Situating the Situationists - Radical Chains

Situating the Situationists - Radical Chains

A critique of The Most Radical Gesture; The Situationist International in the Post Modern Age by Sadie Plant.

radical chains
SITUATING THE SITUATIONISTS - THE MOST MODERN DISCOURSE

born again

The Situationist International and its derivatives have been experiencing something of a revival in recent years. Associated with this phenomenon has been an attempt by the academic establishment to integrate Situationist ideas into Cultural Studies; and at the same time to breathe life into its own moribund post modern discourse. The Most Radical Gesture: the Situationist International in the Post Modern Age by Sadie Plant (Routledge, 1992) is the most comprehensive attempt at such a recuperation. Her motivation is to submit post modernism's heritage and traditions, which according to her are to be found most particularly in the Situationist International, to the spotlight of academic analysis; and, in so doing, reinvigorate the post modern project. Her book, she insists, has a 'specific mission': "In telling the story of the situationist influence on contemporary culture and insisting on the pivotal significance of the movement to a century of political, artistic and philosophical debate, it [the book] has explored the possibilities of critical thought revealed by this history and tried to reintroduce some sense of meaning, purpose, and passion to a postmodern discourse of futile denial" (p.183).

the spectacle

The way in which she prepares her case, by extensive quotation, referencing and full bibliography, make it an important book for anyone with an interest in this subject. She provides a particularly complete account of the work of the leading theorist of the Situationist International, Guy Debord. In his book The Society of the Spectacle (SoS), Detroit, Black and Red (1977) [translated from La Societe du Spectacle, Paris, Buchet-Chastel 1967], Debord maintained that in modern society life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles, where everything that was directly lived has moved away into representation. The 'spectacle' is not a collection of images but a social relation mediated by images. It defines the alienated individual as a passive, contemplative spectator consuming, but otherwise not involved in, their own life and the world around them. Yet, the spectacle is, paradoxically, in turn (relationally) defined by the active desirings of the same individual , whose dreams and imaginings, inspired by the spectacle, contain the means by which the spectacle and its alienations can be transformed. The negation of life contains its own negation.

the story so far

Sadie Plant enunciates the development of the Situationist International as part of a tradition of reaction to the dehumanising effects of the commodity form. This tradition includes Marxist theory and philosophy, in contradiction to orthodox Marxism which merely perpetuates it, various artistic avant-garde modernisms and cultural critics - in particular Futurism, Dada and Surrealism - and other forms of spontaneous refusal and resistance. Representations of these antagonisms converged in 1957 in Italy with the amalgamation of the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus (IMIB), Nuclear Art, the London Psychogeographical Society and the Lettrist International at the First World Conference of Liberated Artists to form the Situationist International. Beginning as a subversive art movement, they evolved into a practice that denied art insofar as it was not political, and denied the political in so far as it did not involve the revolutionary transformation of everyday life. In this way they sought to destroy the gap between art and politics to create not simply a new form of art or a new form of politics, but a new form of life. They were defined most clearly by their involvement in the revolutionary upheavals of 1968 in Paris and elsewhere. They provided the text and the sub-text for this extraordinary period, inventing, designing and rehabilitating forms of revolutionary activity and re-interpreting the alienated and alienating structures of modern society through the perspective of possibility. Their denouement was the denouement of that time. They disappeared within it, or rather, the way in which they were destroyed - controlled self-destruction - provided the basis for new life. The Situationist International is not extinct, it has become something else, providing the inspiration for a kaleidoscope of cultural, political and social oppositions, artistic subversions and assorted revolutionary milieux, including this revolutionary milieux, and my place in it.

The Situationist International was a real expression of revolution, and yet it was not the revolution. In that sense the Situationist International was inadequate. It could provide no basis for opposition outside the spectacle and became, therefore, a part of the spectacle. In order to recreate the revolution it is necessary to recreate the Situationist International and make it more. It is not enough to simply repeat it, as the radicals do, but rather to write through it, to make up for its inadequacies, to theorise more completely their complete account, rather than celebrate their theoretical weaknesses. These theoretical weaknesses are not just theoretical, they have political implications. There can be no revolution developing from Situationist theory. The revolutionary theory of the Situatonist International must be revolutionised.

