THE SYSTEM OF DOCTOR TARR AND DOCTOR FETHER
“In the same way, by way of F, D is transformed into E, so that everything can return to B, which, in its circulation, must be turned into E, from which one must derive F. In our teachings, this corresponds to the place of Aqua Vitae and the malodorous spirit, because in this way F has the power to transform D and H by way of the preservation of their forms. They then possess in their activity everything that was potential in the work of nature, thanks to the best intermediaries, due to and by virtue of the extremities, since in F and D, F, G and H are active, having been distilled, purified and dissolved with force, thanks to the intelligence of the wisdom of nature. It is therefore necessary to extract and separate a part of D and a part of E; one will thus obtain F, which will imitate nature in the work of art in the best ways, with the help of C and D, which come from H and F, which descend from H to B. B produces F, which is transformed into G, following the course of nature in our teachings. And this G is the nearest approximation of the raw material, with which we produce our perfect remedy, which is the fermentation of the elixir.”
Pseudo-Ramon Llull, Testament
After having quietly fermented for several years, the prima materia began to froth in May 1968, disseminating the “radioactive radical nucleus” in all directions. The SI saw this explosion as a confirmation of its theory against all those who, arguing on the basis of their common sense, sought to prove the impossibility that such an almost spontaneous revolt could take place. The situationists participated in this revolt to the fullest extent of their abilities, attempting to radicalize the “occupations movement”. As they related almost immediately afterwards, however, in Enragés and Situationists in the Occupations Movement, the “collapse of an attempt at direct democracy at the Sorbonne” was already evident on May 17, and was only the prelude to the “main failure” of the movement.
Nonetheless, since at the time they preferred to opt for a more optimistic analysis, the situationists wanted to see the occupations movement as “the beginning of an era”. It must be pointed out, however, that the temperature of the crucible only diminished over the course of the months and years that followed, despite all their voluntaristic proclamations to the contrary. Faced with the decline of the movement, the SI went on to attempt to put their own house in order, a stage characterized by a process of self-criticism that led, as was previously the case, to expulsions and resignations. This self-critique, however, was only partial, since it led the last members of the SI to employ it exclusively against Vaneigem, a critique which, if they had only conscientiously examined it, applied to them as well.
In a 1970 text that was included in The Veritable Split in the International (“Communiqué of the S.I. concerning Vaneigem”), Vaneigem is accused of not being anything but a “contemplative”. The radicality of the theses elaborated in The Revolution of Everyday Life served Vaneigem as a pretext
“to spare himself all the fatigues, and all the historical risks, of the realization. The goal being total, it is only envisaged in a pure present: it is already there as a whole, as far as one believes one can make it believed, or else it remained purely inaccessible: one did not succeed in doing anything to define it or to approach it.”
The “general formulation of the most total revolutionary program” was degraded into a “mysticism” and “bluff” from the moment when its practical implementation evaporated before the discourse of the prayer, the litany of the quest for the absolute: “What has been declared perfect, will thus one day have to be declared totally non-existent.”
As early as 1966, Debord had already criticized as a “pre-Hegelian manifestation of idealism” the attitude that consisted in attributing to the members of the SI “an immediate intuition of the totality” that would allow its adepts to “discourse superbly about everything” (“Report of Guy Debord to the 7th Conference of the S.I. in Paris”, extracts from which are reproduced in The Veritable Split). For this form of abstraction grants those who cultivate it the certainty of not being subject to refutation by concrete experience, since all practical realizations will fall far short of their sublime aspirations; and the constant invocation of “practice” does not affect this. The search for perfect positivity, purged of all conflict, is illusory because it lacks precisely the negative, which the test of events cannot help but introduce. And when this test, in its bitter reality, dissolves the fragile castles in the air, the pure gold is turned into base lead.1
It might seem strange that, even though they had expressed anticipations about the unreality that underlies such discourses for such a long time—even before the publication by Gallimard of The Revolution of Everyday Life—the situationists had to wait until 1970 to discover that Vaneigem was one of those pre-Hegelian idealists already anathemized by Debord. Up until then, it would seem that they had become accommodated to him, since in 1969 Vaneigem had published a very idealist and hardly-dialectical profession of faith: his “Notice to the Civilized concerning Generalized Self-Management” (I.S., no. 12), whose title implicitly refers to a text by Fourier.
