pre-situationist archive

situationist international archive

post-situationist archive

situationist chronology




news & updates

site search

notes & sources


text archives > situationist international texts >

Unconditional Defense

Internationale Situationniste #6 (August 1961)

Translated by Reuben Keehan

THE YOUTH CRISIS is becoming a topic of concern for the authorities of all modern countries, leading even the most gullible of dupes to cast doubt upon the prospects the assimilation of humans into the society of consumption. The extreme case of the appearance of teenage gangs in high-rise housing estates is easily verifiable, especially in relatively late developing countries like France and Italy, where access to less noticeable conditions of life under modern capitalism turns out to be experienced clearly as soon as it is exacerbated by the particular factor of the new types of housing. The gangs are formed in the wastelands, the vanishing point of the "planned environment," which can be considered as a basic representation, at a primitive stage of destitution, of these empty zones of occupation that our program of unitary urbanism designates with a détournement of the idea of "black holes" from physics.

More profoundly, and even apart from the extreme phenomena of these gangs, we are witnessing this society's total failure to supervise its young. And despite the fortunate collapse of domestic supervision and the previously acceptable reasons to live, as well as the disappearance of the minimum common conventions between people — and more importantly between generations — older generations continue to buy into the fragmentary of illusions of the past; they are especially hypnotized by the routine of work, accepted "responsibilities," and habits that come down to the habit of having nothing more to expect from life. In contrast to the gangs of wayward children of the Russian civil war that were formed out of famine and the physical destruction of their parents, today's gangs could be considered as products both of a new kind of peacetime dislocation of families and of the heightened status of consumption. Meanwhile, following in the footsteps of traditional political groups, political supervision is reduced to virtually nothing. A document on youth, drawn up this year for a PSU Student Conference, observed that in France "the era when youth movements functioned as effective examples to the mass of youth is well past; less than 10% of youths participate in these movements, and of this 10%, the majority consists of members of more or less openly religious organizations." Indeed, it is naturally the weakest part of youth that continues to submit to the most retrograde conformisms — also the most coherent — that sustain the maximum of recruitment possibilities for educators of every stripe. Thus, in England, the success of the snobbery of "Young Conservative" clubs has troubled Labour Party bureaucrats, who now go to great lengths to organize balls on the same model, with added Labour chic. It only goes to show that the great artillery of strictly cultural supervision has fizzled out: an era when the constant augmentation of schooling causes the majority of youth to accede to some dose of culture is also an era when this culture no longer believes in itself; it no longer fools or interests anyone.

The society of free time and consumption is lived as a society of empty time, as consumption of emptiness. The violence that it produces, leading police in numerous American cities to institute curfews for under eighteens, puts the use of life so radically into question that it can only be recognized, defended or saved by a revolutionary movement explicitly bringing about a program of demands that relate to this use of life in all its aspects.

"I need to find someone to talk to. What happened to everyone I knew? I have so much to ask them!"

It's going to become more and more difficult to hide the redoubtable reality of youth behind the pathetic teams of professional actors who, under the names "beatniks", "angry young men" and — even more watered down — "nouvelle vague," represent the expurgated parody of this crisis on the cultural stage. The fact that something which was a feature of the "avant-garde" for a mere ten years can now be seen everywhere is a major embarrassment to the good people of Saint-Germain-des-Prés (who, as anti-artists risking recuperation into culture, are nowhere near divorced enough from traditional artistic bohemianism). On 14 May, Le Journal du Dimanche tolled the death knell of provincial French honesty, recounting the fortuitous meeting between two people "transporting a heavy case containing several dozen bottles of stolen fine wines in the dead of night" and a police patrol in Melun: "the two thieves confessed that the wine was in fact to be consumed at a large 'party' in the usually unoccupied apartment of one of their grandmothers. They added that these surprise parties were attended exclusively by 15 to 18 year old boys and girls in various states of undress. These gatherings were so licentious that eight young men and women from the Melun region who had participated in one had been arrested for offense to good taste, as well as for theft and complicity. Three youths, a boy of 15, and a boy and girl each aged 17, have been incarcerated. The other five were released on probation."

It goes without saying that the situationists support the absolute refusal of the extremely limited range of lawful activities. The SI is heavily based on extensive experiments within the empty spaces of everyday life and the search for a supersession. It will not stray from this line, and any official success (in the broadest sense of the word: any success within the dominant cultural mechanisms) that might be met by either its theses or its members should therefore be considered extremely suspect. With the systems of information and punishment entirely in the hands of our enemies, very few details of the repression of real life's clandestinity (known as "scandal" in current conditions) ever see the light of day. Despite the complete policing of the air-conditioned emptiness, the SI intends to confront this world with more violent and more complete scandals from the position of clandestine freedom that asserts itself everywhere before the pompous social face of dead time. We know the possibilities. Order reigns and does not govern.