Trouble Is My Business
. . . But there are not only personal obstacles, there are also obstacles linked to the conditions of the present moment of this era conditions that inevitably influence our activity, giving rise to discouragement, hesitations, perplexity. In a very unwarranted but undeniable manner, we are so far only a very small minority to have on our shoulders almost all the responsibility, not, of course, for the situationist project itself, in which many people today feel more or less confusedly concerned, but for its theoretical politics, neglected by everyone else or envisioned from the perspective of classical revolutionary ideologies. . . .
In general, most revolutionaries still understand too poorly what should be done or what is worth doing, and how to do it. We may be more interested in and capable of doing one type of project, but most of the time we are pressured into some other task, requiring more abstract effort, because it seems more urgent and strategic. For example, you have made your way to the front lines of the global struggle for a theoretico-practice, but you have done so in a zone of the world where the most elementary banalities and above all how to make good use of them are still almost unknown. You thus find yourself confronted with this contradiction: In order to make yourself understood and to further your project, you have to continue to give priority to conveying the basic banalities until such point that the spreading awareness of those banalities has developed an irreversible momentum of its own (this qualitative point will have to be determined considering the specific conditions of the US) before being able to speak exclusively at the better level you can and want to. One of the difficulties in this task is that you cant go about it as if you were still in the Europe of 1960-67 (as do Point-Blank and Diversion in different ways), but neither can you go about it as if you were in the Europe of 1974. You have to accomplish an enormous work of classical propaganda in addition to your more current tasks. But it would be totally unacceptable to do all this in two different manners (for example: a simplistic language aimed at the masses and a more sophisticated one intended for more advanced revolutionaries). You therefore have to find a style of expression and action that effectively reconciles these two poles of your practice.
. . . There are at least thirty essential books lacking today, that is to say some thirty fundamental themes that have yet to be developed by anyone. And there are at least that many hypotheses worth being seriously explored. To note only the former, there are a dozen quite judicious perspectives and projects to be found in the SIs Orientation Debate which have had no follow-up. (If no one does anything about them, Ill enjoy enumerating them publicly one of these days.) All these pages for theory that remain blank thats the scandal of revolutionaries activity to which I refer in Poverty of Theory. . . .
My main accomplishment so far has been to develop for myself and to some extent publicly a sort of theory of theory. . . . In this theory of theory nothing is formally, much less definitively, fixed; I see it only as a sort of platform enabling us to confront the uncertainty of our enterprise and to reduce as well as possible the arbitrary element there is in each of our choices. . . .
(Later on, on the basis of these developments, we will be able to apply ourselves more resolutely to what is called a strategy of agitations. But if a politics of agitation would be impossible or ridiculous if we wanted to organize it from the point where we are now, nevertheless even a slight public awareness of our present activity already constitutes in itself an agitation.)
As is often lost sight of, the critique of everyday life is not solely a critique of what the present social organization sets up positively or traces negatively in the everyday life of individuals; it is also the critique of everything else that assures the functioning of this society, as well as a clarification of everything to which the everyday life of individuals cant begin to accede short of a revolution. It is forgotten, for example, that if Marxs thought is really a critique of everyday life, in order to make such a statement it is completely irrelevant to know the relative richness or poorness of the life of the individual Marx. Its richness is sufficiently demonstrated by the fact that he was able to accomplish what he did. Marxs thought is already a critique of everyday life by the simple fact that he was able to speak about class society in an anti-ideological manner, breaking with the methods and representations by which this society presents itself. I should say that I find myself in total theoretical and practical opposition to that entire situationist current which holds as revolutionary only what brings an immediate enrichment to ones own everyday life and which, setting out from such a standpoint, obviously never enriches anything. . . .
I envisage putting out a sort of periodic Remarks in order to settle all my accounts in one place, so as to avoid scattered decisions and clarifications, which are tedious to implement and less effective because more often than not they are only known of separately by the people directly concerned, and not understood as forming part of a unitary practice, part of a precise strategy. . . .