In this text Vaneigem poses the two terms of a choice: on the one hand, “generalized self-management”, defined as a “new society of abundance”; on the other hand, “insurrectional chaos”, characterized by “social disintegration, pillage, terrorism and repression”. The former is just as beautiful and as harmonious as the latter is horrible. It is easy to see that such a neat cleavage between revolution-as-fairy-tale and revolution-as-nightmare is anti-dialectical, since it excludes in advance any manifestation of the negative within the absolute positivity of the new golden age. It is excluded because otherwise the revolution would have to be viewed as an incessant struggle with the contradictions that must inevitably arise in historical reality; and this would amount to admitting that the revolution can be tarnished with impurities. In a text of this kind, duly praised by the situationists—unless you think that the confusion of the post-68 period led them to publish just anything in the 12th issue of their journal—utopia appears in its truth as a rejection of history, as the dream of a finally discovered unity, an eternal and magical reconciliation of opposites, in which sea water would suddenly lose its salty taste and become (in accordance with the prediction of Fourier) a delicious lemonade.
The surrealists had proclaimed in 1924: “We have to create a new declaration of the rights of man” (La Révolution surréaliste, no. 1).2 In “Notice to the Civilized”, Vaneigem gave this program, which up until then had been quite vague, a more explicit content:
“The new ‘rights of man’—everyone’s right to live as they please, to build their own house, to participate in all assemblies, to arm themselves, to live as nomads, to publish what they think (to each his or her own wall-newspaper), to love without restraints; the right to meet, the right to the material equipment necessary for the realization of desires, the right to creativity, the right to the conquest of nature, the end of commodity time, the end of history in itself, the realization of art and the imagination, etc.—await their antilegislators.”
One cannot help but observe in this list, besides the “end of history in itself”—which Vaneigem opposed with the “pleasure of history for itself” (formulations that do not at all mitigate the “pre-Hegelian idealism” that the whole text expresses)—two “rights” that merit closer examination: “the right to the material equipment necessary for the realization of desires” and the “right to the conquest of nature”. The first is explained in more detail as follows:
“The councils will naturally distinguish between priority sectors (food, transportation, telecommunications, metallurgy, construction, clothing, electronics, printing, armament, health care, comfort, and in general whatever material equipment is necessary for the permanent transformation of historical conditions); reconversion sectors, whose workers consider that they can detourn them to revolutionary uses; and parasitical sectors, whose assemblies decide purely and simply to suppress them.… (administration, bureaucratic agencies, spectacle production, purely commercial industries)….”
This situationist revolutionary program sketched by Vaneigem makes almost no changes in the existing structure of production; it lacks neither telecommunications nor electronics (sectors which are moreover very closely linked), which he designates as priority sectors. The administrative, bureaucratic, etc., superstructures are the only ones that he considers to be “parasitic”, and therefore slated for abolition. Vaneigem also says:
“Only the councils offer a definitive solution. What prevents looting? The organization of distribution and the end of the commodity system. What prevents sabotage of production? The appropriation of the machines by collective creativity. What prevents explosions of anger and violence? The end of the proletariat through the collective construction of everyday life. There is no other justification for our struggle than the immediate satisfaction of this project—than what satisfies us immediately.”
