3. A Critique of Everyday Life

Submitted by libcom on July 30, 2005

The period from 1957 to 1962 set up a beacon in the history of French leftism. Stalinism and the political régime of the Soviet Union and the people's democracies had finally been discredited during the preceding decade; nobody on the extreme left of the political spectrum considered it any longer advisable to cite Soviet 'socialism' as an example, and the analysis of socialist bureaucracy was no longer needed.

The revelations of the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU and the events in Poland and Hungary in 1956 gave renewed substance to a critique which was in danger of running out of steam. Direct knowledge of the 'abuses' of Stalinism both in Poland and Hungary, [1] the denunciation of the régime by the very Poles, Hungarians and Yugoslavs who were at once its official representatives and its victims, led to doubts and questions as to whether the superstructure alone was conceivably capable of secreting so many misdeeds, so many crimes. It has been shown that out of this crisis revisionism was born, and that it set about attacking the sacrosanct doctrine itself. The 'destructuring' project was complete : those who had initiated it often exceeded the aims which they had originally set themselves. It now fell to others to take tip where they had left off. For these, the immediate task was to fill the immense void left by the relentless critique of Marxism-Leninism and the régime which claimed to embody it.

In the first place, the revolutionary phenomenon needed to be placed in its historical context. Orthodoxy claimed that economic contradictions lay at the root of all social change : this logic demanded the overthrow of economic and social structures [2] . Leftism disputes this strict economic determinism. It observes that Western society hardly seems to be on the verge of the great economic crisis, the apocalyptic catastrophe which Trotsky was still prophesying in his Transitional Programme of 1938.

Having drawn definitive conclusions from the 'socialist' experience of the USSR and the people's democracies. the leftists went so far as to maintain that the mere modification of sub-structural factors (such as collectivization of the means of production, for example) was not enough either to liberate man or to emancipate society. [3] On one point, the critique of bureaucracy had been convincing : the subjection of man is the same -- in differing degrees, but no different in kind -- in Moscow, in New York or in New Delhi. To the extent that the forms of production and consumption have developed, and to the extent that technology is playing an ever-increasing part in the very organization of society (and hence in the organization of exploitation and oppression), new forms of alienation have appeared.

Every revolutionary project therefore required that a profound analysis of modern society and the forms of alienation secreted by it be undertaken. The light of theoretical analysis was thus redirected from the study of economic factors (mode of production, law of diminishing returns, etc.) towards the critique of everyday life.

The critique of everyday life, being the central core of the new radical theory, presented itself as an absolute reaction against Stalinist dogmatism and its lackeys in France. As H. Lefebvre has pointed out, the postwar generation of leftwing intellectuals was impotent to solve the theoretical problems which presented themselves : either they took refuge in the dogma of the Party, or they sought their inspiration in the unreal, in abstractions; the concrete, the everyday things, things that existed and could be changed, escaped them. [4] At the same time, this critique marked a complete break with all that had gone before : it aimed at being the critical theory of the modern world, and the surpassing of that world. At the basis of this lies a reflection on the modern world, a reflection which H. Levebvre christened 'La Modernité' in 1946. [5] The modern world is one of accumulated production, in which abundance, if not yet actually realized, is clearly visible on the horizon. The enormous increase in cumulative production, the unprecedented progress in technology and science which characterize modern society (in its more advanced sector) give a hint of what is possible. There is, however, a distinct gap between the sector of technology and production and that of private life. The latter is far from following the same path as the former : on the contrary, it is stagnating. Here the gap is all the greater, and all the more keenly felt, for the fact that the possible is not attainable. Here man's alienation reaches is peak.

No critical reflection accompanies this separation between man and the products of his labours, on the contrary, the more deeply man becomes buried in his alienation the more conformist he becomes : contradiction has been replaced by the cult of the new for its own sake (modernism), typical of a world which has lost its poetry.

Certainly the Romantics had already called in question a world that was both technological and boring; but they were only able to resolve the contradictions of their time ideally, by grafting on to real life as they actually lived it an imaginary life, lived in their thoughts. [6] But their work, continued by Lautréamont and Rimbaud, among others, rapidly degenerated into verbalism and turgidity by the end of the nineteenth century. Dadaism and surrealism administered the coup de grâce to the language of alienation by destroying it. Then surrealism itself became lost in the world of artistic creation. Lefebvre concluded by 1946 that it was up to avant-garde groups of young people to continue the work begun by their celebrated ancestors.

