Selected Judgments on the SI, Grouped According to their Dominant Motivation
Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969)
Translated by Reuben Keehan
The "enragés" represent thirty or so students who like to think of themselves as "situationists," "ultra-anarchists" practicing a "revolutionary" ethic that the entertainer Pierre Dac summed up more than thirty years ago in the famous formula: "Against everything that is for, for everything that is against." With very little humor and plenty of beatnik style. . . . The first chapter is entitled: "To Make Shame More Shameful Still by Making it Public." What awful grist in Dean Grappin's mill! With their destructive attitudes, are these students anxious to make the Faculty look like a giant brothel?
Alain Spiraux, Noir et Blanc (7 March 1968)
Last but not least are the enragés, the "situationists," those who are determined to exploit the demonstration and create serious incidents. While they are certainly the most dangerous, there aren't that many of them around half a dozen: long haired and unshaven. Their masterminds should also be counted. Much has been made of their adherence to the work of the situationists. One of them, an 18 year old Arts student, swallowed a tube of phenobarbital while high on drugs; the result: three weeks in hospital and ongoing psychiatric treatment.
Paris-Presse (30 March 1968)
Mr Max-Etienne Schmitt, rhector of the University of Nantes-Angers. . . . in his explanation: "I've inherited the situationists of Strasbourg. The climate isn't catastrophic yet: there are only seventeen troublemakers, but it is discouraging."
Combat (24 April 1968)
The majority of the students disapproved of the enragés' excesses and quietly demanded the resumption of courses that had been disrupted. But they failed to oppose any of the extremists' intiatives in a concrete manner. Indeed, they were fascinated by the improvized theatrical representation that played to open offices on the theme of the loss of power by the professors. It was a kind of permanent happening. . . . The presence of a situationist group was no surprise in all this.
Epistémon, Ces idées qui ont ébranlé la France
(Fayard, 3rd trimester 1968)
Situationist International: this movement came to prominence in France at the University of Strasbourg in 1966-67. Its diffuse, non-organizational influence is rather difficult to appreciate, but appeared in all its flimsiness at the Sorbonne where the situationists nevertheless controlled the first occupation committee from 14 to 17 May after only having assumed leadership from the 13 May to the evening of 14 May.
Jean Maitron, La Sorbonne par elle-même
(Éditions Ouvrières, 4th trimester 1968)
Were the Strasbourg youths who seemed to simply reject a world where culture is produced like chains of sausages really all that sensible? Absolutely not! Nuttier than even the wildest youths in Nanterre. Long before anyone else in France, they tasted that strange medicine that had been partially experimented with everywhere: in Scandivia, Germany and Japan. They call it "situationism," this mixture of socialism, Marxism and anarchism, and it emanates from an evanescent international group of theoreticians who are committed to the radical critique of contemporary society.
Christian Charrière, Le printemps des Enragés
(Arthème Fayard, 4th trimester 1968)
And when the French students, the last to be mobilized, joined their Italian, German, Dutch, Swedish, Spanish and Belgian comrades in Utopia at the end of May 1968, they collectively produced an "Address to All Workers" that deserved enter the pages of history along with the hierarchy that it mentioned in abhorrence: "What we have already done in France is haunting Europe and will soon threaten all the ruling classes of the world, from the bureaucrats of Moscow and Peking to the millionaires of Washington and Tokyo." And while the aversion of these youths to both Peking and Tokyo and the mention of bureaucrats before millionaires would no doubt make Mistubishi feel a little uneasy, it must certainly make Mao Tse-tung think twice.
Servan-Schreiber, L'Express (30 December 1968)
After several months of reclusiveness and silence, probably devoted to the elaboration of its work, the Situationist International group has joined the debate with the publication of a book through Gallimard: Enragés and Situationists in the Occupations Movement. You would be right to have expected a more profound analysis of the significance of May by a group who effectively played an active role in the struggles, especially since the several months period of writing time should have been more than enough to make something better possible. You would be right to have had certain expectations, and it has to be said that the book does not really live up to its promises. Putting aside their idiosyncratic vocabulary Spectacle, Society of Consumption, Critique of Everyday Life, etc. it is disappointing that in their book, the situationists cheerfully yield to current fashions and delight in stuffing it with photos, images and comic strips. . . . The working class has no need of such diversions. More than anything else, it needs understanding and thought. Comics, witty remarks and word games are used very poorly. On one hand, a highly philosophical language is adopted, a particularly studied, obscure and esoteric terminology reserved for "intellectual thinkers"; on the other, for the great infantile mass of workers, a few images accompanied by simple phrases is meant to be ample.