Here we can see, as in other situationist texts (by Vaneigem, Debord and others) the acceptance as such of the Marxist idea that all that is necessary is to place the structures of production in other hands, transferring them from those of the capitalists to those of the proletarians, in order to qualitatively transform the nature of factory work. The “appropriation of the machines by collective creativity” will perform this transmutation. The idea that the system of needs established by industry must be reconsidered in its entirety as something intrinsically alienating, regardless of whose hands operate it, did not occur to Vaneigem. In his view, what must be abolished are the “parasitic” superstructures, not the system of production as such. Here we touch upon the weak point of the theory of the spectacle, which in the last analysis is only a partial critique, although of course a very seductive one, of industrial society. That which constitutes its seductive quality is also the source of its weakness: this theory formally preserves the Hegelian-Marxist schema of “supersession” and is fully inscribed within the ideology of progress, converting by magical arts the negativity of the alienated world into the positivity of a liberated world as the workers councils seize the factories. The maintenance of the program of “the conquest of nature”—which must not be limited by anything, since it is a “right”—clearly illustrates that there is no break with the industrial system:3 the theory of the spectacle draws no conclusions from the fact that the “spectacle-commodity society” is also, indissociably, an industrial society.
In his famous text from 1966 on the Watts Riots (“The Decline and Fall of the Spectacular-Commodity Society”, I.S., no. 10), Debord wrote:
“… the Los Angeles blacks take modern capitalist propaganda, its publicity of abundance, literally. They want to possess now all the objects shown and abstractly accessible, because they want to use them. In this way they are challenging their exchange-value, the commodity reality which molds them and marshals them to its own ends, and which has preselected everything. Through theft and gift they rediscover a use that immediately refutes the oppressive rationality of the commodity, revealing its relations and even its production to be arbitrary and unnecessary. The looting of the Watts district was the most direct realization of the distorted principle: “To each according to their false needs”—needs determined and produced by the economic system which the very act of looting rejects. But once the vaunted abundance is taken at face value and directly seized, instead of being eternally pursued in the rat-race of alienated labor and increasing unmet social needs, real desires begin to be expressed in festive celebration, in playful self-assertion, in the potlatch of destruction. People who destroy commodities show their human superiority over commodities. […] Looting is a natural response to the unnatural and inhuman society of commodity abundance. […] now for the first time the problem is not to overcome scarcity, but to master material abundance according to new principles. Mastering abundance is not just changing the way it is shared out, but totally reorienting it. This is the first step of a vast, all-embracing struggle.”
How can this critique of false needs and of the so-called “society of abundance” be made to accord with the words of Vaneigem concerning pillage and sabotage, which are said to lack any object in the “new society of abundance” because of “the organization of distribution and the end of the commodity system” and “the appropriation of the machines by collective creativity”? Because Debord only criticized the “society of abundance” from the perspective of the “abundance of commodities”, not as an industrial society. The products of this society are not condemned as “product[s] of human labor” of a particular type, but only as “commoditie[s] with the magical property of having to be paid for”. Debord’s text, although it does lay stress on the “potlatch of destruction”, does acknowledge the possibility that these industrial products might lend themselves to “a use that immediately refutes the oppressive rationality of the commodity” (“a mere refrigerator or rifle — a passive, inanimate object, subject to anyone who comes along to make use of it”) from the moment when they cease to be produced in a “spectacular-commodity” society, because they cannot be essentially distinguished, by their mode of production, from any other “product of human labor”. It would thus be possible for a non-commodified industrial society to exist, and the industrial base is, at least in theory, ready to be appropriated “by collective creativity”. It is true that this implies “not just changing the way it is shared out, but totally reorienting it” but this merely involves, once and for all, “mastering abundance” in accordance with hypothetical “new principles”, and not turning our backs on abundance itself and the industrial mode of production that makes abundance accessible to only a tiny part of the world’s population. The rapid transition in Western Europe during the fifties from poverty to material abundance played a great role, of course, in the conviction, then shared by everyone, of the permanent nature of this abundance, considered in a way as an irreversible achievement of progress.4
In The Society of the Spectacle, Debord claims that “capitalist abundance … has failed”, and that the new “proletarian assault against class society” will be led by “lost children” following the banners of “a new ‘General Ludd’” who, this time, “urges them to destroy the machines of permitted consumption”. This does not mean, however, that for Debord “material abundance” is itself an illusion: it is “capitalist abundance” that has proven to be incapable of realizing its promises; the possibility that these promises could be realized with a qualitatively different kind of “abundance” is not at all excluded. Hence the “new society of abundance” foreseen by Vaneigem, which will transform the world into one big luxurious paradise. The progressivism of the situationists prevented them from seeing that “abundance” cannot be indefinitely extended, and that it presupposes in itself (and not because of its inessential “commodity” form) the alienation of the few who benefit from everything, at the same time that they suffer from it, and the poverty and slavery of the majority.
