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Reading ICO

Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967)

Translated by Reuben Keehan

Though we have never actually met them, we have many points of agreement with the comrades at Regroupement Inter-Entreprises who publish Information-Correspondance Ouvrière (address: Blachier, 13 bis rue Labois-Rouillon, Paris-19e), which we strongly recommend reading for an understanding of the current workers' struggles (ICO has also published interesting brochures on The Movement for Workers Councils in Germany, Spain today, etc.). There is, however, one fundamental opposition: we believe in the necessity of formulating a precise theoretical critique of the present society of exploitation. We consider that such a theoretical formulation can only be produced by an organized collectivity; and inversely we think that any present permanent liaison organized with workers must attempt to discover a general theoretical basis for its action. What On the Poverty of Student Life described as ICO's choice of nonexistence in this domain does not mean that we think that the ICO comrades lack ideas or theoretical knowledge, but on the contrary that by intentionally putting these diverse ideas in parenthesis, they lose more than they gain in their capacity for unification (which is, in the end, of the highest practical importance). One might therefore say that the level of information and correspondence between the editors of ICO and ourselves has, in the past, been rather limited. Indeed, a student reporting on the situationist critique of his milieu for number 56 of their bulletin announced that "all things considered," our proposal for the supersession of the university system consisted entirely of the expropriation of student grants.

In a letter published in the following number, we pointed out that we spoke, rather, of the "absolute power of the workers councils," and that there is a difference here that is not unworthy of attention. It also seems to us that ICO has exaggerated the difficulty and byzantinism of the SI's vocabulary, advising readers to pack a good dictionary, and on one occasion going so far as to publish two columns of remarks: one in a situationist style; the other their translation into an ordinary style (we have not been able to decide with any certainty which column was the most situationist).

As for the international conference of a few similar European workers' groups in Paris organized by the ICO for July, one can read in the preparatory bulletin this Letter to the German Comrades:

It seems that we will send at most a single observer this year, thus fulfilling your predictions without taking account of our suggestions. The English comrades (Solidarity) appear to have rather strong objections to continuing to participate in the direction that we had suggested. They not only think that the participation of the situationists would be of little interest, which, as you know, we agree with; but they disapprove of the participation of Heatwave, Rebel Worker and the Provos as well. Although they don't explicitly mention it, I presume this indicates that they also disapprove of some of the more controversial themes that we consider important. If I am to understand them correctly, they consider that such themes as the psychology of authoritarianism, that is to say the authoritarian personality; the internalization of alienated norms and values; sexual oppression; popular culture; everyday life; the spectacle; and the commodity nature of our society — the last three points in the Marxist-situationist sense — are too "theoretical" to be "political." They suggest instead that we organize a separate conference with these groups. In these conditions, we feel that our participation is more a waste of money than a real interest. For capitalism is now at a stage where the more enlightened members of the ruling class can consider replacing the hierarchical system of production with a more democratic form, that is to say the participation of workers in management, naturally on the condition that they will be brainwashed into believing that they can identify with their bosses.

This might be a good opportunity to clear up a few points. These advanced workers' groups contain a number of intellectuals, which is fair enough and even necessary. But what is not so fair and necessary is that such intellectuals, with their entirely different and still uncritical lifestyle and their own more or less contradictory or otherwise received ideas, can be in a position — in the absence of a precise theoretical and practical accord that only they control — as informers of the workers; and all the more easily in the name of a purist demand of absolute worker autonomy without thought. You have Rubel, you have Mattick, etc., and each to his own dada. If a hundred thousand armed workers were therefore to send their delegates, this would be all well and good. But indeed this prototype of the council system must recognize that it is now on an entirely different level, having surpassed the tasks of the vanguard (a concept that must cease being put into practice in its absolute identification with the Leninist notion of the 'vanguard' party, whose task it was to represent — and above all to direct — the working class.)

This distrust towards theory explains the horror aroused by the situationists, a group not as strong as the Anarchist Federation, but more sensible, and more in tune with modern questions than even the German comrades. What's more, ICO's agitation has a reassuring theoretical inconsistency, and they are content: they thus still prefer the Provos or the American anarcho-surrealism of Rebel Worker to the situationists, who are "of little interest." If they also prefer the English journal Heatwave, it is because have still not admitted that its editor is now a member of the SI. This discrimination is all the more curious since they explicitly propose discussing some of the SI's theses.

To make things clearer still: the majority of the British Solidarity group that is apparently demanding this boycott of the situationists are very combative revolutionary workers. We feel confident in stating that its shop-steward members have not yet read the SI, certainly not in French. But they have an ideological shield, their specialist of nonauthority, Dr. C. Pallis, a well-educated man who has been aware of the SI for years and who has been in a position to assure them of its utter unimportance. His activity in England has instead been to translate and comment on the texts of Cardan [Cornelius Castoriadis], the thinker who presided over the Socialisme ou Barbarie debacle in France. Pallis knows quite well that we have for a long time pointed out Cardan’s undeniable regression toward revolutionary nothingness, his swallowing of every sort of academic fashion and his ending up becoming indistinguishable from an ordinary sociologist. But Pallis has brought Cardan’s thought to England like light from a dead star — by presenting his least decomposed texts, written years before, and never mentioning the author’s subsequent regression. It is thus easy to see why he would like to prevent this type of encounter.

Moreover, the above discussion, which we will ignore, is beside the point, for we certainly do not find it useful to participate in the mute dialogue of a gathering that, at this stage, is not ready for real communication. If we are not mistaken, the revolutionary workers will come across these problems themselves, and must discover how to grasp them for themselves. We will see what we can do for them when the time comes. In contrast to the view of the small parties that never cease to go in search of the workers in the illusory goal having them at their disposal, we expect that the real struggle of the workers will bring them to us; and we therefore place ourselves at their disposal.