Révolution Internationale 2 (February 1969)
The utilization of the inadequacies of the sexual education of new residents explains the development of what is currently known as "anarchism" and "situationism." This has nothing to do with the philosophy of the State and the individual, but more simply the justification, with abusive recourse to ideological vocabulary, of mores whose guiding line is the refusal of all constraints including its own and the repudiation of every effort, just like the cult of idle youth.
P. Deguignet, La Nation (28 February 1969)
We should add that Vaneigems very style is that of the slogans of May. He seems, moreover, to have been behind many of the most successful and poetic phrases. They were no doubt propagated beforehand by the journal International Situationniste, of which he is one of the main editors. It might help to remember that the Strasbourg situationists moved to Nanterre at the beginning of the 1967 academic year. The author of The Revolution of Everyday Life gives us a key for understanding the role and place of the paranoiac mechanisms of our civilization.
André Stéphane, LUnivers contestationnaire
(Ed. Payot, 2nd trimester 1969)
The SI's weaknesses the refusal of organization and ideology, revolution for the sake of revolution: in short, the utopia of escaping the society of consumption through negation pure and simple, or the invocation of an anti-bureaucratic and spontaneous solidarity with the proletarians have quickly been brought to light. The movement has entered a crisis: the defections have begun . . . it is the beginning of the end, inevitable in any movement that refuses to institutionalize its own theory. . . . In future, others will reprise the propositions that remain some very intelligent intentions with a greater consciousness of the limits of any historical action, in order to operate successfully in an ever more complex and ambiguous society.
Nuove Presenza 25-26 (Spring-Summer 1967)
As for the Situationist International, the only news is limited and approximate, no-one having heard from them in over a year. It was forseeable enough that the Strasbourg group's brochure would meet interpretations tinged with easily recuperable verbal revolutionism by being left at the level of consumption, as is evidenced by the very usage to which it has been put over half of Europe, and now in Italy with the Maison Feltrinelli edition. . . . The relationship between the Strasbourg group and the SI did not last more than four months, ending in a violent rupture.
Idéologie 2, Rome (1967)
The usual mode of situationist exposition is denunciation, a total denunciation, reaching all domains indiscriminately, from the economic to the cultural and, without burdening itself with concepts or information, certifies, reveals the incessantly worsening alienation of the human condition. . . . It just goes to show that terms like these discourage every critique in advance. They brush them aside as soon as they come into play because they hold it to be self evident that any contestation of what they say comes from thought that is foolishly reliant on "power" and "the spectacle." . . . Situationism is, of course, no more the specter that haunts industrial society than was communism the specter that haunted Europe in 1848.
François Châtelet, Le Nouvel Observateur (3 January 1968)
At the height of its notoriety (and practical failure), the history of the situationists took a fast track to internal conflict. One of their leaders, Mustapha Kebati, the son of Algerian immigrants, attempted to take all the credit for what had been accomplished, and declared that he was the sole author of the brochure, On the Poverty . . . The Strasbourgers no longer even wish to be called situationists. They have published a new theoretical manifesto: L'Unique et sa propriété (where the Unique is neo-capitalist society, the only system whose repression of any critical tendency is truly coherent). . . . For their part, the Parisians were consumed in the great furnace of the May revolt, and the only thing that remains is the name Guy Debord.
Memmo Giampaoli, Giovani, nuova frontiera (Ed. SEI-Turin, March 1969)
Let's say that the major virtue that seems to characterize the Situationist International is its impatience to play a role . . . to take to the front of the stage and act out a singularly enormous farce. It allows them to force their way into those close-knit circles where our young intellectuals claim to be at the forefront. They offer ready-made formulas like "revolutions will be festivals," whose ridiculousness is disarming. . . . As short-lived as the groups of intellectuals who preceded them, the situationists now appear to be history.
Maurice Joyeux, La Rue 4 (2nd trimester 1969)
"According to the accused, you are the chairman of a society with extremist tendencies. What are the goals of this group?" "Extremist isn't really the term I'd use," responded the artist in measured tones. "The club is more of an intellectual forum where a situationist perspective is brought to the problems of the day." . . . "Don't go thinking you're up against an organization modelled on traditional secret societies." . . . And besides, they are many; they circle everywhere, on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Even if the combined forces of the police and counter-espionage operatives were mobilized, it still wouldn't be enough to stop them! They are a tidal wave, a ground swell that spreads everywhere and whose center is nowhere, with an infinite number of accomplices. . . . The doctrine is elaborated in the universities of England and Holland by far-sighted young strategists.