Surrealism. which began to founder before the war in an academism which became almost respectable after the Liberation, [7] in turn created rebels against its own conformism. Immediately after the Second World War, a phenomenon comparable with dadaism arose : an attempt at the total sabotage of art, at finding a style of life which enriches the real world. etc. Clearly, these new 'fumblings and stammerings' were no more than a pale copy of the project of Tzara and Hulsenbeck, but they had the advantage that they relaunched a handful of young people on the search for the absolute. The most striking personality of these years was Isidore Isou, a Romanian by origin like Tristan Tzara. He defined the creative urge as the essential need of mankind : man raises himself through creation, so making himself a kind of god. Isou propagated his ideas through the medium of the Mouvement lettriste, which he founded in 1946. Their immoderately abstruse content did not hold the attention of the young dissenters for long. Nevertheless, the various avant-garde movements which finally led to he dissenting generation of the sixties were originally based on the lettrist movement. [8] To some, lettrism represented an assault on culture; these founded the Internationale lettriste in 1952 (and broke with Isou), endeavouring to destroy art by the redirection and projection of a liberating ideal of city planning. The Internationale lettriste politicized and researched a way of life. A merger of the Internationale lettriste with two other avant-garde groups gave birth to the Situationist International (the IS) in 1957. In the years that followed, the IS was to attempt an analysis of the modern world from the point of view of everyday life.

The influence of H. Lefebvre is undeniable (and reciprocal), but that of the dadaists, the surrealists, the lettrists and other avant-garde groups was also apparent. This current, cultural in origin, was to take up the Marxist critique once more, in particular that portion of Marx that was Hegelian in origin, as interpreted by Lukács.

For the Situationist International, life in modern society could be reduced to survival (life brought down to the level of economic imperatives). Such societies are societies of the quantitative, the consumable. Consumption and survival are assured by the Welfare State : that is the only existence permitted, and only such permission is attainable in it. [9] What is the consumer society ? It is the society run on the basis of an economy of consumption which is the successor to the economy of production. It is characterized by a frenetic production of goods. But this accumulation of production, despite the riches poured out on the world, does not allow the economy to change the world except in an economic sense. Enrichment only results in an expansion of survival, leaving the quality of life untouched. For the quantification of exchange operations, taken to the extreme. reduces man to the level of an object, and renders everyday life utterly banal : both space and time have been telescoped by capitalist production into an 'immobile monotony'. [10] This applies across the board, including tourism, which imitates the circulation of goods with its 'package tours', its excursions lacking any element of surprise, its factitious recreations. Town planning is the concentrated embodiment of the identification of life with a mere side-show, a monotonous existence devoid of imagination.

The decline and decomposition of everyday life are part and parcel of the transformation of modern capitalism. In the producer societies of the nineteenth century (whose rationale was capital accumulation), merchandise became a fetish, in that it was supposed to represent a product (an object) and not a social relationship. In modern societies, where consumption is the ultima ratio, all human relationships have been modelled on this pattern : all have been impregnated with the rationale of mercantile exchange. Life is thus experienced at one remove, it has become a show in which everything is becoming incorporated. This is the phenomenon to which the situationists refer as a spectacle (Lefebvre's concept is more neutral : the modern spectacle, to him, simply arises out of the contemplative attitude of its participants). The show is established once merchandise comes to occupy the whole of social life. Thus in a merchant-showman economy, alienated production is supplemented by alienated consumption. The modern pariah, Marx's proletarian, is no longer so much the producer separated from his product as a consumer. The exchange value of goods has finally ended up by dictating their use. The consumer has become a consumer of dreams.

[transcribers note : Sorry for the interruption to your reading pleasure. While I don't have access to the original french version of this book I rather suspect that in these passages in the book the word 'merchandise' would more accurately be translated as 'commodity', 'show' as 'spectacle' and 'merchant-showman economy' as 'spectacular-commodity economy'.]

In addition to this, it must he said that the show society, originally the product of a developed economy, has spread to the underdeveloped countries which, although they lack the material base for a social organization of this type have nevertheless imitated the showman techniques of their sometime colonizers. Everywhere, from now on, whether East or West, the quantitative rules, a guiding principle of life; the economic imperatives impose their scale of values on the whole of life. 'Only the object is measurable, which is why exchange reifies.' [11]

Despite this devastating critique of the consumer society, the situationists are careful to avoid contempt for consumer goods as such. They consider that it is not their consumption which is alienating but their conditioned choice and the ideology leading to it. For everyday life in the modern world is subject to a 'totalitarian management' which shapes the very models of our behaviour.

