Internationale Situationiste #4

Issue four of the journal of the Situationist International

Gangland and Philosophy

"The Beijing-Bao is the oldest daily newspaper in the world. It has appeared for over fifteen centuries, its first number having been printed in Beijing in the 4th century. The editors have often incurred the anger of the Chinese rulers for attacking the infallibility of religion and the state. The paper has nevertheless continued to appear every day, even though the editors have often paid for it with their lives. During those fifteen centuries, 1500 editors of the Beijing-Bao have been hung."

--Ujvidéki Magyar Szo (1957)

The situationist tendency is not aimed at preventing the construction of situations. This first restriction in our attitude has numerous consequences. We are striving to provoke the development of these consequences.

" 'Protection" is the key word in the Garment Center racket. The process is as follows: One day you receive a visit from a gentleman who kindly offers to 'protect' you. If you are really naïve, you ask, 'Protection against what?' " (Groueff & Lapierre, The Gangsters of New York.)

If, for example, the head honcho of existentialism assures us that it is hard for him to adopt any sort of vulgar materialism because culture is an integral part of our lives, we can agree substantially with the latter point but without being sure that we should be so proud of this fact. That's one consequence.

How can we comprehend the formation of our culture and of our philosophical and scientific information? Modern psychology has eliminated many of the doctrines that used to obscure this question. It looks for the motives: why do we accept or refuse an "idea" or an imperative? "One of the most important results of the process of socialization is the development of a system of normative equilibrium, which superimposes itself on the system of biological equilibrium. The latter system regulates the body's responses to various needs and necessities (nourishment, defense against cold or against physical attack, etc.), whereas the first one determines which actions can be considered 'practicable' or even 'thinkable' " (P.R. Hofstätter). For example, someone becomes aware of situationist activity. He "understands" it and "rationally" follows its arguments. Then, in spite of his momentary intellectual agreement, he relapses: the next day he no longer understands us. We propose a slight modification of the psychological description quoted above, in order to understand the play of forces that have prevented him from considering various things as "practicable" or even "thinkable" when we know they are possible. Let us examine this striking experimental reaction: "The trial of Dio and his accomplices begins. Then something extraordinarily scandalous takes place. The first witness, Gondolfo Miranti, refuses to talk. He denies all the statements he has made to the FBI. The judge loses all patience. Furious, he resorts to the ultimate argument: 'I order you to answer. If you do not, you will be sentenced to five years' imprisonment!' Without hesitation, Miranti accepts the five long years of prison. In the defendant's box Johnny Dio, well dressed and smooth shaven, smiles ironically." (Groueff & Lapierre, op cit.) It is difficult not to recognize an analogous pattern of behavior in someone who doesn't dare speak of problems as he knows they are. We have to ask: Is he a victim of intimidation? He is indeed. What is the mechanism common to these two kinds of fear?

Miranti had lived in gangland since his youth; this explains many things. "Gangland," in Chicago gangster slang, means the domain of crime, of rackets. I propose to study the basic functioning of "the Organization," in spite of the risks of getting involved: "As for the man who would try to set them free and lead them up to the light, do you not think that they would seize him and kill him if they could?" (Plato).(1) Philosophy must not forget that it has always spoken its part in the most burlesque and melodramatic setting.

We should develop a little glossary of detourned words. I propose that "neighborhood" should often be read gangland. Similarly, social organization = protection. Society = racket. Culture = conditioning. Leisure activity = protected crime. Education = premeditation.

The systematic falsification of basic information (by the idealist conception of space, for example, of which the most glaring expression is conventional cartography) is one of the basic reinforcements of the big lie that the racketeering interests impose on the whole gangland of social space.

According to Hofstätter, "We are as yet incapable of examining the process of socialization in a truly 'scientific' manner." We, on the contrary, believe that we are capable of constructing a model for examining the production and reception of information. If we were allowed to monitor, by means of an exhaustive survey, the entire social life of some specific urban sector during a short period of time, we could obtain a precise cross-sectional representation of the daily bombardment of news and information that is dropped on present-day urban populations. The SI is naturally aware of all the modifications that its very monitoring would immediately produce in the occupied sector, profoundly perturbing the usual informational monopoly of gangland.

"Integral art, which has been talked about so much, can be realized only at the level of urbanism" (Debord) [Report on the Construction of Situations]. That is indeed where the limit is. At this level we can already remove certain decisive elements of conditioning. But if, beyond such salutary eliminations, we expect the largeness of scale in itself to generate favorable results, we will have committed the most serious error.

Neocapitalism has also discovered some advantages in large scale. Day and night it talks of nothing but city planning and national development. But its real concern is obviously the conditioning of commodity production, which it senses escaping it unless it resorts to this new scale. Academic urbanism has accordingly defined "slums" from the standpoint of postwar neocapitalism. Its techniques of urban renewal are based on sterile, antisituationist criteria.

We must make this critique of Mumford: If neighborhoods are not considered as pathological elements (ganglands), we will not be able to develop new techniques (therapies).

