Zeitschriften » Internationale Situationniste » Numéro 10
Reuben Keehan (translation) • Ken Knabb (translation) • Situationistische Internationale

Alienation

An Examination of Several Concrete Aspects

Communication Colonized

In 1965, a new technique for matching up prospective spouses was developed in the United States. The tastes and aspirations of each individual are exhaustively defined by their responses to seventy questions, then a computer determines their maximum compatibility, representing it on a punch card. According to Le Monde (25-11-65):

As the years go by, tendencies as unavoidable as they are irreversible develop and begin assert themselves: a computer’s job is to be good at everything... They’ve been introduced into education, taking on the role of tutors. They participate in the development of elaborate “strategies,” both military and commercial. As perfect performers in constant demand, they are expected to bear fruit... Each and every soul in search of another fills out a form describing what they are and to what they aspire. Their offers and wishes are then transformed by a perforator into a series of holes, judiciously arranged on a card. One could go so far as to say that with the state of the market, the discovery of what satisfies the one’s desires lies but a systematic investigation away; all the better, of course, if the market is larger... The experience, as it happens, is not expensive: a mere three dollars. In less than three months, more than 7000 students from colleges and universities in New England entrusted their personal prospects and leisure time to a computer... Is it not true that there are computers which, working “in real time,” can follow the development of events progressively? Why not extend the idea to optimizing matchmaking?

The society that has realized the optimum of separation between humans and their activity and between humans themselves unilaterally distributes images of their own world back to them as information monopolized by economic and State power. To reach a new stage of submission and equivalence to the machinery of progress, this society dreams of going beyond its fabrication of information as substitute for the deprivation of reality; it experiments with the positive fabrication of the reality of individual existence as the carrying out of existing information. Individuals must agree to recognize themselves — and, in a romantic relationship, each other — according to the inevitability of a supposedly free and objective code. But the programmers have themselves been programmed. The criteria of the questionnaires they create for matchmaking are the very social criteria that create separation everywhere. If one seeks another only to discover in this relationship the representation of their own reality, the condom of electronic computation guarantees the reciprocal discovery of the same lie.

The systematic expropriation of intersubjective communication, the colonization of everyday life by authoritarian mediation, does not necessarily have to be the product of technological development. On the contrary, this autonomization of social potential makes it necessary for all possible techniques to be deferred to the specific outcome of a self-regulated existence. In the last ten years, all over the world, radio transmitters and receivers once permitted open dialogue at any wavelength have been silenced by absolute judicial control. Those who use them, selected on the basis of this very obligation to be silent, do not have the right to exchange messages concerning their technique, or meteorological conditions, or even an SOS for survival. The technology of basic communication is evidently forbidden on account of its possible wealth of subversive uses.

Culture, Leisure and the Police

It would only be stating the obvious to say that urbanism aids the police; and that the police, in the age of concentrated capitalism, are quite readily urbanist. Maintaining close relations with these two specializations — relations that have barely been brought to light — is the significant domain of leisure. In 1965, to avoid the threat of teenagers on school vacation being driven to delinquency by their boredom, the French police opened “28 recreation centers, 14 controlled by the CRS [1] and 14 by municipal police, reaching a total of more than 5,000 adolescents. And it seems that this is only the beginning” (Le Monde, 2 September 1965). The author of the article added that the CRS eventually intend “to minimize their role as the force of order. ... The creation of recreation centers for teenagers has been something of a public relations campaign, a sort of demystification of the traditional role of the police.” You have to admire the complete inversion of the term “demystification” in this passage, an inversion whose way has been paved by its long-standing sociological fashionability. The mystification would therefore be the studied, baroque, utopian, incomprehensible — situationist, as it were — image of the policeman operating as a member of the force whose job is to maintain order. To a demystified consciousness, then, a policeman would appear as what he was in essence: an entertainer, a psychologist, a humanist. And that’s not all: “Police stations should be equppied with hostesses to greet and provide information to the public. This revolutionary proposal was made yesterday by the police themselves at a press conference given by the ’Joint Union Committee for the Police and Sûreté Nationale [2]’. ... For the Joint Union Committee would like to make the relationship between the police and the public less intimidating.” (France-Soir, 12 June 1965). And in the editorial of its 97th issue (6 September 1965), the police prefecture’s information bulletin, Liaisons, notes that “since ancient times, the police have been identified with the City,” and describes the consequent magnitude of their task:

Apart from exceptional circumstances when national cohesion is the instinctive response to a seemingly adverse fate, communication between different social groups proves to be difficult. Each group has a tendency to shut itself off, to think and react according to its preoccupations, its aspirations, and its own language, to a point where words themselves sometimes take on meanings particular to whomever is using them. The individual does not always spontaneously open up to those who do not directly share his concerns, and he often tends to identify with those who do share them, establishing a system of solidarities, partial in that they are limited to but one of the elements of the “self.” Contact, in the philosophical sense of the term, becomes more difficult, and so what is supposed to be dialogue is often only a confrontation between two monologues. The Police have to take these partial solidarities in account. ...

This research into police transparency, into a language of cybernetic consent, into a spontaneous solidarity beyond all real social separations, is capable of directing its conclusion toward an eminently concrete perspective:

To speak of civilization is certainly to speak of material organization, but also of moral concepts, order, security. The developments of urbanization cannot be considered without at the same time taking into consideration the means of putting it at the disposal of the police so that it can face up to its heavy responsibilities. Once again, one cannot content oneself with what is: it is necessary to envisage what will be, and this future is already known.

In this already known future, which is therefore only the spatial extension of the present order, the megapolice will possess the means of meeting their heavy responsibilities. According to an AFP dispatch from New York (1 December 1965), “A custom built television camera was unveiled in New York yesterday: it can operate in complete darkness thanks to a helium laser that projects an infra-red beam. The device could be used in police surveillence operations, as well as for scientific purposes.” But if the police are always the priority when it comes to application of scientific development, their function has expanded from a strictly repressive role to a role of preventative integration. It is here that the specialized forces of sociological Sûreté are beavering away. How can the atomized, television addicted mob in the grands ensembles of the new urbanism be led to this “contact, in the philosophical sense of the term,” from which the police anticipate the delicate extirpation of any “particular meaning”? This is the role of culture, the new leading commodity in the age of the consumption of leisure. In France, a state run organization is being set up for this very prupose, and the drugstore that has it on display is called a “community arts center”: the era that has manufactured the most gaping cultural void is precisely that which is beginning to introduce the museum into everyday life, to tautologically fill the same void. In June 1965, a “Colloquy for grands ensembles Community Leaders” was held, as would be expected, in Sarcelles. Their Official Journal of 30 November published a decree constituting “artistic councillors delegated to artistic creation” divided across “regional action districts.”

All that the spectacle spreads is general devaluation: it recuperates the gold of the old contestation and turns it into lead; in the spectacle’s universe, all possible value is invisible. Its leaders are therefore so comical that we can depart joyously from the old cultural world, a simple facade maintained by the manipulators of a son et lumière show that lights up the entire surface of society with the same factitious poverty. On his 15 May 1965 visit to Bourges, known in the press as “the capital of cultural leisure” because of the promising results of early surveys (“63,000 inhabitants, 63,000 spectators in eight months” according to the formula in France-Soir, 15 November 1964), de Gaulle declared: “Culture, in our modern world, is not only a refuge and a consolation in the midst of a time that is essentially mechanical, materialist and altogether hectic. It is also the prerequisite for our civilization. As modern as it can be and more modern than it should be, it will be always be guided by spirit.”

Spirit often seems to have forgotten and lost itself, but inwardly opposed to itself, it is inwardly working ever forward (as when Hamlet says of the ghost of his father, “Well said, old mole! canst work i’ th’ ground so fast?”) until grown strong in itself it bursts asunder the crust of earth which divided it from the sun, its Notion, so that the earth crumbles away.

