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Certain Extraordinary Considerations Contributing to the Understanding of the Devolution of Capitalism and Bureaucratization of Existence

Situationist International #1 (June 1969)


CAPITALISM IMPOVERISHES. Profit and competition drive to monopoly and monopoly impoverishes individual members of the bourgeoisie, in open conflict with one another. It eliminates previous means of production though holdovers from these may continue within capitalism so long as they remain marginal (small business, artisans, individual farmers). It impoverishes the proletariat, which, having created the wealth and the conditions for the emergence of higher relations of production, is totally expropriated.


"THE ESTIMATED GROSS estate size for the total adult population in 1953" says Lundberg in The Rich and the Super-Rich, "was as follows (see table below):

Gross Estate Size

Number of
Persons Aged
20 and Over


Estate Size

Total Gross
(million dollars)


0 to 3,500






3,500 - 10,000






10,000 - 20,000






20,000 - 30,000






30,000 - 40,000






40,000 - 50,000






50,000 - 60,000






All under 60,000






60,000 - 70,000






60,000 and over






All estate sizes






Median estate size




"This table . . . shows that 50 per cent of the people, owning 8.3 per cent of the wealth, had an average estate of $1,800 — enough to cover furniture, clothes, a television set and perhaps a run-down car. Most of these had less; many had nothing at all. Another group of 18.4 per cent, adding up to 68.4 per cent of the population, was worth $6,000 on the average, which would probably largely represent participation in life insurance or emergency money in the bank. Perhaps this percentage included some of the selected company of 'people's capitalists' who owned two or three shares in AT&T.

"Another 21.80 per cent of adults, bringing into view 92.59 per cent of the population, had $15,000 average gross estates — just enough to cover a serious personal illness. This same 92-plus per cent of the population all together owned only 47.8 per cent of all assets."

It is concluded that "'top wealth-holders owned 27.4 per cent of gross and 28.3 per cent of net prime wealth in 1953, but increased their share to 30.2 and 32.0 per cent respectively by 1958. These data support Lampman's conclusion that the share of top wealth-holders has been increasing since 1949.'"

". . . The top 11 per cent of persons in the magin 1 per cent (or 0.11 per cent) held about 45 per cent of the wealth of this particular group while the lower half (or 0.50 per cent) held only 23 per cent . . ."

"This is where the question rests on the basis of the most recent data supplied by the leading authorities in the field: Concentration of wealth in a few hands is intensifying."

"By 1975, according to Willard Mueller, chief economist of the Federal Trade Commission, 200 corporations will own two-thirds of all American manufacturing assets compared with the same proportion owned by 500 corporations in 1962."

"Experts concede that a 5 per cent ownership stake in a large corporation is sufficient in most cases to give corporate control."


IMPOVERISHING INTERNALLY capitalism is driven to expand, to bring new areas under concentration, to open more and more of the world to its trade.

The imperial phase of western capitalism creates one crop economies. Colonial countries are totally dependent upon the world market, which is the market of capitalism. Imperialism appropriates the wealth of a country; the country is deprived of the fruits of its labor. The so-called poor countries become poorer; the imperial center more wealthy.

Capitalism's presence destroys tribalism, feudalism, slavery, religion, culture — transofrming residues of these into commodities, for tourism or the art market.

Creating conditions for the rise of capitalism, western imperialism impedes further development in industrially underdeveloped countries. The so-called rule of the generals creates the local conflictual elements against which socialism appears.


BUREAUCRATIC STATE capitalism with socialism as ideology — as weapon against the imperial phase of western capitalism — emerges to continue and finish capitalist development in underdeveloped countries.

'Socialism' is not a transformation of capitalism but a submission to its development, in the absence of a bourgeoisie, as independent class, whose laissez-faire stage of capitalist development could not — cannot — compete with the imperial formation. 'Socialism' continues the bourgeois project, minus a bourgeoisie.

The disappearance of the bourgeoisie in underdeveloped countries begins with the Bolshevik coup. This social upheaval established a centralized state, operated by a bureaucracy, over a proletariat it is helping to create, and in whose name it finds its legitimation. The 'socialist' countries maintain world trade, competition, profit, money, commodity relations (and first of all the sale of labor): they enter into relations with them; they extend the universal (global) domination of capitalism. The emphasis of 'socialism' upon economic growth is not a revolutionary aberration but the expression of its content.

This solution advocated by a myriad of latter day 'socialists' is to demand for western capitalist countries the creation of a central bureaucracy — prefigured in the elitist party — already emergin in control of the state, that is: to advocate that the qualitative transformation of capitalism is simply the direction capitalism takes in preventing such transformation.


THE REAL WEALTH of society consists of the useful things that can be produced and not of money which is only a medium of circulation and has become superfluous.