Paul Kenny, Complot pour demain (Ed. Fleuve Noir, 3rd trimester 1967)
Its the tune that makes the song: more cynical in Vaneigem and more icy in Debord, the negative and provocative violence of their phraseology leaves nothing standing of what previous ages have produced except perhaps Sade, Lautréamont and Dada. . . . At least we can warn our future Saint-Justs in leather jackets, who announce themselves as the bearers of "a new innocence, a graceful new life," that the ludist civilization of "masters without slaves" must resign itself to keeping its captains secret; and alas! the happy news of the suppression of the courts does not mean an end to the executions.
P.-H. Simon, Le Monde (14 February 1968)
The Sorbonne Bazaar of communists, Maoists, Trostkyites, Castroites, anarchists, situationists and others is strongly reminiscent of the earliest soviets of the Russian revolution. The inscriptions on the walls of the Faculty of Arts, which don't seem to have been quoted in the daily press, included and still include: "Down with the Nazarene Toad" "How can you think freely in the shadow of a chapel?" "Those who make revolution by halves only dig their own graves" "Defend the photographers, the film is being siezed." A microphone held by the situationist Occupations Committee repeated the instruction: "Everyone to Boulogne to express our support of the Renault workers." This instruction was regularly contradicted by a megaphone held by the armed progressive dissidents.
Rivarol (25 May 1968)
The situationist movement defines itself as an international group of theoreticians who use Marxist theory to undertake a radical critique of current society in all its aspects. . . . The apocalyptic collapse advocated by these authors must be the inevitable consequence of economic over-development and bureaucratic expansion. . . . The unmitigated contestation that found its most radically extremist spokesmen in the situationists was one of the early symptoms of the sickness. It was wrong to not take them seriously.
What took me by surprise was the date of the revolt, which I had expected for the return to classes in November 1968. It would be wrong to underestimate certain precedents, in particular the November 1966 takeover of the Strasbourg Student Union. The strategy is well known, all the more since the revolutionaries themselves are no mystery: it begins with discrediting the reformist student organization. . . . Two years ago, this effect was achieved. The ensuing commotion allowed them to increase the number of their sympathizers and prepare for the occupation of the Faculties. This, of course, occurred during May. . . . I know the student revolutionaries of Strasbourg very well. While many of them are scatterbrains for whom the revolution is little more than an unproductive intoxicant or a "festival," it should be taken into account that there is a minority of consistent, determined and authentically revolutionary minds, perfectly aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their clear, organized ideas. . . . The observer cannot help being struck by the rapidity with which the contagion spread throughout the university and among the nonstudent youth. It seems that the slogans propagated by a small minority of authentic revolutionaries struck some sort of indefinable chord in the soul of the new generation. . . . In spite of all this, a fundamental distinction should be made between the real revolutionaries (small in number) and the rest of the rabble who believed in imminent revolution, a number of whom were no more than opportunists. The established order could very easily intimidate this rabble, which had otherwise been the main element of the disorder (Geismar, Sauvageot), but not those who live only for the revolution. This fact must be stressed: we are witnessing the reappearance, just like fifty years ago, of groups of young people totally devoting themselves to the revolutionary cause; revolutionaries who know from experience how to await the favorable moments to trigger or aggravate disturbances of which they remain the masters, then go back underground and continue the work of undermining and of preparing other sporadic or prolonged upheavals, so as to slowly destabilize the social edifice.
Julien Freund, Guerres et Paix #4 (1968)
The Situationist International is basically the work of Debord. . . . The new movement evolved progressively from the aesthetic to the political, the aesthetic with its origin in a political perspective, and the political, to speak of the politics themselves, remaining firmly entrenched in a certain aestheticism . . . from 1961 to 1964, it was essentially the elaboration of a platform critical of the dominant society; from 1964 until now, it sketched out a constructive theory while at the same time preparing to lead political actions, first of all in Strasbourg last year, repeating this in Paris and other cities in May 68.
R. Estivals, Communications #12 (December 1968)
Red and black flags flew for several hours from the windows yesterday at the Sorbonne. . . . Once again, acts of vandalism were committed, attributable (it seems) to "students" who have nothing to do with the Sorbonne: the Nanterre "situationists."