— Hegel

The Role of Godard

In cinema Godard presently represents formal pseudofreedom and the pseudocritique of manners and values — the two inseparable manifestations of all fake, coopted modern art. Everyone does everything to present him as a misunderstood and unappreciated artist, shockingly audacious and unjustly despised; and everyone praises him, from Elle magazine to Aragon-the-Senile. Despite the absence of any real critiques of Godard, we see developing a sort of analogy to the famous theory of the increase of resistances in socialist regimes: the more Godard is hailed as a brilliant leader of modern art, the more people rush to his defense against incredible plots. Repetitions of the same clumsy stupidities in his films are automatically seen as breathtaking innovations. They are beyond any attempt at explanation; his admirers consume them as confusedly and arbitrarily as Godard produced them, because they recognize in them the consistent expression of a subjectivity. This is true, but it is a subjectivity on the level of a concierge educated by the mass media. Godard’s “critiques” never go beyond the innocuous humor typical of nightclub comics or Mad magazine. His flaunted culture is largely the same as that of his audience, which has read exactly the same pages in the same drugstore paperbacks. The two most famous lines from the most read poem of the most overrated Spanish poet (“Terrible five o’clock in the afternoon — the blood, I don’t want to see it” in Pierrot-le-Fou) — this is the key to Godard’s method. The most famous renegade of modern art, Aragon, in Les Lettres Françaises (9 September 1965), has rendered an homage to his younger colleague which, coming from such an expert, is perfectly fitting: “Art today is Jean-Luc Godard ... of a superhuman beauty ... of a constantly sublime beauty. ... There is no precedent to Godard except Lautréamont. ... This child of genius.” Even the most naïve can scarcely be taken in after such a testimonial from such a source.

Godard is a Swiss from Lausanne who envied the chic of the Swiss of Geneva, and then the chic of the Champs-Elysées, and his successful ascent up from the provinces is most exemplary at a time when the system is striving to usher so many “culturally deprived” people into a respectful consumption of culture — even “avant-garde” culture if nothing else will do. We are not referring here to the ultimately conformist exploitation of any art that professes to be innovative and critical. We are pointing out Godard’s directly conformist use of film.

To be sure, films, like songs, have intrinsic powers of conditioning the spectator: beauties, if you will, that are at the disposition of those who presently have the possibility of expressing themselves. Up to a point such people may make a relatively clever use of those powers. But it is a sign of the general conditions of our time that their cleverness is so limited, and that the extent of their ties with the dominant ways of life quickly reveals the disappointing limits of their enterprises. Godard is to film what Lefebvre or Morin is to social critique: each possesses the appearance of a certain freedom in style or subject matter (in Godard’s case, a slightly free manner in comparison with the stale formulas of cinematic narration). But they have taken this very freedom from elsewhere: from what they have been able to grasp of the advanced experiences of the era. They are the Club Med of modern thought (see in this issue “The Packaging of ‘Free Time’ ”). They make use of a caricature of freedom, as marketable junk, in place of the authentic. This is done on all terrains, including that of formal artistic freedom of expression, which is merely one sector of the general problem of pseudocommunication. Godard’s “critical” art and his admiring art critics all work to conceal the present problems of a critique of art — the real experience, in the SI’s phrase, of a “communication containing its own critique.” In the final analysis the present function of Godardism is to forestall a situationist use of the cinema.

Aragon has been for some time developing his theory of the collage in all modern art up to Godard. This is nothing other than an attempt to interpret détournement in such a way as to bring about its cooption by the dominant culture. Laying the foundations for a Togliattist variant of French Stalinism, Garaudy and Aragon are setting up a “completely open” artistic modernism, just as they are moving “from anathema to dialogue” with the priests. Godard could become their artistic Teilhardism. In fact the collage, made famous by cubism during the dissolution of plastic art, is only a particular case (a destructive moment) of détournement: it is displacement, the infidelity of the element. Détournement, originally formulated by Lautréamont, is a return to a superior fidelity of the element. In all cases, détournement is dominated by the dialectical devaluing-revaluing of the element within the development of a unifying meaning. But the collage of the merely devalued element has been widely used, well before being constituted as a Pop Art doctrine, in the modernist snobbism of the displaced object (making a spice bottle out of a chemistry flask, etc.).

This acceptance of devaluation is now being extended to a method of combining neutral and indefinitely interchangeable elements. Godard is a particularly boring example of such a use without negation, without affirmation, and without quality.

Decomposition and Recuperation

The decomposition of the values and forms of traditional one-way artistic communication (in the plastic arts as well as all aspects of language) is accompanied by what is vaguely known as “the crisis of communication” in society, and which is at the same time the monopolistic concentration of one-way communication (of which the mass media is but a technological expression) and the dissolution of all common and communicable values, a dissolution produced by exchange value’s crushing victory over use value on the battlefield of the economy.

The revolutionary sense that has dominated all truly modern art (and whose absence marks the qualitative end of modern art) can only understood in the context of the struggle against dominant conditions, that is to say, the project of a new communication. The victims of the various mystifications of this project — neo-dadaism and Stalino-Sartrism — all allow notions of originality and repetition to enter modern intellectual production, because they do not have enough foresight; they are cooled by the air of familiarity. But this familiarity is about as good as that of Atrides. When a certain [Georges] Pérec, the consumer of Les Choses, writes in Partisans, the journal of “open Stalinism,” that “the crisis of language is a refusal of the real,” he is ignoring the reality of refusal. The “refusal of the real” that he sees quite unimaginatively in the form of an artist who refuses reality, is in a totally different sense the refusal of the artist by reality: the radiography of a refusal that socially fabricated “reality” places in opposition to the tendencies of real life. If, in modern art, “the inexpressible is a value and the indescribable a dogma” (Pérec), it is because it is a matter of a world in which there is nothing that can be said. This rebellious contestation of modern art is reprised in the new literature of Robbe-Grillet without a hint revolt — even admiringly. This is just one sign among many of the generalized resignation in critical intelligence that led to the collapse of the revolutionary movement of the 1920’s. One Sartre, at the October 1965 Congress of the “European Community of Writers” in Rome, did his best to shake off the problem of the cultural avant-garde, which was too complicated for him by asserting that it is conceivable only in a decolonized country. And during a “confrontation” — clearly stage-managed from the start — between believers and non-believers, at the 17th Catholic Intellectuals Week (closely related to the so-called Marxist “Thought” Weeks of the red priest [Roger] Garaudy), which gathered around a Jesuit such names as P.H. Chombart de Louwe and Ricouer, Philonenko and Balandier: “All agreed to recognize that unlike what took place last century, the human sciences have discovered their limits in the consideration of religious phenomena.”

But already the industrial recuperation of artistic neo-decomposition is organized on the grandest of scales. Op Art, for example, turned into decoration almost immediately — current clothing styles represent the point when an art that was no more than a fashion directly became the art of fashion. You can read it for yourself in the 16 September 1965 issue of Elle: “The 1966 Elle style suits Op Art to a T. They’re made for each other. The Elle style is a way of moving with the times, of getting into the new when it’s serious and the reasonable when it’s a little crazy. ... Let this delightful little bug bite you, too. Get into the Op-timism of Op Art.”

In fact, Pop Art and Op Art are one and the same: Prop Art, the propaganda art that forces you to survive with your times. Spreading everywhere, a machine named Abraham Moles hopes to have a creative function acknowledged by supporting a theory of “machines for creating.” To the delight of robots, combinatory writing can electronically compose a suite of poetry, sculpture, music, painting and so on. One can just as easily appreciate its mastery in Revue d’esthétique (no. 2, 1965) as in yet another Week, held in Bordeaux in October, where “Even [Jacques] Chaban-Delmas could be persuaded to take an interest it” (L’Express, 3-11-65). And in [André] Malraux’s last Biennale — “the most successful,” according to him — the goals of this integrated recuperation of the devalued fragment appeared at their best. According to Le Monde (30-9-69), always naïve and easily pleased: “These gatherings of the world’s youth show that to some degree, artistic preoccupations even themselves out. There is no fundamental difference between the offerings of French, the Italians, the Japanese, the Swiss or the Turks. They are the same painted forms, the same collages, the same metal assemblages: today’s modern art is truly international. Another observation: today’s artists not only preoccupy themselves with pictures, but also with art in the city. Sculptors, painters and architects are combining their efforts to build”ideal cities,“churches, youth hostels. ... If you want to stay in step with the latest in young art, you need to go down the Avenue de President-Wilson.”