idiosyncratic

Through an 'idiosyncratic' (Sadie Plant's description), account of post modernism she attempts to place the Nietzschian inspired, nihilisms of Lyotard, Baudrillard, Foucault and others within this most optimistic Situationist discourse. As she says: "in spite of the radical opposition of situationist and post modern thought, all theorisations of postmodernity are underwritten by situationist theory and the social and cultural agitations in which it is placed. The situationist spectacle prefigures contemporary notions of hyperreality, and the world of uncertainty and superficiality described and celebrated by the postmodernists is precisely that which the situationist first subjected to passionate criticism" (p.5). She argues that while post modernism does, in a sense constitute a radical difference from the situationist project, a number of continuities makes it impossible to oppose the two world views completely (p.112). She connects the post modern to the Situationist International by tracing the autobiographical connections and shared ideological preoccupations between Debord and Lyotard, similarities between the work of Debord and the early Baudrillard and points to the use of identical techniques: derive, detournemont, montage, cut-ups; subject matter: urbanism, the commodity, love, play, everyday life; and to their various reversals of perspectives by which they tried to redefine modern society, i.e. the politics of the aesthetic and the aesthetic of politics, the language of culture and the culture of language, the philosophy of power and the power of philosophy.

While she is right to draw our attention to these similarities, the attempt to rejuvenate post modernism with Situationist theory is doomed because she does not understand the limitations of the Situationist project, of its own critique, nor of the critique of its own critique. While the Situationist International do not, unlike post modernism, set out to confirm the victory of the commodity and the corresponding death of the subject, they do not provide an adequate theory of subjectivity which could escape the logic of their commodity-spectacle. These limits become her limits and ultimately the limits of the book. The limits of this review are that it focuses on the credibility of the Situationist International as a coherent revolutionary theory. The legitimacy of post modernism to make any such claims for coherence have been extensively dealt with elsewhere (e.g. Callinicos, Berman, Harvey ).

context

Sadie Plant's comparative analysis is severely constrained by her inability to contextualise the Situationist International other than against a crude, vulgar, orthodox Marxism, an interpretation she gets from Debord (SoS:84-89). This leads her to conclude that the SI is a development of Marx - a new paradigm (p.9). The Situationist International did, in fact, contain a certain originality and was a significant and serious attempt to contradict orthodox Marxism and various examples of social democracy with a rediscovery of the communistic perspective by which humanity is redeemed through the activity of the working class emancipating itself (SoS:74). And yet, despite that, it was still an incomplete formulation of a revolutionary theory, pieced together from an interpretation of Marx's early work and a plagiarism - plagiarism being no bad thing in the Situationist world (SoS:207) - of the work of various Hegelian inspired Marxist philosophers most notably Lukacs, Lefebre, and Adorno - of whom she is curiously silent, the only reference appearing in the bibliography. It is this open endedness centering on an inadequate theory of abstraction based on a formal, rather than determinate analysis of the abstractions of modern society (see Introduction to Gundrisse p.100 ), producing a phenomenal study of society's phenomenal forms, which gives the Situationist International its wide appeal to post modernists, and provides the space for Sadie Plant to attempt her incorporation.

alienation

The limitations of the Situationist theory begin from their analysis of production. They do not ignore production, as Jean Barrot would have it in What is Situationism: Critique of the Situationist International (Unpopular Books, p.27, 1987), but refer to it directly. Their notion of separation is, in fact, explicitly based on the alienating processes of modern production (see Ch. 1 'Separation Perfected' in SoS, and :140). Their theoretical problems arise because of their inadequate account of the processes of production and its resulting alienating forms. This inadequate theory of abstraction is based on a common formalist misreading of Marx on the subject of alienation. Following Marx in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844), Debord identifies alienation as the major problem for modern (wo)man in modern society. Following Levebvre, he attributes alienation to the division of labour: "It is equally clear that Marx sees the division of labour (his italics) as the cause of alienation" (p.63 Critique of Everyday Life Vol. 1 1947, republished Verso 1991). As Debord put it: "Separation is the alpha and omega of the spectacle. The institutionalisation of the social division of labour, the formation of classes ... it shows what it [the spectacle] is: separate power developing in itself, in the growth of productivity by means of the incessant refinement of the division of labour into a parcelization of gestures which are then dominated by the independent movement of machines; and working for an ever-expanding market. All community and all critical sense are dissolved during this movement in which the forces that could grow by separating are not yet reunited" (SoS:25). This explanation has serious implications for the Situationist International. Constrained by an analysis based on the organisational form of what is essentially commodity and not capitalist production - the division of labour occurs in all productive societies - they are unable to theorise the basis of working class antagonism and are reduced to prescriptive, external and organisational solutions, e.g. workers councils. And without an understanding of the nature of the determinations to which the capitalist worker is subjected and objected, they are reduced to reproducing the voluntaristic wish-come-true desiring dreams of the not-yet post Blochian subject where commodity labour is overcome not by its overthrow but in its generalisability: not only a baker, but a footballer, graphic designer, and teacher as well. Or, as Lautremont might say, we are all poets now.

