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Letter to Guy Debord
Tony Verlaan & John Horelick
17 November 1970
We received your letter of Oct. 28th.
After clarifying two particular details we will, without regret enlarge the scope of our tendency, more precisely. We choose to continue expressing our perspective directly to you because the nature of our criticism of your reflections could appear particularly polemical, otherwise.
Concerning our question about money. There was little reasoning behind that question, which for us was very much off the top of our heads. We must say that we found the letter from Paris of Sept. 11 rather brief but not as some directive. That we might have been able to well use more money did not play any hidden part in that terseness. We only wanted to know the reasons for the chosen distribution. And that's all. Our question was certainly written carelessly, and signed haphazardly, without taking into account the preceding atmosphere of correspondence, and thus, perhaps, consequently an apparently aggressive tone had been evoked. We regret that poor style, but we cannot regret the question. We believe we are at least entitled to ask about the division of the cash on the table, and one day we hope it becomes a question of hardware. If you had asked us in turn about our "projects" in order to best divide the cash, we would have answered you gladly. This, we might add is not our great dream of participation.
As preliminary to the following, we recognize the possible ambiguity of the sentence in our last letter to you that reads, "None of the individual failures which have taken place can be considered in function of our present weakness; some do not deserve reflection at all". We hope it is clear that we meant only that neither our weakness could be the justification for reconsidering the failure of others, nor could others' failures recently bar us from considering our own.
Our motivation to compose a tendency does not come from an envy to participate in managing "misery and routine" or some regret for our distance from "backward discussions". It is our desire to really eliminate them. In our view these discussions have not been recognized for all that they were, and could reproduce themselves again. Nor do we want to construct a modern museum of excluded in, or apart from the S.I. And even less do we want to restrict ourselves solely to judging our common activity.
The exclusions that have occurred in the last twelve months constitute a basic reflection of that recent practice which has been moving into the abstract in the S.I. Naturally, we don't think we have been strangers to the developments of exclusion, and we too have them under our fingernails. As situationists we must face every basic practical divergence openly to defend the practice of the ensemble effectively. Recently this practice has been ruled, as you will point out, by "mediocrity in relation to affirmed criteria and projects". The task implied by this mediocrity is not its mere recognition, but the precision, and the execution of the conclusions that can be drawn from it.
Concerning your opposition to our view of the autonomy of sections as some angered pretext against the french sections as being the director of the S.I. during problematic events that are not of its own choosing, we must assert simply that our critique does not have that inclination. We think sections can intervene in the problem of another section in a manner assuring of mutual autonomy. It was certainly the immaturity of both the american and italian sections that had been the fundamental cause of the necessary interventions of the french section. But in both crises that autonomy had been lost at their conclusion, in particular. In the first crisis involving it from the american section, when we brought our critique necessitated by the ultimatum before the ensemble, the french section pre-empted, despite the most comradely purposes, an adequate exclusion of Wolsfeld. There, had our exclusion resulted, the rest of the S.I. would have also been finished. As we have said before this instance is much less important then some of the elements of the italian crisis to be made more precise subsequently. Neither in the details, nor in general do we want to overemphasize the factor of sectional autonomy, apart from the central question of individual autonomy that dominated in their intersection.
The reasoning you assume to be insupportable in our controversial point does not have real application to it. The logic of it is not that our exclusions have operated according to a pretended perfection, or that they should be perfect, which is utterly utopian. To be more precise, we agree that "there have been too few mistakes sanctioned as unacceptable". Where we differ fundamentally is in our sense that is reciprocally complimentary relation to this, too many mistakes were sanctioned as incorrect in exclusion. For us, some unacceptable mistakes can be corrected. This established precedent has not found too much indulgence in our recent period, but too little. In contrast, you appear to apply the reverse sense to unacceptable action. For example you seem to consider the mistakes made by three of our present comrades (Riesel, Sébastiani and Sanguinetti) as acceptable according to the sense of imperfection. For us, the submission and carelessness in critical sense evoked in the process of Paolo [Salvadori]'s exclusion is unacceptable insofar as it required correction. What in fact immediately motivated us to re-examine the arm of exclusion in relation to inter-individual rapports, and the terrain of practice was the strange events reported in Riesel's letters. More we found the extreme example of your critical analyses made last summer in what its contents revealed.
In our view of the recent failure, of the ensemble the criterion of "dépassement" is central. We can still write, eventually a review, and even if it is highly imperfect, or diffuse a poster. That minimal activity has not really been the core of the problem. It is the sense of urgency that has been lost, and the general critical sense particularly of our own events that became opaque. Our critique has been limited to us, recognized already in its misery. If we can envisage cities in the future seized by the absolute power of workers' councils affirming the situationist perspective, we in turn have been the boyscouts of our own perspective in our inactive crisis.