Afterlife Holdings Inc.

A colloquium on the question of life after death took place in Paris on 2 March. It was organized by the International Institute of Humanist Studies and the Theological College of Paris, headed by Mrs Amédée Ponscue and Pastor Marchal respectively. During the course of this meeting, whose participants included Monsignor Jobit, the philosopher [Kostas] Axelos, and Professors [Henri] Birault and [Paul] Ricoeur, Germaine Lafaille read texts by Nietzsche, Simone Weil, Kierkegaard and Saint John of the Cross.

— Le Monde (6 March 1966)

Decor and the Spectators of Suicide

Suicide has now practically reached epidemic proportions in the United States. In 1965, it took tenth place among the causes of death in the country, and third place among those of young people. Setting up “anti-suicide centers,” one of them operating on a nationwide level, is now being seriously considered.

Recently, in France, a certain Bernard Durin killed himself — apparently for no reason. He was 37 years old and had been a model employee for the last fifteen of them. Everyone who knew him agreed that “he had everything one needs to be happy.” He had "a ten-year-old daughter, Agnes, who got on well at school. A charming wife. A good job at IBM. A salary of 2,500 francs a month. An attractively furnished modern apartment. An automobile. A television, a washing machine, a refrigerator and even an aquarium. ...

In an article in France-Soir, 24 December 1964, Charles Coron wrote:

The shop where Durin worked was situated in a multi-story glass-fronted building. His section largely consisted of small metal offices. Shelves stretched out of sight. Metal shelves. Metal filing cabinets. It was there that the spare parts Durin sorted out and packaged up were kept. No windows. Neon light. His timetable was irregular. The shop was open from seven in the morning until twelve at night. His shift was changed every two weeks. Sometimes he got up at five-thirty in the morning and finished work at four in the afternoon. Sometimes he started work at four-thirty in the afternoon and got home at one o’clock in the morning. Durin was a model employee. No one worked harder. Someone suggested he take a correspondence course in English. He did so. He studied in the evening. He studied on Saturday and Sunday. ... When he left the shop in Vincennes, Durin drove back to his home in Bondy in his 404. He drove in the lines of traffic you all know. He waited in the traffic jams. He saw the lights of the Bondy skyscraper housing estate. The straight lines. The concrete. The shopping center in the middle. He lived in apartment number 1153, 13, rue Leon Blum, FG 3. That was his life: electronics, skyscraper housing estates, cars, refrigerators and televisions. It was also his death.

For several years now, at least in the United States, it hasn’t been uncommon to see excited crowds watching someone who has been driven desperate threaten to hurl themselves down from a window ledge or a roof. Whether the public has become blasé, or whether it is attracted by more professional spectacles, it doesn’t intend to pay any further attention to these “unofficial stars” unless they get on with it, and jump. So far as we know, it was on 16 April 1964, in Albany, New York State, that for the first time this new attitude came out into the open. While Richard Reinemann, aged 19, prevaricated for the better part of two hours on a twelfth-story ledge, a crowd of some four thousand people watching him chanted “Jump!” A female passersby explained: “I don’t want to wait all night. I’ve already missed my favorite TV show.”

The Adventures of a Partial Analysis

The discoveries of psychoanalysis, like the thought of Freud, are at the end of the day unacceptable to the dominant social order — for any society founded on a repressive hierarchy. But Freud’s “centrist” position, stemming from his absolute and supra-temporal identification of “civilization” with repression through the exploitation of labor, and therefore his handling of a partial critical truth inside a total non-critical system, led psychoanalysis to be officially “recognized” across all the degraded variants that it would inspire, without, however, being accepted in its truth: its potential critical usage. Of course, this failure is not exactly attributable to Freud, but rather to the collapse of the revolutionary movement of the 1920s, the only force that could have brought the critical data of psychoanalysis to its realization. The period of extreme reaction that followed in Europe drove off even the partisans of psychoanalytic “centrism.” The psychoanalytic debris that are, in the West at least, currently fashionable, all developed out of this initial resignation, which made acceptable as verbiage that which could not be accepted in its critical authenticity. By agreeing to give up its revolutionary edge, psychoanalysis was gave itself up for use by all the guardians of the existing sleep, and, at the same time, opened itself up to rebuke for its insufficiency by ordinary psychiatrists and moralists.

Thus Professor Baruk, who has been known to boast of working nearly half a century of wonders as the head doctor at Charendon, attracted a lot of attention in the very first session of the Bichat symposium, when he assailed psychoanalysis — thinking he’d found something much better — by reproaching Freud for having sought no other solution than “the satisfaction of the individual to the detriment of society.” But at the same time, other defenders of society have for five years conducted experiments, which the Council finds particularly moving, with a systematic psychoanalysis of every Benedictine in a monastery in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Under the volcano, [3] the collected rabble of the asylums and neo-Roman Teilhardism [4] strive to recuperate the memories of one of the most redoubtable explosions yet to have begun making the moral order tremble. And for the admiration of idiots in the salons of Paris, Lacan reprises Heidegger’s formula (which has been so successful lately that even the finest spirits refuse to admit that such a profound thinker could really have been a Nazi). Between them, and with no other motive than that of dazzling the gallery, Heidegger and Lacan carry out the obscure dispersal of language that they discovered in the final phase of modern poetic writing (this is where this dispersal had a deeper meaning). They take on this style at the height of their literary talent, but within their “discipline.” It is thus the supposed seriousness of the philosopher or the psychoanalyst that validates the obscurity of recent poetry, which was criticized so much as a gratuitous game detrimental to the comfort of the reader. But the return to obscurity, now truly hollow and pompous, covers the emptiness of their words, and allows both to mount the cultural show of the continuation of those old philosophical forms of separate thought, which have for a long time been separated from thought, petrified, dead. Modernism’s new clothes were sewn in Pompeii.

The Political Year 1965: An Anthology of Pointless Acts

1965, with the odd finishing touch added here and there in the first weeks of 1966, was something of a complete review of the failures of every variety of the existing power, as well as those of the solutions presented by its oppositional alternatives. While the current order has seen no threat of any kind of negation whatsoever, it has, through its own functioning, accumulated false starts, paralyses and setbacks everywhere. In its economy and in its repressive imperatives, the present world is already a unity; none of the powers that currently control it will ever be capable of truly dominating it, nor of sharing it in a completely satisfactory manner, nor will they even be able to impose on it any kind of supposedly rational direction. At the same time, in spite of the price it is capable of paying — and, indeed, of making others pay — no power has understood how to bring any of its projects to a successful conclusion.

The myth of the “socialist camp” has ended up degenerating into public rows among its governments, which now includes the exchange of insults between Cuba and China. From China on down, all its subdivisions have shown their incapacity to respond effectively to the all out attack by the United States in Vietnam and elsewhere. The “sense of history,” served with a Mao and Stalin sauce, has been ridiculed by America’s general offensive since the Cuban missile crisis, “a complete ruin — opening a new period in the division of the world,” as we wrote in I.S. in January 1963 [Situationist News], going on to show that the game “shared by Russia and America of not waging thermo-nuclear war but ’continually escalating the spectacle of possible war’” caused Russia to suffer the consequences of its “bad calculations in the theater of global strategy.” The dissolution of the international bureaucratic union continues to accelerate, as much on a military and political level as it does on an ideological level.