It is evident that in this analysis of alienation, the situationists and H. Lefebvre are developing the thought of the younger Marx, notably the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. They derive their arguments on the reification and fetishization of material goods from the passage in Capital entitled 'The Fetish of Material Goods and its Secret'. [12] But they do not claim to have made the only correct exegesis of Marx : in fact they go beyond Marx, and are not Marxists in the modern sense. Their notions of Marxian theory broadly follow the pattern first laid down by K. Korsch, discussed earlier. Their 'surpassing' of Marx consists in the fact that whereas to Marx separation was still circumscribed to the world of production, to them it has become universalized; the whole of social praxis has been split down the middle, into reality and mirage. Between man and his work, man and his desires and dreams, a number of mediations have been interposed. In a society run by cybernetics (the society towards which we are moving) the power of organization will have replaced the power of exploitation : the alienating mediations in such conditions are multiplied to the point of paroxysm. In the extreme case, the masters will themselves become slaves, mere levers of the organization.

The critique of everyday life is not intended to be purely an analysis; it is supposed to lead on to a revolutionary praxis. The transition from one to the other is facilitated by the existence of contradictions in the modern world. The great contradiction which undermines the consumer society results from the fact that cumulative production has unleashed forces which destroy the economic necessities. The internal rationale of the system requires an infinite economic development, and only the quantitative and consumable are actually supplied to the individual. Once primary needs have been fulfilled to saturation, new pseudo-needs are 'manufactured' (a second car, a better refrigerator, down to the ultimate gadget which is no use for anything). This process causes an accelerating degradation of everyday life. But at the same time, tremendous technical strides give a glimpse of new worlds, of unsuspected means of gratifying unknown desires. Consequently the critique of everyday life is initially carried out from the inside -- it is the critique of the 'real by the possible'. [13] The extent and point of attack of this internal criticism vary according to viewpoint : H. Lefebvre indicates a degree of optimism when he affirms that it is by and through leisure that modern man will express his revolt against the break-up of his everyday life and the way it is being made increasingly banal. The situationists think that recreations themselves have become alienated, and that they, too, should be opposed. [14] However there is agreement on the hard core of the contradiction inherent in anything that is everyday : the forms of life must enter into conflict with its content; there is a separation of form and content.

This contradiction produces a consciousness of separation, a sufficient ground for discontent and a revolutionary praxis. But a difficulty arises here : opposition to the dominant class is not easy, for that class is itself mystified. The spectacle has invaded not only society but also its contradiction : opposition has become just as much a matter of spectacle (ideological in the Marxian sense). In other words, side by side with the pure acceptance of the 'silent majority' there is a purely contemplative revolt. Dissatisfaction itself having become frozen into a piece of merchandise, the dissatisfied man finds it difficult to emerge from his role of dissatisfied man. Technical civilization, at the same time as it placed liberty and happiness on the agenda, invented the ideology of liberty and happiness, i.e. of two 'essences' which are the precise opposite of their true meaning. [15] Modern man enjoying himself is not really happy, he is playing a part which has been imposed on him without his being aware of it : he is responding to a stereotype.

It will be seen that there is something radical in this conception; the break it entails with the whole left movement of this half-century endows it with a somewhat millenarian, heretical hue. On one point, however, it still seems to exhibit a degree of orthodoxy : the subject of revolution. To the Situationist International, the standard-bearer of the revolution and prime liberating force is still the proletariat. In this respect, there is a major divergence from the theories of H. Marcuse, to whom the proletariat is endowed with no privileged function, quite the reverse.

Let us attempt to specify the leftist conception of the proletariat, which is far from obvious. The difficulty arises from the break with the economist conception of the class struggle. In a cyberneticized society, the proletariat will be 'almost' everybody (since even the 'masters' are themselves programmed), [16] or alternatively, it will compromise all those who are unable to modify the space-time which society allocates for their consumption (the leaders being those who organize that space-time and who themselves have some margin of personal choice in the running of their own lives), [17] or finally it will be represented by the 'historic class swollen to a majority of wage-earners'. [18] Guy Debord, editor of Internationale situationniste, is more specific : the modern proletariat he says, is composed of he 'vast majority' of workers who have lost all chance of working at their own life; it is reinforced by the disappearance of the peasantry and by the extension of the logic of factory work, which has become applied to a major part of the services and intellectual professions. [19] So defined (or undefined), the proletariat alone would be capable of abolishing class : not because it is the proletariat (no 'maturing' of objective conditions will bring about the revolution) but because it alone is able to raise itself to the level of consciousness of its own alienation. In this may be seen the situationists' complete reversal of the conceptions of Lenin or even of the older Marx. A subjective condition is placed in the forefront : the proletariat cannot become the power except by becoming class-conscious. Lukács stated as much when he wrote that reification 'stamps its imprint upon the whole consciousness of man', and only the proletariat is conscious of its own becoming. [20] It will be possible to surpass everyday life thanks to the violence of this feeling.