Concerning the publication in Paris of the Orientation Debate:
It is desirable that the heritage of the SI and by this mediation the heritage of past revolutionary theory and of the old workers movement as a whole belong more and more to the entire era. It is especially desirable that it find as rapidly as possible as many competent inheritors as possible. And we ourselves rarely know where such inheritors are to be found. The publication of the Débat has the advantage of confronting these potential inheritors with the raw truth of an organization, and no longer only with a carefully calculated interpretation of this truth (La Véritable Scission), however correct that interpretation may be, a reading of which, without the concrete evidence of the Débat, is inevitably abstract and exterior.
With the Débat readers now find themselves concretely faced with the hesitations, the weaknesses, the unanswered questions; along, of course, with many valuable qualities and perspectives that they can use in their own activities. . . .This publication contributes toward reabsorbing the myth of the SI and its aftermath back into concrete practical questions. . . .
An objection that will inevitably be made . . . is that by publishing the Débat we are, precisely because of the glorious names attached to these texts, fostering a still more stupid use of them. We are obviously not unaware of the imbecilic use that will be made of them; but by intentionally nourishing this imbecilic use we are dialectically creating the possibility of a better use; that is, we are going to force certain people to impose a better use of these texts to counteract the stupid one. . . .
By publicly compromising this aspect of the truth of the SI, we have compromised the public a little more with the truth of the SI.
The choice of the title Débat dOrientation de lex-Internationale Situationniste, which was adopted on my proposal, partakes of my theoretical tactic developed in Misery of Theory to consider the SI and its theoretico-practice in the past tense. It is desirable that, losing all encouraging external reference, each revolutionary feel alone before his task, that is, that he feel that he has to take on his own responsibilities, without even the comfort of a label to identify with (which is the first step toward autonomy and the possibility of revolutionary associations without militants). In doing this, I am really only continuing what Debord began in smashing the SI. If Debord was in a good position to smash the SI from the inside against its unworthy members, he was in return in a rather poor position to destroy the myth of the SI at the exterior without thereby transferring the drawbacks of that myth onto himself. As has already been noted by various revolutionaries, the myth of the SI could be definitively smashed only from the outside.
In losing the SI as a frame of reference, this revolutionary era now finds itself alone with itself (which is the conclusion of the Theses on the SI and Its Time). . . .
Regarding possible contacts with other revolutionaries: In order to limit the risks of engaging in false dialogues and of getting embroiled in spectacular political relations; in order not to feed the delirium of spectators of things revolutionary; in order to avoid wasting time; and in order to avoid direct or indirect contact with personal enemies, I am refusing from now on to meet or correspond with anyone who has not already openly implicated himself in some activity. For me, it is no longer a matter of finding out whether would-be dialoguers are sincere or dishonest, brave or cowardly, intelligent or not, or whether they are liberated enough for our taste, or what they think of themselves, what they think of me, or what they think, period; but of judging, before even having to verify all that, up to what point of practico-theoretical experimentation they have conducted their own life, that is to say, up to what point they are implicated in the revolution as I am. . . .
(Daniel Denevert to Ken Knabb, February 1974)
[original French text of this letter]
The responses to my pamphlet Remarks on Contradiction and Its Failure (March 1973) were invested with clarity, well expressing the complacency, the impotence, the lack of imagination, the stubborn clinging to illusions in a word, the ostrichism of the milieu I criticized therein.
A Point-Blank emissary in Paris announced that I was an imbecile, an asshole and Point-Blanks number-one enemy, and that if he ever ran into me he would smash my face. Others, less directly criticized, were nonetheless disconcerted that I had the nerve (they would say the stupidity) to criticize my own mistakes. Faced with an act so inconsistent with prevalent situationist bravado, they could only see there some weird sort of exhibitionistic masochism. The British group Piranha came up with the model of this genre: So Knabb himself announces in his Remarks that he is still a pro-situ! What a futile exercise! He seems determined to drown in his own shit. The members of Piranha, of course, have no pro-situ taint. Oh, maybe they did a few years ago, but after reading Real Split they decided that they didnt anymore; or at least if they had any lingering doubts, they certainly werent going to announce them. This element of Remarks was in fact precisely calculated to undermine this sort of complacency, particularly among the naïve Americans previously more inclined to dismiss the whole business as some bizarre French affair, but now puzzling anxiously over critiques of the pro-situ to figure out just what this is all about and whether by chance it should happen to have something to do with them. They know that to be a pro-situ is a bad thing and so they are prepared to incorporate it into the ranks of their ideological no-nos along with ideology, for example. But first they must find out what it means! Gone, alas, are the days when all you had to do to become a situationist was to declare yourself one.
