from Guy Debord

To Yvon Chotard[1]
28 February [19]69
Dear Yvon:

It is quite possible that, at the end of the day, Edgar[2] wants to proclaim victory because of his electoral results, although the reality of the lesson this year should make him cry instead. But we are in agreement that the most important point – to maintain our judgment of the “student milieu”[3] – is that the majority of the boycotters are no doubt composed of respectful and conformist students who, subjected to a new style of pressure, do not want to openly play their roles as respectful students.

As for “public opinion,” the only decisive aspect would be knowing what the workers think of the unions: one can’t count on the polls of the I.F.O.P.[4] to clarify this for us.

On the university terrain, it is true that the yes-men[5] elected for participation are beginning to create problems and could be a new subject of concern for Edgar. It is amusing to read Aron[6] in Le Figaro these days. He expresses the dominant class’s point of view marvelously: one can totally sacrifice the teaching of philosophy-sociology, etc. and three-quarters of the students of languages, provided that the large schools and the scientific and medical disciplines continue, and especially [provided] that secondary education continues to be assured. It is obviously here that one reaches the decisive point in the question of the relations between the functioning of the university and that of society. Paralysis of secondary education is, in the mid-term, incompatible with the advanced economy.

In Paris, there are explosions in all the groupuscules; particularly ravaged are the J.R.C.[7] and their A[ction] C[ommittee] cattle. Those who would normally benefit from this (as militants) are the A.J.S.[8] for the most serious and the Maoism for the stupidest. But the Maoists are themselves decomposing into five or six different shades, including “black Maoists” who are anarchizing themselves and have their own delirious conception of the anti-bureaucratic cultural revolution.

The “Coquillards” group has also exploded, that cretin Delaporte[9] having made a lugubrious parody of the style of the SI (which manages to recall the “Garnautins”[10] – I will return to this). He reproaches Rougyf[11] with “speaking” to people who are at a lower level of coherence than them! And then, right away, he reproached Rougyf himself for being inferior to this coherence, which no one has seen at work, [and] for being an activist, etc. Moreover, this idiot would like our blessing: we have written to him to tell him that he can fuck himself.

I think that, if your group in Nantes re-forms itself on a more precise platform, this would not, for all that, be exactly “on the bases of the old Tocsin.”[12] This group had an anarcho-syndicalist aspect that you have certainly surpassed, along with ideology in general.

Your Address to the A.C. is, to my knowledge, the best text published at the moment by a current of the movement issued from May [1968]. Perhaps in the near future you might envision a text that more explicitly proposes a regrouping of the actually radical groups that exist in France (without pushing things). Nantes could have a very important role because of its justly founded “prestige,” which is evoked in the premabule to your text. This role supposes that you have a perfectly autonomous, limited group that doesn’t have too many internal problems. By “autonomous” I mean a group that doesn’t carry the responsibility of all that the students of Nantes can do, obviously.

Obviously, one must also surmount “paralyzing self-critique.” The problem is being more than militant and not less than that (all by rejecting the entirety of the idiotic traits of militantism, which are easy to spot).

Here is the exact quotation from Marx (which was published in I.S. #8).

Our mandate as representative of the proletarian party comes from ourselves, but it is co-signed by the exclusive and general hatred that all the factions of the old world and all the parties have shown us.” Marx, letter to Engles, 18 May 1859.

(Here Marx is communicating to Engels what he said in response, to workers, I believe, to reveal the type of informal, historic party that he believed he composed, along with several friends, in the name of their critical positions, and not in the name of recruitment, the results of which would make them the elected or the leaders, the “ones responsible.” This is between the explosion of the League of Communists at the beginning of the 50s and his adhesion to the International that was organized in 1864.)

Apropos of the SI: it is true that there is an unfortunate “situ myth” – the opposite of a medal, I suppose – concerning the fortunate results that we have obtained, and concerning the new (and thus slightly strange) style that appeared necessary to us to advance along this route. It had . . .