The role of the proletariat is certainly a historic role : it has always endeavoured to de-alienate mankind : but it has done so to the advantage of other social classes. In this process, alienation became increasingly burdensome because it became a social alienation in the course of the battle against natural alienation. [21] From that time on, it became for the proletariat a matter of abolishing all alienations.

The dialectic, and the dialectic alone, makes it possible to rise to the level of appreciation of alienations, and in particular of the most powerful of all : the alienation of spectacle The proletariat is a dialectician or will become one. Revolutionary theory will therefore not be a scientific system which lays down the law of evolution for all; it will be understanding of the struggle : it is this understanding that the revolutionary will endeavour to expand. If this conception lays aside all 'conscious organization' on the Bolshevik model, it also avoids anarchism (although it must be said that traces of anarchist influence are detectable in situationist theory, for it is felt that the anarchists are only concerned with the result of the class struggle, not its method; they still allegedly cling to the possibility of economic struggle alone, and counter the State with a negation that is again ideological. [22] To the situationists, who draw their 'total rejection' from the libertarian thinkers, anarchism does not derive its theory from reality but from its own desires : consequently it justifies ideology. So it is upon the proletariat, the subject of the revolution, that the responsibility for the supreme act must fall : the realization of art. [23]

What of youth ? It was long thought that leftism after Marcuse reserved an active, if not the priority, part in the revolutionary process to the young. Before May 1968, it may be said that most of the groups of extreme left-wing students, following an old communist tradition, regarded themselves as sections (often indeed as 'trainee units') of an adult party. The young were not recognized as possessing any special role; Marxist analysis even denied them the status of a social group. This was in flagrant contrast to the fact that the greatest activism was to be found among the young, and that opposition to the left establishment was perpetuated primarily among the students. May-June 1968 gave new prestige, notably on an intellectual level, to the role of youth as the avant-garde of the revolution. The ideas of H. Marcuse, of American and German dissident students (SDS) produced a climate in which the privileged role of the young in social contestation could be accepted.

The university confrontation of the years 1966-68 which preceded and inspired the 'disorders' at the University of Nanterre in April-May 1968, from which the revolt started, was nevertheless founded on analyses extremely unfavourable to the students. At the time of the events which disturbed the academic year 1966-7 and which have become known as the 'Strasbourg Scandal', the situationists published a text in which they assigned to the student body the sole and unique role of merging with the mass of workers. [24] As for the 'Strasbourg University Scandal', it had been assiduously fanned by the publication of a pamphlet by the local UNEF branch. in fact written by the situationist Mustapha Khayati, entitled : The Poverty of the Student Condition, considered from the Economic, Political, Psychological, Sexual and, in particular, Intellectual Point of View, with some Measures for Remedying it. [25] This paints a contemptuous picture of the student as a member of the most alienated of all sociological categories. He is all the more to be despised for the fact that he believes in an independence which is entirely illusory, and elevates his survival to the status of a way of life : political false consciousness is found in the pure state in the student. Under these curcumstances, he is quite incapable of making, on his own initiative, a critique of the university, of his role in society and of his own alienation. In the same piece, however, Khayati foresees a period of confrontation of which youth 'appears' to be the guiding spirit. [26]

To him, however, this is nothing but a sign heralding a forthcoming revolutionary explosion. A major social crisis is felt more acutely by the young. Lefebvre, for his part, shared this point of view : youth, he wrote in 1962, suffers most from the gap between representation and reality, between the possible and the impossible; but he, too, denied it the function of 'renewing social life', which is the sole prerogative of the proletariat. [27] The fundamentally non-revolutionary nature of youth, as a sociological category, only holds out hope for overcoming this condition at the most primitive level : skinheads (who reject work but accept goods), provos (who rebel, but into a neo-reformism of everyday life), and, finally, rebellious students who, through the medium of their own condition, call in question the whole of society. But they cannot go further, because the content of their subversion is so weak. They can only hand on the torch of dissent to other categories.