Capitalism, impelled by profit, produces socially useless things, commodities. As these commodites recede from any real use value (use value out of which they emerge and which they must continue to be the expression of), every effort is made to reassimilate them to the desirable, the needed, the necessary, until commodity production is production for use.


MARKETING DRAWS ON the sexual energy of the individual in order to impart it to the objects. The accident of desexualization reveals the necessity of the commodity spectacle. The objects are not only shown by men and women who look and act horny, the objects are in themselves appealing, attractive, desirable, necessary for one's fulfillment, exactly as a sexual object is. Man, to be, has to be recognized by other: but with commodities — whose essence disintegrates with possession, only to reappear in commodities not yet possessed — there is no recognition, only pursuit. The labor of men returns to them only in the commodities produced, commodities invested with the real life of the producers: men consume their alienated existence. The end is the Nothing Box — the commodity that serves no function other than to be purchased, until you possess it, then it disintegrates. In the passage from 'things to goods' capitalism achieves its huge sleight of hand: life disappears into objects. Life is object: spectacle, show.


CAPITALISM HAS uprooted the whole past of social evolution: it has experienced, of itself, its every impulse, and has unleashed in itself forces greater than those of all former developmental stages.

It has been ripe for some time now for the realization of its liberatory potential. The retard in the historical consciousness of the necessity for a total transformation of life finds capitalism masking its decay behind the bureaucratization of existence. The formal rationalization of an irrational world, the perpetuation of the struggle for survival, surpassed by the practical movement of capitalism, is the 'rational' project of bureaucracy.


HAVING SUCCEEDED in socially concentrating the means of production, and having dominated nature, capitalism strives for a permanent lease on life. Whereas it rose to domination by transforming the world, it now attempts to dominate the world by stabilizing its hold over it.

But this corresponds also to the end of capitalism: as the repetitive pursuit of a surpassed goal, as gradual devolution; the institutionalization of total passivity consuming itself as activity, life as show which is only the show of life, survival for life becoming survival as life. Stabilization — effective devolution — is the priveleged task of bureaucracy.

The rise of the occult these days not only means traditional religions have ceased to function, it prefigures the relationship men will have to capitalism as established order, impersonal force, permanent, permanently irrational and untouchable. The ptolomaic cosmology revisited: a fascination with the occult is a fascination with the image of a new enslavement, to change the world in the head, by default of simply changing it.


THE PRODUCTIVE FORCES in a social order must find their development before that social order can disappear. New and higher relations of production do not emerge before the material conditions of their existence have gestated in the old society. The old social order resists the emergence of new higher relations by partially appropriating them in order to control them.

The introduction of cybernation into the mode of production is to make machines rather than men the principle agents in the process of production. It is to put an end to wage-labor.

But if technological development under the bourgeois impetus to profit ceases when it ceases to make a profit, under bureaucracy it ceases where it no longer offers the possibility of control (rationalization). Development then ceases to be bureaucratically rational. For bureaucracy, the project is to extend the rational organization of a world which is irrational and remains irrational. It follows that as the rationalization of existence intensifies, the whole of reality becomes more and more incomprehensible: the road is open for the "meaningful" reintroduction of theology in daily life. Religion reappears, barring life.


THE ADJUSTED social relations emerging are an attempt to freeze class relations, create socially unproductive jobs, guarantee income (in order to guarantee a commodity economy) and extend commodity production (in order to perpetuate the spectacle of existence); presided over by a centralized bureaucracy in control of political power and of the means of production by virtue of its priveleged exercise of the power of the state.

It is immaterial to note that class relations cannot be frozen, what matters is that the attempt to freeze them impedes the project of liberation.


THREE PRINCIPLE characteristics of bureaucracy are: it controls political power, it controls the means of production, it requires for the legitimation of its rule that it rule in the name of a given, established, class. In the west it is in the name of the bourgeoisie, in the east, ushered in by the Bolshevik coup, it already rules in the name of the proletariat.


THE BOURGEOISIE assures the loyalty of top bureaucrats — presidents, vice presidents, and executive vice presidents, when these are not themselves members of the owning bourgeoisie — by making them independently wealthy: by incorporating them into the ruling class.

The bourgeoisie cannot run the economy without an army of specialists: a bureaucracy. The bourgeoisie, as a rule, is not equipped to deal with the day to day business of conducting business which involves a multiplicity of independent specializations (i.e., it is not equipped to control the economy). The bourgeoisie generally lets the bureaucrats run the show.

As the bureaucracy begins to exercise control — especially over the state — it begins to conceive of itself as the representative of the 'general interest' and as such finds itself opposed to the special interest of the class in whose name it rules (in the socialist countries of course the bureaucracy already rules in the 'general interest' so that special interests — including the proletarian project of liberation — take on the mien of retrograde action to the development of 'socialism'). Aside from what the state actually owns, its enormous power — dwarfing any corporation — lies in the budget and deficit spending.


