reading for 8/7 (and potluck!)

here is the reading. woo hoo!

SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL
SELECTIONS
Theses on Cultural Revolution (1958)
Guy Debord
1. The traditional goal of aesthetics is to produce, by means of art, impressions of
certain past elements of life in circumstances where those elements are lacking or absent,
in such a way that those elements escape the disorder of appearances subject to
the ravages of time. The degree of aesthetic success is thus measured by a beauty that
is inseparable from duration, and that even goes so far as pretensions of eternity. The
goal of the situationists is immediate participation in a passionate abundance of life
by means of deliberately arranged variations of ephemeral moments. The success of
these moments can reside in nothing other than their fleeting effect. The situationists
consider cultural activity in its totality as an experimental method for constructing
everyday life, a method that can and should be continually developed with the extension
of leisure and the withering away of the division of labor (beginning with the division
of artistic labor).
2. Art can cease being a report about sensations and become a direct organization of
more advanced sensations. The point is to produce ourselves rather than things that
enslave us.
3. Mascolo is right in saying (in Le Communisme) that the reduction of the work day
by the dictatorship of the proletariat is “the most certain sign of the latter’s revolutionary
authenticity.” Indeed, “if man is a commodity, if he is treated as a thing, if
human relations are relations of thing to thing, this is because it is possible to buy his
time.” But Mascolo is too quick to conclude that “the time of a man freely employed”
is always well spent, and that “the purchase of time is the sole evil.” There can be no
freely spent time until we possess the modern tools for the construction of everyday
life. The use of such tools will mark the leap from a utopian revolutionary art to an
experimental revolutionary art.
4. An international association of situationists can be seen as a coalition of workers in
an advanced sector of culture, or more precisely as a coalition of all those who de-
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mand the right to work on a project that is obstructed by present social conditions;
hence as an attempt at organizing professional revolutionaries in culture.
5. We are excluded from real control over the vast material powers of our time. The
communist revolution has not yet occurred and we are still living within the confines
of decomposing old cultural superstructures. Henri Lefebvre rightly sees that this
contradiction is at the heart of a specifically modern discordance between the progressive
individual and the world, and he terms the cultural tendency based on this
discordance “revolutionary-romantic.” The inadequacy of Lefebvre’s conception lies
in the fact that he makes the mere expression of this discordance a sufficient criterion
for revolutionary action within culture. Lefebvre abandons in advance any experimentation
involving profound cultural change, contenting himself with mere awareness of
possibilities that are as yet impossible (because they are still too remote), an awareness
that can be expressed in any sort of form within the framework of cultural decomposition.
6. Those who want to supersede the old established order in all its aspects cannot
cling to the disorder of the present, even in the sphere of culture. In culture as in
other areas, it is necessary to struggle without waiting any longer for some concrete
appearance of the moving order of the future. The possibility of this ever-changing
new order, which is already present among us, devalues all expressions within existing
cultural forms. If we are ever to arrive at authentic direct communication (in our
working hypothesis of higher cultural means: the construction of situations), we must
bring about the destruction of all the forms of pseudocommunication. The victory
will go to those who are capable of creating disorder without loving it.
7. In the world of cultural decomposition we can test our strength but never use it.
The practical task of overcoming our discordance with this world, that is, of surmounting
its decomposition by some more advanced constructions, is not romantic.
We will be “revolutionary romantics,” in Lefebvre’s sense, precisely to the degree that
we fail.
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Situationist Theses on Traffic (1959)
Guy Debord
1. A mistake made by all the city planners is to consider the private automobile (and
its by-products, such as the motorcycle) as essentially a means of transportation. In
reality, it is the most notable material symbol of the notion of happiness that developed
capitalism tends to spread throughout the society. The automobile is at the heart
of this general propaganda, both as supreme good of an alienated life and as essential
product of the capitalist market: It is generally being said this year that American economic
prosperity is soon going to depend on the success of the slogan “Two cars per
family.”
2. Commuting time, as Le Corbusier rightly noted, is a surplus labor which correspondingly
reduces the amount of “free” time.
3. We must replace travel as an adjunct to work with travel as a pleasure.
4. To want to redesign architecture to accord with the needs of the present massive
and parasitical existence of private automobiles reflects the most unrealistic misapprehension
of where the real problems lie. Instead, architecture must be transformed
to accord with the whole development of the society, criticizing all the transitory values
linked to obsolete forms of social relationships (in the first rank of which is the
family).
5. Even if, during a transitional period, we temporarily accept a rigid division between
work zones and residence zones, we must at least envisage a third sphere: that of life
itself (the sphere of freedom and leisure — the essence of life). Unitary urbanism acknowledges
no boundaries; it aims to form an integrated human milieu in which separations
such as work/leisure or public/private will finally be dissolved. But before this
is possible, the minimum action of unitary urbanism is to extend the terrain of play to
all desirable constructions. This terrain will be at the level of complexity of an old
city.
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6. It is not a matter of opposing the automobile as an evil in itself. It is its extreme
concentration in the cities that has led to the negation of its function. Urbanism
should certainly not ignore the automobile, but even less should it accept it as a central
theme. It should reckon on gradually phasing it out. In any case, we can envision
the banning of auto traffic from the central areas of certain new complexes, as well as
from a few old cities.
7. Those who believe that the automobile is eternal are not thinking, even from a
strictly technological standpoint, of other future forms of transportation. For example,
certain models of one-man helicopters currently being tested by the US Army will
probably have spread to the general public within twenty years.
8. The breaking up of the dialectic of the human milieu in favor of automobiles (the
projected freeways in Paris will entail the demolition of thousands of houses and
apartments although the housing crisis is continually worsening) masks its irrationality
under pseudopractical justifications. But it is practically necessary only in the context
of a specific social set-up. Those who believe that the particulars of the problem are
permanent want in fact to believe in the permanence of the present society.
9. Revolutionary urbanists will not limit their concern to the circulation of things, or
to the circulation of human beings trapped in a world of things. They will try to break
these topological chains, paving the way with their experiments for a human journey
through authentic life.
