To Clarify Some Aspects of the Moment
In the period following the May 1968 occupations movement, reality has not ceased extensively confirming radical historical thought, but the individuals who strove to be the most conscious bearers of that thought have not proved capable of being so effectively. The most revealing example of this apparent failure is obviously the crisis of the Situationist International, but it is also reflected in the pro-situ phenomenon and the general inversion of situationist activity and thought into an ideology, situationism.
Situationist-inspired revolutionaries have not escaped the process of ideologization. What we said above about the most modern expressions of revolt applies equally to this councilist current; it, too, has played its part in the dramatic death throes of leftism. Rather than detailing everyones particular mistakes, we intend to deal with what is essential.
If situationism has been despised and criticized, it has always been for false reasons, from a perspective that has itself remained pro-situationist. The pro-situ regression was considered as an aberration, as the dregs of a movement, as a trendy fad, and never for what it really was: the qualitative weakness of the whole, a necessary moment in the global progress of the revolutionary project. Situationism is the adolescent crisis of a situationist practice that has attained the decisive moment of a first important extensive development, the moment where it must practically dominate the spectacle that is taking hold of it.
If we ourselves can pitilessly deride these hesitations, weaknesses and poverties, it is not because we are geniuses who have descended from the heavens, but because we ourselves have experienced them in our own past activities. You can recognize a pro-situ by the way he generously distances himself from the confusions of the moment, which he can sometimes partially understand and denounce. The pro-situ levels his critique on the perverted world by placing himself, like a classic novelist, at a divinely omniscient point of view. Failing to comprehend real social or personal development, he is characterized by a total lack of lucidity regarding his own historical engagement.
The situ milieu has become a whorehouse worthy of the old artist milieus, full of shabby little roles, self-seeking hypocrisy in relationships, false consciousness, pseudocritiques of bad faith, scapegoats on whom are concentrated all spite and idols on whom are concentrated all jealousies.
What revolutionaries have lacked most up to now is dialectics, the sense of necessary mediations, the calculation of the relation between revolutionary practice and the totality it wants to transform, the practical appropriation of their own theory.
We have to resume the dialectical process of the meeting of the real movement and its unknown theory while recognizing that this dialectical process is equally present within the development of the individuals who are the most conscious bearers of this theory. Theory must still meet its own producers.
All the essential requirements formulated by the situationists regarding organized revolutionary practice were right, and it is first of all because they were right that they were taken up by others, above all among the generations who lived the occupations movement in France. But truth is itself a historical process, a process that dialectically gains truth. All utilized concepts, including basic minimum requirements, are of value only insofar as they elucidate the development of conscious practice within the global reality, a practice that creates and transforms itself in a nonlinear manner.
In this movement the minimum requirements cannot be simply applied as so many recognized and invariable truths; they must essentially traverse in practice the paths toward their own effective encounter, toward their practical truth.
The nondialectical application of these requirements, which reflected the poverty of the pro-situationist current in regard to its own project, was the necessary first step towards the effective realization of that project.
The authentic may be hidden behind a certain margin of error before being able to sweep it away for good. The course of history leaves behind a lot of debris. The false is a moment of the true. You dont decide to be a situationist, you have to become one. Revolutionary practice must discover, within the confusions of struggles, all the complexities and interlinkings of its different moments. Revolutionaries do not themselves escape from the complex and contradictory process of the conditions of production of class consciousness.
The SI itself contributed toward its subjugation to spectacular processes, notably in the preeminence of what was positively realized and in a certain margin of theoretical certainty that was derived from the objectively experimented portion of the situationists activity. It is this comfortable settling down within the positive that characterizes the situ role. The more effective the objective position of the SI in present history became (and the same will apply for all future revolutionary organizations), the more perilous its heritage became for each of its members to assume.
This aspect of itself which the SI too unselfcritically exhibited found its extension, at a more extreme degree of reification, in the overall weakness of the current to which it gave birth.
The degree of general false consciousness was still sufficient to ensure that the influence radiating from the SI was that of its weakness rather than of its strength. (This weakness is what appears as its strength in the perspective of the spectacle, e.g. the merits of the SI that the press has recently begun to acknowledge, after having scarcely so much as mentioned its existence during the previous decade.) But this radiance was itself possible only due to the quality of the project in acts from which it drew its radiant power.
The occupations movement was the fulfillment of the Situationist International, and this fulfillment was its end. May 1968 was the realization of modern revolutionary theory, its overwhelming confirmation, just as it was to a certain extent the realization of the individuals who participated in the SI, notably in the revolutionary lucidity they manifested within the movement itself.
But for the SI the occupations movement remained the conclusion of its long practical research without being its supersession. The situationists did not prove capable of laying the practical foundations for a more advanced stage of their existence. This retrospective judgment is only apparently trivial. Because of what they must know about themselves and about the limits they ran into in their internal relations, the situationists are in fact the only ones who can really grasp and reveal their real significance.
What is at issue in the crisis of situationist-inspired practice, whether in the mass of idiotic little roles it has given rise to or in others honest requestionings, is the whole fundamental question of organizational method. We have to critically reconsider organizational methods, to take up once again the notions of radical practice, of exemplariness, of communication of theory, in a disabused manner; remaining disabused first of all regarding the diverse political and pseudotheoretical heirs of those notions that have proliferated in the wake of May 1968. We have to confront once again the complex and contradictory conditions of production of class consciousness in an era that continues to demonstrate its capacity to maintain the conditions of unconsciousness. The mechanisms of false consciousness are becoming more sophisticated, gaining in subtlety what they lose in strength; it is this new fragility that must be comprehended and attacked. We have to attack the reality of this era and no longer merely its superficially understood abstract qualities; to attack its hesitations, its weaknesses and its poverties; to make shame yet more shameful.
