Los Angeles 1965/1992

The Los Angeles rebellion was a rebellion against the commodity, against the world of the commodity in which worker-consumers are hierarchically subordinated to commodity value. . . . The looting of the Watts district was the most direct realization of the distorted principle: “To each according to his false needs” — needs determined and produced by the economic system which the very act of looting rejects. But once the vaunted abundance is taken at face value and directly seized instead of being eternally pursued in the rat race of alienated labor and increasing but unmet social needs, real desires begin to be expressed in festival, in playful self-assertion, in the potlatch of destruction. . . .

The Los Angeles blacks are better paid than any others in the United States, but they are also the most segregated from the flaunted affluence of California. Hollywood, the pole of the global spectacle, is in their immediate vicinity. They are promised that, with patience, they will join in America’s prosperity, but they come to see that this prosperity is not a fixed level but an endless ladder. The higher they climb, the further they get from the top. . . . If they keep quiet their survival is guaranteed; capitalism has become sufficiently concentrated and entrenched in the state to distribute welfare to the poorest. But by the very fact that they lag behind in the advance of socially organized survival, the blacks pose the problems of life; what they are really demanding is not to survive, but to live. . . .

The rational world produced by the industrial revolution has liberated individuals from their local and national limitations and linked them on a global scale; but it irrationally separates them once again, in accordance with a hidden logic that finds its expression in insane ideas and grotesque value systems. Estranged from their own world, people are everywhere surrounded by strangers. The barbarian is no longer at the ends of the earth, he is here, made into a barbarian by his forced participation in the collective hierarchical consumption. . . . But the repulsive absurdity of certain hierarchies, and the fact that the entire world of the commodity is directly blindly and automatically to their protection, leads people to see — the moment they engage in a negating practice — that every hierarchy is absurd.

December 1965


Excerpts from the Situationist International Anthology translation of The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy, reprinted as a leaflet May 1992.

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