Theses on the Paris Commune (1962)
Guy Debord, Attila Kotanyi, Raoul Vaneigem
1. “The classical workers movement must be reexamined without any illusions, particularly
without any illusions regarding its various political and pseudotheoretical
heirs, because all they have inherited is its failure. The apparent successes of this
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movement are actually its fundamental failures (reformism or the establishment of a
state bureaucracy), while its failures (the Paris Commune or the 1934 Asturian revolt)
are its most promising successes so far, for us and for the future” (Internationale
Situationniste #7).
2. The Commune was the biggest festival of the nineteenth century. Underlying the
events of that spring of 1871 one can see the insurgents’ feeling that they had become
the masters of their own history, not so much on the level of “governmental”
politics as on the level of their everyday life. (Consider, for example, the games everyone
played with their weapons: they were in fact playing with power.) It is also in this
sense that Marx should be understood when he says that “the most important social
measure of the Commune was its own existence in acts.”(1)
3. Engels’s remark, “Look at the Paris Commune — that was the dictatorship of the
proletariat,” should be taken seriously in order to reveal what the dictatorship of the
proletariat is not (the various forms of state dictatorship over the proletariat in the
name of the proletariat).
4. It has been easy to make justified criticisms of the Commune’s obvious lack of a
coherent organizational structure. But as the problem of political structures seems far
more complex to us today than the would-be heirs of the Bolshevik-type structure
claim it to be, it is time that we examine the Commune not just as an outmoded example
of revolutionary primitivism, all of whose mistakes can easily be overcome, but
as a positive experiment whose whole truth has yet to be rediscovered and fulfilled.
5. The Commune had no leaders. And this at a time when the idea of the necessity of
leaders was universally accepted in the workers movement. This is the first reason for
its paradoxical successes and failures. The official organizers of the Commune were
incompetent (compared with Marx or Lenin, or even Blanqui). But on the other hand,
the various “irresponsible” acts of that moment are precisely what is needed for the
continuation of the revolutionary movement of our own time (even if the circumstances
restricted almost all those acts to the purely destructive level — the most famous
example being the rebel who, when a suspect bourgeois insisted that he had
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never had anything to do with politics, replied, “That’s precisely why I’m going to kill
you”).
6. The vital importance of the general arming of the people was manifested practically
and symbolically from the beginning to the end of the movement. By and large
the right to impose popular will by force was not surrendered and left to any specialized
detachments. This exemplary autonomy of the armed groups had its unfortunate
flip side in their lack of coordination: at no point in the offensive or defensive struggle
against Versailles did the people’s forces attain military effectiveness. It should be
borne in mind, however, that the Spanish revolution was lost — as, in the final analysis,
was the civil war itself — in the name of such a transformation into a “republican
army.” The contradiction between autonomy and coordination would seem to have
been largely related to the technological level of the period.
7. The Commune represents the only implementation of a revolutionary urbanism to
date — attacking on the spot the petrified signs of the dominant organization of life,
understanding social space in political terms, refusing to accept the innocence of any
monument. Anyone who disparages this attack as some “lumpenproletarian nihilism,”
some “irresponsibility of the pétroleuses,”(2) should specify what he believes to be of
positive value in the present society and worth preserving (it will turn out to be almost
everything). “All space is already occupied by the enemy. . . . Authentic urbanism will
appear when the absence of this occupation is created in certain zones. What we call
construction starts there. It can be clarified by the positive void concept developed by
modern physics” (Basic Program of Unitary Urbanism, Internationale Situationniste
#6).
8. The Paris Commune succumbed less to the force of arms than to the force of
habit. The most scandalous practical example was the refusal to use the cannons to
seize the French National Bank when money was so desperately needed. During the
entire existence of the Commune the bank remained a Versaillese enclave in Paris, defended
by nothing more than a few rifles and the mystique of property and theft. The
other ideological habits proved in every respect equally disastrous (the resurrection of
Jacobinism, the defeatist strategy of barricades in memory of 1848, etc.).
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9. The Commune shows how those who defend the old world always benefit in one
way or another from the complicity of revolutionaries — particularly of those revolutionaries
who merely think about revolution, and who turn out to still think like the
defenders. In this way the old world retains bases (ideology, language, customs, tastes)
among its enemies, and uses them to reconquer the terrain it has lost. (Only the
thought-in-acts natural to the revolutionary proletariat escapes it irrevocably: the Tax
Bureau went up in flames.) The real “fifth column” is in the very minds of revolutionaries.
10. The story of the arsonists who during the final days of the Commune went to destroy
Notre-Dame, only to find it defended by an armed battalion of Commune artists,
is a richly provocative example of direct democracy. It gives an idea of the kind
of problems that will need to be resolved in the perspective of the power of the
councils. Were those artists right to defend a cathedral in the name of eternal aesthetic
values — and in the final analysis, in the name of museum culture — while other
people wanted to express themselves then and there by making this destruction symbolize
their absolute defiance of a society that, in its moment of triumph, was about
to consign their entire lives to silence and oblivion? The artist partisans of the Commune,
acting as specialists, already found themselves in conflict with an extremist
form of struggle against alienation. The Communards must be criticized for not having
dared to answer the totalitarian terror of power with the use of the totality of
their weapons. Everything indicates that the poets who at that moment actually expressed
the Commune’s inherent poetry were simply wiped out. The Commune’s
mass of unaccomplished acts enabled its tentative actions to be turned into “atrocities”
and their memory to be censored. Saint-Just’s remark, “Those who make revolution
half way only dig their own graves,” also explains his own silence.(3)
11. Theoreticians who examine the history of this movement from a divinely omniscient
viewpoint (like that found in classical novels) can easily demonstrate that the
Commune was objectively doomed to failure and could not have been successfully
consummated. They forget that for those who really lived it, the consummation was
already there.
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12. The audacity and inventiveness of the Commune must obviously be measured not
in relation to our time, but in terms of the political, intellectual and moral attitudes of
its own time, in terms of the solidarity of all the common assumptions that it blasted
to pieces. The profound solidarity of presently prevailing assumptions (right and left)
gives us an idea of the inventiveness we can expect of a comparable explosion today.
13. The social war of which the Commune was one episode is still being fought today
(though its superficial conditions have changed considerably). In the task of “making
conscious the unconscious tendencies of the Commune” (Engels), the last word has
yet to be said.
