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Maitron the Historian

Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969)

Translated by Ken Knabb

[The article opens by describing how the “libertarian” historian Jean Maitron, in collaboration with a notorious Stalinist, put out a book on May 1968 (La Sorbonne par elle-même) containing, in addition to numerous erroneous assertions on the SI’s activities, reproductions of CMDO texts that were knowingly falsified — critiques of the Stalinists deleted with no indication of the omissions, completely fabricated passages sympathetic to the CGT added, etc. (KK)]

[...] On October 24 the SI wrote Maitron a letter that pointed out, with supporting proofs, the most gross falsifications concerning us in his book and demanded “a written apology.” In two weeks he hadn’t replied. Riesel and Viénet then went to his residence, insulted him as he merited, and in order to stress their point, smashed a soup tureen which according to this historian was an “heirloom.” We thus showed this person that his specific dishonesty would not pass unobserved, and could even expose him to being disagreeably insulted; which may make others pause to reflect before committing similar falsifications. [...]

[The article then goes on to describe how this incident is soon afterwards ridiculously inflated in several public accounts — that his typewriter was smashed, that his home was “ransacked” by “several” situationists, giving the impression that he was lucky to escape alive, etc.]

But beyond the comical aspects of this incident (the December 1968 issue of Révolution Prolétarienne rages about the “fascism” of our “massive trashing” of his home, and even calls for “counterviolence” against us) there is an important issue here. In our opinion, the number-one objective for the revolutionary movement that is presently taking shape — even more important and urgent than elaborating a consistent theoretical critique or linking up with democratic rank-and-file committees in the factories or paralyzing the universities — is giving practical support for an insistence on truth and nonfalsification. This is the precondition and the beginning of all the rest. Whoever falsifies must be discredited, boycotted, spit on. When it is a matter of systems of falsification (as in the case of Stalinist bureaucrats or of bourgeois) it is obviously those systems that must be destroyed by a large-scale social and political struggle. But this very struggle must create its own conditions: when one is dealing with individuals or groups aiming to establish themselves anywhere in the revolutionary current, one must not let them get away with anything.1 By maintaining this insistence, the movement will fundamentally smash all the conditions of falsification that have accompanied and brought about its disappearance for the last half century. As we see it, all revolutionaries must now recognize it as their immediate task to denounce and discourage, by all means and whatever the price, those who continue to falsify. [...]

To reply in advance to those who will still say that the situationists always insult everyone to the same degree2 and blame everything in the absolute, we will mention two books that devote a considerable space to our documents or to analyzing our action in May: Le projet révolutionnaire by Richard Gombin (Mouton, 1969) and The French Student Uprising by Alain Schnapp and P. Vidal-Naquet (Seuil, 1969). While we are in disagreement with the methods and ideas of these authors, as well as with virtually all of their interpretations and even on certain facts, we are quite willing to acknowledge that these books are put together honestly and that they accurately cite authentic versions of documents; and therefore that they contribute material that will be useful toward writing the history of the occupations movement.

1. It should be stressed that the SI made an example of Maitron because of his revolutionary pretensions and credibility as an “anarchist” historian — and only after his refusing to make a public rectification of demonstrated falsehoods which any person of good faith would have readily granted. The situationists did not attack people physically merely because they disagreed with the SI. Even in the innumerable instances of deliberate falsification of the SI’s positions or activities, they almost always confined themselves to publicly pointing out the falsification. In a related connection (apropos of the French government’s banning of Maoist and Trotskyist groups in the aftermath of May 1968): “The SI’s position on this issue is quite clear: we obviously defend, in the name of our principles, the right of these people to free expression and association — a right they would refuse us in the name of their own principles if they were ever in a position to do so” (Internationale Situationniste #12, p. 98). (KK)
2. As Raspaud and Voyer have shown in the “Index of Insulted Names” of their book L’Internationale Situationniste, it is a gross exaggeration to say that the SI insulted everybody. Out of 940 persons mentioned in the twelve issues of Internationale Situationniste, only 540 were insulted — less than 58%. (KK)