The Fourth SI Conference in London
The 4th Conference of the Situationist International was held in London, at a secret address in the East End, 24-28 September 1960, seventeen months after the Munich Conference (April 1959). The situationists assembled in London were: Debord, Jacqueline de Jong, Jorn, Kotányi, Katja Lindell, Jörgen Nash, Prem, Sturm, Maurice Wyckaert and H.P. Zimmer. [...]
The discussion of these perspectives leads to posing the question: To what extent is the SI a political movement? Various responses state that the SI is political, but not in the ordinary sense. The discussion becomes somewhat confused. Debord proposes, in order to clearly bring out the opinion of the Conference, that each person respond in writing to a questionnaire asking if he considers that there are forces in the society that the SI can count on? What forces? Under what conditions? This questionnaire is agreed upon and filled out. The first responses express the view that the purpose of the SI is to establish a program of general liberation and to act in accord with other forces on a social scale. (Kotányi: To rely on what we call free. Jorn: We are against specialization and rationalization, but not against them as means. . . . Movements of social groups are determined by the character of their desires. We can accept other social movements only to the extent that they are moving in our direction. We are the new revolution . . . we should act with other organizations that seek the same path.) The session is then adjourned.
At the beginning of the second session, on September 26, Heimrad Prem reads a declaration of the German section in response to the questionnaire. This very long declaration attacks the tendency in the responses read the day before to count on the existence of a revolutionary proletariat, for the signers strongly doubt the revolutionary capacities of the workers against the bureaucratic institutions that have dominated their movement. The German section considers that the SI should prepare to realize its program on its own by mobilizing avant-garde artists, who are placed by the present society in intolerable conditions and can count only on themselves to take over the weapons of conditioning. Debord responds with a sharp critique of these positions.
An evening session resumes discussion of the German declaration. Nash speaks against it, asserting the capacity of the SI to act directly on the terrain of social and political organizations, and advocating the systematic infiltration of clandestine situationist elements wherever they might prove useful. Nash’s statement is approved in principle by everyone, with minor reservations. But the debate on the German positions continues, brought back to its central core: the hypothesis of contented workers. Kotányi reminds the German delegates that even if since 1945 they have seen apparently passive and satisfied workers in Germany and legal strikes organized with music to divert union members, in other advanced capitalist countries “wildcat” strikes have multiplied. He adds that in his opinion they vastly underestimate the German workers themselves. Jorn responds to Prem, who had made a distinction between spiritual and material questions, that it is necessary to put an end to this distinction, that “material values must reacquire a spiritual significance and that spiritual capacities must be valued only insofar as they are materially realized; or to put it in other terms, that the world must become artistic in the sense defined by the SI.” Jacqueline de Jong asks that in order to simplify the discussion, which has become obscure in addition to being complicated by certain translations (the dominant language of the Conference being German), each member declare whether or not he approves of Jorn’s statement. Everyone agrees with it. Debord then proposes that the majority openly declare that it rejects the German theses. It is agreed that the two tendencies will separately decide on their positions. The German minority withdraws to an adjoining room to deliberate. When they return Zimmer announces, in the name of his group, that they retract the preceding declaration, not because they think it unimportant, but in order not to obstruct current situationist activity. He concludes: “We declare that we are in complete agreement with all the acts already done by the SI, with or without us, and with those that will be done in the foreseeable future. We are also in agreement with all the ideas published by the SI. We consider the question debated today as secondary in relation to the SI’s overall development, and propose to reserve further discussion of it for the future.” Everyone agrees to this. Kotányi and Debord, however, ask that it be noted in the minutes that they do not consider the question discussed today to be secondary. The German situationists agree to delete their reference to it as such. The session is adjourned, very late at night. [...]
La quatrième conférence de lI.S. à Londres originally appeared in Internationale Situationniste #5 (Paris, December 1960). This translation by Ken Knabb is from the Situationist International Anthology (Revised and Expanded Edition, 2006). No copyright.