More profoundly, the internal difficulties of the bureaucratic states never cease revealing themselves. These difficulties, which have their source in the administration of industry, and even more prominently in that of agriculture, appear everywhere in the sphere of the political control of every aspect of life. In Russia, clandestine intellectual opposition is spreading. In Cuba, “homosexuals” are being purged from the University of Havana; the panic created by the attempts to assassinate Castro is a good indication of just how “socialist” a regime that depends on a single man really is; and the forced self-criticism of the accused Cubela, the revolutionary who “gave himself over to debauchery” and who “has no idea” how he managed to end up plotting against the Castro that he loves, was a replay of the Bukharin trial in Moscow. In August, the People’s Daily admitted that there is “an inevitable gap between the level of consumers that is really necessary in socialist society and that which is actually permitted” (the ideology of the extension of classes to the benefit of the bureaucratic distribution of surplus-value). And the Supreme Court of the Federal Republic in Russia has decided to fight juvenile delinquency by laying charges against the parents (Associated Press, Moscow, 2-6-65), that is to say by holding families legally responsible for the direct use of their authority, which is so necessary to the state.

With the most powerful resources at its disposal, and finding itself in a position to unleash them in an ever widening zone, the United States has suffered the least definitive failures; but nowhere, however, have they led to any kind of success. While black riots and the revolt of young university students — who, at this stage of the country’s economic development, represent a considerably large social strata (numerically around five million) — are beginning to clear the way for a new kind of crisis at home, the massive military intervention overseas has failed to break the resistance of Vietnamese fighters, nor even to reestablish order in favor of the generals of Santo Domingo. As a consequence, guerilla warfare has broken out across an enormous part of Latin America. In order to meet the responsibility of its influence, the United States has enlisted itself in a number of interminable conflicts: the down side of its politics is that it must always oppose change precisely where change is most necessary and urgent, from where none of their psychologists’ calculations can deliver them.

The leaders of the rest of Western capitalism (the model of socializing reformism) have only attempted to prove themselves once again: for Germany, this is by not coming to power; in England, it is by doing just that. German ex-Social Democracy was dismissed in the September elections, almost by accident. The “engaged writer” Günther Grass was perhaps the only person not to notice that the rallying to Christian Democratic principles had been perfected to such a point that no-one could figure out what they actually were. According to Le Monde (14-9-65), this caused a member of Willy Brandt’s staff to declare: “Even if we don’t win, we have achieved something of a triumph this year. No-one, or almost no-one, has taken us for reds.” Without taking Wilson for a red, one might be struck by the sense of humor he has shown since the electoral victory of the English left. The workerist government unanimously applauded the American war in Vietnam. Against the racist secessionists in its colony Rhodesia, it was markedly worse than de Gaulle, despite the fact that it had not been brought to power by a plot hatched by settlers in Salisbury. Its principle domestic duty was to give the unions complete control over the government’s economic decisions; and above all to reduce the workers to the role of mere executors of union orders by means of laws against “wildcat strikes.” And yet Wilson’s election brought with it classical reprisals of the “wall of silver” that every analyst of “industrial society” has thought impossible since 1924; Le Monde was even driven to this terrible conclusion: “The great lesson to be learnt from the current British crisis is that Western society is still dominated by capitalism.”

As for what the papers call the “Third World,” it has come to know a fantastic accumulation of failures, from which not one of its pretensions or deceptive expectations has recovered. The fragments of power that are all that remain from the collapse of the Arab world’s “progressive camp” are as fragile as the powers of the reactionary camp in the service of the West. In Egypt, the bureaucratic military leadership formulates the failures and exposes the plots of even the most obscure forces. Things are no better elsewhere: certainly not in Yemen, where the young republic has sold out to Saudi Arabia; nor in Iraq, where the recognition of “Right-wing Nasserism” has ended up legitimating the power of the real right and the return of pre-1958 ministers. The Ba’th, driven from Iraq and restricted to its “Syrian province,” has torn itself into putschist factions. Soldiers and civilians, “extremists” and moderates, follow one another just as vainly into power, while all the party’s personalities and all their chances are exhausted. Ben-Bellaism is ruined in a night.
The crumbling of the foundations for a “revolutionary” regrouping of the African states is also complete. The almost nonexistent Organization of African Unity, abandoning all hope after the declaration of independence in Rhodesia, failed to take the risk of an armed intervention in that country. It even admitted that it was incapable of breaking with England, after having announced it to the world in an extremely short lived ultimatum. In Ghana, Nkrumah “the Redeemer” and his unique party vanished when faced with a simple military plot, just like six other regimes on the continent had in the preceding days. These facts are just supplementary failures for Peking’s extravagent political outsider.

Nothing has been more dramatic, however, than the bloody collapse of Indonesian Stalinism, whose bureaucratic habits blinded it to the point of having no anticipation whatsoever of the seizure of power, let alone the conspiracy or the coup, while leading the immense mass movement under its control to complete annihilation without calling on it to fight (the total number of executions now exceeds 300,000). Though the imperturbable Sukarno still hovers above his faithful subalterns, the already impossible “Second Bandung” for unification with Algeria has lost its biggest stars. India’s neutralist “socialism” has run headlong into the war in Punjab, military repression of minorities and workers’ demonstrations, and famine. By perishing in this way, torn apart by the pressures of rival imperialisms, the spectacular fraternization of the Afro-Asiatic states reveals that it only ever existed as an illusion.
Just as all repressions currently under way everywhere are also beginning to falter, this cascade of failures characterizes a lamentable world where no-one achieves their ends; where the course of events is completely different to that conceived by those who think they control them; where the ruse of the commodity continues to lead human history astray. This hilarious succession of gags in the comedy of power is just the political expression of the universal divorce between all systems and all realities.

How Not to Understand the SI

According to Le Monde Libertaire in December 1964: “The SI’s revolutionary critique of everyday life is incontestably right on the mark. However, there is one domain, far from having lost its importance, that escapes them: work.” We, on the other hand, believe that we’ve more or less never dealt with any problem other than that of work: its conditions, its contradictions, and its consequences. Le Monde Libertaire’s error stems perhaps from the habits of undialectical thinking, which isolates an aspect of reality on conveniently recognizable terrain, where it can only ever be treated conventionally.

Reporting on an earlier special number of the Times devoted to the avant-garde, Le Figaro Littéraire of 3 September 1964 wrote: “Thus, Michèle Bernstein and Jörgen Nash confront one another from opposing pages. Both extol the virtues of ’international situationism.’ Both want art not to be separate from the world, transforming society in such a way that the individual will be free to ’enjoy life.’ And yet Nash was excluded by Michèle Bernstein. Here we touch on one of the avant-garde’s darkest traits: its taste for the absolute.” It seems that the recourse to an absolute “situationism” is completely out of the question when it comes to ridding oneself of a character like Nash. It really isn’t that difficult to figure it out comparitively.

In Holland, the Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad of 5 December 1964 devoted a page to the study of “Situationist Traits in the Face of Our Era.” The face presented by this title was hardly very attractive, because it threw the SI into a stew of Nashism, happenings, and even a photo of the avant-garde royalist Georges Mathieu, ever the wretched pretender. Debord is described as “the movement’s great prophet,” and they are shocked that he refuses the term “situationism.” In this article, the only thing that appears to be undiluted is their stupidity.

We’ll pass over the dozens of confusionist articles in the Scandinavian press, hardly any better than their archetypal model that appeared in Politiken on 11 October 1964, earnestly searching for the reasons behind the “Nashist deviation,” which has so flattered local patriotism. We are also poorly understood (poorly translated, poorly quoted) in issue 2 of the German bulletin Anschlag, the expression of a rather timid investigation into a radical position. And worse still in the example of the elogious but unintelligent article that the Lapassardist René Lourau thought he should devote to the SI in issue 82 of the journal Tour de Feu. Nothing, however, can top the bizarre allusion of Paolo Marinotti, director of the International Center for Arts and Customs in Venice, reporting on a retrospective exhibition by Jorn at the Palazzo Grassi in one of the Center’s publications. Marinotti writes of Jorn, who figured among the founders of the SI, and has since gone on to many other achievements: “Let’s remember that the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus and this ’Situationist International’ were both founded by Jorn from 1954 to 1962.” What a confused historian! Is this supposed to mean that the SI came to an end in 1962? We can’t be confined to the mausoleum of cultural history just yet. Or perhaps Marinotti means that Jorn founded his first movement in 1954 and the SI in 1962? This certainly makes us look a bit younger. But this meaning shouldn’t be read from the phrase; rather, it intends that Jorn took eight years to found the two movements. And if he had to do this all by himself, the time it took to complete this Herculean effort is understandable. But a deeper question is raised, prior to Director Marinotti’s lyricism: how do you remember what you don’t yet know?

