dimanche 3 juillet 2011

When only the best will do

 We owe our mandate as representative of the proletarian party to nobody but ourselves, but this mandate is countersigned by the exclusive and universal hatred that we have received from all the factions of the old world and all the [political] parties. -- Marx, letter to Engels, 18 May 1859.

The first act of the new revolutionary drama on the European continent has now begun, and with it also begins the old counter-revolutionary melodrama. In France, the proletariat has already obtained a victorious defeat and power [has obtained] a miserable victory; the revolution has penetrated into everyday life and the reaction counts its faithful dogs. The revolutionary proletarian movement, blocked in the first half of the century by the Russian counter-revolution, an after-effect of Social-Democratic regression in the West, and by the fascist reaction of the bourgeoisie, has returned to us in the second-half of the century and announces itself in all the countries.
The process of the reconstruction of the total revolutionary movement cannot be produced without passing through the total dissolution of the separated image that the Communist International movement perpetuated, beyond the false opposition between the defenders of the bureaucracy of Moscow and the adorers of the bureaucracy of Peking. With the opening of the second assault of the revolutionary movement, the reconstruction process must put into order its accounting of its own previous false consciousness and it remains for it to accomplish an absolutely necessary task: the critique of the ideological debris coming from the decomposition of the immense cadaver of the international revolutionary party, a critique that will permit it to consider in a totally disabused manner the hidden history of the present. The critique of ideology is the first condition of all critique;[1] it does not find its end in itself, but in the only possible project of our epoch, of which the realization is in the streets.
Nevertheless, it is necessary to accelerate the process of the decomposition of "Marxism" (workerism and bureaucratism, theoretical under-development and ideology of under-development), so that it cannot maintain itself beyond its explosion point[2] by continuing to put the brakes on the reappearance of a conscious revolutionary practice. It is the task of the new theoreticians of the revolutionary proletariat -- but not them alone -- to not only ridicule the braggarts who form the kernel of the "modern" ideology of the young Marxists and who are, in Italy, welcomed by the public with respect mixed with fright, but to also reveal the circumstances that permit these mediocre and grotesque people to play the heroes. The first task of the new theoreticians will be to unmask the false contestations blemished by miserable ideals, which are the most advanced expression of the stagnant Italian movement and which do not only render it incapable of creating situations, but also producing ideas beyond its sudden and partial awakenings.
There are moments when the quiet friction of the classes grows, but when no one orients themselves toward the revolution; moments in which the past shows all of its impotence, but still retains the power to prevent the appearance of the new. Nevertheless, in no other period do we find a more heterogeneous mix of false professions of revolt and indecision, and real passivity; more illusory declarations of renewal and domination more assured of the old routines; more spectacular struggles between elements in solidarity with the existing world and more profound antagonisms rising from all levels of society. The resurrection of the dead in the struggle serves to parody the old revolutions, not to conceive new ones;[3] to flee their realization, not to take up the tasks that they fixed for themselves; to put into circulation the ghost, not to re-encounter the spirit. The revolutionaries of 1789 dressed themselves like Romans; the neo-Bolshevik militants of 1969 dress themselves like Russians, Chinese or Cubans. As in the bourgeois revolutions, it is necessary to have historical evocations so as to have illusions about the reality of the modern project. In the same way that "the emerging Russian bourgeois accepted Marxism as the ideological support for its struggle against feudalism and the autocracy" (E. Carr The Bolshevik Revolution), the decomposing Western bourgeoisie still accepts "Marxism" as the ideological support for its final attempt to preserve itself from the revolution. History has only to execute the sentence that the bourgeoisie inflicted upon itself by claiming to appropriate Marxism in a separated fashion.
But even in this epoch of doctrinal experiments, time does not pass in vain. To become aware of its content, the social conflict against the modern conditions of survival brings to the surface -- in a single, self-same current -- all of the carrion of the past, which it uses to liberate the terrain. The accelerated change of illusion, which seems to preside over all the attempts of individuals to finally engage themselves on the road that renders all return to the past impossible, little by little dissolves the illusion of change, making the brutal question of real change, the historical question of itself, come to the surface.