This inability to perceive the nature of industrial society is accompanied, not at all surprisingly, by a similar blindness with regard to the question of automation. In “Basic Banalities” (I.S., no. 8), Vaneigem declared:
“With the extension of automation, the ‘workers,’ instead of supervising machines, could devote their attention to watching over the cybernetic specialists, whose sole task would be to increase a production that, through a reversal of perspective, will have ceased to be the priority sector, so as to serve the priority of life over survival.”
The program of “generalized self-management” that he would later propose would be strictly linked with this “extension of automation”, which was supposed to allow for a considerable reduction in labor time. And in his A Cavalier History of Surrealism, he once again announces:
“… a society in which the fantasy world of dreams would have at its disposal, for the purpose of its material actualization, the entire technical armamentarium which under present conditions serves only to destroy those prospects.”
These assertions, which make one laugh today, and which only hyper-alienated “cyborgs” or “Internet libertarians” wrapped up in fiber optic cables could possibly take seriously, stand in a direct line of descent from the oldest texts of the SI, beginning with Asger Jorn’s essay entitled, “The Situationists and Automation”, published in 1958 (I.S., no. 1), from which we shall select a few extracts:
“Yet automation is now at the heart of the problem of the socialist domination of production and of the preponderance of leisure time over labor time. The issue of automation is bursting with positive and negative possibilities. […] The various ‘avant-garde’ currents all show a defeatist attitude in the face of automation. At best, they underestimate the positive aspects of the future that is being so suddenly revealed by the early stages of automation. […] Automation thus contains two opposing perspectives: it deprives the individual of any possibility of adding anything personal to automated production, thus representing a fixation of progress, yet at the same time it saves human energies by massively liberating them from reproductive and uncreative activities. The value of automation thus depends on projects that supersede it and open the way for the expression of new human energies on a higher plane. […] The idea of standardization is an attempt to reduce and simplify the greatest number of human needs to the greatest degree of equality. It’s up to us whether standardization opens up more interesting realms of experience than it closes. Depending on the outcome, we may arrive at a total degradation of human life or at the possibility of perpetually discovering new desires. But these new desires will not appear by themselves within the oppressive context of our world. There must be a collective action to detect, express and fulfill them.”
Jorn’s text must be compared with another text, entitled “The Struggle for the Control of the New Technologies of Conditioning” (I.S., no. 1), in which the situationists spoke of a “race between free artists and the police to experiment with and develop the use of the new techniques of conditioning”. On the one side, the perspective of “the appearance of passionate and liberating environments”; on the other, “the reinforcement—controllable scientifically, smoothly—of the environment of the old world of oppression and horror, whichever comes first”. Already, in these two texts one may discern their vacillations before the question of automation, which is still relevant today with the eternal media bombardment concerning neo-technology, presented simultaneously as a great step forward and as a factor of increasing alienation.
Although these texts from the late 1950s are presented as reflections on a question that was still open, the power of attraction of the fundamentally progressive idea of “supersession”, and therefore the fear of adopting a position that might seem reactionary—identifying with “the forces of the past”—in fact led the situationists to take the side of modernity:
“The situationists place themselves at the service of forgetting. The only force capable of doing anything is the proletariat, theoretically without a past, which in Marx's words ‘is revolutionary or it is nothing.’ When will it be then—now or never? This question is of the utmost importance: the proletariat must realize art.”
