Interview with an Imbecile
Even worse than the old Observateur, the Nouvel Observateur is a veritable Niagara of stupidity (6,810,000 liters per second). A considerable portion of this flow is produced by two of its editors, Katia Kaupp and Michel Cournot, whose writings could serve as excellent historical documents for the study of the supreme phase of spectacular decomposition. Their combination of stupidity and stylistic vulgarity makes them perfect Jean Nochers of the Left (a Left which adheres to the dominant society as fundamentally as does Jean Nocher, apart from a few details concerning the modernization of this domination). For its launching, however, this magazine called on some guest celebrities. Its opening issue (19 November 1964) presented a five-page interview with a star thinker. We reproduce here a few of his most extraordinary statements. The parenthetical remarks are obviously ours and not those of the Nouvel Observateur flunky who pretends to dialogue with the oracle.
The young people I meet, says the imbecile, are perhaps less hotheaded than in the past, but what I find most striking is that politically they are often at the same point as I am. My point of arrival is their point of departure. . . . And they have a whole lifetime ahead of them to build on the base that is my point of culmination. (The young people who are not at the same point of political degradation would obviously never have been interested in meeting this imbecile. As for those who have the misfortune to be at that point, a hundred successive lifetimes ahead of them would never suffice to build anything on the base of his culmination, which has been revealed from every angle as an intellectual dead end.)
In France the yé-yé phenomenon was used in order to turn the youth into a class of consumers. (A perfect inversion of reality: it is because the youth of the modern capitalist countries has become a very important category of consumers that phenomena of the “yé-yé” sort appear.)
You can only be alluding to Marxist ideology. Today I dont know of any other: current bourgeois ideology is more notable for its absence than for its strength. (Those who have read Marx know that his method is a radical critique of ideologies; but he who has only read Stalin can praise Marxism for having become the best of ideologies, the ideology that has had the strongest police.)
Socialism can be pure only as an idea or, perhaps, much later, if it becomes the regime of all societies. In the meantime its incarnation in a particular country implies that it must develop and define itself through innumerable relations with the rest of the world. In the forging of reality, the purity of the idea becomes tainted. (Here is a Marxist ideologue really ideologizing: ideas are pure in the heavens and become rotten when they are incarnated. Since this thinker is himself real and has affirmed the principle that any realization in the world must entail a fundamental corruption, he implicitly both admits his own degradation in his relations with the rest of the world and justifies it on the grounds of inevitability. From all this we can appreciate his advanced state of decomposition.)
Right after this, the imbecile quotes a Malians statement which he greatly admires: Our socialism is conditioned by the fact that we are a country without any outlet to the sea. (Is it not also somewhat conditioned by the absence of an industrial proletariat in Mali? But this is just a trifling detail in the geopolitics of such a profound thinker!)
To the idea that all the industrial societies have many features in common, the imbecile retorts: To say that, one would have to prove that there is a class struggle in the socialist countries, that is, that the privileges accorded certain people are becoming stratified. Now, this is not at all the case. There are admittedly some very real inequalities; but the money obtained by a factory manager in the USSR cannot be reinvested anywhere: it is spent and cannot be replenished or augmented in his hands to become the basis of a class power. (A basis which lies elsewhere: in the possession of the state. The extra money received by the privileged in the USSR is not the basis of their power, but a clear expression of their power.)
The Soviets are shocked when one seems to believe that among them money can confer power. (Of course, since its the other way around!)
To be sure, these high-ranking functionaries have numerous privileges; but to the very extent that the regime is authoritarian, there is a social instability, intermixing among different strata, demotion of leaders, a constant influx of newcomers from the base to the summit. If any conflicts were to occur in the USSR they would have the aspect of a reformism and not of a revolution. (Thus the very arbitrariness serves to prove that there is no ruling class in the USSR. At this level of insult to ones intelligence, one could just as well argue that the free-enterprise capitalism of Marxs day was also socialist, since its economic laws ruined many industrialists and it sometimes happened that a worker would become a boss; hence the social instability, class intermixing, etc.)
But the idea of a pure imbecile of this dimension would only be a pure idea. Since such an imbecile actually exists, he must also firmly identify with a repressive power. After the armed revolt of the Hungarian proletariat in one of those socialist countries where one would have to prove that class struggles could now exist this same imbecile was so set on defending the interests of the Russian bureaucracy that he took a position to the right of Khrushchev: The most serious mistake was probably Khrushchevs Report [on Stalin], for the solemn public denunciation, the detailed exposure of all the crimes of a sacred personage who has represented the regime for so long, is a folly when such frankness is not made possible by a previous substantial rise in the standard of living of the population. . . . The result was to reveal the truth to masses who were not ready to receive it.
The thinker we have been talking about is Sartre. Anyone who still wants to seriously discuss the value (whether philosophical or political or literary one cant separate the aspects of this hodgepodge) of such a nullity, so puffed up by the various authorities that are so satisfied with him, thereby reveals himself as not worth being taken seriously by those who refuse to renounce the potential consciousness of our time.
Propos dun imbécile originally appeared in Internationale Situationniste #10 (Paris, March 1966). This translation by Ken Knabb is from the Situationist International Anthology (Revised and Expanded Edition, 2006). No copyright.