Revolt and Recuperation in Holland
Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967)
Translated by Reuben Keehan; edited by Not Bored!
THE FAMOUS BUT SHORT-LIVED "Provo" movement has often been linked to the SI. There were the revelations contained in a widely read article published in Figaro Litteraire (4-8-1966) "Behind the angry young men of Amsterdam we find an Occult International" and the equally popular article in the Belgian journal Syntheses, published in April , which took into account the "radical argumentation" with which the SI opposes the derisory sub-ludic moderatism of the Provo "intellectuals," and contained our prediction that the Provo movement was about to end, which was something it did not fail to do in May , when it dissolved. While it is indeed true that "the Provos have invented nothing," it is, however, quite incorrect to suppose that "the Provos provide the previously isolated theorists of the Situationist International with troops, 'intelligent surrogates,' capable of constituting the secular arm of an organization which itself prefers to remain more or less behind the scenes" (Figaro Litteraire). We don't consider ourselves so isolated that we need to keep such company; and it goes without saying that we don't want any sort of "troops," even if they were much better troops than these. Indeed, the relationship between the SI and the Provos occured elsewhere, on two distinct planes. As a spontaneous expression of the revolt appearing in European youth, the Provos usually positioned themselves on the terrain defined by situationist critique (against capitalist abundance, in favor of a fusion of art and everyday life, etc.). Furthermore, as they fell under the influence of a directorship composed of "philosophers" and suspect artists, they encountered people who were also somewhat acquainted with the SI's theses. But this dissimulated knowledge was at the same time the simple recuperated falsification of various fragments. It is sufficient to note the presence in the Provo hierarchy of the ex-situationist Constant, with whom we broke in 1960. Back then, Constant's technocratic tendencies prevented him from seeing things from the perspective of revolution, which he deemed to be "nonexistent" (cf. I.S. #3 [Discussion on an Appeal to Revolutionary Intellectuals and Artists]). As soon as the Provo movement became fashionable, Constant rediscovered revolution, and, under the name "anarchist urbanism," he slipped in the eternal maquettes of "his" unitary urbanism, at exactly the same time as they were being exhibited at the Venice Biennale under their original title in order make a good impression. Constant represented Holland as its official artist. The rout of the Provos was already inscribed in their submission to an internal hierarchy and in the idiotic ideology that they devised in order for their hastily organized hierarchy could function. The SI has only ever had contact with the elements of the radical base, which should be distinguished from the official movement; and we have always advocated an urgent split from the latter.
We're not particularly interested in returning yet again to such a dull theoretical subject: sufficient critique of the doctrine and behavior of the Provos has already been made in the English journal Heatwave, and in our brochure On the Poverty of Student Life. But it is above all the practical development of the contradictions of contemporary society that, having created the authentic element of the Provo revolt, has carried out its derisory institutionalization. The greatest demonstrations of the Provos' conformism were their regurgitation of the sociological and journalistic dogma that maintains that the proletariat has dissappeared, and their certainty that the workers are now satisfied and perfectly bourgeoisified. The riot that began in Amsterdam on 14 June 1966 and continued for the next few days the extent of which cast the Provos in the falsest of lights showed that their movement was in reality already dead. The Provo movement was indeed dead that June day, because this was an exemplary workers' riot of our era, one that began as an attack upon the bureaucratic union building, continued as a battle with the police (and the reinforcements who came from their supporters in the harbor district), and culminated as an attempt to destroy the office-block occupied by that great daily newspaper, The Telegraaf, because it of course published lies. Indeed, most of the rebellious youth of Amsterdam (for it would be false to identify all the Provos as a student movement) joined the workers in the street. But the Provo hierarchy, upon discovering in the conflict the negation of its piteous ideology, was faithful to only itself: it disavowed the violence, condemned the workers, appealed for calm on radio and television, and promoted other banalities before spectacularly leaving town en masse, in order to provide a good example of passivity.
If the situationists certainly anticipated the Provos in regard to a few vague novelties, there is all the same a central point we flatter ourselves on, which is the fact that we relentlessly remain "nineteenth century." History is still young, and the proletarian project of a classless society, even if it began badly, is still more of a radically new curiosity than the combined achievements of molecular chemistry and astrophysics or the billions of fabricated events channeled by the spectacle. Despite our "avant-gardism" and thanks to it, it is to this movement alone that we wish to return.