19, 1844).

It has been demonstrated that the spectacular euphoria of the beginning of the 1980s, in part real, in part simulated, did not long endure the test of time: the new youthfulness of appearances was above all nostalgia for the epoch prior to 1968, when the commodity felt at home everywhere. From Bhopal to Chernobyl, class power has not failed to abound, in our sense of the word, with the only prodigality of which it is capable, that of dispensing continuously renewed evils. And its repressive successes have only permitted it to postpone the impending consciousness of its objective failures.

A diffuse dissatisfaction has reappeared among the youth. It does not run the risk, in any case, of being deprived of nourishment. It has already been collectively expressed on occasion, but in an impoverished way, largely because it does not know how to approach what is essential and much less how to transform itself into a positive project. It is only spontaneous, and for now only asks the State to re-absorb the conflicts and evils which it bears along with the greater part of society; however, how surprised it will be when, in the absence of any organized force representing the revolutionary interests of society, it turns out that the general interest has no other apparent existence than that which is incarnated in State representation. Dissatisfaction is easily confused by the recuperators and consensus-brokers, and cannot avoid the traps of the spectacle. Nonetheless, and without by any means wanting to dissimulate the immense difficulties which stand in the way of a revolutionary organization of society, he who said that whoever resigns himself to social decomposition will always get the worst of it can now be understood more clearly. That reflection of Machiavelli which we quoted in our History of Ten Years, according to which “two armies which fight against each other can leave the field with equal casualties; the victory in this case will go to the first which informs itself about the state of its enemy,” must be read without forgetting each one of the two sides in this battle. Everything will depend upon the revolutionaries’ ability to recognize the multiform crisis of domination, towards what type of solution it will tend and to oppose that unformulated solution with one of their own.

In general, we think that the latent forces of negation can find the point of application which they now seek and rediscover themselves in the critique of the “most ancient social specialization, the specialization of power, which is at the root of the spectacle” (Debord). This critique of politics is the only possible terrain for the unification of all particular grievances: its horizon is the direct appropriation of responsibility for the problems of real life, and its road the autonomous expression of the latter and, consequently, the denunciation of the various forms of separate representation.

On the other hand, it is evident that a critique of the economy which remains on the terrain of the economy, disconnected from the search for the practical means of debate concerning the need for the market economy, does not make way for the passionate return of the social question in our time. The untimely reassertion of the best theses concerning the “logic of the commodity” is instantly suffocating, except of course for those who attribute the victory of the revolutionary program to this immanent logic. This latter point of view supposes that the proletarians are somehow doomed to acquire consciousness by sinking into the growing dispossession that the autonomous development of the economy brings in its wake. But this is by no means certain, because as their technical content assumes an ever more hierarchical form, the means of radical change which the workers had in their hands with the means of production move away into an uncontrollable abstraction. Re-appropriation cannot be achieved unless it is based upon the will to consciously reorient material production in its entirety; the simple seizure of the existing productive forces cannot be its instrument.

“At the moment when society discovers that it depends on the economy, the economy, in reality, depends on society.” The terms of spectacular explanation must be reversed. The State’s leaders and statesmen, all Marxists in their repentant modesty, have hidden for almost twenty years behind the economy, its laws, and its ineluctable objectivity; they present politics, however, as the residual part where a certain kind of democratic freedom can be exercised. In fact, if a “factor which in the last instance determines” the forms of social evolution exists, it is of course state and para-statist hierarchy, the only unalterable reality in this world, orienting economic development and universal change to the necessities of its perpetuation. In this way freedom is exercised, in a truly catastrophic form, where they tell us that it is impossible, and it must be conquered where they tell us that we already possess it.

Putting the accent on the antipolitical program of direct democracy, we simultaneously clearly propose principles which can serve as the basis for discussion with the eventual deserters from the camp of the ignominy in power. A scientists’ manifesto has recently circulated (“Controlling Science”) which contains some sensible observations, such as the one according to which “the identification of scientific production with progress, and even with happiness, is a complete mystification” (Le Monde, March 19, 1988). These honorable sages remain curiously disarmed before the small truths which they have ended up admitting, and by way of conclusion they sigh: “it is certainly difficult to go backwards in respect to technological advances, the final results of scientific activities, which lead to the creation of new necessities to go along with an industrial spiral which neither the researchers nor the consumers control” (Ibid.). This real difficulty is, however, transformed into an absolute impossibility from the moment when no one ever refers to the possibility of a social movement capable of stopping antihistorical production, and never clearly denounces those directly responsible for such a leap forward into nothingness. Since Giscard (“We are heading for an uncontrollable world…”) there has been no lack of modest promoters of dispossession who announced that they rowed in the same unrecognizable boat as we, although they occupy better accommodations in this disastrous fleet. And it cannot be doubted that unconsciousness will not save them. But in this equality of dispossession it is no less certain that some are more equal than others. To appeal, like those learned petitioners, to “reflection . . . of a philosophical character” which must be carried out “among many disciplines and open to all citizens” is something too dependent not only on scientific specializations, the same ones which have been accused of nourishing the “myopia” of the “researchers”, but above all also on a specialization of power opened for the occasion, due to the need for some kind of “ethics committee”, open to “all citizens”, that is, to those who speak in their name. Instead, the real question for scientists consists of satisfactorily proving their critical will so that those who cease to be passive “citizens” will open up their assemblies to them. They run the risk of hearing that the revolution has no need for learned men of their kind.

The revolutionary self-organization of society is more than that enthusiasm which, like a pistol shot, begins immediately with the abolition of everything which exists and frees itself of practical difficulties, declaring that it does not want to know anything about them. The critique of politics is inseparable from the practical investigation of the means by which society will be able to become aware of its real problems, discuss them and resolve them. And the failure of such an investigation will be the authentic historical catastrophe that will render all the others possible. The old counterrevolutionary argument about the dangers to which a total democracy would subject the organization of survival loses much of its force as blackmail now that many other experiments conducted in such an authoritarian manner are incomparably more dangerous for the survival of the species. The task we set ourselves is that of assisting in the imposition of this truth, continuing the detailed denunciation of harmful phenomena [nuisances] and expounding the project of their positive supersession.

The results of the first moment of our work are therefore only provisional: the best is yet to come.

Encyclopédie des Nuisances

*Article from No. 13 of the journal Encyclopédie des Nuisances, published in July 1988. The Spanish translation of this article was formerly located at the website of the Spanish autonomist group “Maldeojo”:


This website link and the group “Maldeojo” are now defunct. The Spanish translation was downloaded from the internet in 2001.


Encyclopedie des Nuisances #14


English translations from the fourteenth issue of Encyclopedia of Nuisances, published in November 1989.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 10, 2022

Ab Ovo - Encyclopedie des Nuisances

In this essay the EdN argues that, in light of the destruction of the old framework of working class resistance, revolutionaries must start all over from scratch (Ab Ovo--"from the egg") and engage in new forms of contestation under the new totalitarian conditions imposed by the autonomous development of the society of the spectacle, for the "future economic secession of the immense majority".

Submitted by Alias Recluse on June 8, 2011

Ab Ovo – Encyclopédie des Nuisances

Those who want to prosper under domination are condemned to reproduce it; negation has never been able to rely upon existing institutions or class organizations whenever it sought to survive uncorrupted. It cannot be renewed unless it returns to its vital principle, once again beginning the task from the beginning, ab ovo; proletarians must, now and always, re-appropriate their project and, by fighting against their official representatives, rediscover the “lost treasure of modern revolutions”. {….} This article is organized in the form of extracts from the first two issues of our Encyclopedia, which appeared in November of 1984 and February of 1985, respectively.

In his Florentine Histories, Machiavelli recounted the words of Cosimo the Elder: faced with being reproached for having expelled “so many good men” from Florence because they were his political enemies, this merchant, inventor of the first form of dictatorship disguised as a republic, responded that a city was worth more destroyed than lost. The merchants of our epoch—variously men of the State, of finance, of the Church, of industry or the communications media—have applied this maxim to the whole planet, even if they have not formulated it so baldly: they prefer to speak of modernization. The expulsion of good men on the scale of a planet destroyed is certainly not very practicable (our merchants have to settle, where necessary, for murder), but it is not even necessary, since the very universality of corruption generally suffices in preventing the appearance of this kind of man, or at least his influence. At the dawn of modern despotism, that of Napoleon, Benjamin Constant observed: “The interests and memories born of local customs contain a germ of resistance which authority unwillingly bears and tries to eradicate.” The uniformity imposed by the commodity tries to corrupt everything in order to leave no directly accessible quality which inflicts the offense of its independent existence upon the authority of the falsifiers; the very memory of it would have disappeared were it not for the obstinacy of a few who dedicate themselves to an activity as subversive as memory.

This usurpation has not become more rational, however, by virtue of the fact of its being almost universally considered to be eternal. In order to avoid a rapid end, it has only had to conceal its origins, the beginning of degradation. The technicians of disaster can therefore remain calm at their control monitors: only the facts will refute their science, and the facts are nothing if there is no one to violently champion them. When the time of the State’s neologism arrives, the decomposition of life is officially, and without any scandal, the principal reality imposed on human activity, and is fearlessly entrusted to the management of the authorities and their experts (see our article, "Abracadabra").

Five years have passed since we stated in the "Preliminary Discourse" of our Encyclopedia, concerning the “project of total emancipation born with the struggles of the proletariat of the 19th century,” that: “it is true that the course followed by the material organization of commodity production, far from establishing the foundations for the realization of this project, has to the contrary made it more difficult than ever.” And we added that: “Perhaps this was necessary so that it would dare to show itself for what it was—the project of a conscious history that cannot base its cause on any necessities external to those recognized by individuals themselves.” The rather black humor of this “perhaps” could not have escaped the reader’s attention, since we had previously observed that “discussions concerning the market economy were never as rare as they are today, when, for the first time, the whole world can discuss it.”

And what have we done to shed light on the possibility of subjecting the economy to a collective critique? To begin explaining what the various instances of progress of a more-than-debatable nature have brought or eliminated, we have tried to contribute means by which they could be measured. Whatever our obvious deficiencies with regard to the fulfillment of this task, they can be considered to be incidental, or purely “theoretical”, since the principal practical obstacle which stands in the way of the crystallization of a project for a higher social organization is precisely the complete transformation in the nature of the production of material life, the site where proletarian struggles had previously discovered, suddenly and spontaneously, the concrete terrain for their unification, the point where their subversion was to be carried out and the object itself of a program of re-appropriation.