It seems to me that the problem is essentially on this point: one can hardly deny that we have done good work. This unleashes a kind of unhealthy envy, not only among the supporters of the old repetitive groupuscules (including the anarchists), but also among all those who haven’t adopted such a radical attitude in theoretical critique and practical conduct. On the other hand, those who today believe that it is possible to abstractly adopt such an attitude will be frustrated at not having been there, or not being enthusiastically “recognized” by us as being indistinct from us.

But in fact the problems of today are new, and the current manner of being “at the high level” of the “glorious” SI – for others and also for the situs today – this can only be experimenting with and discovering the most advanced responses for a more advanced moment.

Emotionally, one especially reproaches us for not recruiting more people. But isn’t it obvious that we would become a hierarchical group (effective or not is a subordinate question with respect to the question of method) by accepting all the abstract “admirers”? This was true in the years before May, and it would be even worse today.

One reproaches us for the exclusions. One must take into account the fact that we avoided 100 or 200 exclusions simply by being skeptical about the people who declared themselves in agreement. Of course, it is equally possible, in this sad perspective, that there would have been fewer exclusions, quite simply because the meaning[13] of the SI had to change. Those who “imposed” views (the crude results of which are now known by everyone in the new revolutionary movement) would have had to disappear and the SI would have become some kind of groupuscule.

The other resounding aspect of the exclusions quite simply comes from the fact that we have had an activity that isn’t stripped of importance. Non-negligible results were in play each time. Meanwhile, any split in the Noir et Rouge group, or even in Socialisme ou Barbarie, has left everyone perfectly indifferent. I say “split” because these people, soliciting whatever they can, and hardly posing real problems through their non-practice, do not exclude [members]. If any kind of fuckery is permitted and is, furthermore, harmless, and if nothing good or bad can come of it, then why would they need the luxury of excluding someone? This is what the “connoisseurs” of the old leftism principally reproach us for (I pass over all the calumnies purely deprived of basis, of style: “They have made some money; thus, they are rich people”). But, after all, we have done nothing to become popular in the student or leftist milieus. And, if we are popular at present, this can only be in a “jarring” form that we do not feign [affecte]. Since we didn’t take such a goal into consideration at the start, we remain the same after “arriving” there.

This said, it is obvious that there are a good number of real problems, more difficult to define, alas, in the functioning of the SI, and especially concerning those who do or do not participate in it.

Henceforth, all these problems will get bigger, because the revolutionary movement begins to come into existence, which can both complicate these problems and provide the means of resolving them.

Until now, the SI has been a kind of revolutionary pre-organization, and this existence, as I said in my text from April,[14] has been rather successful, despite its obvious faults. The SI’s next era is problematic, and finally will depend on the results that the entirety of the new movement will know how to obtain (it is no longer necessary to exaggerate the consciousness and liaison-building of the new movement). I also believe that you are right on this point: finally, we have had “too great a flexibility” by still admitting too many people who proclaim themselves in agreement on things that are too difficult (not only theory). All that I can say is that we have been unable to do better, and I do not know if a more rigorous preliminary control would have been “sure.” But the “situ myth” of which we speak has no doubt done more damage inside the SI than outside of it. Some people have slipped into it with quasi-mystical hopes; the label has intoxicated them; and even the beginnings of an ideology of “the excellence of the situs” has had a tendency to constitute itself, rendering the “duplicitous morons” completely repugnant, and bringing several honest situs to optimism, which is somewhat indifferent to reality.

Nevertheless, among the people whom we meet, there were – they are still – very few individuals even capable of giving the impression that they might truly get involved in the activity that we have defined.

Here I open a parenthesis (useless, I think, but done to clarify) to avoid any obscurity in what concerns you, since the supposed pride of belonging to the SI creates smoke everywhere: it is quite obvious that you, as an individual whom we have seen at work, would be immediately welcomed in the SI [and] with unanimous satisfaction. But it is also quite sure that we refrain from infiltrating or controlling groups by speaking with their best participants.

