Translator's foreword to Michel Bounan's
"The Logic of Terrorism"

Michel Bounan's Logique du terrorisme was originally published in August 2003 by Editions Allia, a small independent publisher based in Paris, France. Born in 1942, Bounan eventually became a homeopathic physician. A reader of situationist publications since the late 1960s, he began writing and publishing books twenty years later. In 1989, he was introduced to Guy Debord, with whom he met and corresponded until 1993. To date, Bounan has published eight books, all of them by Allia. Not counting Logique du terrorisme, we have translated two of them: Incitation a l'autodefense (1995), which is a response to the way his first book, Le Temps du sida (1990), was reviewed and rejected, and The Crafty State (1992), which was Bounan's introduction to a new edition of Maurice Joly's Dialogue in Hell between Montesquieu and Machiavelli. We have also translated one of the appendices to Bounan's L'Art de Celine et son temps (1997).

In Logique du terrorisme, Bounan returns to the critique of "spectacular" terrorism begun by Gianfranco Sanquinetti, who, like Debord, had once been a member of the Situationist International. To begin On Terrorism and the State, which was first published in Italian in 1979 and translated into French in 1980, Sanguinetti declared:

All acts of terrorism, all the outrages which have struck and which strike the imagination of men, have been and are either offensive actions or defensive actions. If they form part of an offensive strategy, experience has shown for a long time that they are always doomed to fail. If, on the other hand, they form part of a defensive strategy, experience shows that these acts can expect some success, which, however, is only momentary and precarious. The attempts of the Palestinians and the Irish, for instance, are offensive acts of terrorism; on the other hand the Piazza Fontana bomb and the kidnapping of Moro, for instance, are defensive acts.

However, it is not only the strategy which changes, according to whether it is a matter of offensive or defensive terrorism, but also the strategists. The desperate and the deluded resort to offensive terrorism; on the other hand, it is always and only States which resort to defensive terrorism, either because they are deep in some grave social crisis, like the Italian State, or else because they fear one, like the German State.

The defensive terrorism of States is practised by them either directly or indirectly, either with their own arms or with others. If States resort to direct terrorism, this must be directed at the population -- as happened, for instance, with the massacre of the Piazza Fontana, that of the Italicus and with that of Brescia. If, however, States decide to resort to indirect terrorism, this must be apparently directed against themselves -- as happened, for instance, in the Moro affair.

For Sanguinetti, there is either offensive terrorism, which is practiced by the PLO, the IRA and other "desperate and deluded" organizations, and "always doomed to fail," or defensive terrorism, which is "always and only" practiced by the State, can either be direct (against its own citizens) or indirect (against its own cadres), and can "expect some success, which, however, is only momentary and precarious." Apparently there can be no third possibilities, and in both cases, the State wins: the terrorism of its adversaries always fails, while its own terrorism can "expect" momentary successes (tactical, not strategic, victories).

Though this analysis is quite useful -- it certainly shows that the apparently unbeatable State is weak to the extent it cannot and, indeed, must not let its terrorism (a short-term tactic) become a long-term strategy -- it also appears to suggest that no armed struggle of any kind should be undertaken by genuine enemies of the State: there is no armed struggle that is not or does not quickly become "military" (Statist) in organization and thus offensive terrorism. And so several questions remain unanswered: without "resorting" to armed struggle, how do genuine revolutionaries make use of the State's weakness(es)? isn't it obvious that some forms of armed struggle are not (necessarily) instances of terrorism? And what about warfare, properly speaking? If war is a "legitimate" attack on an enemy's military forces or installations, and terrorism is an "illegitimate" attack on civilian populations, doesn't the former need to be defined and considered at some length here?

Guy Debord certainly liked parts of Sanguinetti's book on terrorism, which was begun in early 1978. On 21 April 1978, Debord wrote Sanguinetti to tell him he should try to finish his manuscript and get the book published as soon as possible, that is, while the Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro -- apparently kidnapped by the Red Brigades, but obviously a victim of indirect defensive terrorism -- was still alive. But Sanguinetti hesitated. As late as 29 August 1978, he still wasn't sure if the Red Brigades were "authentic" Leftists or a decapitated organization teleguided by the Italian secret security forces. He finally decided it was the latter, and brought out On Terrorism in March 1979, but it was too late by then: Moro was already dead, murdered under highly suspicious circumstances. The moment when the truth would have mattered -- the moment of truth -- had passed. Debord never communicated with Sanguinetti again.