The form adopted by technological development has made it impossible to identify it as necessary progress directing its course according to the preferences of a society of free men, and proletarians have seen how the testament according to which they were named as inheritors of the Earth has become blurred and lost. But the loss of the illusions of progress, illusions that proved to be so disastrous for the old workers movement, allows for the resurgence of those revolts against the “despicable imposture” of the industrial system that had long been suppressed by that ideology. The belief in progress cannot even be called, in the style of Baudelaire, a “doctrine for the lazy”, since laziness itself as well as any kind of tranquility have been banished from the life of the slaves of the economy (see our article "Abolish"). When dispossessed individuals have no other reasonable way out than reinventing their world in its entirety, they must at least begin by setting the example of subjecting all the illusory needs before which submission gives way to a serene scorn, along with the achievements and satisfactions to which that submission is dedicated. The more their critique is deprived of means of expression and organization, the more it must be formulated and practiced without any concessions. “What great deed is not extreme when it is first conceived? Only when it has been carried out does it seem possible to the masses” (Stendhal).

The process whose beginnings were described by Marx under the name of machine production (as dispossession “in the face of the prodigious science, the enormous natural forces and the immensity of the social capital incorporated in a mechanical system which comprises the power of the Master”) has crossed a decisive qualitative threshold over the course of the last century, first in the United States and later more or less everywhere (in France, during the 1960s). The production of commodities has become disconnected, globally and irreversibly, from the satisfaction of human needs and from the possibility of its emancipatory use, which had in a way legitimized it for most revolutionaries, those for whom it was only a question (if it can be phrased this way) of transforming the mode of appropriation of the existing productive forces. The form adopted by the latter within the spectacle in fact constitutes an irrefutable proof ad absurdum, like all those inflicted by modern history, of the impossibility of transforming this mode of appropriation without integrally transforming all the productive forces, since the latter have been developed, in all their material aspects, with the object of perpetuating separation, hierarchy and the arbitrary power of specialists. The immensity of this task of transformation, which everyone at least vaguely perceives, is undoubtedly the most universal and true cause of the prostration of our contemporaries, something which is granted a relative efficacy by spectacular propaganda and which also allows the latest Japanese-American theorist of the end of history, with his description of what will remain of the field of human activity (“economic calculation, the endless solution of technological problems and ecological preoccupations and the satisfaction of the sophisticated demands of consumption”), to celebrate in his own manner the success, according to him, of the attempt to “irrevocably reduce history to the ample reproduction of the past, and the future to the management of the wastes of the present” ("Preliminary Discourse").

The historical condemnation of workerism and revolutionary ideologies is reflected by the spectacle as the condemnation of the revolutionary project, and honest souls, although they want to oppose this or that aspect of domination, try in the interests of a supposed realism to avoid speaking of revolution or of revolutionary activity. We, however, not only believe that a cause which does not dare to speak its name has never attracted supporters, but we also believe that in a world on the verge of self-destruction today’s revolutionaries are capable, although they generally fail to take advantage of the opportunity, of speaking more clearly than ever before about their objectives, since the latter “are not only a different option but represent pure realism: they defend a rejection and a project at the same time, and their cause can mobilize the desire for the unknown as well as the instinct for self-preservation” (Ibid.).

The catastrophic existence of harmful phenomena (“Nuisances” in French—tr. note) is only the latest manifestation of the contradiction between the forces of production, whose conscious rule has become such a vital demand due to their irrational development, and the relations of production that, against all odds, perpetuate unconsciousness. At this level, when the contradiction is no longer economic and when its spectacular management is literally priceless, the theoretical critique of the economy immediately demands a qualitative judgment, formulated from a point of view exterior to the economy, just as the proletarians’ practical critique, in its search for its reasons, must radically declare itself against the existing system of production. The critique of the totality of alienated life, formulated during the 1960s by the situationists, must therefore be assumed as a minimum, but not because it will create an active revolutionary movement, but because the last twenty years have proven all too well that such a movement cannot be established without making that critique its own. We cannot place our trust in any short cut that would raise the proletariat to the consciousness of its revolutionary task without finishing off the totality of its misery. Even though the realities of dispossession will be much more radical in the questioning of the organization of survival than in the situationist critique, this is no reason to moderate or to abandon that critique but, on the contrary, to develop and reinforce it.

By pointing out that the “possible conjunction between the past of the workers struggles (the exemplary rough draft of the methods of proletarian revolution) and the new rebellion that springs from the soil of the society of the spectacle (the critique of work, of the commodity and of all alienated life) which was momentarily within reach in some highly-developed countries, can no longer be viewed or awaited as an inevitable result of the objective process of the dominant conditions” ("History of a Decade"), we wanted to distance ourselves from that category of expectant extremism that devoutly clings to the conviction that modernized alienation will inevitably produce its respective modernized negation, and which is all the more easily persuaded of its unassailable logic the more it entrenches itself in a position which has long been overwhelmed by the spectacle’s deployments, perfectly protected by its inoffensive anachronism. But we declared a little later that the conjunction referred to above had entered “memory and consciousness as the task of a new epoch”, which is to say that it had to be actively pursued. Since the enemy has integrally reconstructed the territory in accordance with its repressive necessities, all subversive intentions must begin by soberly considering which experiences will once again engender collective critical consciousness and seeking those points of application of rebellion that incorporate all the previous ones.

In any event, we cannot communicate the most minor critical truth if we do not want to see the results of social atomization and if we strive to maintain the illusion of an immediately given practical community of proletarians. As a situationist said 20 years ago: “We are outsiders because materially we do not conform to any particular social stratum. Socially we are nothing, and society is nothing for us anyway.” From now on, for us this is the only road of the negative open to individual affirmation and the construction of a real community, since, confronted by the forces of commodity production, one cannot effectively rebel unless “the majority of the individuals from whom these forces have been alienated, whose real lives have thus been frustrated and who have become abstract individuals, but who, for this very reason and only from that moment, are prepared to relate to each other as individuals” (The German Ideology).

Nazi and Stalinist totalitarianism proved, in what we called their pilot projects, that “the transformation of classes into masses and the parallel elimination of any kind of group solidarity are the conditions sine qua non of total domination.” (Hannah Arendt, The Totalitarian System). After that bloody interlude in the history of the society of the spectacle, the total domination of the commodity, in this respect closer to Nazi empiricism than to the ideological voluntarism of Stalinism (as Hitler said: “Why should we socialize the banks and the factories? We are socializing the people”), has been able, by various means, to fulfill the conditions sine qua non for its implementation. In order to create the atomized society where one person cannot relate to another except through the spectacle, and therefore can never escape isolation and impotence, it was necessary to destroy the practical environment of collective autonomous consciousness constructed by the working class.

Along with the cumulative continuity of revolutionary history, the unity of the particular and the universal and of ends and means, by virtue of which any workers struggle of any magnitude incarnated the interests of the entire society for any conscious individual and was capable of directing the course of history towards general emancipation, was also broken, because it went directly against social oppression and, by doing so, had opened up the road to its supersession. From the IWA’s resolution concerning the trade unions (“organized centers of the working class, just as the communes and municipalities of the Middle Ages were organized centers for the bourgeois class”), to the theses of the supporters of the Workers Councils, all those who in the past had wanted to revolutionize society had taken for granted the circumstance that workers autonomy, the self-organization of the workplace, pursued with determination, would from the start contain the distant goal (the re-appropriation of the productive apparatus), by rendering its attainment possible. And each struggle, even those that were strictly defensive in their explicit objectives, would allow for the acquisition and accumulation of revolutionary experience, and comprised a moment in the constitution of the proletariat as an historical subject. It was said in the beginnings of the workers movement by one of those who thought that “monopoly and the horrible accumulation of capital in the hands of a few” engendered “by its own monstrosity the germs of its cure”: “Each great workshop or factory is a kind of political society that no law can reduce to silence and no magistrate can force to disperse” (John Thelwall, The Rights of Nature Against the Usurpations of Establishments, 1796, quoted by E.P. Thompson in The Making of the English Working Class).

By making the proletarians constantly feel—through, among other things, the replacement of skilled by unskilled labor—their dispossession by the continuous movement of accelerated technological change, the latter realizes as its very basis that which the ideological primitivism of the Nazis and the Stalinists could only formally obtain through police terror and the fanaticism of identification with the unpredictable caprice of the tyrant. The dissolution of the authentic bond created by the community of productive function (because the technologies employed prohibit any kind of autonomous application and the sense of production dissolves into absurdity) imposes upon the atomized masses the typical characteristics of the totalitarian mentality such as the capacity for adaptation, malleability in the face of authoritarian conditioning, and the absence of continuity (loss of memory, perpetual present). The permanent instability of the conditions of life imposed in modern society has guaranteed, for a while, the stability of domination.

Permanent change, involving the destruction of all stable communities that once made the formation and transmission of critical judgment possible, submerges everyone, with the object of achieving their resignation, in that type of bewilderment that led Tocqueville to describe the first form manifested by modern society in America, where “private individuals attend to small affairs, and the State, to great affairs”: “When the past does not shed light on the future, the spirit walks in darkness.” The disastrous collapse which drags down with it all references to what until now was human existence simultaneously sweeps away the foundations of the most elementary common sense. And what lies beneath common sense, that “intermediate state between stupidity and genius”? Fear brings us there, as well as the isolation which it provokes and upholds. The modern spectator will not act with good sense anyway, since everything around him demands from him an anger whose consequences, in the isolation in which he finds himself, cause him more terror than everything he endures. He thus continually sees a precipice next to his television. This terrorized impotence, which walls itself up in private life, in the familiarity with privation, has been eulogistically baptized in the language of the most advanced servitude: cocooning. And as long as we are on the subject of larva, we will recall that the Greek word which denotes the private man (idiotes), he who occupies himself with that which “is for himself” (idion), has provided us with the word with which lasting stupidity is denominated in various European languages.