14. For almost twenty years in France the Stalinists and the leftist Christians have
agreed, in memory of their anti-German national front, to stress the element of national
disarray and offended patriotism in the Commune. (According to the current
Stalinist line, “the French people petitioned to be better governed” and were finally
driven to desperate measures by the treachery of the unpatriotic right wing of the
bourgeoisie.) In order to refute this pious nonsense it would suffice to consider the
role played by all the foreigners who came to fight for the Commune. As Marx said,
the Commune was the inevitable battle, the climax of 23 years of struggle in Europe
by “our party.”
[TRANSLATOR’S NOTES]
1. The Marx quotation and the following one by Engels are from The Civil War in France.
2. pétroleuses: Communard women who were rumored (probably falsely) to have burned down
many Parisian buildings during the final days of the Commune by throwing bottles of petroleum.
3. Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just, one of the Jacobin leaders during the French Revolution, was executed
along with Robespierre in 1794.
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The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy
(1965)
August 13-16, 1965, the blacks of Los Angeles revolted. An incident between traffic
police and pedestrians developed into two days of spontaneous riots. Despite increasing
reinforcements, the forces of order were unable to regain control of the streets.
By the third day the blacks had armed themselves by looting accessible gun stores,
enabling them to fire even on police helicopters. It took thousands of police and soldiers,
including an entire infantry division supported by tanks, to confine the riot to
the Watts area, and several more days of street fighting to finally bring it under control.
Stores were massively plundered and many were burned. Official sources listed
32 dead (including 27 blacks), more than 800 wounded and 3000 arrests.
Reactions from all sides were most revealing: a revolutionary event, by bringing existing
problems into the open, provokes its opponents into an inhabitual lucidity. Police
Chief William Parker, for example, rejected all the major black organizations’ offers of
mediation, correctly asserting: “These rioters don’t have any leaders.” Since the blacks
no longer had any leaders, it was the moment of truth for both sides. What did one of
those unemployed leaders, NAACP general secretary Roy Wilkins, have to say? He declared
that the riot “should be put down with all necessary force.” And Los Angeles
Cardinal McIntyre, who protested loudly, did not protest against the violence of the
repression, which one might have supposed the most tactful policy at a time when the
Roman Church is modernizing its image; he denounced “this premeditated revolt
against the rights of one’s neighbor and against respect for law and order,” calling on
Catholics to oppose the looting and “this violence without any apparent justification.”
And all those who went so far as to recognize the “apparent justifications” of the rage
of the Los Angeles blacks (but never the real ones), all the ideologists and “spokesmen”
of the vacuous international Left, deplored the irresponsibility, the disorder, the
looting (especially the fact that arms and alcohol were the first targets) and the 2000
fires with which the blacks lit up their battle and their ball. But who has defended the
Los Angeles rioters in the terms they deserve?
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We will. Let the economists fret over the $27 million lost, and the city planners sigh
over one of their most beautiful supermarkets gone up in smoke, and McIntyre blubber
over his slain deputy sheriff. Let the sociologists bemoan the absurdity and intoxication
of this rebellion. The role of a revolutionary publication is not only to justify
the Los Angeles insurgents, but to help elucidate their perspectives, to explain theoretically
the truth for which such practical action expresses the search.
In Algiers in July 1965, following Boumédienne’s coup d’état, the situationists issued
an Address to the Algerians and to revolutionaries all over the world which interpreted
conditions in Algeria and the rest of the world as a whole. Among other examples
we mentioned the movement of the American blacks, stating that if it could
“assert itself incisively” it would unmask the contradictions of the most advanced
capitalist system. Five weeks later this incisiveness was in the streets. Modern theoretical
criticism of modern society and criticism in acts of the same society already coexist;
still separated but both advancing toward the same realities, both talking about the
same thing. These two critiques are mutually explanatory, and neither can be understood
without the other. Our theory of “survival” and of “the spectacle” is illuminated
and verified by these actions which are so incomprehensible to American false
consciousness. One day these actions will in turn be illuminated by this theory.
Until the Watts explosion, black civil rights demonstrations had been kept by their
leaders within the limits of a legal system that tolerates the most appalling violence on
the part of the police and the racists — as in last March’s march on Montgomery,
Alabama. Even after the latter scandal, a discreet agreement between the federal government,
Governor Wallace and Martin Luther King led the Selma marchers on
March 10 to stand back at the first police warning, in dignity and prayer. The confrontation
expected by the demonstrators was reduced to a mere spectacle of a potential
confrontation. In that moment nonviolence reached the pitiful limit of its courage:
first you expose yourself to the enemy’s blows, then you push your moral nobility to
the point of sparing him the trouble of using any more force. But the main point is
that the civil rights movement only addressed legal problems by legal means. It is logical
to make legal appeals regarding legal questions. What is irrational is to appeal legally
against a blatant illegality as if it was a mere oversight that would be corrected if
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pointed out. It is obvious that the crude and glaring illegality from which blacks still
suffer in many American states has its roots in a socioeconomic contradiction that is
not within the scope of existing laws, and that no future judicial law will be able to get
rid of this contradiction in the face of the more fundamental laws of this society.
What American blacks are really daring to demand is the right to really live, and in the
final analysis this requires nothing less than the total subversion of this society. This
becomes increasingly evident as blacks in their everyday lives find themselves forced
to use increasingly subversive methods. The issue is no longer the condition of
American blacks, but the condition of America, which merely happens to find its first
expression among the blacks. The Watts riot was not a racial conflict: the rioters left
alone the whites who were in their path, attacking only the white policemen, while on
the other hand black solidarity did not extend to black store-owners or even to black
car-drivers. Martin Luther King himself had to admit that the revolt went beyond the
limits of his specialty. Speaking in Paris last October, he said: “This was not a race
riot. It was a class riot.”
