from Guy Debord

To Gerard Lebovici
Tuesday 19 October 1973
Dear Gerard:

I have read Khayati's letter.[1] Assuredly, it is indispensable to response quite roughly to the insolence of dogsbodies [larbins] who want to be threatening. It is almost definite that it is Bastid himself[2] It has his pompous and laughable bad faith, his exaggerated style that wants to be confused with embarrassing truths ("this text must not be made" -- "to allow it to continue its route through many pirate editions").

I thus send you a proposed response [see below] that, I believe, will strike them quite strongly (one must think about the eventuality of a subsequent publication).[3] If you would like to respond on other points, arrange these phrases as you wish to unify the tone. I have placed marks in the margins to indicate the parts that seems to me to be indispensible. But I believe that the whole thing cruelly puts the accent on their principal motivation, the dogmatic establishment of this postulate: "commercial" publishers are equally ignominious, and the fact that they do not appear in it under their true names ("they are too green"), and thus they can write under ignominious pseudonyms and wigs [perruques]. By contrast, the publishers of pirate editions, gloriously called "savages" and thus washed of the taint of the commercial, are destined to keep -- and fake -- the memory (in the minds of six friends and sixty dupes) of their real names from another time. I believe that it is thus indispensable to show that one has understood them completely: and that one knows that all that they have stupidly hoped to keep obscure. These impudent idiots will be dismayed.

I hope that things go well on the side of our more important projects.

Best wishes,

Sir [Mustapha Khayati]:

I have indeed decided to re-publish The Poverty of Student Life without asking for your opinion nor that of its first publisher, the U.N.E.F.[4]

If you were, in complete independance, the only author of this treatise, I would respond to you all the same that it is useless to want to play [Georg] Lukacs when one doesn't even have the notoriety, and when all obscurantist attempts at censorship will always be treated with the same scorn.

But you know that you alone didn't write this text, and especially that you have acted in this affair like the delegate of a certain movement, like one of the students it has influenced in Strasbourg. Your nostalgic pretension is vain, given that this is a document that belongs to history, which is something you make yourself forget.

No one today recognizes in you the least authority to say "this text must not be made," and this was already an authority that you did not have in 1966.

There are "Garnautins"[5] who say that you yourself belong to an "official power" (I.S. #11, p. 30); but they deceive themselves. Today you seem to distinguish, in publishing, between "the official commercial form" and the dissimulated commercial form. You certainly have your reasons for this. One will not be able teach someone who is a Marxist that, in a society of commodities, a critical theory can only enter in wide contact with individuals by passing through the means of an object for sale; and that the "many pirate editions" that you applaud are themselves commercial to the extent of their means. Finally, if you specifically evoke Champ Libre, I console myself in thinking that, since you have proposed to me, but without success, to publish Mr [Raoul] Vaneigem in the collection of your [situationist] friends, you do not judge these editions to be abusively commercial and, in any case, not more so than others. Very probably you know that it isn't for an excess of commercialism that Champ Libre is detested and boycotted by the press and the recuperated-intellectual milieu, in which you have associates and no doubt employers.

One sees what pleases you about "pirate" editions and, for example, in the Dusseldorf "pirate" edition[6] in which you have allowed The Poverty of Study Life to be presented as drafted by "Khayati, Vaneigem and others," while you know better than anyone that, contrary to the accounts of others, Vaneigem didn't write a line of it. And why not, while you are at it, add as author Mr Jean-Pierre Bastid, who -- badly dissimulated by a disguise [une perruque] -- currently works at a literature that would truly like to be salably commercial?

Your letter is of such a ridiculous and dishonest pretension that one believes it must have been written by some Ratgeb or other.[7] You postulate a kind of division of work between, on the one hand, the estimable "pirate" publishers, who will be reserved for distribution to several pseudo-initiates -- or, as in Dusseldorf, for falsification -- of certain critical and revolutionary documents; and, on the other hand, the rest of purely and simply "commercial" publishing, which, symmetrically, will only be the workplace for the more or less shameful subsistance-labor of ex-subversives who have little money. But no one will believe this irreality in order to please you. Your deficiencies are not the general laws of History.