As for the ex-Observateur, shortly before it ceased publication (1-10-64), it was pleased to point out in a little note amusingly titled “Revolution by Geniuses” that our journal deserved “close examination” for its “revolutionary approach to the modern world on every level,” and this “in spite of its excesses.” On this point, we haven’t a clue what they mean. Just like Pancho Villa at the end of Jack Conway’s beautiful film, all we can do is ask: “What excesses?”

The Ideology of Dialogue

The situationists’ practice of concretely breaking with apologists for any aspect of the present social order (particularly visible with regard to the leading representatives of the culture and politics of submission, and including as its extreme case the exclusion of certain members of the SI) has been subject to the greatest misunderstanding, although it follows quite directly from our basic positions. Certain commentators have propagated the most hostile interpretations of this practice, thereby causing concern among semi-informed people. The reality in this particular case is quite simple. Those who accept one or more variants of the prevailing pseudodialogue become the advocates of a new type of free exchange in the name of an abstract right to dialogue at any price (payable in avowed concessions to falsehood), and they reproach us for interrupting this fake dialogue. It is, however, only in this way that we are able to be the bearers of the reality of dialogue. On the question of exclusion, we believe that through experimentation we have made an advance in determining the requirements for the nonhierarchical organization of joint projects, in which projects can be sustained only by the self-discipline of individuals proving themselves in the coherence of the theories and acts through which each member strives to merit his joint responsibility with all the others. The one-sidedness of Stirner’s notions on the relations of the egoist with the organization that he enters or leaves at whim (though it does contain a kernel of truth regarding that aspect of freedom) does not allow any independent basis for his passive and defenseless ghost of an “organization.” Such an incoherent and undisciplined organization is at the mercy of any individual “egoist,” who can cynically exploit it for his own ends while disdaining any social aims it might have (and in fact the Stirnerian individual can just as well enter the most reactionary association for his own personal profit). But a free association — “a bond, not a power” — in which several individuals meet on a common basis cannot be passively subject to someone’s individual whim. Those who wish neither to judge nor to command must be able to reject any person whose conduct would implicate them. When the SI excludes someone, we are calling him to account not for his life but for ours, for the common project that he would falsify (whether out of hostile intentions or through mere lack of discernment). Each side remains individually free (the fact that this freedom is generally impoverished is another problem, without which there would be no need for undertakings like the SI) and by throwing back on his own an individual who has always remained autonomous we are only expressing the fact that this autonomy was not able to fulfill itself within our common project. In rejecting someone in accordance with the rules of the game that he thought he had accepted, or had pretended to accept, it is our own resignation that we are rejecting.

It may be helpful to elucidate these remarks with excerpts from two letters recently addressed to one of our correspondents in East Europe.

(First letter.) Our theoretical positions (on play, language, etc.) would not only risk becoming mendacious and valueless, they would already be without value if we held them in coexistence with some doctrinal dogmatism, whatever it might be. All of us believe, as you do, that “the freedom to travel all the unaccustomed paths” must be absolute (and not only on the artistic or theoretical plane, but in all aspects of practical life). For a thousand reasons, of which the experience of the Eastern bloc is the most obvious, we know that an ideology in power turns any partial truth into an absolute lie. ... We are not a power in society, and thus our “exclusions” only express our freedom to distinguish ourselves from the confusionism around us or even among us, which confusionism is much closer to the actual social power and partakes of all its benefits. We have never wished to prevent anyone from expressing their ideas or doing what they want (and we have never sought to be in a position to exert such pressure). We merely refuse to be ourselves mixed up with ideas and acts that run contrary to our convictions and tastes. Note that this is all the more vital in that we have hardly any freedom to express our own convictions and tastes, due to their going so sharply against the mainstream. Our “intolerance” is nothing but a very limited response to the very strict intolerance and exclusion that we run into everywhere, particularly among the “intellectual establishment” (considerably more intense than the hostility the surrealists had to endure), and which we scarcely find surprising. Just as we are in no degree a controlling power in society, we refuse to become one one day by means of some political reshuffling (we are in this regard partisans of radical self-management, of workers councils abolishing all separate state power or even separate “theoretical” power); and we are refusing to transform ourselves into any power whatsoever, even on the small scale that we would be allowed, when we refuse to enlist disciples, who would give us, along with the right of control and direction over themselves, a greater recognized social standing as representatives of one more artistic or political ideology. ... One should not confuse the practical conditions of free thought here and in the East — or in Spain, for example. In countries where nothing can be openly expressed, it is obviously necessary to support the right of everyone to express themselves. But in places where everyone can express themselves (though under conditions of enormous inequality) any radical thought — without of course wishing to suppress this practical freedom — must first of all clear the way for its own “unaccustomed path,” must assert its own right to exist without being “coopted” and distorted by the social order which manifestly reigns behind this visible confusion and complexity and which ultimately possesses the monopoly of appearances (cf. our critique of the “spectacle” in the consumer society of commodity abundance). Finally, the reigning “tolerance” is one-way, and this on a global scale in spite of the antagonisms and complexity of the different types of exploitive societies. What the tolerant people who are in a position to express themselves tolerate, fundamentally, is the established power everywhere. You tell us that you live in X... If you were in Paris you would see how many of these tolerant leftist intellectuals turn out to be undecided, understanding and tolerant toward the established conditions in X... or in Peking. What they call “the sense of history” is their Hegelian adherence to what they read in the daily papers.

(Second letter.) A radically different point of departure in fact first of all restores the truth of the liberatory endeavors of the past. It is necessary to break clearly with the old confusion, and therefore with its partisans, whether they be open, cunning or simply unconscious. We obviously have to bear the negative consequences of the attitude we have chosen, and we have to acknowledge this negativity. ... We are in complete agreement with you on the interrelation of all aspects of the problem of the present avant-garde. We are in fact trying to initiate dialogue everywhere that that state of mind manifests itself in a radical direction. For that state of mind is itself divided by a struggle between its truth and its organized cooption by the ruling powers.

Investigations without a Guidebook

Kurt Wittfogel’s Le Despotisme Oriental (Editions de Minuit) is principally an important contribution to Marxist theory, on the central but oft neglected question of the economic importance of the state in history. It is easy to reject the book’s numerous errors on account of their very enormity. Wittfogel’s entire current direction is based on the identification — a practically geographical identification — of “Oriental” state totalitarianism born of “the hydraulic means of production” with the current bureaucratic zone of the world. He overlooks, on the one hand, the existence in current bureaucratic society of an industrial development which has effectively taken its first great stride toward the conditions enjoyed by the European bourgeoisie of the middle ages, but which must now be adapted and administered in all its aspects. On the other hand, he fails to extend his analogies to the decisive role of the state in the concentrated capitalism of the West. It is nevertheless this perspective neglected by Wittfogel that best reveals the universal actuality of a potential under-estimated in Marx’s analyses, on account of the passing economic effacement that it experienced between the middle ages and the 19th century (an effacement that effectively permitted the cumulative “kick start” of the economy, and ultimately the appearance of “economic thought”). Wittfogel’s schematization is meant to lead to the conclusion that Western freedom must go to war as soon as possible to drive back the hydraulic slaves that lay siege to it from Moscow and Peking. Wittfogel then concludes his work with a quotation from Herodotus, asserting that when one knows the nature of freedom, one must fight for it, “not just with the spear, but with the hatchet.” This peculiar optimism, which is very much like that of Dr Strangelove, is otherwise refuted by the fact that those who fight most for freedom are often those who have never known it, like the Vietnamese, or the masses of Santa Domingo, still battling to make Wittfogel’s marines see it. The reader might recognize themself among the mirages in which Wittfogel loses his way. But this is certainly not made any easier by the pedentic preface in which Pierre Vidal-Naquet has authoritatively slipped in his own counter-interpretation of “the Left,” without permission of the author. This “critique of the Left,” imposed on the reader to mediate before gaining access to the author’s own thought — which is most assuredly right wing — is as authoritarian in its content as it is in its presentation. Vidal-Naquet is so prostrate before neo-Stalinism that he contributes to the perpetuation of a division of the world à la Wittfogel. Lie against lie, the choice is yours. As a sufficiently sordid qualitative example, Vidal-Naquet has allowed himself to write in a note on page 41 of his preface: “By Marxists, we mean the majority currents of the worldwide communist movement. It is quite obvious that Stalinist theses have no influence whatsoever on those currents which are, by definition, anti-Stalinist. Studying their position here would be completely beside the point.”