alienated labour

This explanation for the causes of separation does not contain an explanation of the determinations of capitalist commodity production. This is a basic misunderstanding of Marx's critique of political economy which he described initially in his theory of alienated labour and developed later in Capital as his theory of the value form and commodity fetishism. In the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844), Marx argued that it is not private property (the commodity) that is the foundation of alienated labour, but - on the contrary - that alienated labour is the foundation of private property. In a society based on commodity production "the worker becomes poorer the more wealth he produces ... The devaluation of the human world grows in direct proportion to the increase in value of the world of things. Labour not only produces commodities; it also produces itself and the workers as a commodity ... The product of labour [becomes] the objectification of labour. His labour becomes an alien object that exists ndependently of the worker ...[and]... the more the worker exerts himself in his work, the more powerful the alien, objective world becomes which he brings into being over and against himself ... What the product of his labour is, he is not." (Marx, 1844: 324). This alienated activity, the way in which the product of labour comes to exist apart from the direct producer, is the result of the fact that the worker is not working to satisfy his own needs but the needs of someone outside himself. It is therefore 'forced labour' which belongs to someone else. Thus through the activity of work the worker is lost to himself. But the worker is not only detached from himself he is also estranged from his species and his species-life: the active fashioning, creation and contemplation of the world around him and from other workers. But if the worker is lost to himself , his loss is someone else's gain: "If the product of labour does not belong to the worker, and if it confronts him as an alien power, this is only possible because it belongs to a man other than the worker" (ibid:330).

revolution

By explaining the basis of separation Marx reveals the process whereby social needs and capacities can be reunited. This can only happen with the abolition of private property: if alienated labour is the basis of private property, the abolition of private property can only take the form of the abolition of alienated labour. Marx concluded: "... the emancipation of society from private property, etc., is expressed in the political form of the emancipation of the workers. This is not because it is only a question of their emancipation, but because in their emancipation is contained universal emancipation" (ibid:333). By this Marx did not reduce the category 'worker' to men working directly in factories, but extends the domination of capitalist production to the whole of human experience: "The reason for this universality is that the whole of human servitude is involved in the relation of the worker to production and all relations of servitude are nothing but modifications and consequences of this relation" (ibid:333). The potential for transcendence of the commodity form can only therefore be contained within the activity of the working class: in the revolutionary abolition of themselves as workers.

the spectacle

Marx developed this work more concretely through his analysis of the commodity, the concept with which he begins Capital. Debord, in SoS, begins with the commodity. However, while Marx, working from the abstract to the concrete, goes on to reveal the many and rich determinations from which and out of which the commodity is derived, and is so doing provides an explanation for the eventual overthrow of the commodity in all its forms, Debord analysis of the commodity, stuck in the abstract notion of 'the spectacle', ends with the victory of the commodity. He never escapes the commodity nightmare system that he constructs. Unable to reveal the basis for revolutionary antagonism nor the real life contradictions in which, through which and out of which class opposition occurs, Debord's working class subject is reduced either to the 'other' of liberal social theory : a radical individual entranced by the 'propaganda of desires' (SoS:53); or, following his formalist account of alienation, is generalised into a collective political consciousness through the instrument of the workers' council. Trapped within a closed system of commodity logic, where possibility is reduced to innovation, Debord's commodity form moves towards its absolute realisation: the spectacle (SoS:66). The spectacle becomes what it has always been for Debord, the subject of its own process. He is not able to theorise the other subject within the process: antagonistic subject (the working class) by which the spectacle can b transcended. The basis for this misunderstanding is that he does not understand value, the value-form, the self-expansion of value, value-in-motion : capital.