Some thought that what I wrote was perhaps true, but wondered why I would circulate a pamphlet on such a specialized subject to so many people. The blank incomprehension with which Remarks would mainly be received was not lost on me as I mailed it out to Contradictions entire mailing list. But the critical, non-narrative form of the text that makes it relatively inaccessible to the passive makes it correspondingly more useful to those confronting similar problems in their own practice. Remarks and others of its genre that have begun to appear will be read more as the activities they discuss become less specialized.
Others, in contrast, found many of the points discussed in Remarks trivial or banal. Well, many a promising project has smashed up on the ignorance of such trivialities. I know of no radical group, including the SI, that has not made almost every mistake noted apropos of Contradiction (assuming the group is radical enough to even confront problems at this level).
The criticism of a text for its having left out something except in the cases where this effectively constitutes a lie by omission is the indication par excellence of the failure to grasp the process of the negative. Thus Remarks has been criticized for not presenting a balanced overall perspective on the movement; but that was not its purpose. It was primarily a critique, a correction of Contradictions orientation toward the movement (and first of all of its very notion of such a unified movement), of the way we went about a certain task. Others worried that it wasnt padded with a bunch of stuff about history, the proletariat, etc.
But if some found it not situationist enough, others found it too much so. A certain sector of old soldiers (including some ex-members of Contradiction), shell-shocked from the exigencies of situationist practice, wants to repress the whole traumatic affair. This tendency, usually to be found rummaging around in the less taxing world of ultra-leftism, is disturbed that while I lay into things situationist, I dont throw out the method with the ideology. Just as some people see revolution as an unfortunate, accidental disturbance of an otherwise well-running society by outside agitators, these people see in polemical debates and splits an unfortunate, accidental disturbance of an otherwise nicely progressing revolutionary movement.
Others want to invoke the epoch as the final explanation for the pure and simple failure of all the situationist groups. If they manifested themselves publicly in the past, they now denounce this past (including whatever meritorious elements there may have been) in toto; while others who in that period didnt manifest themselves at all now emerge, records spotless because blank, to spit contemptuously on all the rest. This is the key to the rage against my dirty-judaical activity. How dare I confront this experience! How dare I search out the points of choice. Whats the point of stating the failures of the past period? says one, as if once one has noted one important error, all related moments in that necessarily very mixed and confused terrain which is that of present revolutionary experimentation can be dismissed as equally wrong or worthless. A diminishing force of cognition marks those who fail to concretely confront their failures. Even if still capable of partially perceptive formulations, their stubborn maintenance of a blind spot or an undialectical position ineluctably cripples any subsequent theoretical effort.
Following the appearance of Remarks and the Reich: How To Use translation, certain people have naïvely fantasized me conducting character-smashing sessions. But if the composition of Remarks was aided by a simultaneous personal experimentation, I have in many places explicitly refused to present such individual breakthroughs as being in themselves revolutionary. (In its December 1974 reprinting, I pointed out the one phrase in Remarks susceptible to being misconstrued in this way.) Theres only one real character-smashing session: revolution. Remarks was an attempt not to come to terms with myself psychologically, but to seize a moment of history and reverse it.
Certain people have wondered why I and others take the risk of conducting our activity so openly, under our own names. We obviously recognize the appropriateness of clandestinity in the Stalinist and fascist countries, or elsewhere to the extent that ones activities involve a significant element of illegality. But the particular theoretico-practical tasks we set ourselves while benefiting considerably from the public continuity that enables the correction of misunderstandings or falsifications, the exposure of the coherent context of our activity, of concrete applications, etc. entail a relatively small risk. While we are little known we will be ignored as harmless (the spectacle is to a large extent a victim of its own image of its opposition); to the extent that some of us become better known which will simply be an incidental effect of the advance of the revolution our suppression would also be known and would merely draw more attention to our theses without at all stopping their work. If some of our theses remain to an extent occult it is because of their intrinsic nature rendered temporarily inaccessible to many by socially enforced ignorance not because they are held secret by us in preparation for a coup détat. In contrast to the leaders of a terrorist or neo-bolshevik group, we are not at all indispensable to our movement. The State cant control the revolution through anything it would do to us or get us to do, because the revolution is right where we want it: out of our control.