By the middle of the nineteen-sixties, if not earlier, the situationists foresaw and predicted the 'second proletarian assault on the class society'. [28] It would present itself in an illegal form : anti-trade-union struggle, wildcat strikes, rejection of the old politics, rebellious youth. But the revolution itself, how would it break out, in what form, what would be its content ? Here the situationists went much further than any other leftist group of the time, breaking with all tradition of revolution and drawing their inspiration from two different sources : the millenarian movement and modern art. [29] All revolutions up to now have been failures. The revolution has to be reinvented. The concept of revolution created by the Situationist International is that of total contestation of modern capitalism. [30] This consists of a multitude of spontaneous acts working towards a radical modification of the space-time imparted by the ruling class. The new revolution thus cannot aspire to the mere seizure of power, a simple renewal of the governing team or of the ruling class : it is power itself which must be suppressed in order to realize art, which is the ultimate objective. The realization of poetry, which at the same time entails superseding it, clearly requires a recognition of one's own desires (stifled by the show society and diminished into pseudo-desires) : free speech, true communication (not unilateral and manipulated, as now), rejection of productivity for its own sake, rejection of hierarchies, of all authority and of all specialization. The liberated man will cease to be homo faber and will become an artist, that is to say the creator of his own works. [31] The revolution will thus be an act of affirmation of the subjectivity of every individual in the cultural field, which is the most vulnerable sector of modern civilization. For it is art which first reveals the extent of the breakdown of values which Marx and Engels did not see, or did not wish to see; [32] for culture, while it is a reflection of the dominant forces of its time, is also and at the same time a scheme for its own supersession. Great artists have also been great revolutionary prophets : Lautréamont and Rimbaud, for example, who surpassed their time in and through their work. This thread, since lost (since modern art has become a piece of merchandise like any other), must be found again. A language of communication must be recreated within a community of dialogue : contestation will also be a search for such a language, that is why it is to be first of all a cultural revolution. Dadaism and surrealism began to destroy the old (alienated) language, but were unable to find a new one to replace it, unable to create a way of life. Their failure is explained by the 'immobilization' of the revolutionary onslaught during the first quarter of this century. Henceforth it became a question of going beyond art : the surrealists were wrong, says H. Lefebvre, to escape from everyday life into the surreal; the important thing to do is to incorporate the miraculous into the everyday; before life can become the art of living, art has to invade life. Why assign this central role to art, and to surpassing it in the revolutionary process ? Because artistic activity enables participation by the individual in the world : art has always been the highest form of creative work. The individual can only become liberated if art ceases to be a specialized activity, ceases to be, in its mercantile form, a reified activity. To paraphrase the leftists, it may be said that men will only be happy when they are all artists.

Between aesthetic creation and the free (artistic) style of life, a middle ground has to be established by the show society : the work of art as a search for aestheticism. The situationists began their activities of contestation (from 1957, and earlier in the Internationale lettriste) with an implacable attack on all aestheticism, on all separate art. In this activity, they have established a number of techniques : redirection, guerrilla warfare in the mass media, the production of situationist comic-strips and films. [33] But their main weapon remains criticism by the pen : the style they have developed and which has reached a remarkably high level of cohesion has adopted some of the techniques of Hegel and the young Marx, such as inversion of the genitive (weapons of criticism, criticism of weapons), dadaism (a rapid flood of words, words used in senses different from their conventional meaning, etc.). But above all, it is a style permeated by irony. [34] Its critique is aimed relentlessly at all who make no effort to progress beyond the show society; it is particularly hard on the traditional left and its 'thinkers'. [35] The revolution, being a generalized counter-force against everyday life, must, we have said, attack existing art. But it must also oppose all is by-products : architecture, town planning, etc. Liberation of the desires requires total reconstruction of the socio-geographical environment. The situationists have given some examples of this form of 'redevelopment' in their experiments in unitary town planning, in 'drifting' (free exploration with no itinerary fixed in advance) and even by drawing up plans of buildings and new towns. [36] Cultural activity as a method of experimental reconstruction of everyday life obviously corresponds to a total liberation of man's desires (contrasted with needs and pseudo-needs, which are 'manufactured'), and to an irruption of subjectivity on to the stage of history.

This incorporation of the subjective dimension in the revolutionary quest is a completely new phenomenon in the tradition of the labour movement, if we exclude individualist anarchism. Even Henri Lefebvre, who in many ways may be regarded as the main precursor of modern leftism, hardly moves away from the traditional ground of collectivism and social objectivity. [37] In the situationist vision of the revolutionary process, which is supposed to culminate in the realization of the 'whole' man (man reconciled with himself), the struggle of the subjective broadens the front of the old class struggle. The origin of this notion, completely foreign to Marxism (which is the theory of the industrial society, to use G. Lichtheim's phrase), may be sought in the works of the 'poétes maudits' and their successors. Vaneigem recognizes this when he writes that Lautréamont had already said it all [38] and that the ancestry of the Situationist International may be traced back through de Sade, Fourier, Lewis Carroll, Lautréamont and the surrealists through all those, in fact, who opened new perspectives to the imagination.