value versus theory of utility

Without an understanding of value, Debord cannot adequately explain how and why the system reproduces itself, and therefore how it can be transcended. Instead he attempts to counterpose against the law of value - of which he has little to say other than in functionalist (SoS45) and regulatory terms (SoS:46) - a theory of general utility by which he can theorise his spectacle. For him: "The spectacle is the other side of money: it is the general abstract equivalent of all commodities. Money dominated society as the representation of general equivalence, namely, of the exchangeability of different goods whose uses could not be compared. The spectacle is the developed modern complement of money where the totality of the commodity world appears as a whole, as a general equivalence for what the entire society can be and can do. The spectacle is the money which one only looks at, because in the spectacle the totality of use is already exchanged for the abstract representation. The spectacle is not only the servant of pseudo-use, it is already in itself the pseudo-use of life" (SoS:49). This attempted generalisation of consumption is an extension of the formal logic which Debord used to explain alienation in production (the division of labour). That is, a process by which the consumer is separated not only passively from the spectacle, through contemplation; but also actively: in the act of dissatisfied consumption based on their own pseudo-need, and the fact that the commodity is not what it claims to be. However, Debord is arguing against himself. His spectacle cannot exist. If use value exists only in use then it cannot exist as non-use, as contemplation, or as not-useful-pseudo-use. Marx has already addressed this matter in Capital I and A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Lawrence and Wishart, 1971). Not only is it the usefulness of a thing that makes it a use value, with usefulness being a function of that which is peculiar to itself, e.g. its physical properties (Capital 1 p.126), this usefulness has value only in use, and is realised only in the process of consumption (Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy p.27). The concept of utility is meaningless except where it has a particular material form. As something in general it has no meaning and is therefore unreal ( Kay in Value ed. D. Elson, CSE Books, 1979: 'Why Labour is the Starting Point of Capital' p.53). It exists purely in the imagination of Debord, the unreality of which he is forced to concede with his notion of pseudo-life: an escape into contentless abstraction.

metaphysics: false consciousness and pseudo-need

While Debord refers to this 'illusion' as the fetishism of commodities(SoS:67) this is not the same thing as Marx's commodity fetishism. This is not simply an academic point. Debord's metaphysical imaginings have not-Marxist consequences in that they lead into and from Lukacsian notions of (false) consciousness which provide the intellectual legitimation around which elitist parties and their ideologues can gather. While the Situationist International reject vanguardism (SoS:96) and advocate direct participation, emphasising the importance of political activity by the working class as the basis of emancipation, Debord does not theorise adequately the basis of this activity. He demonstrates a tendency to idealise consciousness and to separate intellectual activity from practical action with a propensity to grant a certain primacy to an Hegelian interpretation of the dialectic with its emphasis on thought process as above, beyond and before practical activity. Therefore, "it requires workers to ecome dialecticians and to inscribe their thought into practice" (SoS:123) and "The class struggles ... develop together with the thought of history, the dialectic, the thought which no longer stops to look for the meaning of what is, but rises to a knowledge of the dissolution of all that is, and in its movement dissolves all separation" (SoS:75).

Related to the notion of false consciousness is the Debordian concept of pseudo-need. Debord uses this idea to theorise the basis of the contradiction of 'the spectacle'. Antagonism to the commodity form is based on the fact that it is either not what it claims to be, leading to dissatisfaction, or it is what it claims to be but what it is addresses a false need. That is Debord compares the material existence of the commodity with a metaphysical and idealistic notion of human need: "the satisfaction of primary human needs is replaced by an uninterrupted fabrication of pseudo-needs which are reduced to the single pseudo-need of maintaining the reign of the autonomous economy" (SoS:51). If commodity production produces pseudo-need then it can only be producing pseudo-abundance which undermines the progressive nature of capital and an essential prerequisite for communism.

These are very different interpretations from those of Marx who saw the consciousness of the working class coming out of working class activity itself (immanent), who identifies contradiction in the commodity form itself (immanent: not between the commodity and something which it is not: an external point of reference), and who theorised need and its development as an immanent progressive part of the capitalist production process (Grundrisse p.409-410). In order to see the differences more clearly it is necessary to look at Marx's route to fetishism through the law of value.

the law of value

Liberal social theory is based on an analysis of society as a proprietorial relationship between private individuals and the things that they own. However, working from an abstract model of direct commodity production, Marx showed that in commodity producing societies things are not produced for appropriation by their direct producers but for the quality of their exchangeability (alienated labour) with other commodities on which the direct producer relies for their continuing subsistence and further commodity production. So that, what appears as an intensely private activity is, in fact, the manifestation of an extensively social relationship. "Each act of production or exchange only makes sense as a moment of the total process of social production, so the motive of each exchange can only be found in the process as a whole" (Clarke, Marx, Marginalism and Modern Sociology, Macmillan 1991: p122). And so while the desirability of each commodity is determined by the concrete quality (use value) of a particular thing, exchange itself is an expression of the social relation (value) out of which the thing was produced. So that value endorses not the quantity of labour embodied in a commodity - an idea which characterised the Ricardian and liberal models of private properties exchangeability - but, rather, is a recognition of the social usefulness of a product and the socially necessary labour that constitutes its production. The significance of this discovery was that the fetishistic notions of freedom and equality on which liberal individuality were based were called into question as were their socialistic antidotes (radical subjectivity). But in order to substantiate this as yet abstract theory based on the notion of alienation Marx had to investigate value more precisely (concretely) and in particular the way in which this process not only reproduces itself but also expands.