* * *
The situationists breaks and exclusions have often been sarcastically identified with Stalinist purges. In fact the two cases could hardly be more dissimilar. In the Stalinist bureaucracies the Party disposes of all social life, whereas revolutionaries as with the proletariat in general do not even dispose fully of their own lives. Thus, to be purged from the Party is to be deprived of participation (however narrow it might be) in the ruling machine and in the material advantages such a position brings with it (not to mention the possibility of prison, torture, execution, exile, etc.); whereas to be excluded from a revolutionary group is to be deprived of nothing except perhaps a bit of stupid prestige. In the West, the same confusionist freedom of expression that makes open polarizations possible makes them necessary. There is no right to participate in an activity that conveys no privileges. The question of possible injustices or contested decisions resolves itself very simply: one who has something to say will make his presence felt beyond all attempts to ignore or denigrate him. It is obvious that a rebuffed or excluded individual who isnt able to engage in an autonomous activity thereby confirms the appropriateness of his separation from a collective activity supposedly arising from autonomous participants. Not to mention those whose ulterior activity takes a different direction.
* * *
The reader will not find the totality in this journal, but simply a certain number of formulations whose relation to the totality is calculated. Those who present everything each time assume a reader who is ignorant of everything else and incapable or undesirous of exploring more for himself, and this spectacular tactic is the best means of making sure that he stays that way. Although I and some others have devoted a particular attention to examining the process of modern revolutionary activity and first of all have drawn attention to the very importance of this process, so scandalously neglected by everyone else an element of the narrowness for which I have been reproached is merely the result of my beginning from where I find myself. The particular topics dealt with here are somewhat arbitrary and dont necessarily imply any lack of importance to those I havent dealt with. Nothing is outside our project; but many truths are not worth saying because it wouldnt make any difference if they werent true. I rarely make mistakes, having never concealed that I have nothing to say on the numerous subjects in which I am ignorant, and habitually keeping in mind several contradictory hypotheses on the possible development of events where I dont yet discern the qualitative leap (Guy Debord, in the Orientation Debate).
In a pamphlet mainly directed against Daniel Denevert (see Un Anti-Denevert in the Chronique des Secrets Publics), Point-Blank mentions me as a would-be pope of a sub-situ milieu. Deneverts latest ally, Ken Knabb, has built a career on his organizational failure and on his commercial association with the statistician of the SI, Jean-Pierre Voyer. Among popes, usually noted rather for their infallibility and organizational cunning, I am undoubtedly the first to have built a career on the exposure of my organizational failure. This sort of spiteful paranoia can only see in any activity that contradicts its own the result of opportunistic, behind-the-scenes deals and intrigues.*
Jean-Pierre Voyer had in fact nothing to do, least of all economically, with the American publication of his pamphlet Reich: How To Use, which was financed by two friends and me, which commercial association has netted us a loss of about $200. (All the other publications Ive been involved in have also been losses, with one exception; a printshop worker liked Vaneigems Treatise so well that he printed Contradictions now out-of-print edition of Part I at less than cost.) My actual relation with Voyer hardly bears out Point-Blanks attempt to characterize me as one of his followers. Shortly before the completion of my translation of his text, I first wrote to him regarding some questions about it. I published Reich: How To Use in June 1973, along with a comic poster announcing it, and reprinted excerpts of one of his letters under the title Discretion Is the Better Part of Value. Voyer proved, however, when I met him that fall, quite oblivious to the possible development or concrete application of many of his earlier theses, and I told him that his megalomaniac disengagement as a pure theorist from the real movement precluded any substantive relation between us. Voyers Encyclopedia has since been published under the title Introduction à la Science de la Publicité (Champ Libre, 1975), which, although it contains incidentally several partially useful points, is scarred by a fetishism of its central concept and of Hegel, whose philosophy is not really detourned because not sufficiently devalorized.