The particular form typical of the workers milieu, of pride in one’s trade, the positive recognition of that “professional value” which, according to social democratic ideology, constituted the worker’s “credentials for sovereignty in the world of tomorrow” (Jaurès, quoted by Emile Pouget in Sabotage) has definitively dissolved into the general false consciousness of everyday life. But “the destruction of the workers milieu in those countries where the conditions of the most modern capitalism prevail does not signify, except for old disappointed workerists, the disappearance of the proletariat: the expropriation of life exists, and so does the class struggle” ("History of a Decade"). By abolishing the conditions for the existence of the community of labor which embraces all individuals in common as workers, it can be said that history has once again turned towards the heart of the matter: it is not a question of teleology, what happens is that the consequences of slavery accumulate according to their own logic. Today, the proletarians must themselves create the community in which they will participate as individuals, and they will never do this if they do not first fully consciously execute the sentence which the production of harmful phenomena (“nuisances”) pronounces against itself, and if they do not fight to recover control over the conditions of their existence. The total negation of the economy, its interruption by any means, is not only necessary because there is no other way to end the degradation of life, but also because such a constriction of the automatic reproduction of alienation and of its conditioning of peoples’ behavior will allow individual rebels to sweep aside the putrefaction of the old system which the latter saddles them with and to become capable of establishing society on a new basis.

The class “which is no longer considered to be a class in society, which is no longer recognized as such and which is the expression of the dissolution of all classes” has effectively lost everything that made it anything except revolutionary: dispossessed individuals are concretely faced by “the alternative of rejecting the totality of their misery, or nothing” (The Society of the Spectacle). But at a time when the critique of reformist illusions collapses under its own weight and the theses of the most radical critique are verified everywhere, never before have fewer people been disposed to avail themselves of them. It turns out that this kind of truth is uncomfortable: it leaves no room for faith, and they confront everyone with the urgency of finding, each for himself and presently, the form of a practical accord between the total critique that they subscribe to and the lives they actually lead. Since 1968, those who adhered to the situationist critique maintained the extremism of their positions because they were convinced that in the very short term the workers struggle would bring the workers over to their positions and the situationist critique. But they did not take into account the organizational difficulties of a radical current capable of crystallizing latent revolutionary energies.

We recall that those difficulties, while they were correctly brandished against the revolutionary unrealism of the time, were sidestepped in the text that announced the self-dissolution of the Situationist International: “The situationists are everywhere, etc.” (The Veritable Split in the International, 1972). But by doing so they disregarded the fact that it was not the task of theory to preserve the space set aside by the latter between the violently extremist partisanship of a few individuals and the horizon of the Councils, society’s self-organization in revolution: the most it could have done was to explicitly recognize the extension of that space. “For us, there is no room for irony concerning the part corresponding to the illusion often maintained by past revolutionaries in respect to their own actions: we leave that to those realists who, attending to their own affairs, find solace and what they call pleasure directly within the current degradation, which is truly well-suited for their minuscule appetites. We not only prefer to be mistaken alongside those who believed they were the last to bear the mutilation of life and who could not conceive that the accumulation of dispossession would last much longer, instead of being correct with their conquerors, or with the heirs of their conquerors—but we prefer, above all, the more solid if less ‘scientific’ reasons of those defeated rebels which are to this day the most concrete and most urgent. For all those who, against all odds, do not identify with the forces of inertia that are rapidly propelling everything down the slope of programmed horror, such reasons are as tangible as the macabre project of making the results of the prolific development of commodities irreversible which, in a sinister parody of the revolutionary project of the complete man, piles up yet more evidence of man’s nullity, definitively reducing individuals to the state of convulsing marionettes, set in motion by innumerable commercial prostheses, to the rhythm of an omnipresent computerized machinery. (…) The conviction of inheriting the Earth not only lies at the heart of bureaucratic ideology, of course, but has also constituted a wellspring of firmness and courage, even unto death, for numerous revolutionaries. We and all those who really want to hasten the disappearance of the existing world do not have to say that it is our fate not to be able to avail ourselves of any guarantee of that kind of courage and firmness” ("Preliminary Discourse").

We agree with the words of Guy Debord: “Never have conditions everywhere been so revolutionary, but it is only the rulers who think so. Negation has been perfectly deprived of its thought, which has been dispersed for some time” (Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, 1988). There has been no lack of readers who find this to be a darkly exaggerated picture. Nonetheless, not only is it correct to say that “in a sense only the truth itself can exaggerate; nothing else can withstand the test” (Chesterton), but there are moments when exaggeration is particularly fitting, so that it will be heard, and endowed with its great capacity for scandal: a brilliant quality which the author of The Society of the Spectacle, at any rate, never lacked. On the other hand, no critical analysis can aspire to anything more than an approximation to reality, one which is sufficiently precise to recognize the historical forces at work, and which above all would need to strategically calculate its possible margin of error, that is, to choose the aspect which one prefers to exaggerate or present in a simplified form; one could thus attempt to “magnify” a gestating subversive reality or, conversely, to anticipate a tendency of domination on the road to realization, without which scientific certainty about the future would be impossible (the analysis provided by the Communist Manifesto is for example an undeniable exaggeration in view of the social reality of the epoch, but the historical tendency as it was described in that text was clearly the principle one of its time). In an epoch in which social struggles advance towards their unification in a confrontation of universal scope, the best will have to be reserved for the purpose of communicating its still-concealed historical content to the movement. In compensation, in an epoch in which a restored domination has recovered the initiative, and in which the memories of the preceding epoch hinder the lucid critique of this revolutionary development, new, hitherto unnoticed features must be accented. This is what happened in the Comments, for example, with the importance it conceded to the capacity for initiative on the part of the State’s security services: although it could be objected, as the author himself does elsewhere, that the general decomposition of all historical intelligence fully affects the operation of those “services”, one must not forget that “in a confrontation of this nature, the forces measure themselves in accordance with their relative magnitude and not from the point of view of some kind of absolute knowledge which speaks quite eloquently of decadence while it pores through the pages of the historical dictionary” ("History of a Decade"); and that if “the spectacle is much more of a misery than a conspiracy” this does not obviate the fact that, as time passes and society’s problems accumulate, the spectacle will decide upon an increasing proliferation of conspiracies, which are easier to manage the more they necessarily benefit from the terrain prepared by misery. In short, if the Commentaries, being limited “to pointing out that which is” (instead of proposing that which is “desirable or even only preferable”), by casually considering the possibility that the cause of freedom might not prevail, perform no less of a service for the cause that their author believes to be lost.

Dissatisfaction has not been abolished, but excluded from the public arena by the ubiquity of the fictitious world erected by the spectacle. And those who have based their cause upon dissatisfaction have less reason than ever to take the trouble to justify themselves when the bankruptcy of the organization of survival is so notorious: they only have to start sweeping aside all the deceptive justifications which keep a tight rein on the boredom universally aroused by the production of harmful phenomena.

Those workers movements which have defensively arrayed themselves with autonomous means of organization (coordinating committees, base committees, etc.) cannot transcend the bounds of the neo-trade union struggle, and thus find allies, except by denouncing, wherever they may be found, the economic pseudo-needs imposed equally upon everyone. And if, in only one vital sector of production (and almost all are vital, in view of the fragility of a technologically over-equipped irrationality), proletarians violently assert themselves as such and demonstrate the superiority of humanity over the machinery of decadence by means of a calculated sabotage, and know how to directly communicate the truth of their action, anticipating the inevitable calumnies, all the sophisms daily employed to justify the old commercial corruption will be instantly exposed. Only such a start of the implementation of the program of the immediate cessation of anti-historical production, together with its direct effects on the reigning fatalism, may perhaps be capable of preventing men from having to learn how to separate themselves from a world of illusions under the harsh blows of repeated ecological disasters. In view of such imperious necessities, we regretfully observe that those movements which have known how to become strong enough to make themselves heard, have had literally nothing to say against the sector of the economy in which they were involved; and that, for example, health care workers are organized as wage workers without the slightest questioning, as individuals who suffer a fate common to all, of that strange industry whose job-creating growth is realized in symbiosis with that of other economic activities (like the food-processing or fast food industries) which assure it an ever more numerous clientele. This complementarity is also equally applicable to the flourishing mental health industry, gorged with patients thanks to the disintegration of previously-existing forms of sociability.

Unlike wage workers’ defensive struggles, the protest movements against harmful phenomena share a goal which, even if it only involves a struggle against a local, particular degradation, possesses a universal character insofar as it rejects a poisonous abundance. At the level of methods of association, however, they show themselves to be weaker and, due to a lack of experience in self-organization, prove to be quite defenseless against recuperative representation. As was stated in a pamphlet distributed on the First of May in 1989 at the demonstration against the dam project at Serre de la Fare, in the Haute-Loire: “Among those who oppose the pillaging of the planet, there are many who reject politics, which they identify with a game of personal ambitions. They will have to accept the existing politics, and with it, everything which they claim to reject. (…) Against the fraud of the democratic definition of alternative production, the adversaries gathered here must understand and help others to understand that they are the true democracy, guarantor of the interests of all and the only possible future”. The only way such movements can escape the blindness of green ecologism is the active supersession of politics by means of the organization of autonomous communication that will make possible the explanation and popularization of the critique of the economy and of labor which is in fact entailed by their initial motives. In this matter as well, one exemplary act is worth more than many long discourses, and it goes without saying that a sufficient criterion of suitability is that of being useful for the reinforcement of protest against external repression (in opposition to terrorism which, even if sincere, imposes the most external and uncontrollable representation). The truth cannot begin to organize its forces and win its right to exist unless it confronts anyone who occupies its terrain as recuperators, in this case the State ecologists.

Whatever aspect of the dominant reality is confronted, negation must deliberately produce its own terrain of unification, re-creating ab ovo the basic conditions, satisfied nowhere, of a future economic secession of the immense majority. To accomplish this, individuals who are not resigned to the degradation of life must take the liberty of constructing, in accordance with the vital necessities everywhere present alongside the consequences of an irresponsible domination, the forms of association which will allow them to respond to that degradation. Then, only a rigorous rejection of the corrupt means which the spectacle will offer them can take them forward. If this perspective has not already been imposed, this is probably due to the fact that many enemies of the old politics believed that the terrain of production provided sufficient means for its supercession. The partisans of social critique demanded the negation of politics, they wanted the germs of revolution constructed by workers’ struggles to be the point of departure, but they forgot that authentic germs of revolution have only been developed in the recent epoch (in France in 1968, in Poland in 1980-1981) through the creation of primary forms of liberated communication where all the problems of real life had to find their direct expression, and where individuals began, with the accomplishment of those acts demanded by the necessities of their emancipation, to construct the public realm where freedom displays its charms and becomes a tangible reality. In a word: one cannot negate politics without realizing it.