Today, unmasking the ideological question of a revolutionary movement that has for too long remained absent from the modern countries, [the question of] the pseudo-revolutionary formations that this epoch has produced, is the first indispensable act in favor of the new movement that announces itself everywhere. All the rest is derisory recuperation of the past by a "Marxist" generation that seeks to sell on the first occasion the last edition of the failed revolution, dressed up as modern revolt. People like Tronti, Bellochio, Masi, Viale, Rieser, Cazzaniga, Piperno, Paolini, Meldolesi, Rostagno, Sofri, and Della Mea.[4] The ideological groanings of the last half-century are only fakes, but the masterpieces of the intelligence of the second rank that dominate the end of this shameful epoch are only worn-out fakes for students, for which they are destined. The real question must remain beyond discussion and the consumption of ideology must, on the contrary, support the ideology of consumption once more. If the impotence of the Left today laments the duty to assist -- after the failure of the classic strategies of the workers movement -- all of their confused and degenerated modernizations, this is because the latter sounded the bell of a revolutionary ideology by carrying its false premises to their ultimate practical consequences. The new solutions are always the least modern. But what is radically modern at first recovers the truth of the old, provisionally repressed proletarian movement. "The current programme rediscovers at a superior level the project of the abolition of classes, access to conscious history, the free construction of life, and it rediscovers the form of the Workers Councils as its means" (Vienet, Enrages and Situationists in the Occupations Movement).[5] We do not doubt that this will be the first basic banality of the liberation movement possible in our time.
The revolution of our epoch can only resume the regular weave of the revolutions of the past. Today, we take up again the indestructible thread of the impersonal dialectic that was interrupted after the first precocious and miscarried experiences of the revolutions untied from the inside. Until today, revolutionary ideology has only changed hands: it is now a question of dissolving it by opposing revolutionary theory to it.
What we say already exists in every head, and it is what existed in suspense in the prehistory of humanity. For the last ten years, the situationists have written books. In one month, the majority of their phrases covered the majority of the walls in Paris. Whatever a man's intelligence, the discoveries of thought are equal for all. "Theory becomes practice when it penetrates into the masses."[6] Whether an objective truth belongs to theory is not a theoretical question, but a practical question. It is only in its revolutionary realization, in the practical critique of the entirety of existing conditions, that it can be understood rationally and becomes true. From ideas to deeds, there is only a step. Actions improve them. Men cannot do any less than bear in mind the truth of what they see, but, to do so, they quickly discover that they must create the practical conditions, that they must thus overthrow existing conditions. The power of thought is truth, but its truth is in its own existence in acts.
At the moment when theoretical critique can reappear in our epoch, and can only count on itself to be diffused in a new practice, one still believes -- and all the conditions are there for one to attempt the blow in Italy -- one can oppose to us the exigencies of practice, when those who speak of them (at the level of methodological delirium) are on all occasions abundantly revealed to be incapable of success in the least practical action. As for us, we are inclined toward anger and revolt. But if the SI is at first a group of theoreticians, this is because we absolutely do not consider it practical to leave the repetitive representations -- which skillful charlatans circulate as if they were new discoveries -- to undertake a situation of general falsification. A theoretician can give words a signification of utility. This is no longer a simple theoretician. An ideologue gives utility to any word. An ideologue is always someone who furnishes useful ideas to the masters. Theory is only the practical concentration of the revolutionary project, as practice is only theory to such a degree of concentration that it conquers its realization. Until now, so-called "theory" has only interpreted the world; it is now a question of transforming it. Until now, practice has only reinforced the existing world; it is now a question of overthrowing it.[7]
Thus, until now, no one has dared to take sides in a radical manner in favor of revolution. We will do so. The old world writhes in convulsions of rage when it discovers that the theoretical ideas of the situationists are intended to take on a use value, that they appear in the streets, and that the real dimension of the conflict that they announce is worldwide, that its challenge is irreducible and that the scandal of its existence is irrecuperable. Everywhere that this conflict appears, it has only elicited democratic litanies that, interpreting the thought of the "nation," deplore irresponsibility and disorder, thus [they deplore] the new customs that inaugurate the beginning of an era;[8] or statements from the Stalinists, degraded in their popular parties, that, "interpreting the thought of the working class," deplore the same things with all the vanity and moderation of their sterile profession. While they confess their terror in this Holy Alliance, it is not only the duty of a revolutionary publication to recognize the reason of revolutionary proletarians, but also to contribute by giving them their reasons, by enriching theoretically the truth for which practical action expresses the search. "Our task consists in a ruthless critique, directed more against our so-called 'friends' than against our declared enemies; and to fulfill it, we willingly renounce cheap democratic popularity."[9]