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
standards. Like the young delinquents of all the advanced countries, but more
radically because they are part of a class without a future, a sector of the proletariat
unable to believe in any significant chance of integration or promotion, the Los Angeles
blacks take modern capitalist propaganda, its publicity of abundance, literally. They
want to possess now all the objects shown and abstractly accessible, because they want
to use them. In this way they are challenging their exchange-value, the commodity reality
which molds them and marshals them to its own ends, and which has preselected
everything. Through theft and gift they rediscover a use that immediately refutes the
oppressive rationality of the commodity, revealing its relations and even its production
to be arbitrary and unnecessary. The looting of the Watts district was the most
direct realization of the distorted principle: “To each according to their 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
unmet social needs, real desires begin to be expressed in festive celebration,
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in playful self-assertion, in the potlatch of destruction. People who destroy commodities
show their human superiority over commodities. They stop submitting to the arbitrary
forms that distortedly reflect their real needs. The flames of Watts consummated
the system of consumption. The theft of large refrigerators by people with no electricity,
or with their electricity cut off, is the best image of the lie of affluence transformed
into a truth in play. Once it is no longer bought, the commodity lies open to
criticism and alteration, whatever particular form it may take. Only when it is paid for
with money is it respected as an admirable fetish, as a symbol of status within the
world of survival.
Looting is a natural response to the unnatural and inhuman society of commodity
abundance. It instantly undermines the commodity as such, and it also exposes what
the commodity ultimately implies: the army, the police and the other specialized detachments
of the state’s monopoly of armed violence. What is a policeman? He is the
active servant of the commodity, the man in complete submission to the commodity,
whose job is to ensure that a given product of human labor remains a commodity,
with the magical property of having to be paid for, instead of becoming a mere refrigerator
or rifle — a passive, inanimate object, subject to anyone who comes along
to make use of it. In rejecting the humiliation of being subject to police, the blacks
are at the same time rejecting the humiliation of being subject to commodities. The
Watts youth, having no future in market terms, grasped another quality of the present,
and that quality was so incontestable and irresistible that it drew in the whole population
— women, children, and even sociologists who happened to be on the scene.
Bobbi Hollon, a young black sociologist of the neighborhood, had this to say to the
Herald Tribune in October: “Before, people were ashamed to say they came from
Watts. They’d mumble it. Now they say it with pride. Boys who used to go around
with their shirts open to the waist, and who’d have cut you to pieces in half a second,
showed up here every morning at seven o’clock to organize the distribution of food.
Of course, it’s no use pretending that food wasn’t looted. . . . All that Christian blah
has been used too long against blacks. These people could loot for ten years and they
wouldn’t get back half the money those stores have stolen from them over all these
years. . . . Me, I’m only a little black girl.” Bobbi Hollon, who has sworn never to wash
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off the blood that splashed on her sandals during the rioting, adds: “Now the whole
world is watching Watts.”
How do people make history under conditions designed to dissuade them from intervening
in it? Los Angeles blacks are better paid than any others in the United States,
but they are also the most separated from the California superopulence that is
flaunted all around them. Hollywood, the pole of the global spectacle, is right next
door. 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 state but an endless ladder. The
higher they climb, the farther they get from the top, because they start off disadvantaged,
because they are less qualified and thus more numerous among the unemployed,
and finally because the hierarchy that crushes them is not based on economic
buying power alone: they are also treated as inherently inferior in every area of daily
life by the customs and prejudices of a society in which all human power is based on
buying power. Just as the human riches of the American blacks are despised and
treated as criminal, monetary riches will never make them completely acceptable in
America’s alienated society: individual wealth will only make a rich nigger because
blacks as a whole must represent poverty in a society of hierarchized wealth. Every
witness noted the cry proclaiming the global significance of the uprising: “This is a
black revolution and we want the world to know it!” Freedom Now is the password of
all the revolutions of history, but now for the first time the problem is not to overcome
scarcity, but to master material abundance according to new principles. Mastering
abundance is not just changing the way it is shared out, but totally reorienting it.
This is the first step of a vast, all-embracing struggle.
The blacks are not alone in their struggle, because a new proletarian consciousness
(the consciousness that they are not at all the masters of their own activities, of their
own lives) is developing in America among strata which in their rejection of modern
capitalism resemble the blacks. It was, in fact, the first phase of the black struggle
which happened to be the signal for the more general movement of contestation that
is now spreading. In December 1964 the students of Berkeley, harassed for their participation
in the civil rights movement, initiated a strike(1) challenging the functioning
of California’s “multiversity” and ultimately calling into question the entire American
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social system in which they are being programmed to play such a passive role. The
spectacle promptly responded with exposés of widespread student drinking, drug use
and sexual immorality — the same activities for which blacks have long been reproached.
This generation of students has gone on to invent a new form of struggle
against the dominant spectacle, the teach-in, a form taken up October 20 in Great
Britain at the University of Edinburgh during the Rhodesian crisis. This obviously
primitive and imperfect form represents the stage at which people refuse to confine
their discussion of problems within academic limits or fixed time periods; the stage
when they strive to pursue issues to their ultimate consequences and are thus led to
practical activity. The same month tens of thousands of anti-Vietnam war demonstrators
appeared in the streets of Berkeley and New York, their cries echoing those of
the Watts rioters: “Get out of our district and out of Vietnam!” Becoming more radical,
many of the whites are finally going outside the law: “courses” are given on how
to hoodwink army recruiting boards (Le Monde, 19 October 1965) and draft cards are
burned in front of television cameras. In the affluent society disgust is being expressed
for this affluence and for its price. The spectacle is being spat on by an advanced
sector whose autonomous activity denies its values. The classical proletariat, to
the very extent to which it had been provisionally integrated into the capitalist system,
had itself failed to integrate the blacks (several Los Angeles unions refused blacks until
1959); now the blacks are the rallying point for all those who refuse the logic of
this integration into capitalism, which is all that the promise of racial integration
amounts to. Comfort will never be comfortable enough for those who seek what is
not on the market, what in fact the market specifically eliminates. The level attained by
the technology of the most privileged becomes an insult, and one more easily grasped
and resented than is that most fundamental insult: reification. The Los Angeles rebellion
is the first in history to justify itself with the argument that there was no air conditioning
during a heat wave.