labour-power

It was with the discovery of labour-ower (the social form of labour) that Marx was able to postulate not only the source of surplus value (the social content) but also the material basis upon which separation of modern society is established and maintained (alienation): through the law of money, the law of contract and the state. These alienated forms of social power constitute the maintenance of 'universal subjectivity': the right of individuals to own property in abstraction from property in its historical materiality. This is essential for the intensification of property into capital and labour: the emergence of a class of workers who are formally free to own property, but who own no property except their own person; and for the emergence of capital as the self-constituting, ever-expanding subject of private property. The formal content of liberal capitalism, the freedom and liberty of the individual, is thus contrasted with the absolute poverty of individuals as a class of producers, a class alienated and estranged from the necessities of life, other than those required for their continuing reproduction as workers, and all property except the self (Taylor and Neary 'Robert Ross, Probation and the Problem of Rationality' forthcoming, Centre for Crime and Social Justice, Edge Hill University).

In this more concrete analysis the direct producer is replaced by the capitalist employer and the worker. The worker sells his labour-power, the capacity to work, at its value (the wage): that which is necessary for its continuing reproduction for a limited time. The specific quality of labour power, unlike other 'values' is that its consumption involves production of value. But, having been purchased, the labour-power can be made to work for a longer period than it needs to reproduce himself. But, not only that, the worker has renounced all right to the product of their work and as such has no interest in developing the capacity of their labour-power beyond the terms of their contract of employment. Quite the reverse, with no material interest in the product of their own labour workers seek to appropriate more of the surplus value than they have produced and for a shorter working day, or less intensive working arrangements against dehumanising and degrading work practices. In order to maximise their surplus (profit) the employer has to ensure that the amount of value paid out to her employees is kept to minimum and that the workers work as intensively and for as long as possible without reservation. This is, therefore, a relationship of antagonism and contradiction. This is not a natural process but involves two antagonistic wills. And what is more, because of the equitable nature of the exchange, two wills with right on their side: "There is here therefore an antimony, of right against right, both equally bearing the seal of exchange. Between equal rights, force decides." (Capital I: 344) The capitalist is simply enforcing his right over the commodity labour power when, driven by the pressure of competition, he attempts to make it work as intensively and for as long as possible; and the worker, because of the nature of the labour contract, with its specified limited duration and duties, is attempting to enforce her rights as the possessor of her own commodity labour power. Capital is forced labour.

subjectivity

Separation is now given a concrete material and socially specific reality. It takes the form of the working class as a mass of people separated from themselves (labour and labour-power) and the means of their own survival (the means of production). The process by which commodity production is maintained - separation (the commodity-form): the premise of production - becomes its result: separation (the commodity-form). But the subject of labour cannot be totally commodified (objectified) for it is constituted by the life-force of humanity which contains within itself the possibility of the appropriation and unification by itself (labour) of that which has been apropriated and separated by capital. This life-force forms, on the one hand, the basis for capital's continual restructuring of society appearing in its most modern ideological guise as post modernism, and on the other, the basis for labour expressing itself as subjectivity: the working class, in all its antagonistic forms, transcending through struggle determined by the capital relation the limits of that relation and ultimately of itself as the proletariat. This is the nature of working class subjectivity that the Situationist International was unable to explain.

value and fetishism

It is this relationship of contradiction antagonism and struggle over production, generalised through reproduction to the whole of human experience, and apparent in the everyday disputes between employer and employee, that forms the social basis for the social relations of capitalist society and by which their contradictory nature can be understood. Indeed, it is only through an understanding of the labour and valorisation process that commodity fetishism can be adequately theorised. It is this contradiction between use value (labour) and value (the capitalist labour process) where the social reproduction of the worker is subordinate to the reproduction of capital that finds its expression in the commodity form. It is only through the direct suppression of labour (use value) that capital (value) can expand. The expansion of value is constrained by the only process through which it can be directly produced, and the direct producers are determined by the very process that they themselves produce. Value is a form of social labour, in order to produce itself it must overcome itself and in order to be recognised it must appear in another form: use-value. It is only in the form of its opposite that it can express itself and be recognised in exchange. Only through the thing (use value) can the social form (value) be represented. It is this process which results in the concrete-abstract phenomena which Marx describes as commodity fetishism.