When people have come together over this or that particular outrage and have rebelled, their first goal is to express and to extend their protest. But they incur a new need at the same time, the need for direct communication, freed from any separation and specialization; in this manner, what had appeared to be a means becomes an end. The real result of such struggles is not victory in itself, which is rare and always ephemeral, but the formation of the “realm of communitarian relations which give meaning to common sense” (Hannah Arendt) and which allows the constitution of a collective point of view upon the basis of which the condemnation of all authoritarian technology becomes possible, without being subject to the clumsy reproach of nostalgia for the past.

One can do almost anything with cutting edge technology except sit on it. The usurpation which governs in the name of progress must incessantly fabricate new proofs. Exposed to all the comparisons suggested by nostalgia, prayers or hope, it is constantly obliged to justify itself with other rationales; the most reasonable and well-founded inaction is a danger to it. Technological overdevelopment, although it still manages only to superficially bother many people, profoundly undermines the terrain of approbation and lays the foundations of the downfall of all the stability of oppression. Thus, many are the successes of the spectacular invasion which negatively contain the possibility of reversing the correlation of forces thanks to the invader’s weakness. The social atomization which dispersed the forces of subversion is equally operative in the enemy’s camp, where power can only count on the very dubious loyalty of its servants. The generations that have known only these new conditions are also the first ones to not have positively experienced them as an emancipation compared to past conditions: the spectacle goes on, but the grass grows again. Modern society, not being loved by anyone, settles for being feared, but the nucleus so awakened can at any moment turn against it, because it is in no position to offer security in exchange for passivity: the biggest danger for States is that they must “always leave their subjects hanging in suspicion, unrest and anxiety”, because in those conditions men “protect themselves from danger at any price and, quickly becoming bold, have fewer scruples about trying something new” (Machiavelli). Finally, the global unification of domination causes the rebels of all countries to more obviously than ever have common reasons to place the blame on existing conditions.

The moment has almost arrived when everyone will be able, according to their intelligence and the forces at their disposal, to be of use to the vast and informal conspiracy of equals which must prepare, within the catacombs of the society of the spectacle, the means for its positive supersession. The end of any possibility of identifying with economic progress brings about a historical rupture whose demoralizing effectiveness we have already demonstrated, but whose beneficial effects are yet to be seen. To the aid of this rupture, the old war of freedom will reappear under new forms, the same war that the leveler Wildman evoked in 1647, during the army’s debates at Putney, where the soldiers’ delegates, the “agitators”, opposed the first recuperative representation which formed around Cromwell: “Since there was no longer any possible remedy, we must begin again from the beginning…and you will know how!” (Appeal to All Soldiers)….

Encyclopédie des Nuisances

Published in Number 14 (November 1989) of the Encyclopédie des Nuisances, pages 3-13.

Spanish translation by Miguel Amorós was downloaded in 2001 from the now-defunct website of Altediciones, at:



Encyclopedie des Nuisances #15


English translations from the final issue of Encyclopedia of Nuisances, published in April 1992.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 10, 2022

Abracadabrant - Encyclopedie des Nuisances

The Encylcopédie des Nuisances analyzes the phenomenon of state- and corporate-approved environmentalism and provides some stark examples of the collaboration of consensus building environmentalists and government and industry paladins of ecological consciousness (“those who are rendering the earth uninhabitable”) in the “well-intentioned unanimity of the environmental state of emergency”.

Submitted by Alias Recluse on November 15, 2011

Abracadabrant – Encyclopédie des Nuisances

Everything that used to be part of the sphere of knowledge, its transmission and its acquisition, has disappeared into the hands of those who confiscated it. The consequences of such a strange victory must necessarily be reproduced in a chain reaction and affect a wide range of domains, and must do so in a spectacular way [“de modo abracadabrante”]. Since the announcement of the unfolding of potential disasters crowns the techno-scientific marvels of our time, and since the latter, whatever else may happen, will know no other course, now is the time to organize the confusion by making the slaves take responsibility, so as to cause them to deposit their still-embryonic anger in the test tubes of those whose job is to make it disappear.

* * *

The existence of harmful phenomena can no longer be denied. The industries and the powers that, in the fullest sense of the word, own the world have drawn the obligatory conclusions and have ostensibly taken command of the ecological struggle against these evils.

They have done so in such a manner as to unambiguously transform this struggle into the economic management of the effects of a mode of production which, for just that reason, must appear to be unvanquishable. From this recently adopted privileged and henceforth central position in domination’s strategy, the outstanding instruments for the defense of the existing reality tend to circumscribe social discontent and unease by steering it towards the electoral, managerial or lobbying cattle yards. This rabidly contemporary juggling act consists, by way of discussing generalities when quite precise causes exist as well as enemies who can be called by their names, or by the placing of blame for particular harmful phenomena when it is a question of universal evils, of making everyone responsible so that the culprits can hide among the population.

This operation became indispensable in France three or four years ago, when the first skirmishes of something like a confrontation over the truth began. Due to one thing or another, whether it was barrels of toxic waste or artificial bacteria, rancid industrial foods or nuclear waste dumps in plain sight, the official version of the facts was too easily refuted.

At the beginning it was done quite subtly, while this was more suitable for the particular reality of modern management which in a certain sense had no official version. The “counter-experts” of environmentalism made their modest contribution to democratic debate wherever they were invited, and the scanty evidence they presented, due to the simple fact of being in the company of the testimony of paid experts, was unproblematically raised to the level of hypotheses, more of the same. What was important was that the hopes of discovering the truth should be frustrated. Later, the falsifiers would try to accommodate it in their own way.

“Modesty and reserve accompany some of the most spectacular lies for the simple reason that only they allow them to be accepted,” as Chesterton observed.

When they speak of converting industry to the cause of ecology, the objective sought is obviously the opposite, and has already been partially achieved. For example, the enemy, responsible for harmful phenomena, is said not to be in industry or the public powers, because now both are responsible for eliminating such phenomena, and in order to do so, even the most obvious conclusions must literally be threatened with eclipse before so urgent a task, and the population must trust the environmentalism of authority even if, for the moment, it does not necessarily obtain any results.

The effect of a clean break produced by this tactic—ceasing to defend themselves from the accusation of being polluters and suddenly claiming the leadership of the struggle against pollution—is playing its role to perfection, so much so that the nuclear industry, having proclaimed itself “ecological” with reference to the greenhouse effect, proposes the discrete recycling (in metallurgy, for example) of that part of its wastes which, thanks to the new rules, can be declared to be non-radioactive. Thanks to examples of this kind it is easy to understand the principle task of State environmentalism: to manage the truth concerning harmful phenomena and to adapt it to the imperatives of the permanent modernization of production.

The environmental spokesperson for a Japanese political party candidly summarized it in this way: “Even if economic prosperity is incompatible with the protection of nature, our primary task must consist in working hard to harmonize them.” (Shigeru Ishimoto, Le Monde Diplomatique, March 1989).

Nonetheless, the real movement in opposition to harmful phenomena has not come to an end. In some conflicts (nuclear and industrial wastes, highway construction) the stubbornness of the struggle has persisted; the issues have become known and the movement has begun to federate local opposition groups.

But it is still under the influence of the dominant environmentalist ideas, which are reducible to just one idea: adequately managing the catastrophe. If the will to finally put an end to the catastrophe does not prevail, the whole world, with the exception of the technicians, the only ones who can discuss palliatives, are variables in the social hierarchy according to the position occupied or the position that is sought by those to whom such palliatives are proposed.

Environmentalism seeks to assume the responsibility for the entirety of human practice (of its preconditions and its effects) without confronting the separations and alignments which account for its deviations. It has the pretense of concentrating all partial knowledge in itself, considering the whole world its laboratory. But since its experts are not based on Sirius, they are divided according to easily-identifiable terrestrial interests. And the last word of scientific thought remains unspeakable.

When, for example, a “UNESCO coordinator for the environment” expresses his desire for an “ecological catastrophe” in the expectation that it would generate “a much more mobilizing effect than a whole series of disturbances of minor importance” (Le Monde, June 12, 1991), he clearly demonstrates just what he means by mobilize: mobilizing additional funds. And when a philosopher waxes poetic over “the great unknown adventure” towards which history, undoubtedly irritated by “the complexity of the world’s problems”, is dragging “the earth, a wandering orb” (Morin), we must deduce that bold captains, ready to lead such a great Odyssey, have aligned themselves with the socialist party, and with no other official thinker than himself.

In addition, this author rests comfortably in the shade of vast sociological problems on stage right, and on stage left he teaches the engineers of the Ecole Nationale how to “communicate” effectively with the local population, that is, how to deceive them (Libération, October 12-13, 1991).

But if we want to more accurately sketch this valiant troop which is crowding the halls of Salvationist environmentalism, we succumb to the temptation to borrow for a moment the “unmentionable broom” of Jarry. “An entirely grey steel jacket”, an often-recycled Father Ubu, shows the effects of his biospheric belly by shouting at each step: “Vote for my cube of green trash!” In an oracular tone learned at the Ecole Nationale of pataphysics, (1) he grows excited by the idea of definitively accommodating the “phinance” bomb with the “shit” bomb, in order to realize the closed circuit of the Ubuesque economy: “…since the environment does not give rise to commercial exchanges, no mechanism is opposed to its destruction. In order to perpetuate the concept of economic rationality, a price must be put on the environment, that is, its value must be translated into monetary terms” (Hervé Kempf, L’Economie àlépreuve de l’écologie, 1991). Oh, my stomach! Put a price on all of this, I still have not sunk my teeth of phinances into it!

And the innumerable pretenders to the role of captain Bordure line up to tell the impressionable troops that the soup is good: “The art of keeping the earth inhabitable is a matter of planetary engineering. Ten years ago this was science fiction, today it is a job” (Brice Lalonde, Le Figaro, March 11-12, 1989).

All the other jobs seem to converge in this type of occupation: the last avatar of labor when an increasingly important part of the latter is devoted to repairing its own imperfections. From the highest echelons of State-recognized environmentalists to the grassroots groups, along with the officers of the national environmental organizations, numerous are the examples of all of these variously-qualified personnel offering their services to those who have the means to employ them, that is, to those who are rendering the earth uninhabitable.

Certain changes of course, taking advantage of the new policy of transparency, have been made public without batting an eyelash, as if by mistake: “Finally, two authorities, the mayors of Lyon and Grenoble, have called upon two specialists from FRAPNA (the Rhône-Alps Federation for the Protection of Nature), Yves Perillac and Jean Françoise Noblet, to help them in their debate with their opponents on the environmental terrain” (Libération, Nov. 27, 1991).

