from Guy Debord

To Gianfranco Sanguinetti
Monday 24 November 1969
Dear Gianfranco,

Several hours after sending off my letter #10 to the prettiest pupil in Milan, Jon[1] arrived here with your letters #8 and #9. Thus we are reassured and very happy with what’s happening in Italy, and particularly with what you yourselves have done. To simplify things a little, I will assemble all the general questions on the Italian section in my response (attached)[2] to Paolo’s letter.[3]

Your poster is magnificent![4] I will translate it into French immediately so that the text can be used in the manner of the “Sino-Russian conflict.”[5]

Transmit to Eduardo[6] the following response to the question he asked me concerning Neuberg’s book L’Insurrection armée. I find it very weak. It is from the adventurist era of the Commintern, that is to say, part of a kind of putschist Zinovievo-Stalinism. Nevertheless, it contains some practical advice (much of it obsolete) and is the only existing [book] on the subject. Moreover, with the shock value of the very title in the current Italian situation, one could believe that its publication by Silva would be, all things considered, quite good. But Eduardo’s preface must be very solid and quite long. It isn’t only a question of presentation from a “technical” point of view, but also and especially this preface must set out theoretically (and precisely critique historically) all that the Commintern was and, beyond that, all of the old organization of the workers in more or less disciplined political parties since the Second International. Thus it will be necessary to critique a half-century of workers organization in which the hour of armed struggle is only a moment. It will be necessary to critique the very actions described by the book itself (for example, in the light of Isaacs,[7] the Commune of Canton). It will also be necessary to discuss the Spanish Civil War and even the Paris Commune. In parallel with [the description and critique of] the military organization of Leninism after Lenin [sans Lénine], it will probably be necessary to evoke the history of the “protection organizations” of the Social-Democratic parties in the same era (the insurrection in Vienna in 1934, [and] the proposition – in Tchakhotine’s The Violation of Crowds by Political Propaganda – that there should be a putsch within the German Social-Democratic Party in 1933 so that the protection forces could take control of the party and launch armed struggle against Hitler, who had come to power). To summarize, it would be a very vast work. Might not armed struggle break out in the streets before Silva publishes an Italian edition?

Now, from the practical point of view: I have this book, published by the French Communist Party (no date, around 1928 or 1929) with a weak preface by the management of the time, which we would suppress, naturally (15 pages). The rest of the book consists of 200 pages, around 3,000 characters per page.[8] That’s the one that Eduardo has read. Viénet[9] must have a photocopy, but it is probably inaccessible at the moment. I can send you the book itself, but it must arrive safe and sound. A book (by Lewis Carroll) sent by Alice[10] to Maria-Cristina[11] has been lost. I believe that in present-day Italy, between the police and the postal workers who have become enraged revolutionaries, one has a strong chance of seeing whatever they find interesting disappear en route.

Therefore, tell me what I should do (at the same time, I’ve asked Christian[12] if he can find Viénet’s photocopy).

The crisis of the American section seriously preoccupies us. We spoke of it at length, Riesel[13] and I, with Jonathan, whose position we approve of fully. Furthermore, Tony[14] raves more and more, and nothing will settle him down. Yet the worst development resides in the growing harshness of Robert and Bruce’s position,[15] which maintains the value of their ultimatum, and seems to want an accord with Jonathan (but on that basis,[16] accord will not be possible), accompanied by Tony’s elimination. Jonathan’s precise responses (for example, on the fundamental fact that he doesn’t at all constitute a tendency in liaison with Tony) and the attempts at “mediation” by Gianfranco, Riesel and myself are absolutely not taken into consideration (except on the question of the obviously fantastic dates of their ultimatum).

The last “circular” (#2, I believe) from the New Yorkers puts things at the point that one can hardly hope any longer that the question will be resolved before Luxembourg.[17] I even believe that the simple fact of limiting the [number of] delegates will already be an intellectual and practical achievement on the part of our delegates. All the same, we must also have the possibility of speaking of other things [as well]! Yesterday Jonathan asked me if it wouldn’t be possible to reunite the entire SI at Luxembourg, so as to know all about the American debate that, unfortunately, remained hidden at Venice![18] I obviously responded that this would be materially impossible. We estimate that three Americans must be present in Luxembourg (four, if Bruce has a position different from that of Robert!), but the other sections must send a single delegate, [each a] bearer of very precise instructions about this affair and also mandated to choose the least-bad solution, in a certain order of preference, among the positions (relatively unforeseeable) that some comrades will take on the spot. Thus, it will be necessary that all the sections from now on study all the “documents” exchanged by the Americans. It will also be necessary that a correspondence between the European sections quickly clarifies a communal position and the variants upon what we can accept. I suggest that you write, in this regard, to the Scandinavians (we will do so, also). I will summarize here, for you, the positions of the French [situationists] at this moment.

