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Remarks on the SI Today (excerpts)

Guy Debord

27 July 1970

Translated by Ken Knabb


I AM IN AGREEMENT with Paolo’s text (“Provisional Theses,” May 1970), apart from two slight differences. First, on page 5 of the French translation, I think it is necessary to dialectize somewhat more the question of the relation of Bolshevism to the backwardness of productive forces in Russia, by pointing out the very role of Lenin’s Bolshevism as a factor of retardation and regression for that central part of the productive forces: the revolutionary class’s consciousness. Elsewhere (page 7) Paolo characterizes this formulation regarding what the SI has so far been able to accomplish — “the element of promise still surpasses the element of accomplishment” — as a “slight exaggeration.” On the contrary, I find this phrase to be completely true, without any exaggeration. With these theses of Paolo and a number of those expressed by various comrades, notably Raoul, René and Tony (as well as Gianfranco’s very correct insistence on our developing certain economic analyses more concretely), it seems to me that we have a substantial basis from which we can more and more concretely develop both our strategical analysis and our theoretico-practical activity.


HOWEVER, A FEW POINTS remain to be dealt with that are preliminary to this debate (though they have already been touched on in texts by René, René-Donatien and myself). Paolo was right to parenthesize these preliminaries, for they have little direct relation with his programmatic outline; and he has taken care, in a final note, to make the very significance of his text contingent on their practical resolution. We must thus now make an effort to determine these difficulties more concretely — difficulties which are simultaneously archaisms in our own historical development and preconditions that we have to master before really undertaking the development of a more advanced perspective. [...]


AFTER FOUR MONTHS of this orientation debate we have not seen any theoretical divergences emerge; and this was fairly predictable. But one begins to wonder if these texts — which go in the same general direction and many of which contain excellent points — are not piling up like so many monologues while scarcely being used. To clarify what I mean regarding this underuse of theory: Just as Magritte could paint a pipe and then correctly write on the painting, “This is not a pipe,” to declare that one does not separate theory and practice is not yet to practice theory. And putting revolutionary theory into practice is not at all messianically postponed until the victory of the revolution, it is required throughout the entire process of revolutionary activity. Similarly (and this too is only a theoretical observation, but a necessary one), we all naturally refuse to consider even the most fundamentally theoretical activity as separable from even the most distinctly practical activity. To formulate the most general revolutionary theory is inconceivable without a very precise practice, and vice versa. Even in a street fight you still have to think! But if we leave aside these dialectical truisms on extreme cases, we can consider the most common concrete situation in which dialecticians reveal themselves as such (even if many of them don’t have the intellectual background enabling them to talk about dialectics or to write theory at the dialectical level). People meet each other. They talk about how they understand the world and what they think they can do in it. They judge each other while judging their world; and each judges the judgments of the others. They agree with or oppose each other’s projects. If there is a common project, they have to know at different moments what this project has become. Their success or failure is measured by practice and their consciousness of practice (they may themselves, rightly or wrongly, characterize their failures and successes as secondary or decisive; the result may later be reversed and they may be aware of this or have forgotten it). Etc., etc. In a word, it is in this concerted and theorized action (which is also theory tested in action) that revolutionary dialecticians have to recognize as well as possible the decisive elements of a complex problem; the probable or modifiable (by them) interaction of these elements; the essential character of the moment as result, as well as the development of its negation. This is the territory of the qualitative where individuals, their acts, meaning and life know each other — and where it is necessary to know how to know. The presence of history in the everyday life of revolutionaries. You comrades will certainly say that the preceding lines are very banal; and this is quite true. [...]


LEAVING ASIDE the fact that all the issues of Internationale Situationniste have included a number of personal contributions (often notable and sometimes even discordant), it can be said that for the most part the anonymous portions of issues 1-5 were produced in a truly collective manner. Issues 6-9 were still done relatively collectively, mainly by Raoul, Attila and me. But from number 10 on I have found myself left with almost the entire responsibility for preparing each publication. And what seems to me even more alarming and unhealthy is that I consider — unbiasedly, I hope — that these three issues are the best ones of the series! This situation was still somewhat obscured for me in numbers 10 and 11 by a small (but welcome) amount of collaboration from Mustapha (I’m still referring to the articles published without signature). We know that the departure of Mustapha right in the middle of the preparation of number 12 (though after he had turned in the article on Czechoslovakia) pushed things to a scandalous point, since at the same time the membership of the French section had doubled. I resigned soon thereafter from the position as “director” of the journal, mainly so as not to be an accomplice to a sort of spectacular lie, since we all had plenty of opportunity to be aware of our distance in this regard from our stated principles. A year has now gone by since this problem was posed, and the present editor-comrades are beginning to put themselves in a position to resolve it. If they succeed in this it will be by finally appropriating the methods that have “officially” been theirs for several years. [...]