Although the new scientific synthesis to which environmentalism aspires is still in the ideological gossip stage (in the style of the “Gaia Hypothesis”), this feature helps it to easily achieve unity, contributing to the development of a new police control.

Currently, in France, contending against harmful phenomena, the subject of a special university discipline, gives career plans a second chance or awakens new aptitudes. Thus, a certain Lagadec, who apparently has a leftist background (like most C.E.A. researchers) (2), devotes himself to instructing industrial and political leaders concerning various strategic and tactical aspects of the war that they have been prosecuting against the demoralizing effects of harmful phenomena and against the demoralizers themselves. In accordance with the advice of this new type of military advisor on the preventive or active management of technological crises, the security services, technicians, industrial and political officials, scientific experts and media spokespersons should enter into partnership, so that the whole group should ultimately stick together, dispelling suspicions and imposing itself as the faithful and legitimate servant of the general interest.

Pretending to believe that the authoritarian concentration of power is a threat to a hypothetical future, this democrat reveals his real fear when he proposes “the only solution”: “some organized citizens, a powerful life of solidarity that does not allow for deviation, against authorities swamped by the difficulties of the crisis, an atomized unstructured social body, without an advisory committee, ready for any adventure that is directed against what the authorities (including the press and the experts) propose” (États d’urgence, défaillances technologiques et déstabilisation sociale, 1988). This organized citizenry, the advisory committee upon which Lagadec relies in order to prevent any kind of anti-authoritarian deviation, is none other than the Martín Arnould (13) type of kind apparatchik, the overseer of the countryside, who takes care of agitation, ludic activities or the environment, in short, the new neo-trade unionist of this exhausting labor called survival.

One must not, however, believe that the “men of confidence” of environmentalism, when they defend “responsible” solutions in local struggles, the need for media effectiveness and of an advisory committee with specialized spokespersons, must have received particular instructions in this respect. What actually happens is that they have been educated in another manner for a long time. The kind of life that they have lived, the conditions of existence that they have found integrally available and that they have accepted without complaint, prescribe the ideas they must imperatively have which, with utter good faith and spontaneously, they imagine to be the principle part of human activity as if it were an activity of management, where they believe they have found the realization of the individual, and even individual fulfillment. Above all, this realization of the managers, which is in prosaic terms nothing but a new expansion of the bureaucratic machine, can be sublimated in the well-intentioned unanimity of the environmental state of emergency.

It would not be fair to denounce their actions as exclusively motivated by the opportunities for career advancement offered by a rejuvenated capitalism in need of a new category of advisors and managers. It is much worse than that: they have never even imagined that life could be otherwise. They are convinced that career advancement is the normal compensation for their effectiveness and their sacrifice.

It is no longer surprising that such defenders of the common cause should act as if it was a “public relations” campaign, simultaneously commercial and cultural, and that they reduce it to the manifestation of those sorts of good intentions which can gain the inactive adherence of a majority of the population.

The truth about the effects of harmful phenomena becomes, in accordance with the model opinion registered by the polls, something accepted by all and which nobody really contests: the search for authentic means, the practical consequences, the conflict, the ad hominem critique are proscribed for being an attack against the unanimity, edifyingly bland, of the general interest.

They will speak of vast abstractions (Nature, Man, Earth, and the most audacious ones will even speak of “productivism” or “technoscience”), or insignificant details which go to the heart of the “concrete” (which for them amounts to the same thing). But they will speak as little as possible about who is really the enemy, who are its agents, what are their methods and their goals. Instead, they will prove that they are all democrats and will remove themselves from the fight for reasons of “credibility” but also for the sake of the enemy, because it is necessary for negotiation to re-establish the consensus so insistently demanded, as if nothing had taken place. Such “opposition”, of course, cannot be effective, even in its dreams, unless it throws the publicity bomb, which will shortly become its only strategy. The local population, the real opposition which surrenders to this script, may be liberated from some harmful phenomenon or be protected from it, or maybe not, but it is certain that it will be dispossessed of its struggle. “By means of the image with which one complacently conforms, it can practically be contained from a distance” (Complément d’enquête sur un engagement différe, Comité de acción de Serre de la Fare, January 1990).

The particular evil that must be suffered will be inflicted elsewhere, that is, upon one’s next-door neighbors, while the general malady which causes the particular one, that of being separated from all decision-making power, will continue.

While the environmentalists will basically act like responsible managers and are organized according to the model of the pressure group or lobby, at the commanding heights of industry the executives act like environmentalists and adopt the methods of the pressure group or lobby. “Fourteen large industrial groups have just formed Businesses for the Environment,” an association devoted to supporting joint actions in the environmental field, but also to defending its point of view.

The Association’s president is the manager of Rhône-Poulenc, Jean-René Fourtou. As Jean-René Fourtou reminds us, the Association’s corporate founders, operating primarily in the dirtiest industries responsible for most pollution, now spend more than 10 billion francs per year on the environment. But he has also emphasized that the Association intends to act as a lobby with regard to the authorities, not only the French but also the European, especially in elaborating regulations and legislation on the environment (Libération, March 18, 1992). The negotiations taking place behind the scenes, among experts, industrialists and politicians, are related in principle to the official homogenization of harmful phenomena, and to the definition of the thresholds of harmfulness and to the standards which must consequently be adopted.

It is in these negotiations that State-sanctioned environmentalism finds its privileged field of application: the labor of apportioning and eventually restricting harmful phenomena in a sustainable way (sustainable for the economy, above all). And no industrialist from any sector will ever complain when some minor crime paralyzes it, if the restrictions that State-sanctioned environmentalism seeks to implement open up a new market, which would certainly be all the more beneficial were the standards mentioned above to be the ones that they had created and are now defending. “…[T]he F.R.G. has appropriated the ‘acid rain induced death of the forests’ theme by transforming a real environmental problem into a commercial strategy, focusing the debate solely on the causes of automobile-related pollution…the standards established in Brussells (vehicular pollution standards cannot be met without electronic fuel injection systems, whose world leader is Bosch, and catalytic converters, whose leading European manufacturer is Dasgussa), have been transformed into windfall profits for Bosch and Dasgussa” (Le Monde Diplomatique, April 1989).

Another good method for apportioning harmful phenomena so as to program their dilution into the imperceptible (along the lines of the nuclear model and low doses of radioactivity), consists in exporting polluting industries and toxic wastes to countries which a recent report written by experts at the World Bank, inventing a new and more accurate standard of measurement, defined as “under-polluted”.

The indignant outcry which greeted the insinuation that one should “encourage a more significant emigration of polluting industries to less-developed countries” was doubly hypocritical: first, because this is what is being done and what will continue to be done; second, because the economic calculus upon which such a proposition is based is the logical corollary of that environmentalism of the economy that “puts a price on the environment”.

Air quality is of no use where there is no market for it (environmentally motivated consumers, standards, credits, that is, a pollution-abatement industry and, finally, profits) which would ruin it so as to create the need for a market for quality, a new extension of the commodity form which its greatest critic could not foresee: “Something can have use value without having value. It just needs to be useful for man without being the result of his labor. Such as the air, the natural grasslands, a virgin soil, etc.” (Capital).

Torn from their extra-economic existence by pollution, the remaining natural conditions are being brought to market, so as to be assessed at their fair market value. In the United States, for example, a sort of stock-exchange has been organized where corporations either buy or sell “pollution rights”, depending on whether they exceeded or fell short of “normal” pollution quotas established by the State.

Even if the battle against harmful phenomena has led to various economically profitable operations, it must not be forgotten that, even in this case (not to mention the disasters that are simply ignored by the official reports on harmful phenomena), we are still far from the measures which a minimal realism would have dictated. In respect to, for example, the gases which are responsible for the disappearance of the ozone layer, industrialists, after having denied this phenomenon for 15 years through their paid experts, now that they have prepared the substitute products, pressure the State to come to a decision as soon as possible.

But such haste is, however, excessively moderate when measured against the non-economic emergency, because even if the production of CFCs were to be immediately and completely terminated, the compounds that are now present in the atmosphere will continue to slowly devour the ozone for another thirty years; so, nothing will come of this but to reduce the production of CFCs in 1999 to half the 1986 level, in accordance with the Montreal Protocol of September 1987.

As for the famous “greenhouse effect”, it is used as an argument primarily by the nuclear lobby. It is clear that for it to prevail, the consumption of fossil fuels will have to end, which the entire world considers to be hardly viable in modern society, as bound as it is by its motorized chains (see our article, “Aberration”).

An Assistant Secretary of the United States Environmental Protection Agency has proclaimed, without making too much of an ecological fuss, the last word of the ruling reflection on the topic: “For good or for ill, Americans are married to their cars” (Libération, February 22-23, 1992). And they have had many children, to judge by the design of some natives who have taught us to admire them.

La Republica has provided the best summary of the situation with its sensational headline on November 12, 1991: “The Earth is heating up again, but Bus is opposed.”

As extensive as nature’s resources and as adaptable as human nature may be, they cannot both be adapted to the indefinite prolongation of the current mode of production, so others will have to be found. This delirium, not without its “ecological” justifications, now counts on getting some initial result that is illustrative enough of its future success.

The failure of the attempt to construct an artificial ecosystem (“Biosphere II”) that we have previously discussed, has proven that, in matters of “prototypes”, the development of an excessively simplified environment almost immediately escapes its inventors.

But other experts, posing the problem in an even more radical form—“the root for man is man himself”—attempt to adapt man to unbearable conditions, by genetically modifying him: the “Hugo” project of deciphering the human genome openly points in that direction, with the help of commercial patents. One can easily foresee the new disasters implied by such an enterprise of managed mutation, which only expresses humanity’s final dispossession, which includes that which previously constituted its irreducible biological identity.

This irrealism cannot itself disturb the social layers that State environmentalism and its techno-strategy are trying to seduce: it is their habitual element. These wage workers or neo-courtiers, although not lucky enough to put themselves beyond the reach of the harmful phenomena that affect everyone, even if they think that they have, if they take holy communion often enough, through the kind of activities they perform, with modernist ideology, they can nourish the hope that the social system will satisfy their demand for a “good quality of life”.

