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Cohn-Bendit as Representation

Situationist International #1 (June 1969)

DANIEL COHN-BENDIT, an Internationale Situationniste reader, famous for being undesirable to the Gaullist regime, has written a book in collaboration with his brother, entitled: Obsolete Communism: the Leftwing Alternative. It has been widely hailed as the best piece dealing with the May-June events yet published in English. It is true that brother Daniel has his moments of intelligence, but this is necessarily in contrast to the bureaucratic pigs in whose company he always appears. It is a good showman who always appears livelier, wittier, smarter and more daring than his competitor-associates. But the intelligence of the showman is the stupidity of the revolutionary.

Dany Cohn-Bendit set in motion the mechanism whereby he is a spectacular "youth culture" hero, and he maintains it. Whether this is conscious or unconscious on his part only renders it either sinister or tragicomic. In the June 1969 eye magazine (the Hearst hip culture rag, format à la Paris Match, and aimed exclusively at the prepubescent), our Dany the "Red," "Europe's Rebel King," and "a red-haired hero of last spring's Paris Revolution, tells about an international organization of rebel students, how the universities ought to be restructed (SI note: their word), why Communism is dead, and what students will be up to next fall."

It is in light of this — and the hun-dreds of photos in the color weeklies, and Geismar, and Sauvageot and the JCR creeps — that Cohn-Bendit's "serious" work must be understood. His presentation of the story of the Makhnovitchina and the Kronstadt Soviet, his oddly chosen quotes from Vaneigem and Debord — these are hardly in the service of social change, when everything he touches turns technicolor.

In the introduction to his book, he finds his spectacular role "strange." It is the comment which is strange. He then tells us that his book is not a historical treatise "because the events are too recent for anyone to reconstruct them objectively." Further: "Nor does this book pretend to give a simplified theoretical account of the events. Having participated in them and observed them at close quarters, I am unable to stand aside and take a detached view of the overall situation." He still believes that the knowledge of history must be separated in time for its making and that theory is necessarily "detached" from its adequate practice. He reassimulates himself to the sociologists he also criticizes.

If, as he says, the March 22nd Movement was "the result of arduous research into revolutionary theory and practice," then the "researchers" (himself among them) must be judged incompetent. He spends the last half of his book amassing the proofs against the Leninists, demonstrating their continued attempt to appropriate the power of the proletariat; but he defends his own practice — which was to be open to the would be heirs of Lenin and Trotsky as well as to all those who would have nothing more (or less) than the power over their own lives. He refinds the core — and failure — of anarchism's historical practice and embraces it: in the apparent openness of March 22nd and of the action committees which Dany considers models for the future, could be found the self-proclaimed non-leaders, those invisible pilots at least hypothetically all the more powerful for lacking the appearance of power.

In contrast to the CMDO, many action committees maintained their existence beyond the passing of the situation which spawned them. Then, as in their effective existence, they were subject not only to the vanities of these invisible pilots, but also to recuperation by the "openly organized" specialists of power, more experienced and better equipped for sustained manipulation. The most recent conference of UNEF marked the integration of most surviving AC's into its structure.

The separations enforced by the spectacle, in that they are admitted at all, enter everything. Cohn-Bendit, another of those ideologists who 'only wants to make a revolution,' has a mass of correct perceptions (partial truths) which, by way of his ideology, are reintegrated into the show of confusion, where his material interests now lie. As long as the separation exists, the show rules.