Internationale Situationiste #5

Issue five of the journal of the Situationist International

The Adventure (excerpts)

The conditions of the SI's activity explain both its discipline and the forms of hostility it encounters. The SI is not interested in finding a niche within the present artistic establishment, but in undermining it. The situationists are in the catacombs of visible culture.

Anyone who is at all familiar with the social milieu of those with special status in cultural affairs is well aware of how everyone there despises and is bored by almost everyone else. This fact is not even hidden, they are all quite aware of it; it is even the first thing they talk about whenever they get together. What is the cause of their resignation? Clearly the fact that they are incapable of being bearers of a collective project. Each one recognizes in the others his own insignificance and his own conditioning -- the resignation he has had to accept in order to participate in this separate milieu and its established aims.

Within such a community people have neither the need nor the objective possibility for any sort of collective discipline. Everyone always politely agrees about the same things and nothing ever changes. Personal or ideological disagreements remain secondary in comparison with what they have in common. But for the SI and the struggle it sets for itself, exclusion is a possible and necessary weapon.

It is the only weapon of any group based on complete freedom of individuals. None of us likes to control or judge; if we do so it is for a practical purpose, not as a moral punishment. The "terrorism" of the SI's exclusions can in no way be compared to the same practices in political movements by power-wielding bureaucracies. It is, on the contrary, the extreme ambiguity of the situation of artists, who are constantly tempted to integrate themselves into the modest sphere of social power reserved for them, that makes some discipline necessary in order to clearly define an incorruptible platform. Otherwise there would be a rapid and irremediable osmosis between this platform and the dominant cultural milieu because of the number of people going back and forth. It seems to us that the question of a present-day cultural avant-garde can only be posed at an integral level, a level not only of collective works but of collectively interacting problems.

This is why certain people have been excluded from the SI. Some of them have rejoined the world they previously fought; others merely console themselves in a pathetic community with each other, although they have nothing in common but the fact that we broke with them -- often for opposite reasons. Others retain a certain dignity in isolation, and we have been in a good position to recognize their talents. Do we think that in leaving the SI they have ceased being avant-garde? Yes, we do. There is, for the moment, no other organization constituted for a task of this scope.

The sentimental objections to these breaks seem to us to reflect the greatest mystification. The entire socioeconomic structure tends to make the past dominate the present, to freeze living persons, to reify them as commodities. A sentimental world in which the same sorts of tastes and relations are constantly repeated is the direct product of the economic and social world in which gestures must be repeated every day in the slavery of capitalist production. The taste for false novelty reflects its unhappy nostalgia.

The violent reactions against the SI, especially those coming from people who were previously excluded from its collective activity, are first of all a measure of the personal passion that this enterprise has been able to bring into play. Reversed into a boundless hostility, this passion has spread it about that we are loafers, Stalinists, imposters and a hundred other clever characterizations. One had it that the SI was a cunningly organized economic association for dealing in modern art. Others have suggested that it was rather for the purpose of dealing in drugs. Still others have declared that we have never sold any drugs since we have too great a propensity for taking them ourselves. Others go into detail about our sexual vices. Others have gotten so carried away as to denounce us as social climbers.

These attacks have long been whispered around us by the same people who publicly pretend to be unaware of our existence. [...]

To the question, Why have we promoted such an impassioned regrouping in this cultural sphere whose present reality we reject? the answer is: Because culture is the center of meaning of a society without meaning. This empty culture is at the heart of an empty existence, and the reinvention of a project of transforming the world as a whole must also and first of all be posed on this terrain. To give up demanding power in culture would be to leave that power to those who now possess it.

We are quite aware that the culture to be overthrown will really fall only with the totality of the socioeconomic structure that supports it. But without waiting any longer, the Situationist International intends to confront it in its entirety, on every front, to the point of imposing an autonomous situationist control and instrumentation against those held by existing cultural authorities; that is, to the point of a state of dual power in culture.


Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).

The Fourth SI Conference in London (excerpts)

The 4th Conference of the Situationist International was held in London, at a secret address in the East End, 24-28 September 1960, seventeen months after the Munich Conference (April 1959). The situationists assembled in London were: Debord, Jacqueline de Jong, Jorn, Kotányi, Katja Lindell, Jörgen Nash, Prem, Sturm, Maurice Wyckaert and H.P. Zimmer. [...]

The discussion of these perspectives leads to posing the question: "To what extent is the SI a political movement?" Various responses state that the SI is political, but not in the ordinary sense. The discussion becomes somewhat confused. Debord proposes, in order to clearly bring out the opinion of the Conference, that each person respond in writing to a questionnaire asking if he considers that there are "forces in the society that the SI can count on? What forces? In what conditions?" This questionnaire is agreed upon and filled out. The first responses express the view that the purpose of the SI is to establish a program of overall liberation and to act in accord with other forces on a social scale. (Kotányi: "To rely on what we call free." Jorn: "We are against specialization and rationalization, but not against them as means. . . . Movements of social groups are determined by the character of their desires. We can accept other social movements only to the extent that they are moving in our direction. We are the new revolution . . . we should act with other organizations that seek the same path.") The session is then adjourned.

At the beginning of the second session, on September 26, Heimrad Prem reads a declaration of the German section in response to the questionnaire. This very long declaration attacks the tendency in the responses read the day before to count on the existence of a revolutionary proletariat, for the signers strongly doubt the revolutionary capacities of the workers against the bureaucratic institutions that have dominated their movement. The German section considers that the SI should prepare to realize its program on its own by mobilizing the avant-garde artists, who are placed by the present society in intolerable conditions and can count only on themselves to take over the weapons of conditioning. Debord responds with a sharp critique of these positions. [...]

Kotányi reminds the German delegates that even if since 1945 they have seen apparently passive and satisfied workers in Germany and legal strikes organized with music to divert union members, in other advanced capitalist countries "wildcat" strikes have multiplied. He adds that in his opinion they vastly underestimate the German workers themselves. [...] Debord proposes that the majority openly declare that it rejects the German theses. It is agreed that the two tendencies separately decide on their positions. The German minority withdraws to an adjoining room to deliberate. When they return Zimmer announces, in the name of his group, that they retract the preceding declaration, not because they think it unimportant, but in order not to impede present situationist activity. He concludes: "We declare that we are in complete agreement with all the acts already done by the SI, with or without us, and with those that will be done in the foreseeable future. We are also in agreement with all the ideas published by the SI. We consider the question debated today as secondary in relation to the SI's overall development, and propose to reserve further discussion of it for the future." Everyone agrees to this. Kotányi and Debord, however, ask that it be noted in the minutes that they do not consider that the question discussed today is secondary. The German situationists agree to delete their reference to it as such. The session is adjourned, very late at night. [...]


Translated by Ken Knabb (slightly modified from the version in the Situationist International Anthology).