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Provisional Theses for the Discussion of New Theoretico-Practical Orientation in th SI (excerpts)

Paolo Salvadori

May 1970

Edited from translations by Ken Knabb and Implications

I. The point at which we find ourselves

IF IT SEEMS THAT we cannot yet come up with a strategy which is sufficiently precise in relation to the course that the class struggles and revolutionaries periods in all countries will follow — a historical movement which is still, moreover, latent, outside of its general presuppositions and first practical self-clarifications — nevertheless, this is what we will have to do soon. If we still have not had the chance to grasp, for example, what the intervals between one revolution and another will be, what the international strategy will be ("the class battle array"), what new forces will develop in it (USA, USSR) and what level power's intelligence will reach, we are nonetheless at the beginning of this constructive period, where all the essential problems already pose themselves in direct relation to the action of conscious workers. Thus, we must be just as much aware of the peril of falling into a pure representation of globalness without development of our activities, as the opposite — of not representing this globalness. One could say that we are at the same point as the Communist League, at the beginning of a historical period full of alternatives.

II. Organizational method

CONSEQUENTLY, THE LIFE of the organization and organizational rapports will not be derived simply from the fact of "recognizing a necessity and putting oneself at the service of this necessity," in the sense of a totally objective position created by the SI for its members. This method is, and must necessarily still be, seeing a necessity in the development of our capacities/possibilities, defining our tasks insofar as they are our own tasks, which is to say what we want as the group of individuals that we are (naturally, it is only a matter of an accentuation in the rhythm of unitary progression, but which continually becomes real through our consciousness of the stakes, of risk, of the element of the arbitrary that there is in all of our actions, of the radical subjectivity which is still almost exclusively their original terrain). All this can be summed up in the fact that the SI can be defined grosso modo in relation to its universal significance or in relation to its concrete present (according to Vaneigem or according to Debord, if this parallel can mean anything), as a revolutionary organization, practical political force or as a group of individuals, of theoreticians. It goes without saying that there is not any opposition which is not dialectical; it is a matter of moments summoned to succeed one another in reality.

III. On theoreticians and theory

IT SEEMS THAT there has been among us a tendency to judge purely theoretical activity as no longer sufficient, or that it is becoming insufficient in the new epoch. And one can add that which for too long has paralyzed theoretical production — a phenomenon which is as much the consequence as the cause of the "disciplinary excess" — seems to be, among other things, the feeling of having already becoming the masters — though without slaves — of theory; something which is only true in comparison to the somnambulists who have the originality to still be totally deprived of theory; a relation which is the opposite of the way we define ourselves.

But if we can't go beyond theory without using it decisively in practice, neither can we exert ourselves in practice except by means of our own theory. To attempt the supercession of our role as a group of theoreticians implies knowing clearly that the only solution beyond this group is the revolutionary organization, in the developed and complete form it will assume. Thus, I am convinced that it is on the path of theory that we will meet practice, new comrades and new actions. Now, when, after the first alarm signal, intellectuals and students still dream of washing away their remorse in a bath of "praxis," the SI can only continue on the opposite path with the certainty of finding its confirmation there.

We are still principally a group of theoreticians (before arriving at being simply conscious revolutionaries). But we are not only that. We are also something more, in the sense of the practical objective terrain created around us by our theory, and we have always been something before being a group of theoreticians, in the sense that the practical coherence in our interpersonal rapports and of each of us in his own life constitutes the practical basis of our solidarity (something that translates itself precisely in the method of not even discussing practical lapses since, beyond these, coherence must be a presupposition.) We are above all a group of rebels, or we are nothing. Strictly speaking, we are at the intersection of all classes, and thus we are no longer belong to any class. We know the bourgeoisie by direct experience; in culture and in daily life we have finished with its decadence; as proletarians we continue to work our way up; we are guerrillas because we are not aligned materially with any social stratum. Socially we are nothing, and, moreover, for us the society is nothing. From the point of view of Power, we don't exist, or at least we shouldn't exist. From the social intersections out of which we have come, to those where we are, we have found the space to choose our cause, even though there is no other practical one. From the point of view of the working class, it is inevitable that we must assume a separate existence, that if we exist it is only as "intellectuals," "militants," "leaders": as long as the workers reify us, our presence will seem foreign to them, as they are foreigners to themselves. But it is for the revolutionary workers that we exist on the terrain of a dynamic encounter in the one common project that is destined to become permanent. There, where we exist, it is beyond classes, outside of the perspective of Power. Our positive social being is nothing, and by this alone the negation is everything: it is only in the movement that this dialectical existence can reveal itself and take form.