As for Daniel Denevert, I have maintained a particularly close correspondence and collaboration with him over the last two years, resulting in a better geographical coordination of our activities and above all a valuable exchange of ideas and experiences. But my relations with him and the other members of the CRQS have never been formalized and are conducted in the framework described in the Notice Concerning the Reigning Society and Those Who Contest It put out in November 1974 by my Bay Area comrades and me. Although I have on occasion used the editorial we, the Bureau of Public Secrets has always consisted only of me. If a certain degree of accord is manifested between some others and me, it stems not from fiat but from reality. The majority of the publications put out by the various Notice signers over the last three years, for example, have been completed before being shown to the others; and I did not even know of several of the projects most strikingly confirmative of my work until after they were published.
It is obviously not influence which may be simply the influence of the truth or of an exemplary activity that makes a hierarch, but its being exerted to reinforce its unilaterality or the image of its absence. It is a strange pope who continually throws people onto their own responsibility. In the final analysis, whatever one may say about the merit of one or another demystifying or educative tactic, it is the underdog who must take the principal initiative in suppressing his hierarchical dependence. Those who put the onus on the leaders only want better ones. Our movement does not depend on the good fortune of the cleverly self-negating leaders of Leninist and anarchist mythology; people have to use their heads and demystify themselves of notions of the godlike qualities of revolutionary theorists, or of the converse mystification of considering them as just theorists who dont do anything but only write. Those who accuse us of arrogance and manipulation havent thought about what theyre saying; turning people off with arrogance is the last thing the manipulators ever do. It is invariably those people who tell us that they can understand us but that the masses arent ready yet who call us elitists. We treat others as if they were autonomous just in case they are, and to make sure in any case that they are at least so from us.
Various individuals, wishing to have the best of both worlds, approach us, letting us know privately how they agree with us and of the critiques they have of the various dubious milieus from which they come. It is invariably these people the most worthless who have the strange idea that they are the most valuable, that we should feel grateful for their interest because, after all, If you cant talk to us, who can you talk to? They suppose that they can find an interesting encounter, or even a place here, without rocking their own boat. Having compromised themselves in nothing, they are free, once, as is usual, they are rebuffed, to return none the worse to their previous milieu, where they can blather on about their relation with the situationists while maintaining an image of autonomy: we werent able to convince them to join us, etc. An ex-member of the Venceremos Brigade (peace corps to Russias neo-colony in the Caribbean), for example, approached Contradiction and explained to me how they had agreed to suppress various embarrassing details of life in Cuba in their glowing reports on it. Yet so far as I know he never expressed these interesting revelations publicly, apparently being too busy searching for some radical project to do.
The Bureau therefore automatically rejects anyone who approaches it without openly defending the theses he claims to agree with or without having settled accounts with his own situation in the case of the more compromised milieus, denouncing and taking leave of them with the maximum of noise and clarity.
In addition to the routine rebuffing of diverse would-be dialoguers, from Peoples Churches and crypto-Maoists to a rather wide range of media-freak nihilists, the following are among the concrete proposals I have refused with all the rudeness they merited:
to establish contact with the Italian Reichian organization;
to contribute material for publication in the magazine Guerrilla Art;
to provide information on the Bureau for a professional writer doing an article on the current neo-Reichian movement for the magazine Human Behavior.
In March 1974 Tommy Haruki addressed a letter to various anarchist or libertarian groups around the world, proposing to introduce them to comrades in Japan by way of the journal of CIRA-NIPPON (Center of International Research of Anarchism) and adding, Your expression of todays problems on anarchism would be very much desired also. I received a copy, to which I responded, in part, as follows:
. . . We think that anarchism remains an abstract opponent of the system because of its failure to seriously attempt to comprehend modern society or to develop a coherent revolutionary theory. For the most part, all that anarchists possess is a pathetic faith in the label Anarchy. They are allergic to rigor: most of them make a virtue of parading their confusion and their inability to accomplish the smallest practical task. They justify the most stupid failures to take concrete sanctions against enemies, or to effect decisions in order to clarify and advance their own practice (e.g. to rebuff passive followers and spectators), by appealing to an abstract anti-authoritarianism. So they end up with nothing but their frustrated good intentions.