They therefore want to be consumers, since they also believe themselves to be favored by fate: they are content enough with their work, which they think they have chosen, just as they believe they have consciously chosen the commodities set before them at each stage of the programming of their needs. All the dissatisfaction of these customers of the Greens can be reduced to one demand: the commodity, of course, but without its bad side.

The only “Green” municipal councilor in Paris, when asked if his party had an alternative plan for the restructuring of the ZAC Tolbiac (in the ancient tongue, the final destruction of the Left Bank of the Seine), naively replied: “We do not have the financial means at our disposal to elaborate one” (Libération, November 13, 1991).

The historical destiny of environmentalism will not of course be that of social democratic reformism. It will not even be capable of devoting itself to repairing the evils that it has dared to denounce. All it will do is participate in their allocation, and thus also in their concealment. Their activity will have no effect on the course of the general catastrophe. From now on there is no way to escape the coming decline, but it will be decorated with their insipid jeremiads and their fake indignation, as hackneyed as the left-Christian lamentations of Le Monde Diplomatique.

Environmentalism does not “revalorize” work, but contributes to diluting it in the fog of parodic activities that represent, in a necessarily creative way, the simulacrum of a destroyed social life (see our article, “Abrenuntio). It is also capable of maintaining circles of influence in politics and industry, where it is useful to preserve the fiction of a general interest. Its experts are accepting decorative positions, and will serve on request as stage props for the new “transparencies”. It confers a sense of vitality to spectacular propaganda and its political personnel, but without managing to entirely compensate for the widespread lack of belief in the former or the scorn in which the latter are held. It will not be long before one cannot distinguish between the two.

The issues addressed in such an abstract and confused way by environmentalism are no less real however unrealistically they are addressed. As an independent force that dictates men’s conditions, nature has been defeated.

This defeat, which this century’s end is making plain to see, is, however, of no avail. The wealth that the economy produces is put entirely at its disposal; the misery that it creates remains entirely beyond the reach of its solutions. Everything confirms this in the current stage of the precipitous decline in the standard of living. Production, in its entirety, is no longer legitimized by its social use and becomes suspect. It is for this reason that harmful phenomena are discovered everywhere, whereas they had not been noticed before.

The spectacle can, as if it were a matter of victories that should be entered to its account, recall that for better or for worse, life goes on: in the French countryside the meadow grass still grows in the spring, no nuclear power plants have exploded, children are still being born, etc. But each individual, however deprived he may be of the necessary means for an exact knowledge and is therefore limited to suspecting, sees unavoidable disaster oozing from every pore of this society.

When the latent consciousness of an era combines the confirmation of the constant impoverishment of the world of man by the market economy with the feeling of being increasingly more subject to this impoverishment, a historical threshold is on the verge of being crossed. In 1985 we wrote that “the abstraction of such an impersonal system of domination, where the leaders hide behind the experts and the experts hide behind technological imperatives, continues to protect it from the rejection that it inspires, wherever people become aware of the fact that as the years pass, a large part of their former way of life has been lost. Since there is no one at hand to blame, people resign themselves to despising the world without fighting against it”. This protection sustained by all the half-experts and semi-critics who perpetuate abstraction and impersonality through inapplicable denunciations, in which it is never clearly said who is to blame or even who they think is to blame, this protection is therefore a factor promoting a growing weakness.

With respect to this kind of useless generality, it suffices to recall that “indignation which bristles against impersonal circumstances, and which therefore does not treat them as if they can be attacked and modified, is soon exhausted” (Provisional Notice Concerning Our Offenses Against the Despotism of Velocity) (4); and that as a result, those who devote themselves to repetitive indignation or make a show of it without ever bothering to formulate concrete denunciations or participating in exemplary struggles, do not even rise to the level of the generalization about the person who is “like the hawk that ascends to the heights to await the rabbit it will strike” but is more “like the bird that falls from the sun because it is too hot”.

No scientific proof can by itself convince anyone to act against these imposed conditions; nor are moralizing reproaches able to do so. The unhappy consciousness of catastrophe is aware of its impotence, and does not take the next step. Since it does not stimulate much interest, it will not waste an opportunity to complain about the faint echo generated by its warnings. In order to attempt even the least modification in the spirit of the times, it is still proper to distinguish some of their principle configurations, in their baffling arrangements, in which the feelings of the past undergo a change of significance.

The freedom to act unconsciously is the freedom granted by the spectacle, which makes it more popular. As a result, the continuous labor of destruction that makes this possible appropriates various evil passions long ago claimed by the revolutionary movement as the very expression of negation.

The spectacle is very careful not to propagandize openly in favor of these passions, since it does not need to do so; the evil passions referred to above propagandize in favor of the spectacle. Madness, granted a dynamic status by the president of the Rhône-Poulenc gang, the fire-proof Fourtou: “The mad reasoning of the project prevails over the good reasoning of the budget…. The motor of the company is the vitality of the project, not that of accounting” (Le Monde, February 18, 1989); the conspiratorial passion, now the rule in domination and the one that has animated those pioneers, the French pro-nuclear forces, from the beginning; the contempt for what exists and the declared taste for illegality—“we need rogues”, the owner of a large company told the press, shocked by the negligence and conformism of his leadership team and therefore obligated to publicly announce such a curious advertisement (Le Monde, March 27, 1991); rapid and permanent motion—“Quickly” is today’s slogan for the “decision makers” of the useless, drugged by deadlines, the leaders’ conscious adventure, or more precisely what remains of that adventure, of navigating blindly and taking risks.

In fact, all of these positions converge in a kind of vertigo of irresponsibility mimetically proclaimed before a world in full regression. The arguments of desperate lucidity have never been so convincing, because they have always remained anchored there, together with the motives of living and pleasure. But the moment we confront is such that, what such arguments deplore is now part of the ordinary themes of the most highly-evolved submission, which considers the precipitation of the data of disaster as one more reason to “live for the moment and enjoy existence”.

To a lucidity so lacking in a sense of what is offensive that it actually embraces the latter, one must also add the platitudes of an era in decline.

Domination has set the world on fire and man’s feelings have been transformed. From a passage of a recent book on the greenhouse effect: “The die is cast. We have boarded a bobsled that is ready to go down the chute.” “Last call has sounded in the gardens of the West,” as an author from a previous era put it more soberly while contemplating the beginning of our era.

Vanguard unconsciousness flirts with the idea and even becomes excited at the prospect of a few “crazy years” and the revelry it expects to enjoy. The least complacency regarding this issue signals a kind of twilight acquiescence in the process as a whole. In 1948, when the threat of nuclear weapons quickly overshadowed any kind of apocalyptic lyricism, André Breton wrote, with reference to modern poetry, about “the temptation of the end of the world,” to which modern poetry has been committed for a century, and of its own accord, which is also “the leading edge of modern sensibility”: “And yet I have no qualms about saying that this is an end of the world that we no longer want…. This end of the world is not ours. As long as it remains a possibility, we have no compunction about doing an about-face with regard to this issue, to proceed deliberately to an inversion of sign.” (The Lamp in the Clock)

The irrationality of the current form of organization of life, whose expression is harmful phenomena taken as a whole, and the impotence of all political representation to mitigate it, are the two concrete sides by which the practical movement of opposition to the activities of the ruling class can discover its universal content. If it unifies the critique of these two sides, finding reasons in the first, and means in the second, it will then be capable, in the coming years, of posing the social question in its true terms, or will at least contribute as much as possible to such a task (see our Appeal to All Those Who Would Rather Eliminate Harmful Phenomena than Manage Them, June 1990).

To boldly approach the problems of real life by unequivocally asserting that they are insoluble within the existing social domain, constitutes the qualitative leap of negation, necessary everywhere, which as an alternative does not seem to be within the grasp of the conflicts of the moment, not because the possibility of such an approach is unknown—the social question comes up in all conversations about harmful phenomena and the question of harmful phenomena comes up in all conversations—but, simply because it has never been done.

There are no precedents, and this is what is missing. But there is no lack at all of what is needed to create a precedent. The electoralist imposture of the French ecologists will lead them to Mitterandism, and shameful discredit.

When they come into contact with institutions they will become as biodegradable as the German Greens had previously become, or like that Armenian leader who declared that being a state official, he had to reopen a deadly factory which he had previously managed to shut down when he was an ecologist.

Those who still wish to remain ignorant of the nature of modern power and its activities, will have to accept a quite depressing reality which, on the other hand, is not so new: “In the most democratic and impersonal field of action possible, where the sovereign public, meeting in shareholders assemblies, hires and fires in accordance with statutory procedures, an oligarchy as closed as that of Venice has formed within the space of a generation. Three hundred men, who all know one another, direct the economic destiny of the continent and seek successors from their own ranks” (Walther Rathenau, Neue Freie Press, 1909, quoted by Benoit-Méchin, Histoire de l’Armée Allemande). We now know, some members of the CEA finding out later than others, just how much stronger this modality of power has become.

The increasing disorder of the era is the consequence of a malaise which is far from unfounded. On the one hand we note that none of the old norms of human activity, defined independently of individuals (whether religious, economic or scientific) can regulate and rationally order that activity in the current stage of development of its means; on the other hand, precisely because that same development is going disastrously out of control, there are those who resort, for lack of anything better, to arguments based upon now-dead ancient systems of rules, which leads to various regressions, whether towards morality, the invocation of “nature”, or even juridical or religious illusions.

Environmentalism embraces it all, and contributes its own techno-bureaucratic ambition of regulating and re-establishing order in its own way, transforming itself, as the science of the generalized economy, into the new thought of domination. “Either us or chaos”, the Ecolocrats and recycled experts say, promoters of a totalitarian control which exists thanks to them, in order to place themselves in the front ranks of the coming catastrophe. So that it will therefore be them and chaos.

From the journal Encyclopédie des Nuisances, No. 15, Paris, 1992.


1. A science invented by Alfred Jarry, who studied the laws ruling exceptions. The paragraph imitates Ubu’s manner of speaking, Jarry’s character who symbolizes the arbitrary vulgarity of power.

2. Commissariat de l’Energie Atomique.

3. Municipal deputy from Puy and Vice President of “SOS Loire Vivante”, small-town social climber, militant of environmental quality with an eye to the media and tourism, ecologist without principles, bought and paid for, worthy representative of the impotence of those who see no other alternative to degradation than vain lamentation or garbage collection.

4. Published in Spanish by Virus Editorial in June 1999 together with the Appeal to All Those Who Would Rather Eliminate Harmful Phenomena Than Manage Them, quoted above.