The American blacks have their own particular spectacle, their own black newspapers,
magazines and stars, and if they are rejecting it in disgust as a fraud and as an expression
of their humiliation, it is because they see it as a minority spectacle, a mere appendage
of a general spectacle. Recognizing that their own spectacle of desirable consumption
is a colony of the white one enables them to see more quickly through the
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falsehood of the whole economic-cultural spectacle. By wanting to participate really
and immediately in the affluence that is the official value of every American, they are
really demanding the egalitarian actualization of the American spectacle of everyday
life — they are demanding that the half-heavenly, half-earthly values of the spectacle
be put to the test. But it is in the nature of the spectacle that it cannot be actualized
either immediately or equally, not even for the whites. (The blacks in fact function as a
perfect spectacular object-lesson: the threat of falling into such wretchedness spurs
others on in the rat-race.) In taking the capitalist spectacle at its face value, the blacks
are already rejecting the spectacle itself. The spectacle is a drug for slaves. It is designed
not to be taken literally, but to be followed from just out of reach; when this
separation is eliminated, the hoax is revealed. In the United States today the whites are
enslaved to the commodity while the blacks are negating it. The blacks are asking for
more than the whites — this is the core of a problem that has no solution except the
dissolution of the white social system. This is why those whites who want to escape
their own slavery must first of all rally to the black revolt — not, obviously, in racial
solidarity, but in a joint global rejection of the commodity and of the state. The economic
and psychological distance between blacks and whites enables blacks to see
white consumers for what they are, and their justified contempt for whites develops
into a contempt for passive consumers in general. The whites who reject this role
have no chance unless they link their struggle more and more to that of the blacks,
uncovering its most fundamental implications and supporting them all the way. If,
with the radicalization of the struggle, such a convergence is not achieved, black nationalist
tendencies will be reinforced, leading to the futile interethnic antagonism so
characteristic of the old society. Mutual slaughter is the other possible outcome of the
present situation, once resignation is no longer viable.
The attempts to build a separatist or pro-African black nationalism are dreams giving
no answer to the real oppression. The American blacks have no fatherland. They are
in their own country and they are alienated. So are the rest of the population, but the
blacks are aware of it. In this sense they are not the most backward sector of American
society, but the most advanced. They are the negation at work, “the bad side that
makes history by provoking struggles” (The Poverty of Philosophy). Africa has no
special monopoly on that.
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The American blacks are a product of modern industry, just like electronics or advertising
or the cyclotron. And they embody its contradictions. They are the people
whom the spectacle paradise must simultaneously integrate and reject, with the result
that the antagonism between the spectacle and human activity is totally revealed
through them. The spectacle is universal, it pervades the globe just as the commodity
does. But since the world of the commodity is based on class conflict, the commodity
itself is hierarchical. The necessity for the commodity (and hence for the spectacle,
whose role is to inform the commodity world) to be both universal and hierarchical
leads to a universal hierarchization. But because this hierarchization must remain unavowed,
it is expressed in the form of unavowable, because irrational, hierarchical
value judgments in a world of irrational rationalization. It is this hierarchization that
creates racisms everywhere. The British Labour government has come to the point of
restricting nonwhite immigration, while the industrially advanced countries of Europe
are once again becoming racist as they import their subproletariat from the Mediterranean
area, developing a colonial exploitation within their own borders. And if Russia
continues to be anti-Semitic it is because it continues to be a hierarchical society in
which labor must be bought and sold as a commodity. The commodity is constantly
extending its domain and engendering new forms of hierarchy, whether between labor
leader and worker or between two car-owners with artificially distinguished models.
This is the original flaw in commodity rationality, the sickness of bourgeois reason,
a sickness which has been inherited by the bureaucratic class. But the repulsive
absurdity of certain hierarchies, and the fact that the entire commodity world is directed
blindly and automatically to their protection, leads people to see — the moment
they engage in a negating practice — that every hierarchy is absurd.
The rational world produced by the Industrial Revolution has rationally 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 values. Estranged from their own world,
people are everywhere surrounded by strangers. The barbarians are no longer at the
ends of the earth, they are among the general population, made into barbarians by
their forced participation in the worldwide system of hierarchical consumption. The
17
veneer of humanism that camouflages all this is inhuman, it is the negation of human
activities and desires; it is the humanism of the commodity, the solicitous care of the
parasitical commodity for its human host. For those who reduce people to objects,
objects seem to acquire human qualities and truly human manifestations appear as unconscious
“animal behavior.” Thus the chief humanist of Los Angeles, William
Parker, could say: “They started acting like a bunch of monkeys in a zoo.”
When California authorities declared a “state of insurrection,” the insurance companies
recalled that they do not cover risks at that level — they guarantee nothing beyond
survival. The American blacks can rest assured that as long as they keep quiet
they will in most cases be allowed to survive. Capitalism has become sufficiently concentrated
and interlinked with 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 blacks have nothing of their own to insure; their mission is to destroy all
previous forms of private insurance and security. They appear as what they really are:
the irreconcilable enemies, not of the great majority of Americans, but of the alienated
way of life of the entire modern society. The most industrially advanced country
only shows us the road that will be followed everywhere unless the system is overthrown.
Certain black nationalist extremists, to show why they can accept nothing less than a
separate nation, have argued that even if American society someday concedes total
civil and economic equality, it will never, on a personal level, come around to accepting
interracial marriage. That is why this American society itself must disappear — in
America and everywhere else in the world. The end of all racial prejudice, like the end
of so many other prejudices related to sexual inhibitions, can only lie beyond “marriage”
itself, that is, beyond the bourgeois family (which has largely fallen apart among
American blacks) — the bourgeois family which prevails as much in Russia as in the
United States, both as a model of hierarchical relations and as a structure for a stable
inheritance of power (whether in the form of money or of social-bureaucratic status).
It is now often said that American youth, after thirty years of silence, are rising again
as a force of contestation, and that the black revolt is their Spanish Civil War. This
18
time their “Lincoln Brigades” must understand the full significance of the struggle in
which they are engaging and totally support its universal aspects. The Watts “excesses”
are no more a political error in the black revolt than the POUM’s May 1937
armed resistance in Barcelona was a betrayal of the anti-Franco war.(2) A revolt
against the spectacle — even if limited to a single district such as Watts — calls everything
into question because it is a human protest against a dehumanized life, a protest
of real individuals against their separation from a community that could fulfill their
true human and social nature and transcend the spectacle.