Timely or not, Sanguinetti's book was too dependent, stylistically, upon his previous one, The Veritable Report on the Last Chances to Save Capitalism in Italy. (Written in 1975 in close collaboration with Debord, Sanguinetti's The Veritable Report -- originally attributed to "Censor" -- was an expose and denunciation of the bombing of the Fontana Piazza and other direct defensive terrorist attacks carried out in Italy between 1969 and 1974.) In a letter to Paolo Salvadori dated 12 November 1978, Debord wrote:

I have read Gianfranco's [new] manuscript. Although there are several good pages and a generally acceptable intention, and certainly courage (if this is to be published soon in Italy [hic]), it is necessary to say that the book, when considered as a whole, constitutes an irreparable and monstrous disaster. Everything is lacking: in the strategy of the discourse, in the "literary" construction of the text as a whole, in its very style, which is at once maladroit and pretentious in the extreme, in the figure that the author puts forth everywhere and that succeeds in being vividly antipathetical and, at the same time, completely ridiculous. To summarize the fundamental error of the author, one can say that he has, so as to surpass "Censor," stupidly reprised this glorious personal, with all of his idiosyncratic expressions, but debased because he has passed over to the side of the proletarians, with the result that the discourse takes on an aspect that evokes the beards of the old, autodidactic, anarchists of the end of the 19th century.

Debord himself would discuss the Aldo Moro affair at some length in his Preface to the fourth Italian edition of The Society of the Spectacle, which was written between 3 July 1978 and 7 February 1979, and published by Editions Champ Libre in March 1979. But the Preface didn't offer a sustained analysis or critique of what its author called "the spectacular politics of terrorism": he simply noted its existence and its current deployment in Italy.

Three years after his "break" with Sanguinetti, Debord continued to insist that his Preface remain separate from On Terrorism and the State. In a letter to Jaap Kloosterman (a Dutch publisher) dated 3 February 1981, Debord explained:

I cannot at all accept the publication of my Preface in the same book as Gianfranco Sanguinetti's Terrorism. I think it's a very good thing to publish Terrorism, which is completely accurate on its central question and is full of valuable arguments concerning it. It is [however] extremely deficient theoretically, and its pretentious tone is most disagreeable, when he has the insolence to treat -- and reduce to a ridiculous schemata -- the historical and strategic question of armed struggle in general and the particular case of all terrorism as it has existed in many diverse forms throughout history.

In 1988, almost ten years after the belated first publication of Sanguinetti's On Terrorism and the State, Debord published his Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, which included his most extensive comments on terrorism to date. In Chapter IX, Debord states:

This perfect democracy fabricates its own inconceivable enemy, terrorism. It wants, actually, to be judged by its enemies rather than by its results. The history of terrorism is written by the State and it is thus instructive. The spectating populations must certainly never know everything about terrorism, but they must always know enough to convince them that, compared with terrorism, everything else seems rather acceptable, in any case more rational and democratic [...]

One can remark that interpretations of the mysteries of terrorism appear to have introduced a symmetry between contradictory views, as if there were two schools of philosophy professing absolutely incompatible metaphysical systems. Some would see terrorism as only several blatant manipulations by the secret services; others, on the contrary, estimate that it is only necessary to reproach the terrorists for their total lack of historical understanding. The use of a little historical logic permits us to quite quickly conclude that there is nothing contradictory in recognizing that people who lack all historical sense can easily be manipulated; even more easily than others. It is much easier to lead someone to 'repent' when it can be shown that everything he thought he did freely was actually known in advance. It is an inevitable effect of clandestine forms of organization of the military type that it suffices to infiltrate a few people at certain points of the network to make many march and fall. Critique, when evaluating armed struggles, must sometimes analyze one of these particular operations without being led astray by the general resemblance that all will possibly share [...].

Debord insists on the primacy of what Sanguinetti would have called defensive terrorism. Fabricated by the State to suit the State's purposes, this "spectacular terrorism" is the perfect enemy for the "spectacular democracy" that, ever since the decline and eventual collapse of Soviet Communism in the 1980s, has tried to conquer and rule the Western world as if there are no longer any alternatives to its hegemony. But Debord is quick to condemn Sanguinetti's misunderstandings and dismissals of offensive terrorism: "Some would see terrorism as only several blatant manipulations by the secret services; others, on the contrary, estimate that it is only necessary to reproach the terrorists for their total lack of historical understanding." It remains quite possible, Debord is implying, that legitimate armed struggle can be fought without becoming terrorism. A general theory won't do: we need to evaluate things on a case-by-case basis: "Critique, when evaluating armed struggles, must sometimes analyze one of these particular operations without being led astray by the general resemblance that all will possibly share." Debord even provides a few admirable examples of practitioners of non-terroristic armed struggle: Auguste Blanqui, Eugene Varlin, and Buenaventura Durruti.