Our project is the simplest and most radical possible: it is, along with the proletariat's appropriation of its own life (as well as private property and the State dissolved into the absolute power of the [Workers] Councils), the same project of conscious history and [making] people become its absolute protagonists. In this insurrectional era, our programme as an organization is to not neglect anything that serves to unify and radicalize scattered struggles, to federate autonomous groups, communities of individuals in open revolt who practically experiment with the organizational forms of revolutionary proletarians. There is no "presumption" to advance this programme, because the conditions of its realization already exist. We are so lacking presumption that we would like to be known by the proletarians of all countries, [and] rendered useless by the thought of their actions. And we are so lacking vanity that the trust and alliance of ten committed revolutionaries -- making us number eleven -- makes us rejoice and honors us. If we have made a modest contribution to the revolutionary project, we will not be paid for it. Those who write so as to give a project to the revolution want to make the revolution so as to realize what they have projected in their writings. Those who want to be valuable interlocutors must know well that they cannot have inoffensive relations with us. For those who want to be revolutionaries in a coherent fashion, the minimum is to know how to radically separate themselves from the world of separation, how to show by exemplary actions that they distinguish themselves from all that -- existing around them -- belongs to the spectacular disorder of the constituted order and is not its negation. And, for stronger reasons, [to separate themselves] at the moment when the current situation naturally tends to produce the movement of its own negation by the sole fact that it deprives the least scrap of justification to all of the false alternatives that play the role of the last remedy. Those who reproduce and nourish any hierarchy reproduce and nourish the conditions that maintain all of them. It is thus necessary to once and for all annihilate all that could one day destroy our work.
The revolution is radical and gets to the bottom of things; it dissolves "all that exists independently of individuals,"[10] on the outside as well as on the inside. The revolt of the American Blacks, the battles of the Japanese students, the anti-union struggles of Western workers, and the movements of opposition and resistance to the bureaucratic regimes of the East are all indicators of the third revolution against class society, of which we ourselves are a precursor. These facts, which electrify the capitals like a negative current, show that the failed worldwide revolution returns to assault the entire world. In this movement, the SI itself must also disappear, exceeded and reprised in the revolutionary wealth that will be realized in the generalized self-management of society and life. The SI is not the best, since its historical project has taken shape in the very time of modern conditions of alienation. If obviously the SI's relationship with alienation strictly comes down to a direct opposition and consequently has an air of resemblance, this is only because we are really contemporaries. But in the present movement, the SI also prefigures the future of the movement. When all of the internal conditions are fulfilled; when the proletariat has accumulated the energy necessary to realize appropriation, to suppress the division into classes and the classes themselves, and the division of labor and work itself, and to abolish art and philosophy by realizing them in the liberated creativity of life without dead time; when only the best will do, the world will be governed by the greatest aristocracy in history, the unique class in society and the only historic class of masters without slaves. This possibility returns today, perhaps for the first time. But it returns.
[1] Detournement of Karl Marx, "Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right" (1844).
[2] A reference to Guy Debord's essay "The Explosion Point of Ideology in China," Internationale Situationniste #11, October 1967.
[3] Detournement of Karl Marx, 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.
[4] Mario Tronti, Marco Bellocchio, Domenico de Masi, Gianluca Viale, Vittorio Rieser, Gianmario Cazzaniga, Franco Piperno, Pier Paolo Passolini, Claudio Meldolesi, Mauro Rostagno, Adriano Sofri and Luciano Della Mea -- all associated in one way or another with the Italian Communist Party.
[5] Chapter 1: Return of the Social Revolution.
[6] Quotation from Karl Marx, "Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right."
[7] Detournement of Karl Marx, "Theses on Feuerbach."
[8] Note: this text was published in the same issue of Internazionale SituazionistaInternationale Situationniste #12, September 1969. as an Italian translation of an essay entitled "The Beginning of an Era," which was later published in French
[9] Quotation from "Gottfried Kinkel" by Marx and Engels (1850).
[10] Quotation from Karl Marx, The German Ideology.

(Published in Internazionale Situazionista: Journal of the Italian Section of the Situationist International, #1 July 1969. Translated from Italian into French by Joel Gayraud and Luc Mercier, Editions Contre-Moule, June 1988. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! June 2007. All footnotes by NOT BORED!)

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