Le Parisien Libéré (24 January 1969)
Outside, meanwhile, students are continuing to arrive (the most active are the situationist "commandos" from Nanterre). The police have equipped themselves with helmets, shields and grenades from their vans. At 1800 hours, the occupiers enter the office of Las Vergnas, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, and declare that they are taking him hostage. . . .
Il Giorno (24 January 1969)
Their general headquarters is secret but I think it is somewhere in London. They are not students, but are what are known as situationists; they travel everywhere and exploit the discontent of students.
News of the World (16 February 1969)
By 20 May, the strike had reached Alsace. . . . And when officials considered action against the now totally occupied university, those responsible for maintaining order underestimated the risks of such an operation! . . . there were around forty local "agitators": situationists back from Paris, pro-Chinese Marxists, and Trotskyites. . . . The extremist groups according to the most reliable sources were heavily armed, even if they did not have the one thousand five hundred that their propaganda would have us believe.
Claude Paillat, Archives secrètes (Ed. Denoël, 1st trimester, 1969)
Seven arrests and eighty injured, mostly police: this is the outcome of the serious incidents that continued for over three hours right in the middle of the city after the demonstration organized for Friday afternoon by three unions in honor of those who died at Battipaglia. . . . One of the more hot-headed protestors and it should be pointed out immediately that the student movement had nothing to do with this part of the demonstration took the initiative to lob a rudimentary Molotov coktail at a police vehicle. . . . There were two police charges and a very heavy hail of teargas grenades; many were returned by the demonstrators (anarchists, situationists, Maoists, internationalists and Marxist-Leninists).
Il Giorno, Milan (13 April 1969)
Primarily, a very clear desire, not to correct, improve or reform this society of consumption, but to destroy: "Fuck the commodity!" (Situationist International, Hall Richelieu, Sorbonne).
André Stéphane, L'Univers contestationnaire
(Payot, 2nd trimester 1969)
It is indeed true that before the explosions you know about, there were plans to deport Daniel Cohn-Bendit, leader of the enragés, whom the leftist intellectuals have presented as being disciples of the American Marcuse, although anyone who reads the French books of the situationist writers Vaneigem and Debord can see where Dany and his friends actually got their inspiration.
Le Canard Enchainé (22 May 1968)
A series of documents on the struggle led by the Italian students gave a fair impression of the ideological situation of these groups at the end of last winter. . . . The choice of texts was perhaps not forthcoming enough about the importance of Turin, where "situationists" and "Marcusians" have played a large role from the start.
Claude Ambroise, Le Monde (25 January 1969)
In the first chapter, we mentioned the "March 22nd Movement," the most widely known but not the oldest of the groupuscules. Its members in Nanterre included a few of the situationists who had scandalized Strasbourg two years earlier. In its methods and its program, that particular endeavor prefigured what Paris and France would come to know in 1968.
Claude Paillat, Archives secrètes (Ed. Denoël, 1st trimester, 1969)
The situationists' intellectual position logically led to them uniting to disemminate the ideas they had elaborated together. If their book clearly shows the explosive force that can be brought about by such a group action and reflects a liberation from all constraints, they look like they have forgotten that it is in the factories that things really happen. And they don't seem to have avoided becoming prisoners of their own language.
Informations Correspondance Ouvrières #78 (February 1968)
Robert Estivals has outlined an analysis of the influence of the SI's doctrine on the origins of the movement born at Nanterre. It is an insufficient analysis which the book by E. Brau herself a member of the SI rightly outshines. While the question may not be for modern educators to become "situationists," it is up to all of us to recognize its allies . . . provided that at a coming revolutionary stage, this radicalism is not reduced to a vile and narrow-minded terrorism, behavior for which a few supposed SI members have shown a slight preference.
Michel Faligand, Interéducation #8 (March 1969)
Feltrinelli was the first to issue an Italian translation of On the Poverty of Student Life, but the entire run sold out immediately and has not been reprinted. . . . Three years on, this unsettling sociological analysis seems almost commonplace, but this is not to say that it appeared that way at the time of its distribution. . . . On the contrary, the rapid "escalation" of the truths contained in that lampoon, and the fiery presence at the center of "the May events" of such anarcho-situationist groups as "L'Hydre de Lerne," "the enragés" and "22 March," in which Cohn-Bendit also took part, confirmed their genuinely revolutionary power with action.
Nicola Garrone, Paese Sera, Rome (27 April 1969)
That said, May 1968 was something completely different to what Trotsky or even Lenin himself could possibly have imagined. . . . Between a few Trotskyites, Maoists anarchists and situationists, this was no sterile anathema, but a common practice. This was perhaps the beginning of communism.
