Discussion on an Appeal to Revolutionary Artists and Intellectuals
Internationale Situationniste #3 (December 1959)
Translated by Reuben Keehan
AMONG THE preparatory work for the Munich conference, the project of an "Inaugural Declaration of the Third SI Conference to Revolutionary Intellectuals and Artists" had been examined in Copenhagen and Paris, and submitted for the approval of other participants present in Munich. The text, intended to be published in German, English and French on the same day as the situationist conference gathered, read as follows:
The defeats of the revolution and the prolonging of a formally decomposing dominant culture are reciprocally explanatory, and the revolutionary supersession of existing conditions depends first of all on the appearance of perspectives concerning the totality.
The question of culture, that is to say, in the final analysis, of the organization of life, is contingent upon a qualitative rupture inseparable from the overthrow of contemporary society. The material forces of our era and the free play that must be obtained entail the transformation of isolated and durable expressions into momentary collective actions that directly construct our surroundings and the events of our everyday lives.
A new advance of the revolution is linked to the constitution of a passionate solution to replace the immediate use of life; linked to propaganda in favour of these possibilities and against present-day boredom and its exaggeration in the mystified idea of bourgeois happiness.
Revolutionaries in culture must not discover new doctrines but new skills. This can be accomplished through unitary urbanism, experimental behavior, and the construction of real situations as prime terrain for experience. A vast common labor must be undertaken, from the disillusioned critique of the entire field of action where traditional culture is silenced at the end of its self-destruction; and from the consciousness of the profound unity of all revolutionary tasks.
The social basis for the cultural revolution already exists among artists who, in arriving at the most extreme modernism possible in the old society, are still not content; and its development interests the entire world, in which cultural unification has already been accomplished, for the most part, by capitalism.
At this time, we think that desiring this leap into another practice of life is not particularly advanced; it is to seek sadly to live in a present encumbered by intellectual and moral cadavers.
It must be understood that social revolution cannot exist in the poetry of the past, but only of the future.
However, at the beginning of April, the Bureau of Investigation for a Unitary Urbanism in Amsterdam made its opposition to this text known:
Our objections are as follows: cultural perspectives remain insufficient. We insist on the central position of unitary urbanism as point of departure; and on a direct and practical activity in this domain, as an alternative to the current artistic activity, which we refuse.
In our view, these perspectives do not depend on a "revolutionary overthrow of contemporary society" when these conditions are absent. Rather, for the working class, the suppression of a painful material poverty seems to announce a slow evolution. . . These are the intellectuals who rebel against cultural poverty: in unity with a non-existent and utopian social revolution. . . We reject any romanticized notion of a past reality. The current avant-garde is united by the revolt against existing cultural conditions.
On April 4th, Debord, addressing the members of the Bureau of Investigation in defense of the text of the appeal, which had been modified by Frankin (see the two theses reproduced below [Platform for a Cultural Revolution]), recognized firstly the insufficient elaboration of the project, which "must designate more clearly our practical originality instead of remaining in well-worn positions"; but remarked:
The position that you maintain in the second point is purely reformist. Without wanting to start a debate on reformism, I would remind you in passing that in my estimation, capitalism is incapable of abolishing the fundamental reality of exploitation, and therefore incapable of allowing its peaceful replacement by the superior forms of life that its own material development necessitates. . . The perspective of social revolution is profoundly altered in relation to all these classical schemas, but it is real. On the other hand, when you found the progressive forces only in the "intellectuals who rebel against cultural poverty," you were yourselves utopian. . . Should we not question the relationship of such a moderate optimistic ideology to the practical of architects working in a country with a high standard of living, where a bourgeois democratic State takes part in urbanism, and exercises in its natural anarchy a reformist authority?
You naturally have reason to conclude by pointing out that "the current avant-garde is united by the revolt against existing cultural conditions" . . . the revolt against existing cultural conditions cannot be stopped in any of the artificial divisions of bourgeois culture within culture or between culture and life (for in that case we have no real need for a revolt). Unitary urbanism is not a conception of the totality, and must not become one. It is a mere instrument. . . UU is "central" in so far as it is the center of a construction of a whole environment. One cannot think, by this theoretical vision or even by its application, that it could determine and dominate a lifestyle. This would be something of an idealist dogmatism. Reality, richer and more complex, is comprised of all the relations of these lifestyles and of their surroundings. This is the terrain of our present desires, an it is into this terrain that we must intervene.
One last clarification by Constant insisted that he acted from a perspective of realism and practical labor; not from a choice between reform and revolution:
We have no need for a dogmatic conception of revolution because is it "profoundly altered in relation to all these classical schemas."
If André Frankin states that "the proletariat risks disappearing without having made its revolution," I ask why would anyone want to link our activities to a revolution that risks never being made? Why "the interaction" at all costs with a social action that does not exist? The situation in the world, it is true, is revolutionary from any perspective politically, scientifically and artistically. . . Just as Frankin sees "the essential task of the century" in cultural revolution, I have stated that the current revolution is made by intellectuals and artists. . . The collective creation of a unitary urbanism is based, naturally, on a conception of totality. But if one confuses this with an activity that understands the totality, one supersedes these real powers, and one is condemned to complete inactivity. Unitary urbanism will be at the center of our preoccupations, or it will not exist.
The importance of the divergence principally on the question of a dialectical relationship between culture and politics or of a subordination of one to the other and the imminence of the Munich conference, entailed the abandonment of the preliminary publication of the Appeal in this form. This discussion remains significant for judging the problems posed from the outset in situationist action, and the direction of its eventual progress.