SPECIALISTS OF all kinds are the mainstay of bureaucratic organisation. Wherever student opposition does not become aware of itself as total opposition to the present organisation of survival, it merely reflects the conflictual aspects of transforming the bourgeois university into a university for the formation of future bureaucrats. Any opposition which does not aim at the dissolution of the university — bourgeois or bureaucratic — functions to this end.


THE BUREAUCRATIZATION of existence is so at the surface that — having devoted so much space to showing how the owners really run the show — Lundberg's vision of the future, with a little reservation about the military, is simply lifted from Robert L. Heilbroner's view of how the show will end. "Heilbroner sees something very akin to socialism, or production-for-use in a rationally aspiring society, ushered in by a new class consisting of intellectual elites. The revolutionary potential, in sum, resides in the intellectual middle classes, not in the passive, dependent proletariat, who have no 'historical task.'

"These new elites in Heilbroner's view consist of the new military policy-makers, the professional expert from the academic world in the form particularly of specialists in the social and natural sciences, the highly trained new type of government administrator and possibly the administrators that have come into view with the emergence of the big labor unions. These labor administrators are of a type quite different from the old-time ward-boss variety of labor leader.

"While few if any of these men are hostile to the existing system of monopoly capitalism, Heilbroner believes (in which belief I concur) that in the long run, over a span of 50 to 150 years, the differences in background, method and objectives of these elites from those of the business elite will generate frictions between them . . .

"The inherent social rationality of the system of production chiefly for private profit, utilizing for the short run the increasingly powerful tools of science and technology, practically guarantees the long-run end of such dominance." The rise of a pacifying bureaucracy is on the order of a fatality.


THE PACIFICATION of existence finds its expression in the increasing state interventions in the movement of the economy, in order to stabilize its growth patterns, against crisis. This function displaces the real basis for the existence of the bourgeoisie as independent class and presages the real end of bourgeois (representative) democracy.


BOURGEOIS (REPRESENTATIVE) democracy is the appropriation of the political power of individuals, renamed constituencies, by representatives. These, in the name of their contituencies, employ that power for the benefit of the ruling class. The vote is the formal legitimation of the masters, and through that the assurance of the permanence of the separation from themselves as individuals of their political power. Representative democracy follows the course of bourgeois development — it passes from one compromiser and arbiter among bourgeois in open conflict with one another, to being the vessel for a centralized state in the hands of bureaucracy exercising power within the fomal husk of representative democracy.


BUREAUCRACY, ASIDE FROM the work of stabilizing, establishing the permanence of the economy as separate force, politically levels social classes in order to guarantee their permanence. It rationalizes the reduction of everyone within the economy to variations in the role of consumer.


AS BUREACRACY MASKS this blatant life by removing the most blatant signs of a poverty which is no longer necessary, the poverty of existence comes into view; private life is deprived of everything. Bureaucracy strives to remove particular wrongs in order to mask the wrong in general, which is that several centuries of bourgeois development of the economy has the potential for liberation which the bureaucracy is the specific denial of.


THE EFFECTIVE NEGATION of this development is the proletarian project: the project of the class that must become visibly what it already is essentially; the project of consciously abolishing capitalism; the project of taking over the whole of existing productive forces; the project of the uninterrupted transformation of life.


WHETHER BOURGEOIS or bureaucratic, the ruling strata experiences the parcellization of life as the confirmation of existence: parcellization is its power, and it is that power which accords the ruling strata the appearance of a human existence. The proletariat experiences parcellization as the reality of an inhuman existence and the confirmation of its powerlessness.

Is a proletarian one who has no power over his own life and knows it? It takes one to know one.


THE POWER OF the proletariat finds expression in direct democracy.

The delegate of direct democracy emerges when the political power of the individual is no longer separated from his social power. The delegate, subject to immediate recall, is the voice or the vote of the base (those who keep their power and send out a number from among them, strictly mandated, to express the voice or the vote). No man possesses the social or political power of another.


THE WORKERS COUNCIL was the highest organizational form of direct democracy reached by the proletariat for the expression of its own power, at the moment of its setback at the time of the Bolshevik coup, and again, in Spain. Where the setback has been assimilated by the leftist theoreticians to the end (the permanent defeat) of the proletariat, the councils have been abandoned. But the reaffirmation of their negation — the proletariat — and the expression of the proletariat's own power, the councils. The renewed motion toward emancipation will begin where the old had left off.


WHAT DEFINES THE power of the councils? The dissolution of all external (separate) power; direct and total democracy; the practical unification of decision and execution; the delegate, strictly mandated, subject to immediate recall; the abolition of all hierarchies and independent specializations; the management and conscious tranformation of all aspects of liberated life; the creative, permanent participation of individuals; international extension and coordination.