Through the prism of subjectivity, we return to the critique of everyday life, the starting point of the radical critique. Man's subjectivity may find fulfilment in the everyday, not in politics or economics; that is where the most important battlefield is to be found. The exploitation of labour, the only kind considered by Marx. is today included in the wider exploitation of everyday creativity. In this whole area, life has become humdrum, stifling, banal, all passions repressed. But people today want to live. And they perceive the means to that end -- the full life is the new poetry. And the best and most complete revolution of economic structures could never guarantee the achievement of poetry. Nature must be rediscovered, social relationships rebuilt on the foundations of the everyday. Creativity that is spontaneous will break the bonds of the repressive society. It is as artists and creators that individuals become permeated with radical theory, through the will to create and realize that which is in every one of us. Creativity is revolutionary by its very essence : it is not merely a question of bringing art back to its first inspiration, in everyday life, as some (including Lefebvre) would have it, but of changing the latter.

This design of flooding our day-to-day existence with the light of subjectivity is already contained complete in Rimbaud's 'will to change' life; the 'disordering of all the senses' of the adolescent of Charleville is exactly matched by the 'unchaining of the senses' of the situationists. Both are attempts at breaking down all barriers.

The revolution will be victorious on the day when the conditions for the lasting realization of subjectivity have been created. [39] On the eve of the 'events of May' 1968, the situationists believed that the historic hour was at hand : the hour at which radical subjectivity was to encounter the objective possibility of changing the world. They saw on the horizon the prospect of changing the world and 'changing life'. The new era, the era of the revolution accomplished, was itself described in a manner if not entirely new, at least very different from the society of which Lenin and Trotsky dreamed. It was a world in which the realization of individual liberty would create collective liberty : in this there is no question of some kind of superiority on the part of the collective, neither in Rousseau's sense of the general will, nor in the Bolshevik notion of the proletariat, an entity which had become sanctified. Universal harmony would reign : between man and his fellows, man and nature, and man and his own nature -- in short, the harmony of the whole man. Everyday life would be typified by a reversal of perspective : the sum total of individual perspectives harmonized. A reversal because human relationships would no longer be founded on mediation, conditioning, manipulation, but on participation, communication, achievement. It would be the paradisical reign of creativity, spontaneity, pleasure. The criterion would be qualitative : everybody could become an artist and all activities would become creative; poetry would finally become integrated with everyday life.

To describe the new humanity in a few words, it may be said that it represents the civilization of play. All its activities would be in the nature of a game (in the sense of a spontaneously accepted, creative activity). The Situationist International continuously came into conflict with other radical groups, with which it otherwise had a fairly close affinity (such as Socialisme ou Barbarie, for example), over the problem of work : to the situationists, emancipation had to come about through the abolition of work in favour of a 'new type of free activity'. [40] Productive labour has always been idealized and play undervalued. The civilization of technology has pushed this tendency to extremes : it has elevated work to the level of a sacred myth (both in the East and the West). Man has thus been deflected from his creative capacity. The new method of dominating nature would be through the creation of an 'atmosphere of play'. The game would be the sole universal value. Automation makes such a prospect possible, and the 'play' form of social organization will compensate for any surviving disagreeable elements in human activity.

The assertion that productive labour is one of the devices used to ensure the maintenance of order, that the imperatives of productivity are nothing more than imperatives of survival, [41] is utterly foreign to the dominant version of socialism that emerged from the nineteenth century : to the Marxists, man creates himself through work, it is simply a matter of liberating him from exploitation; the anarchists retain a quasi-mystical equation of work with moral value seeing labour as a purifying force, which gives the producer a superiority over the lazy, non-productive capitalist.

