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Untitled Text (excerpt)

Guy Debord

28 January 1971

Translated by Ken Knabb


In casting back into their nothingness the contemplatives and incompetents who counted on a perpetual membership in the SI, we have taken a great step forward. We must continue to advance; because now an era is over for the SI too, and is better understood. The undeniable success that we have registered in this case was so easy, and so belated, that certainly no one will think we have the right to settle back for a few weeks to gloat over it. Yet already over the last few weeks a certain lethargy has begun to manifest itself again (without, in my opinion, any longer having the previous excuses or semi-justifications) when it comes to developing our present positions. [...]

1) The SI recently was in danger of becoming not only inactive and ridiculous, but cooptive and counterrevolutionary. The lies multiplying within it were beginning to have a mystifying and disarming effect outside. The SI could, in the very name of its exemplary actions in the previous period, have become the latest form of revolutionary spectacle, and you know those who would have liked to maintain this role for another ten or twenty years.

2) The process of alienation gone through by various past emancipatory endeavors (from the Communist League to the FAI, or even, if this comparison should also be evoked in our case, surrealism) was followed by the SI in all its easily recognizable forms: theoretical paralysis; “party patriotism”; lying silence on increasingly evident faults; imperious dogmatism; wooden language addressed to the miners of Kiruna — still rather far off, fortunately — and to Iberian exiles; invisible titles of ownership possessed by little cliques or individuals over one or another sector of our relations or activities, on the basis of their being “SI members” (like people used to invoke the privileges of being a “Roman citizen”); ideology and dishonesty. Naturally this process took place this time in the present historical conditions, that is to say, to a large extent in the very conditions created by the SI; so that many features of past alienations were precluded. This set of conditions could have made a counterrevolutionary subversion of the SI all the more dangerous if it had succeeded, but at the same time it made such a success difficult. I think that this danger virtually no longer exists: We have so well smashed the SI in the preceding months that there is scarcely any chance that that title and image could become harmful by falling into bad hands. The situationist movement — in the broad sense of the word — is now diffused more or less everywhere. And any of us, as well as some of the excluded members, could at any time, in the name of the SI’s past and of the radical positions presently needing to be developed, speak by himself to the revolutionary current that listens to us; but that is precisely what Vaneigem will be unable to do. On the other hand, if a neo-Nashist regrouping dared to form, a single pamphlet of 20 pages would suffice to demolish it. To smash the SI and reduce to nothing the dubious pretensions that would have been able to preserve it as an alienated and alienating model — this had become at least our most urgent revolutionary duty. On the basis of these new measures of security we have fortunately implemented, we can now probably do better.

3) The SI had (and still has, but fortunately with less of a monopoly on it) the most radical theory of its time. On the whole it knew how to formulate it, disseminate it and defend it. It often was able to struggle well in practice; and some of us have often even been capable of conducting our personal lives in line with that theory (which was, moreover, a necessary condition to enable us to formulate its main points). But the SI has not applied its own theory in the very activity of the formulation of that theory or in the general conditions of its struggle. The partisans of the SI’s positions have for the most part not been their creators or their real agents. They were only more official and more pretentious pro-situs. This has been the SI’s main fault (avoidable or not?). To have gone so long without being aware of it has been its worst error (and to speak for myself, my worst error). If this attitude had prevailed, it would have been the SI’s ultimate crime. As an organization, the SI has partly failed; and this has been the part in which it has failed. It was thus necessary to apply to the SI the critique it had applied, often so well, to the dominant modern society. (It could be said that we were rather well organized to propagate our program, but not our organizational program.)

4) The numerous deficiencies that have marked the SI were invariably produced by individuals who needed the SI in order to personally be something; and that something was never the real, revolutionary activity of the SI, but its opposite. At the same time, they praised the SI to the extreme, both to make it seem that they subsisted in it like fish in water and to give the impression that their personal extremism was above any vulgar corroboration of facts and acts. And yet the alternative has always been quite simple: either we are fundamentally equal (and prove it) or we are not even comparable. As for us here, we can take part in the SI only if we don’t need it. We must first of all be self-sufficient; then, secondarily, we may lucidly combine our specific (and specified) desires and possibilities for a collective action which, on that condition, may be the correct continuation of the SI [...]