THIS DEFICIENCY of collective activity (I don’t mean to say, of course, that we haven’t collectively discussed, decided on and carried out a certain number of actions or writings, even during the last two years) is mainly noticeable — in the French section — by a sort of general aversion to any critique aimed at a specific fact or at one of us. This was quite evident at the July 14 meeting. The slightest critique is felt as a total calling into question, an absolute distrust, a manifestation of hostility, etc. And this emotional reaction is not only expressed by the criticized comrade. The SI comrades are very quick and adept at judging the pro-situs (the successive writings of the poor GRCA, for example), that is to say, something of very little importance. But almost everyone manifests a strange reluctance when it comes to judging anything about a member of the SI. They are visibly uneasy even when someone else of us does so. I cannot believe that some hollow politeness is at the origin of this. It must therefore be a certain fatigue that sets in the moment questions are broached that really concern our movement: things we risk succeeding or failing in. In any case a critique is never carried further by other comrades and no one (except occasionally the criticized comrade) strives to draw from it any conclusions that might be useful for our subsequent collective action. In this way the SI has a tendency to freeze into a sort of perpetual and admirable present (as if a more or less admirable past was continued in it). This not very historical or practical harmony is only broken in two situations, in one case really, in the other only apparently. When a critique is really taken seriously and given practical consequences (because the incident is so glaring that everyone demands this conclusion) an individual is excluded. He is cut off from the harmonious communion, perhaps even without ever having been criticized before, or only once briefly. The apparent break in our habitual comfort happens this way: A critique is made or a defect of our action is pointed out. Everyone goes along with this critique, often without even bothering to express themselves about it; the point seems clear and undeniable, but boring (and correspondingly little attention is given to really remedying it). But if someone has insisted on the point, everyone admits that the detail is indeed a bad thing. And everyone immediately decides that it must not continue, that things must change, etc. But since no one bothers with the practical ways and means, this decision remains a pious hope and the thing may well recur ten times; and by the tenth time everyone has already forgotten the ninth. The general feeling, expressed not so much in the responses as in the silences, is clearly: “Why make a drama out of it?” But this is a false idea because it’s not a matter of a drama and the choice is not between drama and passivity. But in this way the problem, when it eventually is dealt with, is dealt with only dramatically, as many of our exclusions have shown. [...]


[...] I HAVE MENTIONED the prompt critique of the errors of the pro-situs, not in order to say that it is not in itself justified, but in order to note that the pro-situs are not our principal reference point (any more than ICO or the leftist bureaucrats). Our principal reference point is ourselves, it is our own operation. The underdevelopment of internal criticism in the SI clearly reflects, at the same time that it contributes toward, the underdevelopment of our (theoretico-practical) action. [...]


I THINK THAT all this is only a symptom of a correctable deficiency: several situationists’ lack of cohabitation with their own practice. I almost always remember the times I have been mistaken; and I acknowledge them rather often even when no one reminds me of them. I am led to think that this is because I am rarely mistaken, having never concealed the fact that I have nothing to say on the numerous subjects in which I am ignorant, and habitually keeping in mind several contradictory hypotheses regarding the possible development of events when I don’t yet discern the qualitative leap. In speaking here for myself I would nevertheless like to believe that, as Raoul would put it, I am also speaking for some others. And, by anticipation, for all those comrades who will decide to consciously self-manage their own basic activity. [...]


THE STYLE OF ORGANIZATION defined by the SI and that we have tried to implement is not that of the councils or even that which we have outlined for revolutionary organizations in general; it is specific, linked to our task as we have understood it so far. This style has had some obvious successes. Even now it is not a question of criticizing it for lacking effectiveness: if we successfully overcome the present problems of the phase of entering into a “new era,” we will continue to be more “effective” than many others; and if we don’t overcome them, it doesn’t much matter if we have carried out a few publications and encounters a little slower or a little faster. I am thus not criticizing any ineffectiveness of this style of organization, but the essential fact that at the moment this style is not really being applied among us. If, in spite of all its advantages, our organizational formula has this sole fault of not being real, it is obvious that we must at all costs make it real or else renounce it and devise another style of organization, whether for a continuation of the SI or for a regroupment on other bases, for which the new era will sooner or later create the conditions. In any case, to take up Paolo’s phrase, most of us “will not stop dancing.” We must only stop pretending.


SINCE THE PRESENT PROBLEM is not at the simply theoretical level (and since it is dissimulated when we carry on theoretical discussions, which are moreover virtually contentless since they immediately lead to a consequenceless unanimity), I don’t think we can settle it by constituting formal tendencies (much less by forgetting about it). I think that each of us might first try to find with one other situationist, chosen by affinity and experience and after very thorough discussion, a theoretico-practical accord that takes account of all the elements we are already aware of (and of those that may appear in the process of continuing this discussion). This accord could then, with the same prudence, be extended to another, etc. We might in this way arrive at a few regroupments that would be capable of dialoguing with each other — whether to oppose each other or to come to an agreement. The process could be long (but not necessarily so) and it would probably be one way to put into practice the perspective evoked a few months ago but scarcely developed since of “rejoining the SI” (without formally suspending the present accord, but by here and now preparing its future). Suffice it to say that it is time to seek concrete individuals behind the now-evident abstraction of the “SI organization”; and to find out what they really want to do and can do. Without claiming that this will produce a stable assurance for the future, it would at least make it possible to bring into the open and deal with all the difficulties and discouraging impressions that have already been noted. We still have to talk about all this until acts permit us to shut up.