We want to present an example of a severe sort of amnesia we think exists in our method of operation. We find this in the cartoon-advertisement, in which everybody, including Tony [Verlaan] had been pleased by the results. After some reconsideration we must say we are not satisfied with it. Apart from the present danger here, of using such a cartoon, and our own distaste for a public image, the cartoon is marked by the impression of a great harmony in action among us that becomes a direct representation of ourselves that is nowhere found in the last twelve months. The cartoon contains an excluded so rapidly have the exclusions unfolded, as if synchronized perfectly with practice, and it re-enforces actually all that we have not accomplished in going "onward to the factories". Even in the context of the greatest aims of scandal, wide diffusion, councillist organizational formation, and the dépassement of the S.I. we can expect first some theoretical analyses, and some cartoons. That cartoon however created publicly a pretended harmony or theory and practice. What concerns us, that is to say, we had better be able to recognize ourselves accurately in the process of making a critical statement fundamentally concerning proletarian practice.
The perspective we have for the "controversial" point of our tendency (which is not the single one) is that in the unjustifiability of some exclusions, as we find it, and the general weakness that can be found in the recent usage of exclusion, it is not the abuse of one arm of revolutionary organization that is encompasses, but all its arms, its critical methodology. We will now make more precise two particular cases of the exclusions concerning two people of widely different capacities, in relation to our sense of re-groupment, which includes a public self-critique of the S.I.
The first case is [François de] Beaulieu, an "exclusion" that has been the least substantial. From what we know of François, his subjective attitude, and his own style of living, he may very well be a "petit-bourgeois". The precedent set by his "forced démission" (exclusion) cf. Riesel's letter of Aug. 13th, is that a situationist can be rejected according to intuition alone. The thorough critique of the subjective style of any situationist can have its merit toward the adequate mutual recognition, a minimal thoroughness we owe ourselves, and our comrades. Some insights concerning subjectivity and inter-personal relations have been achieved in the past. An example could be found in the style, and method of your critical comments concerning René Viénet in "Remarks on the SI Today." The critique of François is exactly the opposite of concrete, critical impressions derived from practical interactions. The only tangible element leading to his end was some pure disaffection brought before the entire section, a fatal drama. Only in and through that provocation did the substantial fact of his strange attachment to Spain as a specialist reveal itself. It was the only fact, from what we know, and it was not situated coherently in a way that he could correct it. The recognition of this failure to deal adequately with him is necessary to enable an authentic regroupment, in spite of the possibility that he might lack the willingness or the critical motivation to consider his real failure in the past. Otherwise we are forced to accept François' demission in the sense almost of Gianfranco [Sanguinetti]'s conclusion, that is to say, because of his "profound and tangible being" in which there is no particular reason because they are all together.
In coming to our second case, of Eduardo [Rothe] it is necessary to stress that if there had been some imperfection in the first Italian crisis it pertained not to the formation of tendency (which composed the only chance of stopping obscurity in the S.I.) but to the initial analysis of the general condition of this problem in the Italian section as restricted to only a part of it. In addition, the secret confided to Pavan, rather unprecedented itself, was the by-product of that analysis. But the crucial element a propos of sectional autonomy is revealed in the episode leading to the exclusion of Eduardo, resuming the whole in its method, and its content.
Concerning the conflict between Paolo and Eduardo, it would be insufficient thinking to expect the elimination of the bases of a dispute according to the critique of the obscure, and incorrect form which it took, initially. We believe an affective hostility, and inadequate practice (although the Italian section was active enough) had not been the only elements of the problem. In Eduardo's exclusion the French section concretely interfered in the possible realization of the autonomy of the Italian section. With Salvadori, a tendency would have to have been formulated, formally against Eduardo. However the two basic elements of this case remain as a neglected distance from this particular phase of their disagreement, and in evasion of the contents, in which Paolo's opinion was in the minority, both in terms of the dispute over Gianfranco's behavior, and the manner of resolving the disagreement (which in itself does not seem to have been judged thoroughly from the information we have on hand here). How do we know, for example that Paolo did not discuss Gianfranco's behavior unctuously, and metaphysically for half an hour, and thus violating first the stated agreement made just before? Evidently, Eduardo expresses his own criticism rather obscurely, but we clearly know the nature of the problem he faced. Taking into account his intelligence, perhaps he believed he found the occasion to make his criticism concrete, beyond obscurity.
