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The Conquest of Space
in the Time of Power



Science in the service of capital, the commodity and the spectacle is nothing other than capitalized knowledge, fetishism of idea and method, alienated image of human thought. Pseudogreatness of man, its passive knowledge of a mediocre reality is the magical justification of a race of slaves.


It has been a long time since the power of knowledge has been transformed into power’s knowledge. Contemporary science, experimental heir of the religion of the Middle Ages, fulfills the same functions in relation to the present class society: it compensates for people’s everyday stupidity with its eternal specialist intelligence. Science sings in numerals of the grandeur of the human race, but it is in fact nothing other than the organized sum of man’s limitations and alienations.


Just as industry, which was intended to free people from work through machinery, has so far done nothing but alienate them in the work of the machines, so science, which was intended to free people historically and rationally from nature, has done nothing but alienate them in an irrational and antihistorical society. Mercenary of separate thought, science works for survival and therefore cannot conceive of life except as a mechanical or moral formula. It does not conceive of man as subject, nor of human thought as action, and it is for this reason that it does not comprehend history as deliberate activity and makes people “patient(s)” in its hospitals.


Founded on the essential deceptiveness of its function, science can only lie to itself. Its pretentious mercenaries have preserved from their ancestor priests the taste and need for mystery. A dynamic element in the justification of states, the scientific profession jealously guards the laws of its guild and the “Machina ex Deo” secrets that make it a despicable sect. It is hardly surprising, for example, that doctors — those repairmen of labor-power — have illegible handwriting: it is part of the police code of monopolized survival.


But if the historical and ideological identification of science with temporal powers clearly reveals that it is a servant of states, and therefore fools no one, it was not until our own time that the last separations disappeared between class society and a science that had professed to be neutral and “at the service of humanity.” The present impossibility of scientific research and application without enormous means has effectively placed spectacularly concentrated knowledge in the hands of the ruling powers and has steered it toward statist objectives. There is no longer any science that is not in the service of the economy, the military and ideology. And the science of ideology reveals its other side, the ideology of science.


Power, which cannot tolerate a vacuum, has never forgiven the celestial regions for being terrains left open to the imagination. Since the origin of class society the unreal source of separate power has always been placed in the skies. When the state justified itself religiously, heaven was included in the time of religion; now that the state wishes to justify itself scientifically, the sky is in the space of science. From Galileo to Werner von Braun, it is nothing but a question of state ideology: religion wished to preserve its time, therefore no one was allowed to tamper with its space. Faced with the impossibility of prolonging its time, power must make its space boundless.


If the heart transplant is still a crude artisan technique that does not make people forget science’s chemical and nuclear massacres, the “Conquest of the Cosmos” is the greatest spectacular expression of scientific oppression. The space scientist is to the smalltime doctor what Interpol is to the policeman on the beat.


The heaven formerly promised by priests in black cassocks is now really being seized by white-uniformed astronauts. Sexless and superbureaucratized neuters, the first men to go beyond the atmosphere are the stars of a spectacle that hangs over our heads day and night, that can conquer temperature and distance, and that oppresses us from above like the cosmic dust of God. As an example of survival in its highest manifestation, the astronauts make an unintentional critique of the Earth: condemned to an orbital trajectory — in order to avoid dying from cold and hunger — they submissively (“for technical reasons”) accept the boredom and poverty of being satellites. Inhabitants of an urbanism of necessity in their cabins, prisoners of scientific gadgetry, they exemplify in vitro the plight of their contemporaries: in spite of their distance they do not escape the designs of power. Flying billboards, the astronauts float in space or leap about on the moon in order to make people march to the time of work.


And if the Christian astronauts of the West and the bureaucratic cosmonauts of the East amuse themselves with metaphysics and secular morals (Gagarin “did not see God”; Borman prayed for the little Earth), it is in obedience to their spatial “assignment,” which must be the essence of their religion; as with Saint-Exupéry, who spoke the lowest imbecilities from high altitudes, but whose essence lay in his threefold role of militarist, patriot and idiot.


The conquest of space is part of the planetary hope of an economic system which, saturated with commodities, spectacles and power, ejaculates into space when it arrives at the end of the noose of its terrestrial contradictions. Functioning as a new “America,” space must serve the states as a new territory for wars and colonies — a new territory to which to send producer-consumers and thus enable the system to break out of the planet’s limitations. Province of accumulation, space is destined to become an accumulation of provinces — for which laws, treaties and international tribunals already exist. A new Yalta, the dividing up of space shows the inability of the capitalists and bureaucrats to resolve their antagonisms and struggles here on Earth.


But the revolutionary old mole, which is now gnawing at the foundations of the system, will destroy the barriers that separate science from the general knowledge that will be accessible to everyone when people finally begin making their own history. No more ideas of separate power, no more power of separate ideas. Generalized self-management of the permanent transformation of the world by the masses will make science a basic banality, and no longer a truth of state.


Humanity will enter into space to make the universe the playground of the last revolt: the revolt that will go against the limitations imposed by nature. Once the walls have been smashed that now separate people from science, the conquest of space will no longer be an economic or military “promotional” gimmick, but the blossoming of human freedoms and fulfillments, attained by a race of gods. We will not enter into space as employees of an astronautic administration or as “volunteers” of a state project, but as masters without slaves reviewing their domains: the entire universe pillaged for the workers councils.



“La conquête de l’espace dans le temps du pouvoir” originally appeared in Internationale Situationniste #12 (Paris, September 1969). This translation by Ken Knabb is from the Situationist International Anthology (Revised and Expanded Edition, 2006). No copyright.

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