There is much that could be said about this reference to a proletariat that is allegedly “without a past”, which is used as a master argument in favor of “forgetting”. In any event, the choice made at the beginning (we must, however, point out that this choice was not made without certain misgivings) in favor of technological progress would be translated in the following period into increasingly more optimistic declarations regarding this question. Thus, in 1960, a “Situationist Manifesto” (I.S., no. 4) presents “the automation of production” as one of “the organizational perspectives of life in a society which authentically ‘reorganizes production on the basis of the free and equal association of the producers’.” And in The Society of the Spectacle, when Debord addresses the question of automation, “the most advanced sector of modern industry as well as the model which perfectly sums up its practice”, Debord says that it consists of “the technical equipment which objectively eliminates labor” and that, as a result, “if the social labor (time) engaged by the society is not to diminish because of automation … then new jobs have to be created”. Vaneigem’s texts quoted above, in which automation is presented as an emancipatory force, are therefore the results of a completely consistent process.
As everyone knows, however, the situationists never ceased to belabor the “cyberneticians” with their sarcastic remarks. We could view this as a kind of intellectual shortcut that serves to reinforce the idea of the revolutionary transmutation of everything: cybernetics, like industry, art, etc., is bad insofar as it belongs to present-day society; once this society is abolished, cybernetics will become good, or at least it could become good. Once again the Fourierist transformation of seawater into lemonade….
In Edgar Allan Poe’s short story entitled, “The System of Doctor Tarr and Doctor Fether”, the inmates of a madhouse rebel against their warders, nurses and doctors, and replace them. If this special case is viewed, with a few small changes, through the lens of situationist analysis, the suppression of the representatives of the medical institution, whose very existence implies the idea of the madhouse (the insane only exist because there are doctors who define insanity), then the result would have to be the disappearance of the madhouse itself: once the perspective has been reversed, its nature is radically transformed and it ceases to be a madhouse. Poe’s story reveals the fallacy of this kind of reasoning: a madhouse is still a madhouse even though the inmates believe they are no longer insane because they have transformed themselves into the real subjects of history. In the same way, industrial society will still be alienating, for that is its nature, even when, by some miracle (or alchemical transmutation), it should cease to be a “spectacular-commodity” society. The situationists were perfectly well aware of the fact that the substitution of one class for another in power does not fundamentally alter the nature of the existing social relations (in Poe’s story, the madmen in power did not do anything but perform a grotesque parody of the doctors, and, furthermore, the narrator of the story did not immediately notice that the doctors were madmen), but they do not appear to have fully grasped the fact that the “appropriation” by the revolutionary proletariat of an apparatus of production that cannot be “redirected” in any way actually poses the same kind of problem.
The above-cited examples show that some of Vaneigem’s most unsound theses are based on ideas that were already present, at least in embryo, in the older texts of the SI, which helped make them acceptable, when they were formulated, to his situationist comrades. In fact, in the critique of Vaneigem’s “idealist” deviations, in 1970, the authors were careful to distinguish between the good Vaneigem—the one who wrote The Revolution of Everyday Life and the articles published in the journal—from the bad Vaneigem; but the theoretical defects for which he was condemned were common to both the good and the bad Vaneigem.
The unattainable character—utopian in the strict sense of the term—of the situationist program was not derived solely from Vaneigem’s “idealist” tendency. It was also the result, as we have just seen, of a progressivism that incited a desire to “save” industrial society and at the same time abolish the civilization of the commodity, as well as of a structural defect of the situationist system of thought, which made it necessary for the situationists to resort to the alchemical metaphor of transmutation in order to account for the revolutionary “reversal of perspective”.
This alchemical metaphor possesses a somewhat strange status in the situationist corpus. It performs a central role, although it is not given a great deal of emphasis (so that one might see it as nothing but a rhetorical flourish that does not have to be taken very seriously); something like the blind spot of the theory or, as Marx said, its “rotten side”. It is nonetheless indispensable for the coherence of the system. But can we even speak of a “system” with regard to the situationist theses?
The SI, from the very beginning, addressed the problem of “situationism”, which they defined in the following way (I.S., no. 1):
“A meaningless term improperly derived from the above [“situationist”]. There is no such thing as situationism, which would mean a doctrine for interpreting existing conditions. The notion of situationism is obviously devised by antisituationists.”