Jacques Bellefroid, Le Monde (28 May 1969)
This meeting took place at the Nanterre faculty Cultural Center (room C20). The following organizations are participating in the March 22nd movement: JCR, CVN, UJCML, CVB, ESU, UNEF, SNESup, SDS, CAL, MAU, Anarchists, Situationists. . . .
Tract by the "March 22nd Movement"
advertizing a meeting planned for 2 May 1968
Three categories of organizations were disbanded. These include all the Trostkyite organizations, then the Maoist groups, and finally, the March 22nd Movement, which is a special case. . . . It combined anarchists, situationists, Trotskyites and Maoists.
Frédéric Gaussen, Le Monde (14 June 1968)
Let us not crush the new sprouts of revolt beneath the heavy bootsteps of the past, no matter how relatively recent they may be. Rather, it is important to emphasize that in its future experiments and its future theories, the current movement has no debts, not even to the most noble, the most worthy of consideration, or the most fruitful. This is as true in relation to the October Revolution as it is in relation to the Commune, in psychoanalysis as in the various socialist theories, in Bakunin as in Marx, in Marcuse as in Mao Tse Tung, in situationism as in surrealism.
L'Archibras #4 (Le Surrealism, 18 June 1968)
In countries with no working class tradition, spontaneism, anarchism and situationism (Flower Power in Denmark, Motherfuckers in the USA) are making a comeback.
Rouge (16 April 1969)
For on the other hand, a couple of things should not be forgotten. That if it weren't for the fact that G. Debord's father is a wealthy industrialist, the situationists would be no more (at least not in France).
Nerslau, L'Hydre de Lerne #5 (January 1968)
Through recourse to violence, the "enragés," initially numbering around ten, then one hundred, succeeded in paralyzing the work of some 12,000 students. The "March 22nd Movement" was one product of this, with about forty youths belonging to the Situationist International, which has its headquarters in Copenhagen, and which is manipulated by the HVA, the secret service, and East German spies.
Louis Garros, Historama #206 (December 1968)
There can be no doubt that revolution was as absent from this as poetry, both of them neutralized and cast aside. The rigor of this double minimum was obviously missed by the militants, who had about as much to do with revolution as they did with literature. A particularly smug tendency of this sort was epitomized by those who called themselves "situationists." The graffiti that, for a time in May, touched upon certain bourgeois sensibilities, had its origin here. Far from being spontaneous, it was absolutely premeditated, the task of transcription being very similar to the development, through various means, of traditional literature. The recent book by one of their number, Viénet, is proof of this. Rather, those words that no bourgeois could appreciate in May ("We are all German Jews," "Be reasonable, demand the impossible," etc.), were not situationist.
Writers' and Students Committee (Duras, Mascolo, Schuster, etc.), text published in Quindichi #17 (June 1969)
One lunatic asylum seemed to go to the rescue of another, the similarly occupied surrealists. Allied to the "situationists," they even held the majority from the very first days in the "occupations committee," which, as a rule, ran all the internal affairs at the Sorbonne. . . . A wind of nit-picking legalism blew that the situationists calmed with the via negativa of mysticism, forcing the general assmebly to spend hours discussing the mode of discussion of the order of the day for the session in progress, which was over before an absolute remedy to any risk of "bureaucracy" could be agreed upon.
Edgar André, Magazine littéraire #29 (August 1968)
I've found a brochure in my archives that was produced in 1966, when the situationists took control of the UNEF office in Strasbourg: these thirty-odd pages are so close to the ideas behind May that it seemed important for me to point them out, especially since this radical contestation could very well be our own if it didn't degenerate into such a disastrous phrasology. . . . Bravo, gentlemen, but then come over here if you really want to fight democracy, instead of trying to realize it in what you think is another form! We dare you!
AF Université, Monthly of the Students for National Restoration (October 1968)
Contrary to what one might expect, no psychological restructuring has been carried out, and this, in our opinion, is the cause of the SI's error, and consequently, the failure of the neo-social democracy of the May 68 students . . . the principle of individualism was not abandoned. . . . From a Leninist point of view, the SI would not be considered as anything more than a dangerous manifestation of petit bourgeois thought. It did nothing but serve capitalism witness the audience it has created recently in the bourgeois press.
R. Estivals, Communications #12 (December 1968)
Translations of excerpts from these quotes appearing in Ken Knabb's The Blind Men and the Elephant have been utilized in this version.