While the situationists were putting themselves in question, engaging in an orientation debate in an effort to determine the appropriate next stages in their venture, the satellite groups they had given rise to followed a hundred steps behind, taking the SI as an uncriticized model and constituting themselves on the inadequate basis of a limited implementation of a few certitudes derived from the SIs previous experience.
The dynamic human richness that would normally be expected in historic encounters has not been evident in recent relations among revolutionaries. The would-be most advanced nucleus of consciousness was in no way separate from the world of separation, though it remained trivially separated from itself. The necessity for each group to prove itself, to discover the bases for its own practice a necessity that is inseparable from striving for practical truth was understood as the absurd requirement to give proofs to other organizations that were playing the same sordid game. The councilist supermen devoted themselves to contemplating the illusions they were barely able to generate within their petty functionary relations.
The lives of revolutionaries during these last three years would by themselves provide all the necessary data for a critique of the prevalent lack of communication.
The initial attempts to form autonomous groups, which now can easily be seen as having been far too tainted or compromised with the poverty of a certain period, were nevertheless not the result of a mere passing fad. This minimum condition of organized practice was inscribed in the needs and possibilities of the individuals of that period, and their failure has also revealed the limits of that period. This failure is not susceptible to any simple or simplistic explanation (political reification, theoretical underdevelopment, practicism, etc.). Although such explanations obviously contain a certain element of truth, they are only particular effects of a complex entanglement of factors whose concrete unity remains to be grasped. We could already enumerate many aspects of this unity, aspects that are not unrelated to the general poverties and possibilities of this period.
Revolutionary thought is completely contrary to a system of ideas (whereas situationism is nothing other than such a system) magically claiming correctness or truth in the style of all the presently decaying forms of separate thought, whether scientific, philosophical or political. Our knowledge does not obey the logic of separate knowledge, but the antilogic of historical existence, of the movement to realize the individual in history. Our superior understanding of the world stems from our participation in its conscious transformation. Revolutionaries of our era have to be in their acts the closest and surest companions of the work of the negative; their consciousness must cleave to the totality of the work of the negative in the ongoing historical process.
If we have had to reiterate some elementary points about the nature of theory, this is because the use of theory has been forgotten in the aftermath of May. It is no longer a matter of abstractly denouncing the abstractness of a few critical terms or concepts that bore the whole subversive weight of reality during a moment whose conditions have now elapsed. We have to apply ourselves to resharpening those terms and concepts, giving them back their deadly cutting edge, so as to refine, for ourselves and for all those with good reasons to take after us, their use in the service of historical lucidity.
All the weapons that will vanquish the commodity system including notably that central weapon: consciousness are already being forged. The more this craft requires extreme capacities because of the conditions that have produced it, the more easily will the heavy artillery of converging pleasures storm all the walls that still separate us from our realization in history.
Without prejudging the precise forms that modern revolutionary organization must take in the new era, it seems to us that from now on each of its aspects must explicitly contain its own critique as being a mere aspect so as to leave no opening for that positivism that generally attacks everything that threatens to overthrow existing conditions.
The forces of negation that are beginning to see the light of day must find themselves in the same relation to revolutionary organization as a luminous source in front of a point of refraction: an organization has no reason to exist other than as a link with history, both for its participants and for those outside it. Irresistibly rebellious forces must be able to recognize themselves in it without losing themselves in it; to recognize in it their own historicity, to be placed before it as before the immensity of their own tasks, the immensity of what remains to be done. A means is not something admirable in itself; as soon as it is seen as such, its essential purpose has been lost. Its element of positive realization acts like dead labor on living process: it petrifies everything.
Organizational methods must return dialectically to their own foundations, explicitly including themselves in the fluid movement of historical maturation, emerging from it only the better to reimmerse themselves in it. The miserable contemplative manias of the reign of mass passivity must not be able to find any organizational petrification to get their grips on. Going beyond its elements of positive realization, modern revolutionary organization will have to be a dictatorship of the negative: a practice that bears within itself the critique of the spectacle.
The totally inhuman reality of the commodity as a social relation constantly gains in cohesion, tending toward total reification of the world. The spectacle, which is the expression of this movement, tends to degenerate into a mere tautological representation of the economic, an image of the ensemble of socially accessible enjoyments. But in this unifying process this coherence of the commodity-as-subject-of-the-world at the same time brings out into the open the fundamental incoherence of its alien coherence.
The systems processes of internal wear and tear, along with the diverse movements that are tending toward its radical negation, only accelerate this global process of unification, dialectically forcing the whole system to put all its cards on the table, thereby exposing the coercive solidarity of all its spectacularly separate aspects. The potential practice of revolutionary organization and the movement for more class consciousness which is the bearer of the historical negation of the commodity are inseparable from this global movement. We are necessarily on the same path as our enemies usually preceding them but we must be there without any confusion, as enemies.
The moment when the commodity appears as the homogenous and total fulfillment of universal history is at the same time the moment of its radical historical negation, the moment of the conscious struggle for the totality.
What above all characterizes our era is the intensification of this process in time, an intensification linked to the return of the proletariat as an acting historical force. But this process is not itself uniform; it has neither a constant intensity nor a linear growth. It develops erratically in time and in space, oscillating from wonderful moments of breakthrough where everything seems possible to low points where nothing does, but where, nevertheless, everything continues.
Chapter 3 of Pour lintelligence de quelques aspects du moment (Paris, January 1972) was first translated in 1974 by Robert Cooperstein, Dan Hammer, and Ken Knabb. The present version is a new translation by Ken Knabb (1999).