The fear of seeing the situationist theses degraded into an ideology (as had taken place with Marxism, for example, or with surrealism) is the origin of this mistrust towards the very idea that there could be a situationist “doctrine”. However, to the extent that the situationists attempted to formulate a coherent and “unitary” critique of society, it is not illegitimate to try to isolate this coherence and this unity. Moreover, everyone knows that even a hallucination has a logical structure; so there might not be a “situationism” but there is of course a situationist system of thought, which was enriched and became more precise with the passage of time.
In order to demonstrate the coherence (or the incoherence) of a system of thought, the best and indeed the only way to do so is to address it more geometrico, according to the “method of geometry”, as exemplified by Euclid, Descartes or Spinoza. One of the advantages of this method is that it makes it much easier to perceive errors of reasoning, stripping the writing of all rhetorical adornments and penetrating to the essence. Its disadvantage is that it compels one to reformulate the theses that one is examining, at the risk of distorting their meaning; but the advantage evoked above allows one to perceive with equal facility this type of distortion. And the spirit of geometry does not rule out, or at least it is to be hoped that it does not, a certain spirit of subtlety, which in this matter constitutes a precautionary measure.5 This treatment will be applied here to a particular question, but one that bears a decisive importance according to the situationists themselves: the theory of revolution. Such an examination might seem “anti-situationist”, insofar as it reveals what we could call a logic of the impossible.
(Author’s Note: In order to make the following presentation easier to read, the definitions and postulates have been arranged in a sequence of propositions. Propositions 5, 11, 13 and 21 are definitions; propositions 2 and 3 are postulates.)
A phenomenon called separation or alienation exists.
This proposition cannot be demonstrated by reason; it is not, however, properly speaking, a postulate, since the reality of alienation can be confirmed by individuals in their everyday experience.
Separation is not a phenomenon that is inherent to all human societies; it has a historical origin.
This proposition is neither demonstrable by reason nor is it verifiable by experience; it is therefore a postulate.
The cause of separation resides in a certain form of social organization.
This proposition seems to be derived from the one immediately preceding it, but it is actually a postulate.
If this social organization disappears, separation will not exist.
This proposition is derived from the previous one.
The state in which individuals find themselves when separation does not exist is called freedom.
Freedom thus defined does not need to be given a positive content.
The existence of separation exercises negative effects on the lives of individuals.
In effect, these individuals only have two choices in this matter:
A) Accept alienation; this behavior is paid for with the deprivation of freedom and a certain number of afflictions that are directly linked to this acceptance (occupational illnesses, madness, accelerated aging), not to mention the misery of the condition that results from it.
B) Reject alienation; this behavior is paid for with death or various punishments that tend to cause individuals to choose, either voluntarily or by necessity, choice A.
The suppression of separation exercises a positive effect on the lives of individuals.
This proposition remains unproven; it does, however, possess a certain degree of probability, to the extent that it is demonstrated (according to the previous proposition) that alienation exercises such negative effects that its suppression is desirable, regardless of the consequences of freedom.
The suppression of separation should be actively pursued.
This proposition derives from the two previous ones.
In order to abolish separation, the social organization that produces it must be abolished.
This proposition derives from propositions 3 and 4.
In order to abolish the social organization that produces separation, there must be a certain number of individuals who refuse to collaborate in its preservation.
The condition expressed in this proposition is necessary, but not sufficient; its practical implementation is incompatible with alternative B of proposition 6.
The violent refusal on the part of a certain number of individuals to collaborate in the preservation of the social organization that produces separation is called insurrection; the victory, even if it is only temporary, of these individuals, is called revolution; in other words, the suppression, even if it is only temporary, of that social organization.
The revolution thus defined does not need to be given a positive content.
The revolution is freedom.
This proposition derives from propositions 5, 9 and 11. It is only valid if the abolished social organization is not immediately replaced by another form of organization that produces separation (see the following proposition).
A revolution that does not bring freedom is a counterrevolution.
If the abolished social organization is replaced immediately by another form of social organization that produces separation, it is not a revolution but a counterrevolution.