We desire that all the comrades remain in the American section on a clarified basis and with more reciprocal trust. We no longer much believe that this will be possible without the pressure of the SI’s other sections, and even with this pressure we are no longer sure that this result can be attained.

If a break intervenes, we believe that the facts will not be contested by anyone in the American section (delay of correspondence, etc.) but the French section would be opposed to Robert and Bruce “on the very foundations” of the debate (cf. article 7 of the “provisional statutes,” to put the matter at the “juristic” level of the New Yorkers). Here is our opinion on the content of the possible exclusions:

1) Without refusing the principle of the ultimatum itself, [its use] in certain very serious cases in which a comrade can be summoned to publicly make clear his position in a short period – [a] materially practicable [period] – we do not believe that the authoritarian style of the ultimatum can be employed, as “a first resort,” with respect to a slight delay of communication, absent a situation that is really dramatic or urgent. We believe (with Jonathan) that the style and the tone of Robert and Bruce constitute an error – itself excusable and to a large part explained by other old or recent errors on the part of their adversaries. It is necessary and it will suffice that this ultimatum is recognized as an error (in the sense that we do not want to accept it as a future rule in our relations) and that we will no longer speak of it (as with the other errors that Jonathan or Tony might recognize [in Robert and Bruce]).

2) We cannot allow the exclusion of comrades for remaining out of contact with their section for three weeks.

3) The exigency of each section sovereignly disposing of the precise location in which one of its members in the SI must be appears to us to be in contradiction with article 3 of the statutes. One must bear in mind the fact that Jonathan was, last week, more useful with you, in Italy, than he could have been in New York at the same moment.

4) We do not refuse to consider that, perhaps, Tony – who perhaps wants to resign? – could be excluded for some of his positions against the SI or for some manifestation of excessive aggressivity, but this can only be envisioned after a precise debate about his case, and absolutely not mixed and amalgamated with this unfortunate affair of the ultimatum.

5) In the circumstances that are currently known to us, we cannot in any fashion accept the exclusion of Jonathan, whatever the consequences.

6) In this affair, we will defend principle and method above any tactical consideration.

Respond to us about this matter.

Best wishes,

[1] Translator: Jonathan Horelick, of the American section of the Situationist International.

[2] Translator: see letter dated 24 November 1969.

[3] Translator: Paolo Salvadori, of the Italian section of the SI.

[4] Avviso al proletariat italiano sulle possibilita presenti della rivoluzione sociale (Internazionale Situazionista, 19 November 1969).

[5] Translator: Guy Debord’s “The Explosion Point of Ideology in China” was first published as a pamphlet and then reprinted several months later as an essay in Internationale Situationniste #11, October 1967.

[6] Translator: Eduardo Rothe, of the Italian section.

[7] Translator: Harold Isaacs, author of The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution, 1925-1927.

[8] Written in the margin: “As far as the ‘level of the language,’ it is easy enough to translate.”

[9] Translator: René Viénet, a member of the French section of the SI.

[10] Translator: Alice Becker-Ho, Guy Debord’s companion.

[11] Companion of Claudio Pavan.

[12] Translator: Christian Sebastiani, a member of the French section.

[13] Translator: René Riesel, a member of the French section.

[14] Translator: Tony Verlaan, a member of the American section.

[15] Translator: Robert Chasse and Bruce Elwell, the other two members of the American section.

[16] Written in the margin: “That is to say, the maintained ultimatum.”

[17] Translator: planned location for the SI’s delegates meeting, scheduled for January 1970.

[18] Translator: the Eighth Conference of the SI, held in Venice, Italy in September 1969.

(Published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol "4": Janvier 1969 - december 1972 by Librairie Artheme Fayard, 2004. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! March 2012. Footnotes by the publisher, except where noted.)

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