[Joseph] Gabel’s False Consciousness: an essay on reification (same publisher) is on the whole an excellent parallel between schizophrenia and political ideology, both shown to be related to the loss of the dialectical apprehension of reality. The absence, however, of a corollary critique of the practical functioning of political ideology (Gabel’s psychiatric description is far more substantial than his recognition of the interest held by the interaction with ideological alienation) gives rise at the same time to a certain weakness within Gabel toward Stalinist orthodoxy, as it does toward Western academic thought — such as a poorly considered attempt to salvage Bergsonism. False Consciousness, which throws all revolutionary theory and action out with the bathwater of ideology, seems in the end like of a book of “specialization without portfolio,” of a specialist without perspective who prefers to ignore what and whom he can serve. The “putting back the dialectic back on its feet” to which Gabel frequently refers — after Marx’s treatment of Hegelian method — can in no way be understood in the form of a simple amelioration of dialectical discourse in the same book. As Karl Korsch put it so well in Marxism and Philosophy, the inversion of Hegel goes further than that. A dialectical book in our time is not only a book that presents a reasoning dialectically; it is a book that recognizes and calculates its own relationship with the totality to be actually transformed.

Maurice Pianzola’s book Peintres et Vilains (Editions Cercle d’Art, 1962) has the merit of showing the participation of the principle artists of the era in the Peasants’ War of 1525, often in a leading role among the insurgents. Unfortunately, this study remains firmly within the traditional framework of the art book.

The pocket book on Les Marxistes (L’Essential collection) produced by Kostas Papaioannou constitutes an excellent choice, with intelligent and honest commentary. The intelligence of the texts is nevertheless limited by its historian’s perspective in dealing with a period that is now over. It is indeed strange to restore such texts without any idea of their future. The use of the book escapes its author who even seems to believe that that it doesn’t have one. This is an example of the basic character of contemporary mass culture. The contradictions and superficial uncertainties of this culture have allowed a great deal of abstractly utilizable information to enter it, but in a state of practical incoherence. The curiously restrained partial coherency of Papaioannou’s work is the most extreme case of this incoherence.

A long way from these books which should still, of course, be read, the book that Françoise Choay has devoted to Urbanisme, utopies et réalités (Seuil) only warrants being pointed out for the achievement that consists of dealing with this subject without ever mentioning a single situationist thesis.

Lefebvre the Historian

It is well known that by hastily copying fourteen situationist theses, Henri Lefebvre purported to offer a new interpretation of the Paris Commune (see the SI’s tract, Into the Trashcan of History from February 1963). His book La Proclamation de la Commune, in which he admires our important conclusions from the end of 1962, was finally published by Gallimard in 1965, leaving a number of points to be made on this largely rethought work, now totally accessible, as well as on the positive reception that it has generally encountered.

The situationist formula “the Commune was the greatest festival of the 19th Century,” was adapted as the central idea of this “investigation” into a “total history” (but, of course, without the slightest awareness of the theoretical renewal whose foundations it laid); and was immediately celebrated by 75% of the critics. “... what Henri Lefebvre’s book calls a ’festival.’ Indeed, everything that occurred in the days and nights of the Commune was a festival.” (Duvignard, Nouvel Observateur, 22-4-65). “The March 1871 insurrection was first of all a festival ...” (C. Mettra, L’Express 5-4-65). “With this work, Henri Lefebvre can’t be ignored. The Paris Commune was ’an immense, grandiose festival,’ ’a revolutionary festival and a festival of revolution.’ That’s the general tone.” (A. Duhamel, Le Monde, 6-9-65). “When Henri Lefebvre, immediately emphasizing the importance of style in great historical events, has reason to describe the style of the Paris Commune, it is as a festival.” (J.Julliard, Critique, December 1965). And Michel Winock, in the February 1966 edition of Esprit: “Aside from ’the end of state politics,’ what did the Commune offer us? What was its deepest significance? The greatest imaginable: ’the transformation of (everyday) life into an endless festival, into a game whose only limit is the fatality of death. ...’ Lefebvre does not give in to utopian literature: with his attention to the detail of the day to day facts of Paris in 1871 — often seen as less ’historical’ — he concludes that the ’festive style’ is ’the style proper to the Commune.’ The phrase is not forced ... This leads Lefebvre to see in the Commune ’the only attempt at revolutionary urbanism’ ... From now on, it will be impossible to speak of the Commune without being familiar with Henri Lefebvre’s ideas.”

There is no reason to believe that Lefebvre’s pillaging is confined to yet-to-be-published texts. The following lines come from issue 7 of the journal Internationale Situationniste (page 12 [The Bad Days Will End]), which appeared in April 1962: “The assault of the first workers movement against the whole organization of the old world came to an end long ago, and nothing can bring it back to life. It failed. Certainly it achieved immense results, but not the ones it had originally intended. No doubt such deviation toward partially unexpected results is the general rule in human actions; but the one exception to this rule is precisely the moment of revolutionary action, the moment of the all-or-nothing qualitative leap. The classical workers movement must be reexamined without any illusions, particularly without any illusions regarding its various political and pseudotheoretical heirs, for all they have inherited is its failure. The apparent successes of this movement are actually its fundamental failures (reformism or the establishment of a state bureaucracy), while its failures (the Paris Commune or the 1934 Asturian revolt) are its most promising successes so far, for us and for the future.” This is what became of that paragraph three years later, when it was transfigured by Lefebvrian thought: “Today, we must resume the workers’ movement in an entirely new way: at once disillusioned and audacious. Limited to Europe, this movement’s first assault against the old world partially failed. The situation has changed dramatically; it has achieved immense results, but not the ones intended by those who undertook its initial theories and actions. Some of the Commune’s political and theoretical pseudoheirs hold only the heritage of a failure, whose meaning has been lost precisely because of their belief in its success. Is there not a dialectical movement of history and defeat, of failure and success? The success of the revolutionary movement has in fact concealed its failures; in contrast, its failures — that of the Commune, among others — are at the same time victories that open onto the future ...” (page 39 of La Proclamation de la Commune).

But, you ask, is it possible for Lefebvre write such an awful book simply by adapting three ’situationist’ pages? Of course not. He has read four or five well-timed books in the past few years that he has been capable of tirelessly but unevenly amalgamating into several investigations concerning the unfolding of events (for example, Dautry and Scheller’s study, Le Comité Central des Vingt Arondissements de Paris, Editions Sociales, 1960). Finally, no doubt to the delight of his last master Gurvitch, who is still alive, Lefebvre fraudulently and with no apology credited Proudhon with being something like the inventor of the autonomous worker! This is the Proudhon, ever the partisan of order, who wanted to improve the existing order, in the sector of private property (through cooperation) as everywhere else; the apolitical enemy of all violent struggle; the reactionary who, in the middle of the 19th century, neither considered nor tolerated any choice for women other than that between prostitution and motherhood; the man who perfectly summed up every uselessness of the moralist when he decided, precisely against the existing minimum of worker autonomy, that “There is no more right to strike than there is to incest and adultery.”