Nothing indicates that such a revolution cannot endure.
This proposition is self-explanatory.
If freedom is impossible in the world of separation and if separation can only be abolished by way of revolution, it is impossible for anyone to be free before this revolution has taken place.
This proposition is self-explanatory.
The aspiration for freedom is the middle term that allows one to conceive the step from the state of separation to the state of freedom; what it does not by any means imply is that this step has to take place at any particular time.
This proposition is self-explanatory. The existence of the aspiration for freedom derives from propositions 5, 6 and 7.
If freedom is opposed to separation, freedom must consist in unity.
This proposition is self-explanatory. For if freedom were not to imply the realization of unity, separation could coexist with the revolution; which is impossible, since (according to proposition 11) the revolution is defined as the suppression of the social organization that produces separation. Since the preservation of separation is incompatible with freedom, the revolution is necessarily the realization of unity.
If separation subsists despite the suppression of the social organization which is supposed to produce it, then it can be deduced that either (according to proposition 13) we are not speaking of a revolution but of a counterrevolution, or else that the postulates (propositions 2 and 3) upon which the theory is based are false. In this latter case:
A) separation does not have a historical origin, but is inherent to human society as such (contrary to proposition 2); or,
B) separation has a historical origin, but it does not result from the social organization that is supposed to have produced it (contrary to proposition 3).
However, because we are dealing here with postulates, that is, propositions that can neither be proven nor refuted, it is impossible to definitively provide an answer to this question.
A war, in order to be waged, implies the existence of separation within each army.
This proposition cannot be demonstrated by reason, but is verified by experience. An insurrection can be spontaneous, that is, it does not imply any repressive organization; but a war has never been waged without any form of division of labor, hierarchy and coercion.
If the revolution is not carried out all at once, but takes place in a more or less extended stage of confrontations between two sides, it is no longer a revolution but a war, which implies the preservation or the reestablishment of separation.
This proposition derives from the preceding one.
If the revolution is the realization of unity, that is, of freedom, it requires a global qualitative change in order to proceed, without any transition or more or less extended stage of confrontations, from generalized separation to generalized freedom.
This proposition is self-explanatory.
A total and immediate qualitative change is a transmutation; alchemy is the art of deliberately provoked transmutations.
The revolution is like an alchemical transmutation.
This proposition derives from the two previous ones.
An alchemical transmutation is something whose realization is impossible.
This proposition is born out by experience.
The revolution is something whose realization is impossible.
This proposition derives from all the previous propositions.
- 1 The famous verse from the Athalie by Racine, “How has pure gold become base lead?”, is quoted in “The Communiqué of the S.I. concerning Vaneigem”.
- 2 This was Louis Aragon’s idea. It was recently disinterred (with lamentable results) by the last vestiges of the French Communist Party in an electoral campaign to address the question of the “new rights”.
- 3 Vaneigem aspires, paraphrasing Fourier, to “a unitary passional and industrial society”. In the same issue of the journal (no. 12), the article by Eduardo Rothe (“The Conquest of Space in the Time of Power”) goes even farther with regard to its demand for the right to conquer nature, speaking of the “entire universe pillaged for the workers councils”.
- 4 See, for example, the text by Alexander Trocchi entitled, “Technique du coupe du monde” (I.S., no. 8): “Clearly, there is in principle no problem of production in the modern world. The urgent problem of the future is that of distribution, which is presently (dis)ordered in terms of the economic system prevailing in this or that area. This problem on a global scale is an administrative one and will not finally be solved until existing political and economic rivalries are outgrown.”
- 5 The distinction between the “spirit of geometry” and the “spirit of subtlety” is taken from Blaise Pascal. See his Pensées, section 512 (Note of the Spanish Translator). [In W.F. Trotter’s English translation of the Pensées, the section explaining this important distinction, translated as “the difference between the mathematical and the intuitive mind”, is the very first section of the book (see: http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/texts/pascal/pensees-a.html#SECTION%20I) (Note of the American Translator).]