[TRANSLATOR’S NOTES]
1. The “Free Speech Movement.” See David Lance Goines’s The Free Speech Movement.
2. Lincoln Brigades: Americans volunteers who went to Spain to fight against Franco during the
Spanish civil war (1936-1939). POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista): Spanish revolutionary
Marxist organization, allied with the anarchists in opposing the machinations of the Stalinists
within the anti-Franco camp. It was largely destroyed by the Stalinists in May 1937 through a series
of repressions, arrests and assassinations.
The concluding sentence (“A revolt against the spectacle . . .”) is a détournement from Marx: “A
social revolution involves the standpoint of the whole — even if it takes place in only one factory
district — because it is a human protest against a dehumanized life, because it proceeds from the
standpoint of the single actual individual, because the community against whose separation from
himself the individual is reacting is the true community of man, true human nature” (Critical Notes
on “The King of Prussia and Social Reform,” 1844).
Minimum Definition of Revolutionary Organizations (1966)
Since the only purpose of a revolutionary organization is the abolition of all existing
classes in a way that does not bring about a new division of society, we consider an
organization to be revolutionary if it consistently and effectively works toward the international
realization of the absolute power of the workers councils, as prefigured in
the experience of the proletarian revolutions of this century.
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Such an organization makes an integral critique of the world, or is nothing. By integral
critique we mean a comprehensive critique of all geographical areas where various
forms of separate socioeconomic powers exist, as well as a comprehensive critique of
all aspects of life.
Such an organization sees the beginning and end of its program in the complete decolonization
of everyday life. It thus aims not at the masses’ self-management of the
existing world, but at its uninterrupted transformation. It embodies the radical critique
of political economy, the supersession of the commodity system and of wage
labor.
Such an organization refuses to reproduce within itself any of the hierarchical conditions
of the dominant world. The only limit to participating in its total democracy is
that each member must have recognized and appropriated the coherence of its critique.
This coherence must be both in the critical theory as such and in the relation
between this theory and practical activity. The organization radically criticizes every
ideology as separate power of ideas and as ideas of separate power. It is thus at the
same time the negation of any remnants of religion, and of the prevailing social spectacle
which, from news media to mass culture, monopolizes communication between
people around their unilateral reception of images of their alienated activity. The organization
dissolves any “revolutionary ideology,” unmasking it as a sign of the failure
of the revolutionary project, as the private property of new specialists of power, as
one more fraudulent representation setting itself above real proletarianized life.
Since the ultimate criterion of the modern revolutionary organization is its comprehensiveness,
such an organization is ultimately a critique of politics. It must explicitly
aim to dissolve itself as a separate organization at its moment of victory.
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Notice to the Civilized
Concerning Generalized Self-Management (1969)
Raoul Vaneigm
“Never sacrifice present good for the good to come. Enjoy the moment. Avoid any
matrimonial or other association that does not satisfy your passions from the very beginning.
Why should you work for the good to come when it will exceed your desires
anyway and you will have in the Combined Order only one displeasure, that of not
being able to double the length of days in order to accommodate the immense range
of enjoyments available to you?” —Charles Fourier, Notice to the Civilized Concerning
the Next Social Metamorphosis
1. Though it failed to go all the way, the May 1968 occupations movement has given
rise to a confused popular awareness of the necessity of a supersession. The imminence
of a total upheaval, felt by everyone, must now discover its practice: the passage
to generalized(1) self-management through the establishment of workers councils.
The point to which the revolutionary upsurge has brought people’s consciousness is
now going to become a point of departure.
2. History is answering the question Lloyd George posed to the workers, a question
which has since been taken up in chorus by all the servants of the old world: “You
want to destroy our social organization, but what will you put in its place?” We know
the answer thanks to the profusion of little Lloyd Georges who advocate the state dictatorship
of a proletariat of their choice, counting on the working class to organize
itself in councils in order to dissolve the existing dictatorship and elect another.
3. Each time the proletariat takes the risk of changing the world it rediscovers its historical
memory. The project of establishing a society of councils — a project until
now intermingled with the history of its crushing in different periods — reveals the
reality of its past possibilities through the possibility of its immediate realization. This
has been made evident to all the workers since May, when Stalinism and its Trotskyist
residues showed by their aggressive weakness their inability to crush a council movement
if one had appeared, and by their force of inertia their ability still to impede the
21
emergence of one. Without really manifesting itself, a movement toward councils was
implicitly present in the clash of two contradictory forces: the internal logic of the
occupations and the repressive logic of the parties and labor unions. Those who still
open their Lenin to find out what is to be done are only rummaging in the trashcan of
history.
4. Many people intuitively rejected any organization not directly emanating from the
proletariat negating itself as proletariat, and this feeling was inseparable from the feeling
that an everyday life without dead time was finally possible. In this sense the notion
of workers councils is the first principle of generalized self-management.
5. May 1968 marked an essential phase in the long revolution: the individual history of
millions of people, each day seeking an authentic life, linking up with the historical
movement of the proletariat in struggle against the whole system of alienations. This
spontaneous unity of action, which was the passional motive power of the occupations
movement, can only develop its theory and practice unitarily. What was in everyone’s
heart is going to be in everyone’s head. Having felt that they “could no longer
live like before, nor even a little better than before,” many people are inclined to prolong
the memory of this exemplary moment of life and the briefly experienced hope
of a great possibility — to prolong them in a line of force which, to become revolutionary,
lacks only a greater lucidity on generalized self-management, i.e. on the historical
construction of free individual relations.
6. Only the proletariat, by negating itself, gives clear shape to the project of generalized
self-management, because it bears that project within itself objectively and subjectively.
This is why the first specifics will come from the unity of its combat in everyday
life and on the front of history; and from the consciousness that all demands
are realizable right away, but only by the proletariat itself. In this sense the importance
of a revolutionary organization will henceforth be measured by its ability to hasten its
own disappearance in the reality of the society of the councils.
7. Workers councils constitute a new type of social organization, through which the
proletariat puts an end to the proletarianization of everyone. Generalized self-
22
management is simply the general framework in accordance with which the councils
unitarily inaugurate a style of life based on ongoing individual and collective liberation.