But that’s not all. From the very beginning of his book, Lefebvre demonstrates what poor ideas he can make out of festival and revolution. He searches unimaginatively for how literary forms expressed in Paris at the time — lyricism and drama — must, by hypothesis, be rediscovered. He thereby reveals that he has absolutely no understanding of the liberated life that transcends these forms, autonomizing itself as expression and action, to the point of possessing in itself lyricism and drama of an entirely different quality to this resurrection of the artistic masks of the old carnival of separation. Having quite simply misunderstood — at the level of doorman’s gossip — our theses’ suggestion that the official history of dominant society “brings about the disappearance” of the subversive sense of an era, even in the field of its artistic and poetic manifestations, Lefebvre believes that he can venture to insinuate that Lautréamont was murdered! (page 169). Like the famous Fantômas — where each chapter was written by a different author — Lefebvre’s historical monument is composed with the same hypnogogic negligence, a cloak and dagger novel culminating in the stupefying idea that Marx visited the Commune in order to be a purely theoretical partisan of the destruction of the state.

Lefebvre has attempted to exorcise the situationist specter haunting his thought — as well as that of quite a few other small minds of present spectacular culture — by directing an acknowledgment to a mysterious Guy Debud, who would certainly be the type associated with the elaboration and approval of such a book but for his unfortunately chimerical form. Typographically — for want of better means — a prouder correction of historical exactness has not been seen since Stalinaud, who the ever faithful Henri Lelièvre loved so hopelessly for thirty years (or at least preferred to Garaudisque). Vaccinated against ridicule like no-one else in Paris, The Thinker of Nanterre has once again mastered a delicate subject with the handling of his dialoctical brilliance. [5]

Interview with an Imbecile

Even worse than the old Observateur, the Nouvel Observateur is a veritable Niagara of stupidity (6,810,000 liters per second). A considerable portion of this flow is produced by two of its editors, Katia Kaupp and Michel Cournot, whose writings could serve as excellent historical documents for the study of the supreme phase of spectacular decomposition. Their combination of stupidity and stylistic vulgarity makes them perfect Jean Nochers of the Left (a Left which adheres to the dominant society as fundamentally as does Jean Nocher, apart from a few details concerning the “modernization” of this domination). For its launching, however, this magazine called on some guest celebrities. Its opening issue (19 November 1964) presented a five-page interview with a star thinker. We reproduce here a few of his most extraordinary statements. The parenthetical remarks are obviously ours and not those of the Nouvel Observateur flunky who pretends to dialogue with the oracle.

“The young people I meet,” says the imbecile, “are perhaps less hotheaded than in the past, but what I find most striking is that politically they are often at the same point as I am. My point of arrival is their point of departure. ... And they have a whole lifetime ahead of them to build on the base that is my point of culmination.” (The young people who are not at the same point of political degradation would obviously never have been interested in meeting this imbecile. As for those who have the misfortune to be at that point, a hundred successive lifetimes “ahead of them” would never suffice to build anything on the base of his culmination, which has been revealed from every angle as an intellectual dead end.)

“In France the ‘yé-yé’ phenomenon was used in order to turn the youth into a class of consumers.” (A perfect inversion of reality: it is because the youth of the modern capitalist countries has become a very important category of consumers that phenomena of the ‘yé-yé’ sort appear.)

“You can only be alluding to Marxist ideology. Today I don’t know of any other: current bourgeois ideology is more notable for its absence than for its strength.” (Those who have read Marx know that his method is a radical critique of ideologies; but he who has only read Stalin can praise “Marxism” for having become the best of ideologies, the ideology that has had the strongest police.)

“Socialism can be pure only as an idea or, perhaps, much later, if it becomes the regime of all societies. In the meantime its incarnation in a particular country implies that it must develop and define itself through innumerable relations with the rest of the world. In the forging of reality, the purity of the idea becomes tainted.” (Here is a Marxist ideologue really ideologizing: ideas are pure in the heavens and become rotten when they are incarnated. Since this thinker is himself real and has affirmed the principle that any realization in the world must entail a fundamental corruption, he implicitly both admits his own degradation in his “relations with the rest of the world” and justifies it on the grounds of inevitability. From all this we can appreciate his “advanced” state of decomposition.)

Right after this, the imbecile quotes a Malian’s statement which he greatly admires: “Our socialism is conditioned by the fact that we are a country without any outlet to the sea.” (Is it not also somewhat conditioned by the absence of an industrial proletariat in Mali? But this is just a trifling detail in the geopolitics of such a profound thinker!)

To the idea that all the industrial societies have many features in common, the imbecile retorts: “To say that, one would have to prove that there is a class struggle in the socialist countries, that is, that the privileges accorded certain people are becoming stratified. Now, this is not at all the case. There are admittedly some very real inequalities; but the money obtained by a factory manager in the USSR cannot be reinvested anywhere: it is spent and cannot be replenished or augmented in his hands to become the basis of a class power.” (A basis which lies elsewhere: in the possession of the state. The extra money received by the privileged in the USSR is not the basis of their power, but a clear expression of their power.)

“The Soviets are shocked when one seems to believe that among them money can confer power.” (Of course, since it’s the other way around!)

“To be sure, these ‘high-ranking functionaries’ have numerous privileges; but to the very extent that the regime is authoritarian, there is a social instability, intermixing among different strata, demotion of leaders, a constant influx of newcomers from the base to the summit. If any conflicts were to occur in the USSR they would have the aspect of a reformism and not of a revolution.” (Thus the very arbitrariness serves to prove that there is no ruling class in the USSR. At this level of insult to one’s intelligence, one could just as well argue that the free-enterprise capitalism of Marx’s day was also socialist, since its economic laws ruined many industrialists and it sometimes happened that a worker would become a boss; hence the social instability, class intermixing, etc.)

But the idea of a pure imbecile of this dimension would only be a “pure idea.” Since such an imbecile actually exists, he must also firmly identify with a repressive power. After the armed revolt of the Hungarian proletariat — in one of those “socialist countries” where “one would have to prove” that class struggles could now exist — this same imbecile was so set on defending the interests of the Russian bureaucracy that he took a position to the right of Khrushchev: “The most serious mistake was probably Khrushchev’s Report [on Stalin], for the solemn public denunciation, the detailed exposure of all the crimes of a sacred personage who has represented the regime for so long, is a folly when such frankness is not made possible by a previous substantial rise in the standard of living of the population. ... The result was to reveal the truth to masses who were not ready to receive it.”

The thinker we have been talking about is Sartre. And anyone who still wants to seriously discuss the value (whether philosophical or political or literary — one can’t separate the aspects of this hodgepodge) of such a nullity, so puffed up by the various authorities that are so satisfied with him, thereby reveals himself as not worth being taken seriously by those who refuse to renounce the potential consciousness of our time.