You waste your time enunciating pompuous phrases for which you no longer have the voice. It is comical to see you now identify yourself with "the class consciousness of our era." If someone has something to fear from this consciousness, and its practical means, everything suggests that it is you.[8]


Editions Champ Libre has had the impertinence to re-publish The Poverty of Student Life without paying any attention to the firm protests that have been addressed to it by the most authorized and esteemable people; people who, in Strasbourg as elsewhere, took an eminent part in the contestation movement of 1966 and even a little before that, and who -- one knows, moreover -- never lowered themselves to draw the least renumeration from a commercial publishing house. All those who know the past and present merits of these people will assuredly understand the reasons for their indignation. Their cause is that of those who resemble them.

Actually, unlucky Editions Champ Libre now does not fear to put on sale the celebrated pamphlet of Strasbourg, thus suddenly transforming it into pure and simple merchandise, and by that fact into a counter-revolutionary text. However, one is not unaware, nevertheless, that the obvious destiny of this pamphlet was absolutely free distribution.

The public was warned of this revolting recuperation, perhaps the most notable of the last decade, by a perfectly convincing document that was signed by Mustapha Khayati himself, but which also faithfully expresses the sentiments of several others.

To injure contestation, the bourgeois or the bureaucrats have sometimes insinuated that certain people who represent contestation are not concerned with concrete reality, especially when it embarasses them, and do not believe all that they say, since one most often sees them escape under sophisms that do not even get along well on a single page. One does not know at whom this calumny claims to aim. But the targets are, in any case, those -- and there seem to remain only two -- who do not disguise themselves under Tartuffe's wig, and who quite frankly and honestly expose to the face of the world, when they believe they must take a position on a practical terrain, all that they think and do. They are not satisfied with empty dialectics: they call a spade a spade. And they have perhaps acquired the competence and right to teach those who do not know what a merchant is.

In the current affair, the worst malevolence will be reduced to silence, because rarely has revolutionary theory been founded on a basis so solid and the justness of its practical application will be transparent to the eyes of all. One can not deny that whoever sells something at whatever price, no matter if it is a ton of wheat, a copy of a book or an hour of his time, participates in the commodity system, which is bad. Those who have more to sell than others are the worst: small or large owners of the system of venality. All those who sell or cause to be sold revolutionary texts are nothing other than merchants, in the scientific sense of the term, but are the most perfidious of all and are often even the richest. When the Revolution, which could only will itself beyond this unfortunate system, judged it good to communicate its writings, it confided them completely innocently in pirate editions, and it is in this sense that the pirate edition is not a commodity.

This principle marks, one will agree, a decisive progress in revolutionary critique, a progress that at the same time allows for a greatly needed theoretical simplification: one no longer judges books, only publishers. Is he a merchant? Is he a pirate? Here is the touchstone of use value and the credo of global praxis. A commercial publishing house is guilty, whatever the books published. On the contrary, anything at all can be written in the new innocence of the pirate edition or the partial-pirate. The pirate edition, especially when it can use the techniques of modern reproduction, costs very little: it thus allows proletarians to induldge in their favorite practice without constraints, we would like to say the practice of the subversive gift, by offering up texts for free, notably at the bookshops. It would be good to crown the pirate edition of theory with a theory of the pirate edition. We give it here with the collective modesty that we have had for a long time, and that protects us from all star-making systems [vedettariat]. But as each will recognize our good faith and our coherence, one will also recognize in us the rigorous light that we ourselves have created on the spot.

What is actually more shocking than a worker who strikes so as to self-manage the production of watches, though the watch is essentially the instrument of the measurement of enslaved time? It is obviously a rich play-boy [English in original] who engages in the snobism of using his money to publish critical truths, though money is the essential instrument of the society of the lie. History as well as common sense confirm this for us. Has one ever found an aristocrat who supported the Revolution of 1789, or a bourgeois who financed Bakunin? But the recuperators of our times fear no paradoxes.

Sincere revolutionaries are so well-served by pirate editions that, without regret, they can leave the officially commerical publishing houses to the miserable people who read their books, or even compromise themselves by working under their command; the days when they did not ring the doorbells in vain are still happy!

Has there not been, in truth, something bizarre, shocking or never-seen-before about selling a book that condemns the commodity system? Who then believes in the sincerity of the author's unreasonable convictions? Can one imagine, for example, the Treatise on Living for the Younger Generations[9] distributed by something other than a pirate publisher? One would laugh.