8. It is clear from all these theses that the project of generalized self-management requires
as many specifics as there are desires in each revolutionary, and as many revolutionaries
as there are people dissatisfied with their everyday life. The spectaclecommodity
society produces both the conditions that repress subjectivity and — contradictorily,
through the refusal it provokes — the positivity of subjectivity; just as the
formation of the councils, similarly arising out of the struggle against overall oppression,
produces the conditions for a permanent realization of subjectivity without any
limits but its own impatience to make history. Thus generalized self-management is
linked to the capacity of the councils to realize the imagination historically.
9. Outside generalized self-management, workers councils lose their sense. Anyone
who speaks of the councils as separate economic or social organisms, anyone who
does not place them at the center of the revolution of everyday life with the practice
this entails, must be treated as a future bureaucrat and thus as a present enemy.
10. One of Fourier’s great merits is to have shown the necessity of creating immediately
— and for us this means from the inception of generalized insurrection — the
objective conditions for individual liberation. For everyone the beginning of the revolutionary
moment must mark an immediate rise in the pleasure of living — a consciously
experienced entry into the totality.
11. The accelerating rate at which reformism, with its tricontinental bellyache, is leaving
behind ridiculous leftist droppings — all those little Maoist, Trotskyist and Guevaraist
dungpiles — proves by its smell what the Right, and especially the socialists
and Stalinists, have long sensed: partial demands are fundamentally contrary to a total
change. But trying to cut off the hydra heads of reformism one by one is futile. Better
to overthrow the old ruse of history once and for all: this would seem to be the final
solution to the problem of coopters. This implies a strategy that sparks the general
conflagration by means of increasingly frequent insurrectional moments; and a tactic
23
of qualitative progression in which inevitably partial actions each entail, as their necessary
and sufficient condition, the liquidation of the world of the commodity. It’s
time to begin the positive sabotage of spectacle-commodity society. As long as our
mass tactics stick to the law of immediate pleasure there will be no need to worry
about the outcome.
12. It is easy to mention here, merely as suggestive examples, a few possibilities which
will quickly be surpassed by the practice of liberated workers: On every occasion —
openly during strikes, more or less clandestinely during work — initiate the reign of
freeness by giving away factory and warehouse goods to friends and revolutionaries,
by making gift objects (radio transmitters, toys, weapons, clothes, ornaments, machines
for various purposes) and by organizing “giveaway” strikes in department
stores; break the laws of exchange and begin the end of wage labor by collectively appropriating
products of work and collectively using machines for personal and revolutionary
purposes; depreciate the function of money by spreading payment strikes
(rent, taxes, installment payments, transportation fares, etc.); encourage everyone’s
creativity by starting up provisioning and production sectors exclusively under workers’
control, even if this can only be done intermittently, while regarding this experimentation
as necessarily groping and subject to improvement; wipe out hierarchies
and the spirit of sacrifice by treating bosses and union bureaucrats as they deserve
and by rejecting militantism; act unitarily everywhere against all separations; draw theory
from every type of practice and vice versa by composing leaflets, posters, songs,
etc.
13. The proletariat has already shown that it knows how to respond to the oppressive
complexity of capitalist and “socialist” states by the simplicity of organization carried
out directly by and for everyone. In our time questions of survival are posed only on
the condition that they never be solved; in contrast, the problems of the history to be
lived are clearly posed through the project of the workers councils — positively in
that the councils are the basis of a unitary passional and industrial society, negatively
in that they imply total opposition to the state.
24
14. Because they exercise no power separate from the decisions of their members, the
councils tolerate no power other than their own. Encouraging antistate actions everywhere
should thus not be understood to imply a premature creation of councils which
would lack absolute power over their own areas, would be separated from generalized
self-management, and would be inevitably emptied of content and susceptible to
every kind of ideology. The only lucid forces that can presently respond to the history
that has been made with the history to be made will be the revolutionary organizations
that are developing, in the project of the councils, an equal awareness of the adversary
to be combatted and the allies to be supported. An important aspect of such a
struggle is manifesting itself before our eyes with the appearance of a dual power. In
factories, offices, streets, houses, barracks and schools a new reality is taking shape:
contempt for bosses, regardless of their labels or their rhetoric. From now on this
contempt must be pushed to its logical conclusion by demonstrating, through the
concerted action of workers, that the bosses are not only contemptible but also useless,
and that even from their own utilitarian point of view they can be eliminated
with impunity.
15. Recent history will soon come to be seen, by rulers as well as revolutionaries, in
terms of an alternative that concerns them both: generalized self-management or insurrectional
chaos; new society of abundance or social disintegration, pillage, terrorism
and repression. The struggle within dual power is already inseparable from such a
choice. Our coherence requires that the paralysis and destruction of all forms of government
not be distinct from the construction of councils. If our adversary has even
the slightest prudence it should realize that only an organization of new everyday relationships
can prevent the spread of what an American police specialist has already
called “our nightmare”: small insurgent commandos bursting out of subway entrances,
shooting from rooftops, taking advantage of the mobility and limitless resources
of urban guerrilla warfare to fell the police, liquidate the servants of authority,
stir up riots and destroy the economy. But we don’t have to save the rulers in spite of
themselves. It will be enough to prepare the councils and ensure their self-defense by
every means. In one of Lope de Vega’s plays some villagers, driven beyond endurance
by the exactions of a royal functionary, put him to death. When they are brought before
the magistrate and charged to name the guilty party, all respond with the name of
25
their village, “Fuenteovejuna.” This tactic, used by many Asturian miners against procompany
engineers, has the drawback of smacking too much of terrorism and the watrinage
tradition.(2) Generalized self-management will be our “Fuenteovejuna.” It is
no longer enough for collective action to discourage repression (imagine the powerlessness
of the forces of order if during an occupations movement bank employees
seized the funds); it must at the same time encourage progression toward a greater
revolutionary coherence. The councils represent order in the face of the decomposition
of the state, whose form is being contested by the rise of regional nationalisms
and whose basic principle is being contested by social demands. To the pseudoproblems
they see posed by this decomposition, the police can respond only by estimating
the number of deaths. Only the councils offer a definitive solution. What prevents
looting? The organization of distribution and the end of the commodity system.
What prevents sabotage of production? The appropriation of the machines by collective
creativity. What prevents explosions of anger and violence? The end of the proletariat
through the collective construction of everyday life. There is no other justification
for our struggle than the immediate satisfaction of this project — than what satisfies
us immediately.
