The Counter-Situationist Operation in Diverse Countries

The declaration about the trial of Uwe Lausen in Munich[1] published on 25 June 1962 by the Situationist International enumerated the three types of negation that, without prejudging those that might follow, the situationist movement has encountered so far: the police, as in Germany; silence, the record for which is solidly held by France; and, finally, widespread falsification, of which Northern Europe has furnished the richest field of studies in the last year.[2] It goes without saying that these methods are not predestined to remain unmixed, to remain local recipes, just as they have been used since the first appearance of isolated situationists. On the contrary, one can foresee a confluence of these means -- in always changing dosages -- taking place everywhere; their common function is to make troublesome problems disappear. The recourse to the police is apparently a somewhat archaic procedure, while falsification, is the daily bread of this century; and the silence of specialists is a much more recent weapon of the society of the spectacle. But the strength of this society is the ability to play [all three] simultaneously on its keyboard. The non-integrated elements must in any case learn to maintain and move forward their critique of the thought and the life currently permitted, despite barrages of this kind and its continued reinforcement. The SI must not be surprised nor indignant about the merited hostility that it arouses. It suffices to describe and analyze it in the perspective of the counter-measures that are and will be taken against us.

In the last eight months, it is undeniable that the tactic of imposture -- the display of factitious situationist nuances -- is the one that most characterizes the resistance against the SI, although such attempts at the falsification of the situationist programme has had (more timid) precedents, which we threw back into oblivion.[3] In Internationale Situationniste #7, pages 53 and 54,[4] we cited the kind of manifesto in which, in March, Jorgen Nash attacked the SI in the name of the Scandinavian section [of the organization]. Counting on the great dispersion of the locations of the Scandinavian situationists, Nash did not consult all of them before launching his takeover. Surprised by not being unanimously followed, and by finding himself countered on the spot by the partisans of the majority of the SI, who immediately distributed a definitive denial, Nash at first feigned astonishment at having ended up in a complete break with the situationists, as if the fact of launching a public and mendacious surprise attack was reconcilable with the pursuit of a dialogue on the basis for some kind of autonomy for a Nashist Scandinavia. Furthermore, the development of this conspiracy hardly left any doubt about its real objectives, since the Swedish "Bauhaus" -- which reunited two or three former Scandinavian situationists, plus a crowd of unknowns who came rushing up because they smelled soup -- immediately engaged in the most shop-worn artistic production[5] (there is no need to look further than the "poems" by someone named [Gordon] Fazarkeley, which one would not have dared write in 1930, to see the first results of this neo-Bauhaus). At the same time, there appeared in Holland a small and completely empty Nashist journal entitled Situationist Times,[6] which has the particularity of being uniquely "situationist" in that it is directed against the SI: the vast majority of its occasional contributors have never been situationists and they do not even think of bragging about it, with the unique exception of one of its two editors, who passed 18 months in the SI and speaks of it abundantly.[7] The other editor is no one other than Noel Arnaud, arisen from his Stalino-pataphysical tomb. In the rest of this eclectic assembly are mixed an ex-Lettrist and, in a still more posthumous capacity, Boris Vian.[8][9] In the polemic between Nashists and situationists in Scandinavia, the Nashists -- in addition to making all of the threats and instances of violence that they believed were practicable -- resorted to the systematic distribution of a series of false news stories (helped in this by several resolute journalistic accomplices).[10] The most resounding lie was the word, announced in June, that the SI had agreed to re-start the dialogue with the Nashists with the intention of reintegrating them. And to improve their chances, the Nashists produced a letter from the [SI's] Central Council that was a pure and simple fake. Finally, and despite the fact that the great extension of this affair in the Scandinavian press brought the debate to a terrain that, by its nature, was more favorable to the Nashist deformation than to the objective exposition of the SI's theses -- [11] all their efforts to gain time and to prolong the confusion from day to day did not prevent the Nashists from appearing as what they really are: strangers to the SI, certainly much more sociable, but much less intelligent.[12]

All the Nashists have declared once and for all, and so as to not have to think about it again, that they are in agreement with all of the SI's theses, but that they are not in agreement with its practices. Moreover, what they attack in this practice is the single idea that the SI's discipline is excessive. And this excess of discipline is precisely nothing other than the agreement of the situationists to seek a certain relationship between their theories and their possible practice. The practice desired by the Nashists is quite obviously the continuation of "current" modernist art -- that is to say, the art that is more than passed -- but matched with beautiful gossip and a would-be advertising label [etiquette]. The small degree of creativity of these people (who are in agreement about nothing other than their opposition to the SI, which they know quite poorly or not at all) -- momentarily federated by Nashism -- explains that they prefer to say quickly that they have adopted all of our theses, rather than sketching out some kind of revisionism. But their deficiencies are so excessive that it is quite probable that they do not have the strength to refer to this fact, even in their flat commentaries. It would be bizarre if those among them who are ex-situationists could now exercise -- under the pressure of a contestable necessity (because our ideas are not really good recommendations for opportunists) -- talents that they so carefully hid when they were in the SI.[13]