I enclose a copy of some theses relating to anarchism from Guy Debords book The Society of the Spectacle [see §§91-94] . . . which you may find useful.
We certainly agree with you that what we need here and now is not an anthology of millenarian doctrines or revolutionary works in the past and that an interchange of todays information, inter-criticism, interaction of todays experiences is essential: not with an eclectic aim of bringing together a mass of ideologies, but as a step to precision, to lucidity, to the development of a more and more coherent theoretico-practice in the new revolutionary movement.
In this context, the present dialogue initiated by the Center of International Research of Anarchism is extremely minimal. Ultimately, for example, it would be of more interest to us to be in contact with one Japanese comrade who was in conscious practical accord with the Bureaus activities than with a hundred libertarians with whom all we had in common were a few vague sympathies. But it is natural that the first internationalist efforts of the new movement will begin from relatively confused bases, and necessarily pass through some rather banal mediations. . . .
Haruki saw to it that the Debord theses and most of my letter were published in the CIRA journal (Anarchism #4, August 1974, translated by H. Komizo), observing that the critiques applied perfectly to the Japanese anarchist milieu: In this sense, an appearance of your criticism in their report . . . will be some bitter pill for them and all other libertarians of their ilk.
Haruki’s address is: Manno Public Apartment No. 147, 2999 Manno-Hara-Shinden, Fujinomiya, Shizuoka, Japan. [Address now obsolete.]
Two of my pamphlets were published by the CRQS in 1974, Remarques sur le groupe Contradiction et son échec, translated by Daniel Denevert (April), and Double-Réflexion, translated by Joël Cornuault (November), both with my collaboration. The Chronique des Secrets Publics reprinted an extract of a letter from me to Cornuault, Remarques sur le style de Double-Reflection. On our side, Robert Cooperstein, Dan Hammer and I published in September 1974 a translation of Deneverts Theory of Misery, Misery of Theory. In the same pamphlet we also included the Declaration Concerning the CRQS and a section from Deneverts earlier pamphlet, For the Intelligence of Some Aspects of the Moment.
* * *
In November 1974 Double-Reflection was reprinted in England by Spontaneous Combustion (Box LBD, 197 Kings Cross Road, London WC1). [Address now obsolete.]
* * *
Extracts of a letter of mine of October 1973 to Jean-Pierre Voyer and others have been reprinted in Isaac Cronins and Chris Shutess recent journal, Implications.
* * *
Most of the BPS publications including the present journal have been published in editions of 2000 copies.
* * *
Publications of the BPS are on file at:
• Berkeley Public Library (“Boss Files,” Reference Room), Shattuck and Kittredge, Berkeley.
• Tamiment Library, Bobst Library Building, 70 Washington Square South, New York City.
• “The Public Library,” 197 Kings Cross Road, London.
• International Institute of Social History, Herengracht 262-266, Amsterdam. [Now Cruquiusweg 31, Amsterdam.]
The Bureau collection also includes as its Prehistory most of the publications of the CEM, 1044, and Contradiction. I have also distributed separately a number of copies of my Introduction to the Prehistory Section of the Bureau Collection (July 1973).
* * *
Addresses of Notice comrades: [All these addresses are now obsolete.]
Tita Carrión, Robert Cooperstein: P.O. Box 950, Berkeley, CA 94701
Isaac Cronin, Dan Hammer: P.O. Box 14221, San Francisco, CA 94114
Gina Rosenberg, Chris Shutes: P.O. Box 4502, Berkeley, CA 94704
New address of the CRQS:
Centre de Recherche sur la Question Sociale, B.P. 218, 75865 Paris cedex 18, France
* In the pamphlet At Disk: The Situationist Movement in Historical Perspective which appeared just before this journal was going to press two ex-members of the now dissolved Point-Blank devote a large section to a critique of the Knabbists. Their polemic against us maintains their old tradition of specious, infantile critiques, including the attribution to us of numerous positions and motives we have never expressed or had.
From the journal Bureau of Public Secrets #1 (January 1976). Reprinted in Public Secrets: Collected Skirmishes of Ken Knabb. The translation of the Letter From Afar has been slightly modified.