The “April Theses” pointed out that the SI now needs to concentrate more on the dissemination of theory than on its elaboration (though the latter must also be continued). I want to call attention to the fact that in order to accomplish this, theory must first of all be put in a condition in which it can be effectively disseminated. The first step of theory’s advance toward practice takes place within theory itself. The dissemination of theory is thus inseparable from its development. The task of giving all our formulated or implicit theses a systematic and completely dialectical development, one that will bring them not only to the point where no one can any longer be unaware of them, but also to the point where they circulate among the workers “like hotcakes” and finally spark a definitive awakening of consciousness (a scandal) — this is certainly a theoretical task. But it also has an immediately practical utility; more precisely, it is both necessary and banal at this time when the SI is more or less led to play double or nothing with history.

Let us consider, for example, the excellent project of a Situationist Manifesto (“situationist” in the sense that it is done by situationists). I think that some of the difficulty in conceiving or “imagining” it must be attributed to the fact that we have yet to attain a certain level of theoretical development. By this I mean: the SI’s theory is solid and is already maturing without becoming old (it being the last theory, assuming that this era’s decisive revolution is the last revolution). But beyond the fact that the SI’s Manifesto must be translated into all the languages spoken by the modern proletariat and disseminated among the workers, it should be in a position to last at least as well as the Communist Manifesto, without having the latter’s defects and inadequacies. It thus clearly cannot be a book, or an article (like the Address to Revolutionaries of All Countries, for example) that would arbitrarily be called a “manifesto”; rather, it must be the geometric locus of the theory of modern society and the constant reference point of any future revolution. In this sense the project proposed by Guy of settling our accounts with Marx, by precisely assessing the degree of accuracy of his analyses and predictions, is a preliminary project, though not a necessary one. More generally, our theory certainly runs through all the SI articles, from which it may easily be drawn; but in that form our theory has to be reconstructed by the reader. This theory must now be unified and synthesized, and for this end some additional analyses will be in order. In particular, the new simplicity of language we are seeking will certainly not be able to make our language familiar in the short run. Thus, before the Manifesto we might undertake the intermediate task of scientifically developing all our previously outlined themes (articles, pamphlets, books).

In contrast, it seems to me that René-Donatien’s proposal of a Wildcat Striker’s Handbook should be realized in the near future. To a brief history of the wildcat movement and a confirmation of its critique in acts of the unions, we could add a critique of the worker milieu and a brief final programatic chapter (defeat of the revolutionary movement, bureaucracy, spectacle-commodity society, return of social revolution, workers councils, classless society). This would be a premise for the Manifesto as well as a followup to Student Poverty, in that it might lead to a “Strasbourg of the factories.”

Finally, it seems to me that the Manifesto project is the way in which we can consider the necessity of an overall advance in the relations among our theses as well as between them and the real movement, and that it thus presupposes the realization of virtually all the other projected theoretical works that have been formulated in the course of this debate. For example, René’s and Raoul’s proposed pamphlet on workers councils and the critique of Pannekoek; of the four major projects presented by Guy, at least the analysis of the “two concomitant failures” (insofar as they concern the process of the formation of conscious revolutionary organizations and the critique of the present process of purely spontaneous struggle) and, linked to the critique of the councils of the past and of councilist ideology, the definition of the armed coherence (the outline of a program) of the new councils, which “will be situationist or nothing.” Thus the “preface to the practical critique of the modernized old world” opens up the quest for a real antireformism and for new forms of mass or generalized action in the proletariat’s development toward an autonomous movement, the first phase of which is manifested by sabotage, wildcat strikes and above all by the new, modern demands. Besides this, it will still be necessary to come back to the question of historical class determination, notably that of the working class and its revolutionary nature, since it continues, because of its material position in society, to bear the consciousness of humanity as a whole. (Tony: “We must affirm that the workers can become revolutionary, and that they are the only ones who will be so effectively.” Raoul: “The path of the worker is direct: because he holds the fate of the commodity in his hands, all he has to do in order to break free of his brutalization and stop being a worker is to become conscious of his power. His positivity is immediate. The intellectual is at best negative. . . . Our critique must now bear essentially on the worker milieu, the motor of the proletariat.”) Essential chapters are thus: the analysis of American capitalism and American society with its new déclassés; the critique of the most modern ideologies in relation to the supersession in acts of political economy and to the delay of the revolution (urbanism as destruction of the city; automation seen as automatically liberating; ecology as present-day society’s moral crisis, which compels it to envisage the necessity to itself transform production relations; and, linked to all the above, “situationism”: the critique of everyday life conducted by power itself); the analysis of the material presence in work and in everyday life of all the fragmentary elements of the totality, of the entire historical project, of that which the disappearance of art, the withering away of philosophy and the bankruptcy of science were unable to abolish, but have on the contrary injected everywhere by making it a definitive acquisition of the workers who are henceforth becoming their conscious inheritors. In general, there is a need to pursue an international strategy of revolution by politico-historical articles on different countries, that is to say, to continue to translate The Society of the Spectacle into terms like those of The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy, and even further in that direction. (A good translation of the former has yet to appear in Italy.)