The constructors of situations must learn how to read the constructive and reconstitutable elements of situations. In so doing, they begin to understand the language spoken by situations. They learn how to speak and how to express themselves in this language; and eventually, by means of constructed and quasi-natural situations, how to say what has never yet been said.

ATTILA KOTÁNYI (1960)

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE

1. Reference to the famous "parable of the cave" in Book VII of Plato's Republic, in which people are chained in a cave facing a wall in such a way that they can see the real world only through the shadows it casts on the wall, and who thus take those shadows for reality.

Revised translation by Ken Knabb of the complete text (the version in the Situationist International Anthology is abridged).

Manifesto

The existing framework cannot subdue the new human force that is increasing day by day alongside the irresistible development of technology and the dissatisfaction of its possible uses in our senseless social life.

Alienation and oppression in this society cannot be distributed amongst a range of variants, but only rejected en bloc with this very society. All real progress has clearly been suspended until the revolutionary solution of the present multiform crisis.

What are the organisational perspectives of life in a society which authentically "reorganises production on the basis of the free and equal association of the producers"? Work would more and more be reduced as an exterior necessity through the automation of production and the socialisation of vital goods, which would finally give complete liberty to the individual. Thus liberated from all economic responsibility, liberated from all the debts and responsibilities from the past and other people, humankind will exude a new surplus value, incalculable in money because it would be impossible to reduce it to the measure of waged work. The guarantee of the liberty of each and of all is in the value of the game, of life freely constructed. The exercise of this ludic recreation is the framework of the only guaranteed equality with non-exploitation of man by man. The liberation of the game, its creative autonomy, supersedes the ancient division between imposed work and passive leisure.

The church has already burnt the so-called witches to repress the primitive ludic tendencies conserved in popular festivities. Under the existing dominant society, which produces the miserable pseudo-games of non-participation, a true artistic activity is necessarily classed as criminality. It is semi-clandestine. It appears in the form of scandal.

So what really is the situation? It's the realisation of a better game, which more exactly is provoked by the human presence. The revolutionary gamesters of all countries can be united in the S.I. to commence the emergence from the prehistory of daily life.

Henceforth, we propose an autonomous organisation of the producers of the new culture, independent of the political and union organisations which currently exist, as we dispute their capacity to organise anything other than the management of that which already exists.

From the moment when this organisation leaves the initial experimental stage for its first public campaign, the most urgent objective we have ascribed to it is the seizure of U.N.E.S.C.O. United at a world level, the bureaucratisation of art and all culture is a new phenomenon which expresses the deep inter- relationship of the social systems co-existing in the world on the basis of eclectic conservation and the reproduction of the past. The riposte of the revolutionary artists to these new conditions must be a new type of action. As the very existence of this managerial concentration of culture, located in a single building, favours a seizure by way of putsch; and as the institution is completely destitute of any sensible usage outside our subversive perspective, we find our seizure of this apparatus justified before our contemporaries. And we will have it. We are resolved to take over U.N.E.S.C.O., even if only for a short time, as we are sure we would quickly carry out work which would prove most significant in the clarification of a long series of demands.

What would be the principle characteristics of the new culture and how would it compare with ancient art? Against the spectacle, the realised situationist culture introduces total participation.

Against preserved art, it is the organisation of the directly lived moment.

Against particularised art, it will be a global practice with a bearing, each moment, on all the usable elements. Naturally this would tend to collective production which would be without doubt anonymous (at least to the extent where the works are no longer stocked as commodities, this culture will not be dominated by the need to leave traces.) The minimum proposals of these experiences will be a revolution in behaviour and a dynamic unitary urbanism capable of extension to the entire planet, and of being further extensible to all habitable planets.

Against unilateral art, situationist culture will be an art of dialogue, an art of interaction. Today artists - with all culture visible - have become entirely separated from society, just as they are separated from each other by competition. But faced with this impasse of capitalism, art has remained essentially unilateral in response. This enclosed era of primitivism must be superseded by complete communication.

At a higher stage, everyone will become an artist, i.e., inseparably a producer-consumer of total culture creation, which will help the rapid dissolution of the linear criteria of novelty. Everyone will be a situationist so to speak, with a multidimensional inflation of tendencies, experiences, or radically different "schools" - not successively, but simultaneously.

We will inaugurate what will historically be the last of the crafts. The role of amateur-professional situationist - of anti- specialist - is again a specialisation up to the point of economic and mental abundance, when everyone becomes an "artist," in the sense that the artists have not attained the construction of their own life. However, the last craft of history is so close to the society without a permanent division of labour, that when it appeared amongst the S.I., its status as a craft was generally denied.

To those who don't understand us properly, we say with an irreducible scorn: "The situationists of which you believe yourselves perhaps to be the judges, will one day judge you. We await the turning point which is the inevitable liquidation of the world of privation, in all its forms. Such are out goals, and these will be the future goals of humanity."