Compendium (Abregé) - Encyclopedie des Nuisances

The post-situationist French group Encyclopedie des Nuisances' critique of the Situationist International, primarily concerning Guy Debord, in the form of a review of two books on the history of the SI by Jean-Francoise Martos and Pascal Dumontier.

Submitted by Alias Recluse on June 4, 2011

Compendium – Encyclopédie des Nuisances

The Situationist International and its historical activity are the subjects of two books recently published in France (Jean-Françoise Martos, History of the Situationist International, Paris 1989; Pascal Dumontier, The Situationists and May ‘68, Paris 1990). These books at least possess the importance which they owe to their subject: the SI, during the period which had seen the rapid modernization of domination in France, had in effect been the principle collective attempt to formulate and communicate a critique of the new conditions which had become established, and indisputably the most consequential. To prove this one need only turn to the twelve issues of the SI’s journal published from 1958 to 1969. But historical works, insofar as such works exist, can take advantage of the time which has passed and the distance opened up to analyze the development of this critical activity in its relation to the real historical movement of which it claimed to be the general theoretical expression; and to evaluate, for example, in the light of its effective outcome, in what respect its thought was ahead of its time (Karl Korsch’s text Marxism and Philosophy remains a model for this kind of analysis).

Before examining the two books in question in order to determine what value they have in this sense, we will call attention to a problem to which these historians devote no attention, but which nonetheless seems of importance to their task. The Situationist critique was originally conceived in order to impose, in a “race” with power, an emancipatory use of the new technologies developed by the latter (twenty years later, Debord still defined this period as that of a “confrontation concerning change”). Knowing that it “was forced to travel the same road as its adversaries”—the road of the complete transformation of the entire old bourgeois edifice—the SI wanted “to disseminate another idea of happiness” by putting forward “certain new values of life”: constant mobility, the derive, obscurity. As Debord pointed out in 1957 concerning surrealism, “the task of an enterprise of this nature is not to be correct in absolute or relative terms, but to attempt, during a particular period of time, to catalyze the desires of an epoch.” It must be admitted that, as far as the SI was concerned, this period of time was particularly brief: more or less from “the Strasbourg scandal” in 1966 until shortly after May 1968. The “new epoch” announced by issue No. 12 of their journal had contemplated the extension of the situationist critique, its translation into practice by a revolutionary current, but nothing of the sort happened. For from that moment, and the most profound cause of the progressive practical paralysis of the SI and its then-numerous followers is probably due to this fact, the desires of the epoch, confronted by the acceleration of the authoritarian transformation of everything, began to crystallize around different values which were often contrary to those which had been emphasized by the situationist program. What has attracted most peoples’ aspirations since then, when they have not abjectly submitted to the imperatives of modernization, was the obvious and secret necessity of rescuing the continuity of human history (its memory, its language), and in the first place the elementary preconditions for life, from permanently imposed innovation. Nothing sheds more light on this complete inversion of the value imputed to change than a comparison of two statements made by Debord, separated by an interval of more than thirty-five years: “Everything which maintains anything contributes to the work of the police”; “When ‘being absolutely modern’ has become a special law proclaimed by tyranny, what the honest slave fears more than anything else is that he might be suspected of being anchored in the past.”

Through all kinds of hardly avoidable disorientations and mystifications, the consciousness then began to develop (in France, after the end of the sixties, that is, relatively late) of having passed the point when technological innovation could have been corrected, and reoriented in a liberating sense, and that it was a question of making the obstruction of its mindless race a matter of the highest priority. And it was precisely that aspect of the SI where it had shown itself to be ahead of its time—its attempt to formulate a passionate program for the material change of the conditions of life—which became a step backwards in regards to its ability to provide the resistance to this alleged progress with its historical reasons. To give only one example, the perspective “of a whole universe pillaged by the Workers Councils” (IS No. 12, September 1969) was even then naturally inadequate for the arousal of much enthusiasm, if indeed it could ever have been, when others, more lucid in this regard, had already denounced the pillage of the universe effectively being carried out by the owners of industry. Dissatisfaction was still the reality from which the theoretical critique had to begin once again. But to do so it had become necessary to recognize it under the new forms which it had adopted. To the contrary, the majority of those who had adopted the positions of the SI during that epoch remained perfectly indifferent to all these new problems, which they complacently judged to be vain under the pretext that those who expounded them generally did so using terminology clumsily derived from various ideological archaisms.

It must be added in this connection that the historical explanation offered in 1972 concerning the nullity of the pro-situs, while precisely describing the general social conditions which determined their passive adhesion to what had become for them “an absolute and absolutely useless ideology”, forgot to consider dialectically just what it was in the theory and practice of the SI which had facilitated such passive adherence and such uselessness. The fact that the supporters of the SI’s theses were not capable of developing them and transforming them into a practical force, even in an epoch as favorable as the one immediately following 1968, obliges one to search for the obstacle to the development of situationist theory in that theory’s origin, in its emphasis on permanent change as the passionate motor of subversion, in its idea of the infinite richness of a life without practice and the consequent discredit attached to the partial character of all positive realization. To speak in this connection of error would be futile, because one must see that this “error” was inevitable, imposed as it was by the necessities of the negation of art and politics. This demolition work, with its consequent valorization of a life dedicated to the ephemeral, was historically necessary; and it fully corresponded to Debord’s personal genius. But this project, which sowed the seeds of the psychological foundations of “disincarnate radicalism” among the situationists (a recurrent phenomenon in the SI’s history right up until its end) was only a transitory task, a secondary process in the general development of a movement of subversion which was only in its beginnings. “Every partial process tends to go beyond its limits (as defined by its nature) and to imprint its tactics, its thought, its watchwords and its morale on the entire historical movement which it unleashes. The means turn against the end, the form turns against the content” (Trotsky, Our Political Tasks). The experience of the emptiness of everyday life, the program of its supersession, had been a journey, rapid and disorderly like youth soon lost, toward a renewed revolutionary activity, but the journey and its velocity could not serve as the standard for that activity: it had to be durably inscribed on reality, for which it had to be re-appropriated, completed and corrected by a collective extension. And those methods which had served to raze one terrain (that of culture) were useless or even harmful when it was a question of constructing another terrain, that of “a revolutionary organization of a new kind.” By mentioning all of this we do not intend to moralize a posteriori; the difficulty in finding a concrete terrain of action and the appropriate working methods marked the whole history of the SI (witness the periodic denunciation of passive nihilism and, symmetrically, of premature attempts at positive realizations) and had already become fully apparent already before 1968 (see Debord’s report to the 7th Conference of the SI in June of 1966), finally leading to the pious vows of post-68: predictions concerning councilist organization, etc. In reality, the “goal of the situationists”, “the immediate participation in a passionate abundance of life, through the passage of deliberately unconditioned perishable moments” (Debord, "Theses on Cultural Revolution", IS No. 1, June 1958), was certainly achieved, but only by Debord, as a brilliantly conducted individual adventure, and reaffirmed against the collective debacle of the SI.

Martos is obviously far from confronting these problems. After having totally unwound the spool of its teleology (“the essence” was there since 1953, and later underwent nothing but “an always more coherent formulation” or “the smallest correction of certain essential notions”), and fastidiously transcribing quotations and demonstrating his virtuosity in the use of inverted commas, he martially concludes: “The hostilities will continue”. Who will start them, how, on what terrain, with what arms? The historian has nothing to say concerning these questions, or about what might, even indirectly, have something to do with the problems of the present: in his little yellow volume, history only exists to confirm dogma, and this string of confirmations represents the sole meaning of his book. Such a work can undoubtedly serve neither the ends of vulgarization nor of propaganda: it is so boring and academic that it instead runs the risk of driving the younger generations away from situationist theory (it therefore falls far short of what Maurice Nadeau’s History of Surrealism was in its day). The sole function of this pensum [school assignment imposed upon a student as punishment—translator’s note] thus appears to be that of over-abundantly illustrating the judgment which we had propounded in 1988, concerning other historical works by the same gentleman, about his use of scissors and glue (see our article "Abonnir").

Despite various inept oversights (among others, he alleges that Debord had “reproached Marx…for the abandonment of philosophy”), one of them especially astonishing (the description of a letter signed and published by Gérard Lebovici as “falsely attributed” to the latter), Dumontier’s book is better. It is a “research work carried out under the auspices of the University of Nanterre”: dedications, acknowledgments, the opening of “new fields of interrogation”, it lacks nothing. But this distancing of the university researcher paradoxically allows Dumontier to get closer to his object: not being paralyzed by respect, he arrives at some conclusions which the other author absolutely does not permit himself. There is, however, a great distance between these conclusions and an historical comprehension worthy of the name.

The first and most important of these conclusions is that, with respect to its declared ambitions, the SI failed in a great part of its historical task, a part which it had itself justly considered to be central: to contribute to the construction of a modern revolutionary movement. For this fact, Dumontier offers an explanation based on the usual tautological model: the SI failed because it had not succeeded (at the moment of extending its influence beyond the student milieu, of renewing itself theoretically, etc.). It would be more interesting and more precise if he would tell us not why the SI failed (if one is to remain on this level of generality one could just as well content oneself with blaming the weakness of the social movement as a whole), but why it failed in just the way it did, among all the possible ways it could have failed. This matter is all the more worthy of attention insofar as the SI effectively managed to avoid the usual fate of vanguards: comfortable retirement. Such a relative success cannot be presented as the ne plus ultra except at the price of a triumphalism which Debord still reaffirmed in 1979, and according to which, along the lines of the Marxist justifications of the liquidation of the First International, the power of the revolutionary movement rendered the existence of a separate organization useless in advance. In fact, the validating historical justification for the SI’s dissolution, just as in the case of many previous exclusions, was nothing but an obligatory defensive measure: in the weakened and exposed position it found itself in the years 1970-71, it was the best method of damage control. It was necessary to bring down the curtain quickly and gracefully, under the penalty of a shameful finale. But why had it come to that? What could have been done differently so as to achieve different results, etc.? Even beyond the interest such questions could have for anyone who wants to launch an historical action today, they are not idle. Because although it is improbable that the course of history could have been fundamentally altered, it is certain that another way of proceeding, one granting less space to that “rigor which sanctifies itself in its own eyes” whose influence has been so baleful, would have been able to leave the future a more useful example. The inevitable part played by misunderstanding in all historical influence has on the contrary become truly exorbitant due to the persistent insufficiency of the critique of situationist mythology. (One of the most pertinent texts in this regard is the “Communiqué concerning Vaneigem” of December 1970.)