Eduardo did not play a part moreover in the most stupid phase of that Italian problem, that is, the initial ultimatum-draft. We underline this particularity, because it showed that that simplest lesson concerning the usage of the rules of our game had not been extracted from the crisis that preceded it in the american section, as if it never happened. The unreflected part of Eduardo's exclusion must find its echo little more than two months later in the next critique made by Paolo that is no longer recognized as "rather correct", but derisive, and sordid. In light of that later development it seems less likely that Eduardo's failure, some criticism taken and re-taken against Paolo was as excessive, or unreal as it appeared. With him, in a delimited return or a regroupment for a discussion that does not guarantee anybody's participation per se in the future, we don't think we would find the same "reedition" of ennui, but very possibly an advancement over his own past successes. For us he was, even as far as he failed, the strongest member of the italian section. As appendix to this, we must stress, at the risk of instantaneous exclusion that we oppose the authoritarian terms according to which Gianfranco's affirmation of Eduardo's exclusion had to be made. And the affirmation.
In order to see the real bases of failure according to which the recent exclusions have been a sign, we have to directly consider the premature organizational character of the ensemble of the S.I. in relation to its mature theoretical orientation that addresses itself now to the particular critical operations of the workers.
Complementary to your analysis of the contradictory relation between spontaneity, and organization in recent times, we can see that the usage of organizational theory has itself been fatal, if separated from activity that is not directly operated speculatively, because these relations have been limited to minimal dialogue, and some formal collective settings.
The sphere of radical subjectivity certainly faces its enemies directly in hierarchy, and pure spontaneism. Nevertheless it is the basis of our organization. In this regard we must say that even we, situationists have to take into account the fact that for a part of the proletariat, and for a larger part of the revolutionaries coming from the bourgeoisie, radical subjectivity remains a goal, more than an achievement. In our sense of the crossroad of individual passion, and collective subversion, it is still strange that situationists can be together as revolutionaries in some neutral relationships. This is delimited by its other side, that is to say, our affinities are not a requirement unless, as you say, sycophants are desirable. If our relationship is the only significant, historical one in the world today, as supersession of isolated friendship, as much as individual subversion, we can say our rapport is neither friendly, nor unfriendly inasmuch as it should be an active comradery. We can only stress the pure insignificance of some revolutionaries joined together in a group that fail to prove themselves together in theoretical, and practical action, and the consequent return to spontaneist (variante subjectivist) criteria, despite their own intentions.
We definitely see from your own analysis of mutual criticism, "between rupture and agreement in principle, there seems to be no place for real critique. It remains useless, and is written off as a bad joke," and the relationship between public silence, and private dissatisfaction the objective absence of individual immediacy in the critical sense that also has to be applied among other things to others or, put another way, a certain paralysis to discuss directly some limited questions, necessarily criticizable, but unrelated to exclusion. Perhaps the general motivation behind such opaqueness is some unreflected concern for guarding individual spontaneity, or some belief in the perfection of situationists until the exclusion arrives.
The fundamental consequence of these tendencies revolves around critical theory itself, because there is no theory in revolutionary organization that does not begin with the use that has to be made of it. Our theoretical activity itself has always been practical? Recently it has not been employed dialectically. It has been applied too often to the wrong situation, and too little to the essential moments of our activity. The central scandal that evolves accordingly against the situationist theory is its arbitrary detachment in the abstract reduced finally to pure mannerisms. Subjectively, revolutionary organization has not appeared to supersede intellectual rapports in its interior according to the modes in which it has "pierced the walls". If there has been poor application of the methods of organization of spontaneity, it is essentially because our relations in general, and our inter-subjective rapports in particular have been for a large part purely theorized, to the extent that they begin to function in theory alone, which is in direct opposition to Raoul [Vaneigem]'s sense of radical subjectivity as "the melting pot of subjectivity". Perhaps we must recognize that we ourselves are still in the process of "piercing the walls".
Over the last twelve months of activity in our organization, we heard a great deal of theory in crisis, and the echoes of organizational questions had reverberated torturously in the mind of everyone. It is unquestionable that every theoretico-practical question can be, and is expressed organizationally. But according to the qualitative dimension of our practice, that relation had been absolutely reversed, with resulting obscurity. That disassociation of the basic pattern of organizational development found its expression in the "strategic debate", in the common affirmation, of returning to a rigorous practice, because it is the only state in which problems themselves are sufficiently enlightening. In other words creative subversion in every stage of development has to initiate the advances, adjusted, and made precise, in common organization; and to a significant extent our common projects should still only be the meeting place for the fusion of individual projects, that is to say, their proliferation. Creative management and the management of creativity are one and the same dependency on solid individual participation. We appreciate in particular Martin's alertness in the past to a growing "political tendency" in the S.I., as well as the statement made at Venice conference [September 1969] by one of our best, and worst comrades, Mustapha [Khayati], when he said that "when every minuscule detail deserves a great, theoretical explanation, we see again, ideology".