Another project I think it is useful to add is this: beginning with a quick run-through of past revolutions (like Marx does in the Manifesto, Engels in the Introduction to The Class Struggles in France, Trotsky in 1905, Pannekoek in Workers Councils), to develop an answer to the question, “Why will the next revolution be the last one?” The history of the workers movement — aspects of which have been treated in numerous articles and whose line is most fully traced in “The Proletariat as Subject and Representation” [Chapter 4 of The Society of the Spectacle], along with Riesel’s critique of its highest moments, the councils, in Internationale Situationniste #12 [Preliminaries on Councils and Councilist Organization]— is still far from being an outworn topic on which everything of consequence has already been said. But what seems to me of even greater interest is to clarify why modern revolutions are henceforth, and for the first time, exclusively proletarian, and this at a time that is witnessing a decisive transformation of the workers and of work itself. Thus the revolutions of the past failed to attain, except marginally, that without which the modern revolution cannot even begin: the fact that victory can be achieved only by demanding the totality is now also expressed in the fact that there are no longer even any struggles except for the totality. One could start from a definitive critique and a justification of Russian Bolshevism (of Trotsky and Lenin) in relation to the real conditions of the Russian proletariat, those conditions being in their turn considered in relation to the conditions of the modern proletariat, which simultaneously make Bolshevism impossible and the councils necessary, “no longer at the periphery of what is ebbing, but at the center of what is rising.” This would also be a verification of Marx’s general thesis: As long as the existing production relations are not exhausted and have not entered into contradiction with the development of the productive forces (in the total historical sense that includes the development of the revolutionary class itself and of the consciousness that produces history), revolutions run the greatest risk, which so far has never been avoided, of being defeated and leading to a modernization of domination. Each revolution sets loose all possibilities (in 1789 as in 1871 and 1917), but in the final analysis realizes only those that correspond to the level attained by the development of productive forces. Out of all the possibilities each revolution opens up for itself, it always seems to choose the nearest. All the possibilities are there before it, but some of them remain invisible while others are in everybody’s mind: it is obviously everyday life, the immediate relation with the existing world, that puts them there. This can just as well be expressed by saying that in all revolutions the negation is never absolute, that the positive plays a large part, whether as positive or inversely as determining the negation: if the condition of victory consists in reducing the former, it also always consists in reinforcing the latter, in reducing the positive to its objective basis.

It also seems to me that we have arrived at a point where we must go over all of situationist theory from top to bottom and rewrite it, so as to deal with the mediations that were treated too rapidly and with the questions that were left open. The recognized value of writing books, for example (books that in the present period the workers should begin to read), obviously stems from this necessity of superseding the opening moment of hostilities on a new front of modern critique.

"Just as a building is not finished when its foundation is constructed, neither is the attainment of the concept of the totality the totality itself." Thus we see the only possible mode of progress for the journal [Internationale Situationniste] consist in making it the simple bulletin of the activity of the SI. Reducing strictly theoretical research in it, the journal should consist almost exclusively of notes: to inform people of our activity, to criticize revolutionaries, to continually disentangle ourselves from aspects of recuperation or from enemies, to present immediate analyses of on-going class struggles and organizational texts. This would thus be only the most direct means by which we participate in the process of the formation of conscious revolutionary organization.

In conclusion, we ourselves don’t have a head start at this beginning of an era: it’s the beginning of an era for us too. The SI was able to trace, condensed into a few phrases, a few of the fundamental alternatives and perhaps all of the modern directions of development; but it is precisely for this reason that it is virtually a question of beginning over again (except for the spectacle, the critique of everyday life, a few brief though excellent politico-historical texts on revolutions, and of course the analysis of May). Our most notable theoretical acquisition so far is our theoretical method, which must be verified in a number of concrete respects by deepening the theory itself in a decisive manner, precisely because “the force of spirit is only as great as its externalization.” We have already written, in installments, our German Ideology, but our 1844 Manuscripts will be the text Guy proposes for the historical détournement of Marx. We are beginning to consider our Manifesto at the same time as our Critique of the Gotha Program. Moreover, we don’t come only from Hegel and Marx. The Revolution of Everyday Life has only opened the way; antiutopia is an unexplored territory from which no one has returned so far. It is this antiutopia, made possible on the bases of modern society, that must fill in the gaps left by Marx’s “insufficiencies,” just as it must itself be rendered dialectical and find a practical use. [...]