But words are sufficient to support the trampled right: it is necessary to act, and the time has arrived.

Does one know that the same text that Champ Libre sells for 8 Francs has been available for eight months in the good bookshops, and for the price of only 6 Francs, as a pirate edition? This pirate edition is due to the courageous Editions Zoe, in Geneva. All real revolutionaries will make it a duty to buy their copies from them, and so boycott and ruin plutocratic Champ Libre.

Editions Zoe, in Geneva, are pirates since J.-P. Bastid, a collaborator with Mustapha Martens,[10] feared exceeding the honest piracy of Editions Lattes and the Presses de la Cite, or that of the ultra-anarchists of the Super-Black Series, devotes a part of its useful production to it. Editions Champ Libre is completely the opposite, since it has previously refused to publish the astonishing From the Wild-Cat Strike to Generalized Self-Management presented to it by Raoul Ratgeb, which forced this rebel to carry his manuscript to Bourgois 10/18, which published it as a pirate edition. Editions Champ Libre having already been unmasked when it refused the services of Khayati himself, and Vaneigem as well, who proposed to it that, for a reasonable sum, they would quickly compile anthologies of subversive texts from preceding centuries, because it is important to make them known to those who will know how to use them. One sees in these examples -- which are varied but which all, as if by chance, offend the most dignified signatories of the pirate editions and a stock of personalities so related to and so resembling each other in all the metamorphoses of their subversive rigor that it is almost impossible to distinguish one from the others -- how the essentially commercial activity of the detestable Champ Libre is finally unacceptable.

O radical-subjective virtue, you are only a phrase! Can one estimate as nothing the immense personal risks that we have run in the past, our years of trouble and constant work in the service of the revolution, and our long-standing refusal of all concessions? If one neglects us, under the pretext that one doesn't know all of our talents, will one object to us at the moment that they are already known? Is it not enough that the vampires of the mines and the rails suck our blood from morning to night in the factories where they exploit us? It is still necessary to tolerate the fact that a rich man is laughing at us, and scoops the money up, whereas he does not even need it, by delivering Cieszkowski, Anacharsis Cloots and Bruno Rizzi to all of the hyper-markets, to the consuming rabble, which just eats it up!


[1] Translator's note: Letter to Champ Libre, dated 12 October 1976. The context suggests that this letter was either unsigned or "signed" through the use of pseudonyms.

[2] This supposition was subsequently abandoned, although it was in part justified: diverse witnesses had confirmed that the author(s) frequented the milieus of the detective story and the cinema (among others), with whom the film producer Vera Belmont was associated.

[3] In 1978, these exchanged letters would be published in Editions Champ Libre, Correspondance volume I, p. 31-41.

[4] Translator's note: The National Union of French Students, which funded the publication of On the Poverty of Student Life but certainly didn't know, let alone approve of, its contents. Radical students diverted U.N.E.F. funds to the Situationist International, which wrote the text and helped distribute it.

[5] Translator's note: A disparaging nickname for the Strasbourg situationists who were excluded from the Situationist International in early 1967, in part because of their intrigues against Mustapha Khayati. See Guy Debord's letter to the rest of the SI, dated 15 January 1967.

[6] In fact, an edition of The Poverty of Student Life was published by Editions Zoe of Geneva simultaneously and in competition with this one, as would be mentioned in the text Fuck! which was written by Debord in response to a fake -- signed "G. Lebovici, publisher, film producer and impresario" -- that its author(s) inserted into copies of the Champ Libre edition of On the Poverty of Student Life. (See Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol 5: Janvier 1973-Decembre 1978, Librairie Artheme Fayard, 2005, p. 374.)

[7] Translator's note: Yet another of Raoul Vaneigem's pseudonyms.

[8] Translator's note: Click here for the version of this letter that Lebovici used: he hardly changed it.

[9] Translator's note: Famous book by Raoul Vaneigem -- better known as The Revolution of Everyday Life -- that was, in fact, published by Gallimard (a major commercial publishing house) in 1967.

[10] Translator's note: Pseudonym used by Khayati.

(Published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol 5: Janvier 1973-Decembre 1978 by Librairie Artheme Fayard, 2005. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! March 2007. All footnotes by Alice Debord, except where noted.)

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