That is to say, and this is a crucial point, the contradiction lies in the value expansion process itself and not between value and something else. It is immanent. The law of value is undermined by itself, in the very act of its production. While it is true that this opposition expresses itself in the form of working class organisation, it is not this organisation that has provided the dynamic for the antagonism in the first place.

back to Sadie Plant:

And so the limits of the Situationist International become Sadie Plant's limits uncritically repeated. Sadie Plant understands that opposition to capital can only arise in, through and against capitalist social relations; but she is unable, following Debord, to theorise the nature of that antagonistic subjectivity. Repeating his account of commodity fetishism (p.11) she is unable to theorise the basic contradiction within capital, reducing it to an exogenous symptom of consumer dissatisfaction "between life as it is and life as it could be" (p.12); and mystification "poverty is enforced and reproduced by the production of commodities which pretend to offer satisfactions they continually deny and which in turn reproduces the alienation and isolation experienced in production" (p.23). Production is then reduced by her to the logic of capital and its diamatic, synthetic, dynamic: the essential antagonism of capitalist society being the contradiction between the forces and relations of production (p.12-14). But this account describes a deterministic process which denies the very thing it is trying to identify. Radical subjectivity is trapped within predetermined "perpetual cycles of redevelopment ... [in the midst of which] ... revolution is, of course, the one change precluded by the spectacle. Change occurs within the spectacle, but the spectcle is static: time frozen into its own commodification and constantly reproducing itself in cycles of return." (p.26). So that the spectacle produces not only itself but the opposition to itself. But as the spectacle does not exist, then neither can its opposition. Or rather, the form in which the spectacle appears, in the dream-like imagination of Debord, is the form in which opposition expresses itself. This antagonism is left to reveal itself as the declared faith and assertive confidence of Debord's disciples.

Why PM and SI now?

Sadie Plant's book, as with post modernism by 'design' and the Situationist theory by default, constitute a distraction. The question that remains to be asked is why is this distraction situated in this most modern form. Post modernism is the ideological phenomenal form of the underlying capital relation currently experiencing a generalised crisis of profitability, struggling to reconvene, as it would have it, the conditions for growth. It is attempting to do this by restructuring social relations through the reconstitution of the abstract individual via the depoliticization of the economy (Reaganism, Thatcherism, Citizen Major etc.). Premised on the naturalism of the commodity and capitalist social relations, liberal social theory, faced with the increasing decomposition of its idealised social order, retreats even further into the abstract where the abstract individual of modernity has been further deconstructed by abstraction into a series of separated individuals (sexual, consumer, citizen). Post-modern individuality is constituted as an abstraction from the abstract individual (Taylor and Neary).

The Situationist International is 'the other' of liberal social theory. Unable to explain the basis of radical antagonism, it is left with no adequate description of an antagonistic subject, other than 'the other' of liberal theories' rational choosing individual, reconstituted as the desiring dissatisfied deconstructor. As Debord can provide no meaningful account of how this systematic model can be transcended the Situationist International and its derivatives escape into their own form of abstraction. While post modernism escapes into a series of 'others', Situationist theory is an attempt to define not the essentials of otherness but 'the otherness' of 'otherness': an abstraction of an abstraction (hyper-reality). The positive element of this is that it attempts, against post modernism, to focus on subjectivity and the part played by real people in real life processes. The danger is that it reifies subjectivity, e.g. 'youth': "the transformation of what exists" (SoS:62), reducing it to a series of formless abstractions which it then attempts to rescue through prescriptive organisationalism categorised as revolutionary working class activity.

recognition

Debord was careful never to claim too much. He could describe but not explain. As he said, he prophesied nothing. He simply pointed out what was already present and to the significance of various forms of antagonistic activity, e.g. youth crime, ignored or condemned by previous commentators. His was a serious and significant attempt to theorise revolution. It is important to engage with Debord as he hoped we would and challenged us to do; and to rigorously contemporise the nature of class struggle in the act of which that radical subjectivity which he tried unsuccessfully to identify - because it can never be identified - might more concretely express itself and be recognised.

M.Neary