Dumontier offers some elements to answer these questions, but he does not bring them together in a truly historical analysis. Thus, he indicates that, concerning the “Minimum Definition of Revolutionary Organizations” adopted in 1966, “this definition is conceived in such a way that it is ultimately a matter of the SI proclaiming itself to be the only modern revolutionary organization.” The problem was, rather, as was immediately seen at the time, that as a “theoretical model” this definition was just as inadequate for what the SI itself was at that time, as it was for what the SI had to do. The SI had asserted in many ways that it wanted to contribute to the construction of a new revolutionary movement, whose formation depended, according to the SI, on the progress of the self-organization of the proletarians, and on the theoretical and practical unification which the latter made possible. (On the other hand, this notion had always cohabited in the SI’s formulations with some much less historical conceptions.) But with this “Minimum Definition” the SI implicitly put itself in the place of the future revolutionary organization about which it had spoken. It thus fostered a de-dialecticization of critical activity (fixation of the organization in an admirable present, disconnection from the real historical movement), which was to progressively sterilize, within the SI and among its supporters, theoretical and practical invention.

Criticizing politics without preoccupying itself much with the means of its revolutionary realization (except under the distant form of the Workers Councils), situationist theory remained underdeveloped in all which concerned tactics, the search for mediations, as much outside the SI (the process of encounter of a radical theory in formation and a fragmentary and incomplete radical practice) as within it (the methods of organization which favor the coherent appropriation of the critique). The myth of the total fusion of theory and practice, supposedly realized in the SI, and its “historical” corollary, a revolution which was to realize this fusion on the scale of society and all at once, weighed heavily upon the development of a precise intelligence of what the situationists really had to do together. As Brecht said: “What is democratic conduct? Conduct which makes democracy possible, not one which teaches democracy.” And four years after that famous “minimum definition”, those who had declared themselves against all conservatism of the glorious image of the SI would still be demanding “an exact definition of the collective activity within the Situationist International organization, and of its effectively possible democracy” (Debord, Riesel, Viénet, "Declaration of November 11, 1970").

The problems already broached by Debord on two occasions (his Report to the 7th Conference of the SI, and the theses on organization of April 1968) not only remained unsolved after the revolutionary crisis of May, but became more serious. The SI’s own success during those weeks, that is, its ability to communicate the principle points of its program at the moment of its historical verification, in effect posed new problems, which in turn complicated the old ones which remained unresolved. In the period immediately following May ’68, the SI simultaneously found itself facing the victory of its ideas and the defeat of its mode of organization (on the other hand, the latter had been suspended de facto in May, and it was just this fact which had permitted the SI a certain effectiveness.) The extreme slowness of the maturation of the latent crisis after 1966 above all demonstrated, beyond the “inter-subjective” problems, the difficulty of concretely relating the deficiencies it had observed to an analysis of the new tasks of critical activity, and of the way in which everything which had in the past served the SI’s project now harmed it. Limiting its attention to the various deficiencies of those who were not at the heights of the image of the SI only perpetuated this image which had to be destroyed. That which had to be historically redefined after the May movement, in accordance with the new revolutionary necessities and the new relation of forces, was the criterion for judging deficiencies and capabilities, and this task was passed over by erasing numerous features which the SI should have been developing the whole time, above all by abandoning a certain “rowdy” style, which really missed the point at a moment when the whole earth began to tremble.

The employment of bluff, which had been useful to the SI in order to make itself heard, evidently does not reveal a vulgar imposture, but rather a dialectical anticipation which Stanislaw Jerzy Lec succinctly defined in this fashion: “Do we have the right to separate ourselves from the truth? Yes, if it is in order to bring ourselves beyond it”. One must add: and if it is done in such a way that one allows oneself to be reached by it afterwards. Anticipation is only useful for a certain time, or rather that which is anticipated varies with time, and the old short-cuts become parking lots. In order to prevent its advance beyond its time from becoming an advance of specialists, by rejecting for example the demand for the universality of communication which had formed the basis of its project against the official arts of non-communication, and thereby re-enacting the sclerosis of surrealism, the SI should have, after the May events, renewed its program from the early 1960s—refusing to “take into consideration any problems which were not already felt by the whole population”—making a sharp break with its old ideas and methods, pitilessly distancing itself from everything in its formulations which had amounted to nothing but vain promises and useless predictions. That attitude had certainly not been a bad condition to display during a previous phase, along with everything this apparent unrealism entailed, a scandalous anti-political aplomb based upon the certainty of the possible revolutionary simplification of all problems; a certainty which was itself based upon the experience, a constitutive moment of the SI, of a dialogue among autonomous individuals which arrogantly scorned all the problems of the dominant society in order to pose instead the question of the use of life, and answered this question with the demand for its full use through play, uninterrupted creation and the realization of art. The first situationists had thus been capable of formulating a new revolutionary program; if they had been more attentive to the means required for its realization, they would not have been able to formulate its objectives so liberally. At that time, the acute assertion of a total program was itself a means (of seduction, of summons) and as for the rest it sufficed to make vague allusions to the radicalism of the revolutionary workers. All these qualities which were suitable for that time must however not be transformed into their opposites by the historical movement when, on the one hand, the simple proclamation of a total program that was supposed to be spreading everywhere, remained without any use except that of “sparing itself all the difficulties and all the little historical risks of its realization” ("Communiqué concerning Vaneigem"); and on the other hand, the problems of the dominant society, with the frenetic decomposition of life as survival, could no longer be ignored (in the name of the life to be constructed) without depriving the revolutionary project of all concrete and universal content. The radical simplification of all problems, as method and as program, was transformed into a crude mystification, a caricature of the totality and the consolidated image of a future where “the vulgar problems of real society and of the revolution will be instantly abolished before even having taken the trouble to take them into consideration” (Ibid.). Likewise, the audacious conviction of the central historical role of the SI was transformed into the comfortable certitude of being the gold standard of the art of living, the center from which the value of the rest of humanity would either rise or fall, measured, as is the case with any snobbery, by its more or less faithful similarity to what the SI presumed itself to be, or at any rate to its conventions.

The central error of the SI after May 1968 was that it wanted to reinforce itself (by means of the quantitative extension as well as the complacent perpetuation, for its audience of that time, of a style whose exhibited mastery was almost solely restricted to Debord himself), without having previously carried out the critique of its past and the redefinition of its tasks for the coming period. This “error concerning organization” was also a “complete error concerning the conditions of historical practice”, as was demonstrated by the lack of realism which characterized the internal debates of the SI from 1969 until its dissolution: between the majority of its participants and their comprehension of the new conditions, of what each one of them could do in the latter, was interposed the fiction of their supposed excellence as members of the SI. The promised supersession of Leninism was transformed into a regression, the activity and the life of the SI being poisoned not only by the reality of what was in fact the meager egalitarianism of its internal relations, but above all by its magical negation of the organization, which blocked individuals’ self-formation in the collective activity, the only possible way to reduce inequality.

In Gratian’s aphorism on “reality and appearance”, the peacock sees that his right to show off his plumage is conditioned on his “simultaneously turning his glance to the deformity of his feet.” The SI’s imperative of publicizing the role of misery and failure in its first attempts was certainly not a moral imperative, but historical and practical: only in this way could it have, once and for all, undermined the foolishly admiring followerism of so many of its supporters, and to summon them to the discovery of the new problems and most complex preconditions of the revolutionary struggle. The dogmatic propensity to judge history with reference to a norm situated external to it (councilist teleology, for example) very often led, within the SI and among its supporters, to considering the movement of subversion, then quite active, from the exclusive angle of its retreat in relation to the situationist program, without wanting to see that this movement at the same time constituted the critique of that program (of its generality to the point of abstraction); as if the movement of subversion had to do nothing in the future but travel the road which their program had traced, in a word, as if the theory of revolution had nothing to learn from the real revolutionary movement.

Evidently, there is a necessary link between the lucidity concerning particular tasks and the tactical program of the revolutionary activity of a concrete moment, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the capability to organize a truly collective work as a function of the former. This link appears—negatively—in the SI’s double impotence after 1968: its impotence in discerning the terrains and propitious concrete objectives for unification and radicalization, and its impotence in finding the forms of collaboration between individuals exhibiting necessarily very distinct capacities, who were in fact frankly unequal. The fact that the SI was no longer capable from that moment on, through the development and enrichment of its activity, of making situationists, led to the overvaluation of what, among all the qualities which had been necessary to form the SI, was precisely the least transmissible: to become as situationist as Debord could only have meant an absolute impossibility or a grotesque simulation for the SI’s recent arrivals. The predominance of the style and the tastes of an individual—besides condescending to lend them generously to those who surround him, before brutally withdrawing them—must be so much more overwhelming insofar as the historical reasons for collective activity were lost, together with the meaning of the active affirmation of the universal.

Debord undoubtedly sincerely sought to convert the SI into the anti-hierarchical and democratic organization which he had claimed that it was: his interventions from 1966 to 1972 made it clear that he was not in the least interested in perpetuating his preeminence, rather the contrary, and that he had understood at that moment better than anyone what was at stake. The explanation for his failure in this matter must therefore be sought in the character of his own genius, such as it had been formed during his exceptional history, and in the changing relations between that “active element which sets universal actions in motion” and the likewise mobile conditions wherein the former could be exercised. The problem is ultimately a matter of the translation of the means and values proceeding from art and the project of its realization to the terrain of politics. In the same way that the old revolutionary theory of the 19th century, arising from the critique of philosophy, had in part preserved the contemplative point of view of external knowledge (the development of the forces of production replacing the World Spirit), which had directly constituted the basis of its ideologization, modern revolutionary theory has preserved some uncriticized traits of abandoned artistic creation, traits whose retarding effects were very clear after 1968.

“Whoever creates the SI, whoever creates situationists, must also create their defects.” Debord’s activity as the conductor of the SI cannot be understood without explaining how he could have been the best critic of “situationist mythology” as well as its principle artisan at the same time; and he played the latter role right up to the SI’s end, up to the theses of the Veritable Split, where, together with critical observations of great relevance (in particular about the new factor of revolt created by harmful phenomena [nuisances in French--translator's note]), the issue of the SI’s failure is the object of a true theoretical transfiguration which