Because it includes many illustrations or examples of spectacular society at the end of the 1980s, Debord's Comments almost inevitably includes a gloss on the Mafia. In Chapter XXIV, Debord reports:

When it began to manifest itself at the beginning of the century in the United States, with the immigration of Sicilian workers, the Mafia was only a transplanted archaism; at the same time, there appeared on the West Coast the gang wars between Chinese secret societies. Founded on obscurantism and poverty, the Mafia at that time was not even able to implant itself in Northern Italy. It seemed condemned to vanish before the modern State. It was a form of organized crime that could only prosper through the 'protection' of backward minorities, outside the world of the towns, where the laws of the bourgeoisie and the control of a rational police force could not penetrate. The defensive tactics of the Mafia could only suppress witnesses, neutralize the police and judiciary, and install as ruler in its sphere of activity the secret that is necessary to it [...]

Prohibition in America -- a great example of the pretensions of this century's States to the authoritarian control of everything, and of the results that ensue -- left to organized crime the management of commerce in alcohol. The Mafia, enriched and experienced, moved into electoral politics, commerce, the development of the market in professional killers, and certain details of international politics. Thus, during the Second World War, it was favored by the US government, and helped with the invasion of Sicily. Legalized alcohol was replaced by drugs, which then constituted the star commodity in illegal consumption. Then the Mafia took considerable importance in property dealing, in banking and in high-level politics and the great affairs of state, and then in the industries of the spectacle: television, films and publishing. In the United States at least, it is already in the recording industry, as in every other activity where publicity of a product depends on a quite concentrated number of people. It is easy to apply pressure to them, with bribes and intimidation, since there is obviously quite a great deal of capital and hitmen who can not be recognized nor punished [...]

It is undoubtedly in Italy that the Mafia, in the wake of its experiences and conquests in America, has acquired the greatest strength: since the period of its historic compromise with the parallel government, it has found itself in a position to kill magistrates and police chiefs: a practice it inaugurated through its participation in the setting up of political 'terrorism.' The similar evolution of the Mafia's Japanese equivalent, in relatively independent conditions, proves the unity of the epoch.

One deceives oneself every time one wants to explain something by opposing the Mafia and the State: they are never rivals. Theory easily verifies what all the rumors in practical life have all too easily shown. The Mafia is not an outsider in this world; it is perfectly at home in it. At the moment of the integrated spectacular, it in fact reigns as the model for all advanced commercial enterprises.

And so, the Mafia and terrorism are more than just "examples" of the current spectacle; they are both essential to its "smooth" functioning. Around 1910, both of them appeared to be relatively archaic practices, hostile to and independent from the State (their common enemy), and doomed to disappear with the advent of "modernity." And yet both managed to adapt, survive, and even thrive in the changeover from the diffuse spectacular (the 1920s to the 1960s) to the integrated spectacular (everything since the 1970s). They have obviously done so by imitating, conforming to and thus greatly enriching the spectacle. Indeed, the modern State itself -- in order to survive this same transformation -- has had to adopt certain practices normally associated with the Mafia and terrorism, most notably defensive attacks (the "political" assassinations in America during the 1960s). Indeed, by the end of the 1980s, the State and the Mafia and the international terrorists had so thoroughly infiltrated, bugged and "double crossed" each other that it was almost impossible to figure out who might really profit from this or that "terrorist" attack.

In the wake of the spectacle of "September 11th," several genuine revolutionaries returned to the works on terrorism by Sanguinetti, Debord and other members of the Situationist International. We were happy to translate two of these texts, both of which were very short: The Reichstag Burns! written by DO on 12 September 2001; and Smoke Screens, written by the International Friends on 30 September 2001. (There was also another short text entitled "The Reichstag is burning again," dated 25 September 2001, and attributed to the Institute for Contemporary Prehistory, but it appears to have disappeared from the Internet.) But, as always, the subject certainly merited a more sustained treatment. Almost two years after "September 11," that is to say, in the midst of the second American assault on Iraqi, Michel Bounan provided one.

Six years after its publication, Logique du terrorisme remains fresh, relevant, and convincing. It certainly deserves to be widely read and discussed, especially in the United States.

14 July 2009

To Contact NOT BORED!