The Algeria of Daniel Guérin, Libertarian

In december 1965 Daniel Guérin published a pamphlet entitled L’Algérie caporalisée? which contains a rather bizarre analysis of Boumédienne’s regime. According to Guérin, nothing happened in June. Faithful to an old schema, he sees only a “Bonapartism” in power both before and after the coup d’état, struggling classically on two fronts: against the “counterrevolution of the indigenous propertied classes” and against the threatening enthusiasm of the workers striving for self-management. And in foreign affairs he finds “the same desire on the part of both regimes for an adroit balancing act between capitalist and socialist countries” (p. 6). “None of the declarations of the so-called ‘Council of the Revolution’ contains any innovations whatsoever or any hints of an original program” (p. 10). However, when he drafted his main text, dated November 5, Guérin thought he detected some potential new developments as the putchists were being pushed, as if despite themselves, to the “right” — developments that “seem to foreshadow an antisocialist policy” (p. 11, our emphasis). One might suppose that Guérin disregards the considerable differences between the two regimes because he is carried away by the equal contempt that Ben Bella and Boumédienne might well arouse in a revolutionary who is a declared partisan of “libertarian socialism” and self-management. Unfortunately, this is not at all the case! He has no other revolutionary solution to recommend than the restoration of Ben Bella: “To rally a popular opposition to the colonels’ regime in Algeria today without reference to Ben Bella, or while making a total political critique of Ben-Bellaism, would be an undertaking doomed to failure” (p. 17). And before June 19 the Ben Bella regime’s numerous attacks on the workers, the exploits of its police and army — the same police and army that are still in place today, in fact — were for Guérin only “mistakes, weaknesses and omissions” of an acceptable orientation. The king was badly advised or misinformed; never responsible. Since Guérin cannot be unaware of the open struggles of Ben Bella’s regime against the masses (he himself provides some excellent documentation of them, notably apropos of the Congress of Agricultural Workers), he has to reconstruct history by totally separating Ben Bella from his regime. Page 12: “The sabotage of self-management, organized, of course, without Ben Bella’s knowledge.” Page 2: “As we can see more clearly today, Ben Bella never had his hands free: for nearly three years he was the tool, the prisoner, the hostage of Boumédienne.” In other words, people thought Ben Bella was in power, but his downfall has shown that he wasn’t. Such an astonishing retroactive demonstration could just as well be applied to the Czar, who was believed to be an autocrat before 1917. But Guérin overlooks this question: Who besides Ben Bella made Boumédienne, by hoisting himself into power with the aid of Boumédienne’s arms? That Ben Bella later made some half-hearted and very inept attempts to get rid of his tool is another matter. It is because he was above all a bureaucrat that he was at first essentially in solidarity with, and eventually the victim of, bureaucrats more rational than he.

What, then, is the secret of this aberration of one of our famous leftist intellectuals, and one of the most ostensibly “libertarian” among them at that? With him it is no different than with all the others: it is the decisive influence of their vainglorious participation in high society; their common tendency, even more servile than a lackey’s, to be swept off their feet with joy because they have spoken with the greats of this world; and the imbecility that makes them attribute such greatness to those who have condescended to talk to them. Whether they are partisans of the self-managing masses or of police-state bureaucracies, the “leftist intellectuals” of the period from which we are just emerging always have the same rapt admiration for power and government. The closer they are to a governmental position, the more the leaders of the “underdeveloped” countries fascinate these ridiculous professors of leftist museology. In Simone de Beauvoir’s memoirs, so revealing of the fundamental degradation of a whole generation of intellectuals, her narration of a dinner at the Soviet Embassy exposes a pettiness so irremediable and so shameless that she isn’t even aware of it.

So here is the secret: Guérin “knew” Ben Bella. He “listened” to him from time to time: “When I had the privilege, at the beginning of December 1963, of a brief audience at the Villa Joly in order to present to the President a report resulting from my month of traveling around the country observing the self-managed enterprises, I had the impression that he had been prejudiced against my conclusions by Ali Mahsas and the Minister of Industry and Commerce, Bachir Boumaza” (p. 7).
Guérin really is for self-management, but, like Mohammed Harbi, it is in the pure form of its Spirit incarnated as a privileged hero that he prefers to meet it, recognize it and aid it with his sage advice. Daniel Guérin met the Weltgeist of self-management over a cup of tea, and everything else follows.

Domenach versus Alienation

Alienation, that key word for a whole system of politics, sociology, and critical thought — what does it cover? J.M. Domenach traces the astonishing itinerary of this concept of such diverse meanings, from Hegel to Jacques Berque. Then he takes another look at its content. It seems to him that the moment has come to renounce this ‘hospital concept’ where all the maladies of the century are lumped together, and to call into question the philosophy that developed it.

This prefatory note from the journal Esprit (December 1965) is not betrayed by the extraordinary impudence of Domenach’s article, “Let’s Get Rid of Alienation,” which opens the same issue. Domenach, prince of that notable province of contemporary confusionism, Christian leftism, reproaches the concept of alienation for being confused, for being used improperly, for having considerably evolved historically, and for having given rise to too many “vague and outmoded” formulas. If everything that was vague was therefore outmoded, religious thought would not have survived the rationalist clarification brought into the world by bourgeois society. But in a materially divided society, vague ideas and the vague use of precise concepts serve definite forces. The history of the concept of alienation, as Domenach recounts it in a few pages, is itself a perfect example of vague thought serving a specific confusionism. [...]

Domenach does not even want to “get rid of” the concept of alienation like that philosopher depicted in The German Ideology who wanted to liberate humanity from the idea of gravity so that there would be no more drownings. Domenach wants people to stop talking about alienation so that they will become resigned to it. [...] The alienation banished from consciousness is to be replaced by the more “precise” concept of exploitation. While it is true that the general alienation in the East and the West is effectively based on the exploitation of the workers, the evolution of modern capitalism — and still more, bureaucratic ideology — have largely succeeded in masking the Marxist analyses of exploitation at the stage of free competition and in making the handling of them less precise. In contrast, these parallel evolutions have brought alienation — which was originally a philosophical concept — into the reality of every hour of daily life. [...]

To be sure, in a society that needs to spread a mass pseudoculture and to have its spectacular pseudointellectuals monopolize the stage, many terms are naturally rapidly vulgarized. But for the same reasons, perfectly simple and illuminating words tend to disappear: such as the word priest; so that Domenach and his friends come to think that no one will ever again remind them of this embarrassing vulgarity. They are mistaken. Just as the secular efforts of a Revel (En France) to compile a list of words to forbid, a list that mixes a few fashionable trivialities with important contested terms, are ridiculous because one cannot hope to simultaneously suppress the theoretical discoveries of our time and the interested confusion to which they give rise in order to “return” to some simplified rationalism which never had the efficacy the nostalgic liberals now attribute to it. [...]

People like Domenach, being themselves valets of the establishment’s cultural spectacle, which wants to quickly coopt for its own use the most crucial terms of modern critical thought, will never want to admit that the truest and most important concepts of the era — alienation, dialectics, communism — are precisely marked by the organization around them of the greatest confusions and the worst misinterpretations. Vital concepts are simultaneously subject to the truest and the most false uses, along with a multitude of intermediary confusions, because the struggle between critical reality and the apologetic spectacle leads to a struggle over words, a struggle that is more bitter the more those words are central. The truth of a concept is not revealed by an authoritarian purge, but by the coherence of its use in theory and in practical life. It is not important that a priest at the pulpit renounces the use of a concept that he would in any case never case have known how to use. Let us speak vulgarly since we’re dealing with priests: alienation is the point of departure for everything — providing that one departs from it.

[1Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité, the State Security Police.

[2France’s federal criminal investigation bureau.

[3The title of the 1947 novel by Malcolm Lowry (1909-1957), set in Cuernavaca, especially popular with the Lettrist International.

[4Theories of Pierre Tailhard de Chardin (1881-1955), a French Jesuit who attempted to blend science and Christianity.

[5All typographical errors in this paragraph are intentional and appear in the original text. “Henri Lelièvre” is literally “Henri the hare” — trans.

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Erstveröffentlichung im FORVM:
March
1966
Numéro 10, Seite 56
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Situationistische Internationale: Situationistisch / Situationist: All das, was sich auf die Theorie oder auf die praktische Tätigkeit von Situationen bezieht. Derjenige, der sich damit beschäftigt, Situationen zu konstruieren. Mitglied der situationistischen Internationale.
Situationismus: Sinnloses Wort, missbräuchlich durch Ableitung des vorigen gebildet. Einen Situationismus gibt es nicht — was eine Doktrin zur Interpretation der vorhandenen Tatsachen bedeuten würde. Selbstverständlich haben sich die Anti-Situationisten den Begriff „Situationismus“ ausgedacht.

Reuben Keehan:

Ken Knabb:

Geboren 1945 in Louisiana. Autor, Übersetzer und radikaler Theoretiker, Betreiber des Website Bureau of Public Secrets.

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