16. Generalized self-management has only one basis, one motive force: the exhilaration
of universal freedom. This is quite enough to enable us right now to infer the
rigor that will be necessary for its elaboration. Such rigor must henceforth characterize
revolutionary councilist organizations; conversely, their practice will already contain
the experience of direct democracy. This will enable us to concretize certain formulas
more rigorously. A principle like “All power to the general assembly,” for example,
also implies that whatever escapes the direct control of the autonomous assembly
will recreate, in mediated forms, all the autonomous varieties of oppression. Through
its representatives, the whole assembly with all its tendencies must be present at the
moment of decision. Even though the destruction of the state rules out a repetition
of the “Supreme Soviet” farce, it is still necessary to take care that organization is
simple enough to preclude the possibility of any neobureaucracy arising. But the
abundance of telecommunications technologies — which might at first sight appear
as a pretext for the continuation or return of specialists — is precisely what makes
possible the constant control of delegates by the base, the immediate confirmation,
26
correction or repudiation of their decisions at all levels. Telex, computers, television,
etc., are thus the inalienable possession of the primary assemblies, making it possible
for those assemblies to be aware of and affect events everywhere. In the composition
of a council (there will no doubt be neighborhood, city, regional and international
councils) it will be a good idea for the assembly to elect and control: an equipping section
for the purpose of collecting requests for supplies, determining the possibilities
of production, and coordinating these two sectors; an information section charged
with keeping in constant touch with the experiences of other councils; a coordination
section whose task it will be (to the extent permitted by the necessities of the struggle)
to enrichen personal relationships, to radicalize the Fourierist project, to take care
of requirements of passional satisfaction, to equip individual desires, to furnish whatever
is necessary for experiments and adventures, to harmonize playful possibilities of
organizing necessary tasks (cleaning, babysitting, education, cooking contests, etc.);
and a self-defense section. Each section is responsible to the full assembly; delegates
regularly meet and report on their activities and are revocable and subject to vertical
and horizontal rotation.(3)
17. The logic of the commodity system, sustained by alienated practice, must be answered
with the practice immediately implied by the social logic of desires. The first
revolutionary measures will necessarily relate to reducing labor time and to the greatest
possible reduction of forced labor. The councils will naturally distinguish between
priority sectors (food, transportation, telecommunications, metallurgy, construction,
clothing, electronics, printing, armament, health care, comfort, and in general whatever
material equipment is necessary for the permanent transformation of historical
conditions); reconversion sectors, whose workers consider that they can detourn them
to revolutionary uses; and parasitical sectors, whose assemblies decide purely and simply
to suppress them. The workers of the eliminated sectors (administration, bureaucratic
agencies, spectacle production, purely commercial industries) will obviously prefer
to put in three or four hours a week at some work they have freely chosen from
among the priority sectors rather than eight hours a day at their old workplace. The
councils will experiment with attractive forms of carrying out necessary tasks, not in
order to hide their unpleasant aspects, but in order to compensate for such unpleasantness
with a playful organization of it, and as far as possible to eliminate such tasks
27
in favor of creativity (in accordance with the principle: “Work no, pleasure yes”). As
the transformation of the world comes to be identical with the construction of life,
necessary labor will disappear in the pleasure of history for itself.
18. To state that the councilist organization of distribution and production prevents
looting and the destruction of machinery and goods is still to remain within a purely
negative, antistate perspective. The councils, as organization of the new society, will
eliminate the element of separation still present in this negativity by means of a collective
politics of desires. Wage labor can be ended the moment the councils are set
up, the moment the “equipment and provisions” section of each council organizes
production and distribution in accordance with the desires of the plenary assembly.
At that point, in tribute to the best Bolshevik prediction, urinals can be made out of
gold and sterling silver, and dubbed “lenins.”(4)
19. Generalized self-management implies the extension of the councils. At first, work
areas will be taken over by the workers concerned, grouped in councils. In order to rid
these first councils of their corporative, guildlike aspect, the workers will as soon as
possible open them to their friends, to people living in the same neighborhood, and to
volunteers coming in from the parasitical sectors, so that they rapidly take the form of
local councils — which might themselves be grouped together in “Communes” of
more or less equal size (perhaps 8000 to 10,000 people?).
20. The internal extension of the councils must be matched by their geographical extension.
It will be necessary to vigilantly maintain the most complete radicality of the
liberated zones, without Fourier’s illusion as to the contageousness of the first communes,
but also without underestimating the seductiveness of any authentic experience
of liberation once the intervening veils of falsification have been swept aside.
The councils’ self-defense thus illustrates the formula: “Armed truth is revolutionary.”
21. Generalized self-management will soon have its own code of possibilities, designed
to liquidate repressive legislation and its millennial domination. Perhaps it will
appear during a period of dual power, before the judicial machinery and the penal system
scum have been annihilated. The new “rights of man” — everyone’s right to live
28
as they please, to build their own house, to participate in all assemblies, to arm themselves,
to live as nomads, to publish what they think (to each his or her own wallnewspaper),
to love without restraints; the right to meet, the right to the material
equipment necessary for the realization of desires, the right to creativity, the right to
the conquest of nature, the end of commodity time, the end of history in itself, the
realization of art and the imagination, etc. — await their antilegislators.
[TRANSLATOR’S NOTES]
1. generalized: The sense is total, unlimited self-management: not the self-management of this or
that sector of the existing system, but self-management extended to every region and every aspect of
life.
2. Watrinage: the practice of assassinating an unpopular boss (from an engineer named Watrin who
was killed by striking French miners at the end of the nineteenth century).
On terrorism, see Guy Debord’s Comments on the Society of the Spectacle; the last half of
Debord’s Preface to the Fourth Italian Edition of “The Society of the Spectacle”; and Gianfranco
Sanguinetti’s On Terrorism and the State.
3. For a more extensive discussion of these issues by Vaneigem, see Total Self-Management.
4. “When we are victorious on a global scale I think we will use gold for the purpose of building
public lavatories in the streets of some of the largest cities. This would be the most ‘just’ and most
educational way of utilizing gold” (Lenin, “The Importance of Gold Now and After the Complete
Victory of Socialism,” on the occasion of Russia’s return to the gold standard in 1921).
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