It is certain that the situationists, whose aphorism, 'Don't work ever !' covered more than one wall during May-June 1968, are the children of their time, that is to say of a society of relative abundance. Their very logic betrays this : what is the good of ensuring your economic survival if you then die of boredom ? What is one to do with a nature that is fashioned and deformed by men and classified in terms of profit ? The creative activity which they contrast with productive work already belongs to the play era of the future or, as some would say, to utopia. We have seen the direct sources of their inspiration, Lautréamont ('Poetry should be made by all. Not by one.'), de Sade (widening the scope of the desires), and the surrealists. The leftist intention, undoubtedly, is also a quest for the 'whole' man, who, to enrich the concrete nature of his real existence, brings the irrational into his experience. [42] The irrational, as an added dimension has traditionally been invoked, if not monopolized, by reactionary thinkers, as an obscure ('natural') justification for the existing state of things. Leftism, in its desire to enrich everyday life, goes back beyond the rationalism and positivism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to the search for the absolute undertaken by the heretical sects of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, back to feudalism, to the extent that it represents a social order in which the freedom of choice of the individual (of the nobility, needless to say) guarantees the cohesion of the group. Beneath a solid layer of materialism, it attempts to rediscover an epoch before the industrial era when the separation between play and work. between private life and public, professional life had not yet come about. It wants to resuscitate that epoch, to re-establish a still factitious unity in order to surpass it. In this sense, utopia is not intended to serve as an escape-hatch into the unreal, but as a method of exploring the unknown according to this view, utopia is that impossible possible [43] that will bring about the expansion of the area of the everyday.

The new form of social organization will make it possible to realize poetry, and therefore socialism. On a practical level, socialism will come about thanks to a universal movement towards workers' control. That is to say, the running by the masses of their own lives, in all their aspects : in and through workers' control the proletariat will be able to emerge from its struggle against contemplation; it will become the agent of history.


[1] 1956-8 was a period of new discoveries. The West discovered the East, and the East discovered the West. As happens in every phase of revolutionary agitation, a greater measure of freedom of speech began to be exercised, which enabled the French left to familiarize itself with life and ideas behind the Iron Curtain. Every journal had its own reportage, and some of these make highly instructive reading.

[2] Or their gradual transformation. It is remarkable that modern socialists (from Scandinavian-style labourisrn to attempts at renewal like those of the New Left or PSU) which claim that they have broken every link with Marxist--Leninist orthodoxy actually emphasize the fetishism of the structure. In the last resort, their socialism boils down to a programmatic demand for 'structural changes'.

[3] On this point, see the final dissipation of last illusions in No. 8 of Socialisme ou Barbarie (January-February 1951) -- R. Bourt, 'Voyage en Yougoslavie', and H. Bell. 'Le Stalinisme en Allemagne orientale' ; cf. also in No. 19 (1956), C. Lefort, 'Le Totalitarisme sans Staline'.

[4] H. Lefebvre, Critique de la vie quotidienne (Paris, second edition, 1958), pp. 250-51.

[5] cf. the first edition of the Critique de la vie quotidienne (Paris, 1947).

[6] This is particularly evident in the case of Baudelaire cf. H. Lefebvre, ibid.

[7] To convince oneself of this, one need only read the book, partisan though it is, of J. L. Bédouin, Vingt ans de surréalisme (1939-1959) (Paris, 1961).

[8] On the Mouvement lettriste and the Internationale lettriste, see some fragmentary pieces of information in J. L. Brau, Cours, camarade, le vieux monde est derrière toi (Paris, 1968), pp. 59 ff.

[9] For the main features of the situationist analysis, see G. Debord, La Société du spectacle (Paris, 1967); R. Vaneigem, Traité de savoir-vivre à l'usage des jeunes générations (Paris, 1967); and the twelve issues of the journal Internationale situationniste (recently republished in full by Van Gennep, Amsterdam, 1970).

[10] G. Debord, op. cit., p. 137.

[11] Vaneigem, op. cit., p. 89.

[12] Capital, Book I Part 1. Chapter 1, iv. It is interesting to note that to the 'orthodox' Marxists this very passage is out of tune with the rest of Capital and the works of Marx's maturity : 'Last trace of the Hegelian influence, extremely damaging' (L. Althusser, Explanatory Note on Capital[Paris : Flammarion. 1969] , p. 22).

[13] H. Lefebvre, Critique de la vie quotidienne (second edition), Foreword, p. 16.

[14] However, Lefebvre's ideas go further than the view of sociologists like G. Friedmann who contrast leisure and work, stating that man can today fulfil himself only in the former.

[15] Vaneigem, op. cit., p. 44.

[16] Internationale situationniste, 7 (April 1962), p. 13. Cf. also Th. Frey in No. 10 of March 1966.

[17] Internationale situationniste, 8 (January 1963), 'Notes éditoriales'.

[18] 'Le Commencement d'une époque', in Internationale situationniste. 12 (September 1961.

[19] Guy Debord, La Société du spectacle, p. 95.

[20] G. Lukács, History and Class Consciousness (Merlin Press, 1971), P. 100.

[21] R. Vaneigem, 'Banalités de base', in Internationale situationniste, 7 (April 1962).