Apropos of the exclusion of the Garnautins, I think that you have read poorly or, rather, have forgotten the texts on this affair: it was precisely a question of lies and serious breaches (conspiracy to have [Mustapha] Kyahati excluded on the basis of false testimony), and it was to this objective discovery that we added the explication that there was a personal debility among those individuals (their debility was certainly not of theoretical origin, nor was it founded on ignorance of our theses and those of revolutionaries of the past, but, above all, it existed in their “private” lives and, occasionally, in their lack of collective practical activity with us, for which an apparent chance had existed their entire first year in the SI). Naturally, after coming to that point, they became stupid in their theorizing, too, because the ambitious lie is always a poor basis for any effort of intellectual formulation.

My text from April [1968] was intended for a discussion that May [1968] immediately interrupted. Reprised in October, it unanimously led to the conclusion that subsequent events had confirmed in practice the essential [aspects] of my perspective. I would also admit that, in May, the SI had begun to positively respond to the problem that I’d raised (to be effective in the next stage that was approaching, or disappear). Thus, it will be a question of continuing, while the terrain of action always gets richer.

The only point discussed (by [Raoul] Vaneigem) concerned the right to [form] tendencies. It was adopted.

In fact, there were all sorts of tendencies (known and open) in the first years of the SI. Around 1962-63, we reached a certain coherence in [our] theory, which is also obvious. This result, accompanied by a quite weak dose of real, practical problems, and especially new problems that a developed practical action poses at every instant (there’s also the fact that the functioning of a very small group of people who are in agreement with each other can often have the air of [running] “on its own”), produced a milieu that was favorable for a kind of ideology of coherence. The stupidest or most repressed always risked being the most “radical” of its carriers. Vaneigem does not share this conformism:[15] he isn’t opposed to tendencies; he declares himself unable to imagine that they could truly place themselves on our general bases. Let’s say that the others estimate less than Vaneigem that, in its method, the SI already implies a perfection of its development. Any experience with practice shows that there are many possible debates, and that it is sterilizing to pretend to surpass them in advance, or resolve them through a terroristic unanimity.

I believe that, this time, this letter is long enough. It is true that it is much better to discuss complicated questions face to face.

Best wishes,

P.S. As for Coco,[16] think what you want of his subjectivity: you know it better than I. We believe that an individual who is so fake, who has a dirty history, and who has admitted that he agreed to inform for the police, must be considered to be in the hands of the police, whatever he believes he wants to do. In Italy, he said he’s been associated with the SI for years and had worked on the book[17] in Brussels.

[1] Yvon Chotard, anarcho-syndicalist student from Nantes, [central] member of the Tocsin group.

[2] Edgar Faure, Minister of National Education.

[3] Translator: cf. On the Poverty of Student Life, 1966.

[4] Institut francais d’opinion publique.

[5] Translator: the French here, béni-oui-oui, literally refers to the Muslim “Sons of Yes-Yes” who were selected by the French to rule in Algeria.

[6] Raymond Aron, editorialist for Le Figaro.

[7] Jeunesse communiste révolutionnaire.

[8] Alliance des jeunes pour le socialisme.

[9] A member of the C.M.D.O. [the Council for Maintaining the Occupations] in 1968.

[10] Translator: Theo Frey, Herbert Holl and Jean Garnault – aka the “Garnautins” – were excluded in January 1967.

[11] A member of the C.M.D.O. in 1968.

[12] Tocsin was formed around Yvon Chotard.

[13] Translator: the French here, le sens, can mean either “the meaning” or “the direction.”

[14] “The Question of Organization for the SI” (I.S. #12, pp. 112-113).

[15] Guy Debord would change his mind about Vaneigem by November 1970, when the latter resigned from the SI in response to a tendency formed by Debord, Riesel and Vienet.

[16] Cf. letter dated 7 February 1969.

[17] Enragés and Situationists in the Occupations Movement, Gallimard, 1968.

(Published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol "0": Septembre 1951 - Juillet 1957: Complete des "lettres retrouvees" et d l'index general des noms cites by Librairie Artheme Fayard, October 2010. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! April 2011. Footnotes by the publisher, except where noted.)

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