The process of returning to our practice today is also the process of achieving more concretely the possible "dépassement" of the S.I. The bind we have been in is qualitative as ever before. To resume a point covered implicitly in the strategic debate, there are few revolutionaries outside the immediate domain of alienated production, but us. In the reversal of perspective of every international association of the past we can envisage the position of the S.I. in that international revolutionary class struggle, which must become internationalist once again, as its reference point (in the sense of its general program, its critical analysis, and its actions). If we are determined to fail according to the reified identity of theoreticians, the workers cannot achieve their enormous tasks according to a proletarian practice that escapes theory. Without it, the conclusions of its practice cannot avoid those of the past. Nothing guarantees the meeting of theory and practice, the motion of the proletariat directly toward appropriating its theory cannot be counted upon being a purely spontaneous process. Every agent of power stands in front of the proletariat, guarding against its acquaintance with its own thought, and the guard standing there with the keys is activism. We are in the phase in which we will have to paralyze the guards by exposing them for what they are, linked directly to the diffusion of the revolutionary perspectives themselves, and the method of their organization.
If we are located in a "transitional" historical phase according to the subjective development of the workers, and the practical capacity (the practical reach) of our own organization the nature of our demand still plays an important role in determining the exact rhythm of progress, that is to say, proletarian self-emancipation. The excessive decay of global capitalism - the overdevelopment of its contradictions - is itself an objective factor that enunciates the impossible survival of syndicalism, and reformism (bureaucratic representation). The element of the absolute demand that is a central unknown (a demand in general that is evoked more and more abstractly) is exactly the critical relationship between spontaneity, and organization. It is less likely that the workers would deny the use of the arms made available to them, than we have failed to use those we are already acquainted with.
Nobody can underemphasize the subjective factor in any analysis of the S.I, today. Our own determination to be ruthless, our own sense of urgency, and our critical sense, are still what we have to gamble upon at present in connection with the realm of execution. We cannot insist that a great advance must come tomorrow, but we must be able to see it within the near future. For the precise adjustment of inter-personal relations, and the correct terrain of practice we think we have reached at least a part of the problem. In respect to your critical analysis of the state of activity of the S.I., last summer, we can only join your belief that in others, nearer to you in practice its echo will have to be heard in further analysis, and its verification. The central aspect of regroupment within the S.I. would have to concern the method of programmatic execution. The aim of our future practice should be the extensive clarification of our theory, for ourselves, and for others.
It is not especially profound to say at his late date that the association of individuals in common revolutionary action is motivated by their desire for life. What has been profound is the degree to which that motivation is being translated progressively in the S.I. toward a mere idea. If we can resume our perspective it is in this way. In judging the world critically today, we should be capable at least of judging each other accurately. The failures in this domain recently, as much as many of the individual faults they covered could not reproduce themselves again. In light of the future and the people we are going to fight with, it is more than clear that we must still be able to think in the street. There will be other "beaux barricadiers" and other "beaux enragés", and we believe, we will want to work with them on the basis of this achievement. They in turn will have to be equal to us in theory. The projects we engage in should in their clarity maximize their chance to be with us. We had better be able to effectively assess the actual numbers we can, and must have today in their wild variety of talents as in their weaknesses. The contribution we can make toward the formation of councillist organization depends on the degree to which we can make all of our arms available to the masses of proletarians. Along the way we can expect to learn a great deal about practice from them. If the enormity of our task, to become the reference point of the revolutionary workers' movement is enunciated in the incredible magnitude of our own practical failure up to the present, that is all the more reason to encourage us to return to the pleasure of subversion, which now will have to be seen in acts.
The general lines of our analysis here, and in our last letter to you constitute, for us, a real point of departure:
1 - the publication of the self-critique of the S.I. in our future reviews a propos of our failure to practice, and the concrete elements of that failure, in relation to our methods of operation, our inter-individual relations etc., without which, the S.I. cannot intervene any longer really in the revolutionary class struggle.
2 - In relation to the first point, the beginning of a rigorous analysis concerning programmatic execution of our strategic debate according to the precise formulation of future projects in the sections (that itself encompasses the reconsideration of our definition of sections) and within the ensemble.
3 - The necessity to provide the possibility for the participation of François de Beaulieu, and Eduardo Rothe in a preliminary regroupment discussion according to our criteria, and moreover, our delimitations.
Long live the situationists!
The tendency for the truth of our practice
Tony Verlaan & Jon Horelick
P.S. We have written to a contact in Berkeley for some additional copies of the translated version of Society of the Spectacle, and will mail them as soon as they arrive.
From our side, we would make immediate, and subversive use of three different texts that have been translated into spanish already, and which we believe you have on hand; La Misère, The Address to Algerian Workers and Le Traité. Please note that we have asked for some copies in spanish of La Misère before.