The Role of the SI

A faked photograph of a firing squad. Following France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and the fall of Napoleon III, thousands of Parisians revolted against the new royalist-leaning government and declared Paris an independent commune. Weeks of fighting ensued, during which Versailles troops attacked the city while the Communards threw up barricades, shot hostages, and burned government buildings. Soon afterward, Appert, a Parisian portrait photographer, issued “Crimes of the Commune,” a tendentious ser

From Internationale Situationniste #7 (April 1962).

Submitted by Fozzie on February 3, 2023

We are completely popular. We only take into consideration problems that are already in present in the general population. Situationist theory is in people like fish are in the sea. To those who think the SI is constructing a speculative fortress, we assert the contrary: we are going to dissolve ourselves into the population, which lives out our project at every moment; living first of all, of course, in a world of emptiness and repression.

Anyone who can't understand this ought to go back to studying our program. Publishing the provisional report of a supersession, Internationale Situationniste is one of those rare journals where after having read the most recent issue, one discovers how necessary it is to go back and read the first.

The specialists flatter themselves with the illusion that they control certain fields of knowledge and practice, but none of them escapes our omniscient criticism. We recognize that at this point we still lack the means, and that our lack of such means is due first of all to our lack of information (as much with regard to the inaccessibility of essential documents already in existence as to the absence of any document on the most important problems we can point out). But all the same, it should not be forgotten that the technocratic rabble also lacks this information. Even where it has, by its own standards, the most extensive information at its disposal, they only need to deny us 10% of it. This possibility is a purely stylistic clause, as the ruling bureaucracy, by its very nature, can only do so much with the quantitative, even when information is at hand (it inevitably ignores how the workers work, how people really live); therefore it has no hope of grasping the qualitative. On the other hand, the quantitative is all we really we lack, and soon it too will be ours, for we control the qualitative, which multiplies the quantity of the information we have at our disposal. This example can be extended to the understanding of the past: there is certainly a need for a more thorough evaluation of certain historical periods, even without a general accession to the scholarship of the historians.

The naked truth, familiar to every specialist, contradicts the current organization of reality (the decor of Sarcelles, say, or the lifestyle of Tony Armstrong-Jones), in making an implaccable and immediate critique. The specialists have congratulated themselves for too long on not only representing these facts, but all present reality. How they tremble! Their good times are over. We'll bring them down, along with every hierarchy they protect.

We are capable of bringing about a contestation in every discipline. No specialist remain will master of a single specialty. We are ready to provisionally handle the forms within which assessments and calculations can be made; we already know the margin of error of such calculations. The factor of error introduced by the use of categories that we know are false can thus be reduced. It's easy for us to choose the battlefield each time. If it is necessary to confront the "models" that are today the converging points of technocratic thought (total concurrence or total planning), our "model" is total communication. We can no longer be called utopian. An hypothesis should be recognized here that will possibly never be realized exactly in reality, no more than anything else. But with the theory of the potlatch as irreversible expression, we alone hold its complimentary factor. "Utopia" is no longer possible because the conditions of its realization already exist. It has been diverted [détourné] to serve the perpetuation of the current order, whose absurdity is so terrible that it is realizing its utopia first, at any cost, without anyone daring to formulate its theory, even after the fact. It is the inverse utopia of repression: it has every power at its disposal, and nobody wants it.

We are leading a study of "the positive pole of alienation," more exact than that of its negative pole. In addition to our diagnosis of the poverty of wealth, we are capable of redrawing the map of the extreme wealth of poverty. These maps that speak of a new topography will in fact be the first realization of "human geography." We will replace oil deposits with layers of untapped proletarian consciousness.

In such conditions, it is easy to understand the general tone of our relationship with an impotent intellectual generation. We make no concessions. It is clear that the masses who spontaneously think as we do must exclude the intellectuals unanimously, that is to say the people who, holding the lease on contemporary thought, must necessarily content themselves with their own thinking about thinkers. Accepted as such, and therefore as impotent, they then question the impotence of thought in general (see the editorial clowns of Arguments #20, devoted precisely to these intellectuals).

Right from the start of our common action, we have been clear. But now, our game is becoming so important that we no longer have to talk with the self-appointed orators. Our partisans are everywhere, and we have no intention of deceiving them. We will provide their weapons.

As for those who might well be worthwhile orators, they should know very well that their relations with us cannot be inoffensive. We are at a decisive point, and although we are aware of the proportion of our errors, we can all still oblige these possible allies a total choice. We can only be accepted or rejected as a whole; never subdivided.

There is nothing surprising about these truths. What is surprising is rather that the specialists of opinion polls cannot recognize how soon this anger will rise to breaking point. One day soon, they will have the shock of seeing their architects chased down and hanged in the streets of Sarcelles.

The failure of other groups, who have more or less seen the necessity of the coming change, is their positivity. When these groups try to be an avant-garde or the newest political formation, they believe that everyone should know something about the old praxis, and here they fall short.

Those who want to constitute a political positivity too soon depend entirely on traditional politics. In the same way, many people have urged the situationists to constitute a positive art. But our strength is in never having done that. Our dominant position in modern culture has never been shown better than by the decision made at the Göteborg Conference to refer from now on to all artistic production by members of the SI in the present framework as anti-situationist, so that they will contribute to a simultaneous destruction and consolidation.

The interpretation that we defend in culture can be regarded as a simple hypothesis, and we expect that it will very soon be verified effectively and transcended; but in every way it possesses the essential characteristics of rigorous scientific verification in the sense that it explains and arranges a number of phenomena that are, for others, incoherent and unexplainable — which are therefore sometimes even hidden by other forces; and in that it makes it possible to foresee several facts that will be controllable later. We do not deceive ourselves for an instant on the so-called objectivity of various researchers in culture or what is conveniently known as the human sciences. On the contrary, the rule seems to be to hide in this objectivity as many problems as responses. The SI must expose what is hidden, thereby exposing itself as the possibility "hidden" by its enemies. Picking up on the contradictions that others have chosen to forget, we will succeed in transforming ourselves into the practical force laid out in the Hamburg Theses, as established by Debord, Kotányi, Trocchi and Vaneigem in the summer of 1961.

The irreducible project of the SI is total freedom made concrete in acts and in the imagination, for freedom is not easy to imagine in the existing oppression. We will be victorious, identifying ourselves in the most profound desires that exist in all, giving them every license. The "motivational researchers" of modern advertising find in peoples' subconscious the desire for objects; we find only the desire to break the hindrances of life. We are the representatives of the mind-power of the great majority. Our first principles must be beyond dispute.

Translated by Reuben Keehan. From