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Translator's Preface

Ken Knabb

May 2001

The text of this preface has been duplicated in its entirety from Ken Knabb's Bureau of Public Secrets website, where it appears as an introduction to his translation of the third chapter of Vaneigem's book. It has been included here in order to clarify the marked stylistic differences between the first two chapters, translated by Paul Sharkey, and Knabb's version of the chapter three, as well as his translation of the introduction, published here for the first time.

Raoul Vaneigem’s De la grève sauvage à l’autogestion généralisée, published under the pseudonym “Ratgeb” by Éditions 10/18 in 1974, has been out of print for many years. The first two chapters were translated by Paul Sharkey under the title Contributions to the Revolutionary Struggle (Bratach Dubh, 1981; reprinted by Elephant Editions, 1990). That translation has also been out of print for some time, though it can now be found online. The text below is the third and last chapter of the book, which has not previously been translated.

As I noted in The Joy of Revolution, Vaneigem’s book “usefully recapitulates a number of basic tactics during wildcat strikes and other radical situations as well as various possibilities of postrevolutionary social organization. Unfortunately it is also padded with the inflated verbiage characteristic of Vaneigem’s post-SI writings, attributing to worker struggles a Vaneigemist content that is neither justified nor necessary.” This criticism applies particularly to the first chapter, in which Vaneigem is constantly declaring that this or that expression of dissatisfaction implies a total revolt (if you have ever felt like cussing out your boss, or showing up late for work, or smashing your TV set, you are implicitly demanding a life in which all your dreams can be fulfilled). But the other two chapters, though somewhat more concrete because they deal with specific practical issues, also contain quite a bit of ideological fluff.

Nevertheless, Vaneigem’s book is one of the few texts that seriously consider the problems and possibilities of a postrevolutionary society. I incorporated several of his suggestions into the last chapter of The Joy of Revolution. (The only other text I found equally useful in this regard was Castoriadis’s Workers’ Councils and the Economics of a Self-Managed Society.) Even where Vaneigem’s proposed solutions are too vague or simplistic, he at least reminds us of important problems that we will have to deal with if we are ever fortunate enough to find ourselves in such a situation.

To clarify the context: The first chapter denounces various aspects of the present society and comments on some common reactions against it. The second chapter discusses radical tactics during wildcat strikes and workplace takeovers. The third chapter (the only one reproduced here) deals with issues that would arise following a successful self-management revolution, i.e. a popular nonhierarchical revolution that has abolished capitalism and the state.

The most literal sense of autogestion généralisée is “generalized self-management.” Another acceptable rendering, used by Sharkey in his translation of the earlier chapters, is “universal self-management.” In the present case I have chosen “total self-management,” which makes for a bit more fluent style without, I hope, being too misleading. However translated, it should be clearly understood that the phrase does not mean the self-management of this or that detail, but self-management extended to every region and every aspect of life; not the self-management of the present world, but the self-management of its total transformation. Although the situationists always stressed this fact, some people still claim that the situationists “failed to realize that self-management is only the self-management of alienation.” I have yet to see any of these people explain why self-management can only be that and nothing more, or how they imagine a liberated society could work if it is not self-managed by the people living in it.