[22] G. Debord, op. cit., p. 73.

[23] cf. Internationale situationniste, 1 (June 1958), 'Notes éditoriales'. During the first period of their activity (1957-62), the situationists saw art as the priority area for the revolution, for it is this very sector which is the most alienated; cf. Appel aux intellectuels et artistes révolutionnaires, reproduced in Internationale situationniste, 3 (December 1959).

[24] 'Nos buts et nos méthodes dans le scandale de Strasbourg', in Internationale situationniste, 11 (October 1967). At the beginning of the 1966-7 academic year, students favourable to the ideas of the Situationist international got themselves elected to the committee of the local branch of the student union. the UNEF. On the advice of the situationists, they used union funds for the purpose of publishing a number of situationist tracts and pamphlets, and then dissolved their own union branch, arguing in justification that all syndicalism is of the nature of a mystique and bureaucratic to boot. The whole affair is recounted in No. 11 of Internationale situationniste.

[25] De la misére en milieu étudiant considérée sous ses aspects économique, politique, psychologique, sexuel et notamment intellectuel et de quelques moyens pour y remédier (AFGES[Federal Association of Strasbourg Students] , first edition, 1966). There were several editions, and translations were made into several foreign languages.

[26] AFGES, op. cit., p 15.

[27] H. Lefebvre, Introduction á la modernité (Paris, 1962), p. 194. Cf. also the twelfth prelude.

[28] G. Debord, La Société du spectacle. p. 97.

[29] The influence of Socialisme ou Barbarie on the Situationist International should not be underestimated. By 1954 (Socialisme ou Barbarie, 15-16), Chaulieu was writing that modern man needs to liberate himself from all alienations, in particular cultural alienations; that he must refind his lost creativity and capacity for expression.

[30] cf. Guy Debord, 'Perspectives de modification consciente de la vie quotidienne', a paper read to the Research Group into Everyday Life set up by H. Lefebvre, reproduced in Internationale situationniste, 6 (August 1961). Cf. also No. 8 (January 1963), 'Notes éditoriales'.

[31] cf. Internationale situationniste,12 (September 1961, 'Le Commencement d'une époque'.

[32] R. Vaneigem, Traité de savoir-vivre... , p, 185.

[33] cf . the article by R. Vienet entitled 'Les Situationnistes et les nouvelles formes d'action contre la politique de l'art' in Internationale situationniste, 11 (October 1967).

[34] cf. Lefebvre's analysis of irony as a stylistic device that represents a negation of the existing state of affairs : Introduction á la modernité, Introduction.

[35] Ample illustrations will be found in the pages of Internationale Situationniste.

[36] cf. the first five issues of Internationale situationniste. 'The proletarian revolution,' writes Debord, 'is also a critique of human geography through which individuals and communities must construct the landscapes and the events which will enable them to take over. . . the whole of their own history.' Debord, La Société du spectacle, p. 145.

[37] Henri Lefebvre's contribution is primarily sociological; a continuing thread of concern for scientific analysis may be traced through all his works (see his Vie quotidienne dans le monde moderne, and his work on 'urban revolution'). His revolutionary theory is very backward by comparison with his research work, which in its time was truly avant-garde. Despite, or perhaps because of, the criticisms of idealism levelled at him by the CP (since his departure), Lefebvre wants to be regarded as a Marxist and nothing but a Marxist. For his influence on the IS (and vice versa) cf. Internationale situationniste. 11 (October 1967), in f.

[38] 'Banalités de base' (continued) in Internationale situationniste, 8 (January 1963).

[39] R. Vaneigem : 'Avis aux civilisés relativement á l'autogestion généralisée', in Internationale situationniste, 12 (September 1969).

[40] Internationale situationniste, 8, 'Notes éditoriales' ; cf. also No. 1 ('Contribution á une définition situationniste du jeu') and No. 4 (the 'Manifesto' quoted above).

[41] Vaneigem goes so far as to cite the semantic origins of the word for work (Labor) as signifying punishment, penalty -- Traité de savoir-faire. . ., p. 52. This represents a return to the utopian socialism of Fourier, whose hypotheses and projections were henceforward adopted by the leftist movement.

[42] On Lautréamont's contribution in this field. cf. the preface by J. Gracq to P. Ducasse's edition of his Works (published by La Jeune Parque, Paris, 1947).

[43] The expression is derived from H. Lefebvre. It should be pointed out that apocalyptic influences are by no means disowned. G. Debord regards millennialism as a modern revolutionary tendency, but one which still speaks the language of religion : Debord, La Société du spectacle, p. 116.