We do not want to attribute a particular perversity to Nash and his associates. It seems to us that Nashism expresses an objective tendency, which results from the ambiguous and adventurous politics for which the SI must take the risks of agreeing to act in culture, of being against all of the current organization of this culture and even against all culture as a separate sphere -- and it is not inevitably less ambiguous and adventurous to live by bringing to all things the appearance and the program of the hardest contestation, which nevertheless coexists with life such as it is constituted. The German situationists[14] who were excluded at the beginning of 1962 expressed with more frankness and more artistic capability an opposition comparable to that of the Nashists. The intervention of Heimrad Prem at the Goteborg Conference (cf. I.S. #7, pages 28-29[15]), which insisted on the reiteration of the refusal by the situationist majority of the large number of offers to "realize" works on the conventional plane of the artistic avant-garde, in which many people would like to engage the SI, thus bringing things back into order and the situationists [back] into the old classifications of artistic praxis. Prem expressed the desired of the situationist artists to find a field of activity sufficient in the here-and-now [dans l'immediat].[16] It is certain that this attitude, the ambition of which is to renew only art and to do so immediately, is in total contradiction with the situationist theory that postulates that one can no longer bring about the fundamental renewal of separate and traditional art without the other necessary transformations, without the free reconstruction of global society (the hypothesis of the constructed situation being a first example of a post-artistic explosion that would disintegrate all of the "conventional weapons" of the old arts).[17] The Nashists have only pushed bad faith and the profound indifference to any theory (and even conventional artistic action) much further, and in favor of the crudest commercial publicity. But the friends of Prem, though they were more worthy, certainly had not avoided all concessions to the cultural market. It thus appears that there were (taking temporary refuge) in the SI artists of repetition, who were incapable of understanding the current mission of the artistic avant-garde, which is not too surprising if one keeps in mind the hardly sketched out character of our investigations and the notorious exhaustion of conventional art. The moment in which the contradictions between them and us ended up as antagonism indicates an advance of the SI to the point at which ambiguities are forced into the light of day and are settled. The point of no return in the relations with the partisans of a rejuvenation of conventional art under the aegis of a situationist school was perhaps reached with the decision made at Goteborg to name "anti-situationist" the artistic productions of the movement. The contradictions of which Nashism was the carrier were commonplace, but there can be others at a superior degree of the SI's development.[18] The point of the current break is nevertheless notable in that it marks the moment at which the dominant cultural milieu passes over to the offensive, in the goal of eliminating us before we become too strong. We have previously encountered several attempts at falsification, such as that of the so-called "unitary urbanism" of the Ruhr in the spring of 1961 (cf. I.S. #6, page 7[19]). But now we are faced with a direct attempt. Those who know the SI have ascertained that it has resisted pressure of all kinds, and heads towards the contrary of a softening or an attenuation of its thought. Even in its most modernist and benevolent nuances, the cultural milieu favors the maximum amount of confusion about the reality of the SI (brutally phrased: capital will never be lacking for Nashist enterprises); treating us in a more overtly reproving fashion (as with the great number of people who refused to defend Uwe Lausen before his imprisonment, while many of these people defended those who were excluded from the German section of the SI and who were indicted for the very same charges); and, in particular, trying to organize a reinforced economic suffocation.

In this context, the current Nashist detail is only an epiphenomenon. No doubt its successors will be stronger. The Nashes will be interchangeable: they will represent our antagonism towards the old artistic world.

The evolution of Nashism (since the beginning of its short life) has already confirmed our analysis. Cut off from the SI, the Scandinavian section of which now published the journal Situationistisk Revolution, the Nashists have very quickly retrieved what there was of the most traditional morals of the artistic milieu, that is to say, the deals and finger-snacks of private showings, on the one hand, and the healthy pleasantry of the "School of the Beaux-Arts," on the other. Nash has made it known to the newspapers that, among his partisans who were excluded from the SI, the most distressed was Ambrosius Fjord, who could not manage to understand the reasons for his misfortune. Actually, Ambrosius Fjord was none other than a horse belonging to Nash, who had signed the horse's name to some proclamation, because Nash lacked a Norwegian representative to make his "Scandinavian" Nashism complete. Is this an example of the famous rule of absolute power that absolutely corrupts? In any case, remaining the Premier of his village after his pronunciamento, Caius Nash made his horse a situationist. We await his next innovation: he will claim that this horse was a member of the Central Council of the SI; he has already tried something of this genre once before (see I.S. #7, page 54). Nashism is thus so turned towards the past that the only instance of imagination on the part of the Nashists until now has been remodeling their thin situationist past. More recently, in September, moreover, Nash hid himself behind the identity of another horse, one named Patrick O'Brien (at least it is not a question of an unconditional Nashist that is a coyote or a herring), so as to present at a gallery on Odense the paintings of the "Seven Rebels" whom he avows were thrown out of the SI -- although certain of them were never members -- and have now formed among them a "Scandinavian Situationist International." Good idea. After the National Situationism that certain Germans considered in 1961,[20] the learned stable of Nash can bring Situ-Scandinavianism to the world. What would it do? If all the horses who know how to count could also learn how to speak, the circuses would make even more money.

Nevertheless, there is in the insignificant polemics of the Nashists a point that is worth being clarified completely. They have affirmed that the majority that excluded them was doubtful, but to make it appear doubtful they published figures and facts (for the meeting of the C.C. in Paris in February) that are absolutely false, and thus they demolish their own "democratic" pretensions. This question must nevertheless be made precise, because it concerns the very nature of the SI. The majority of the SI actually followed democratic rules, formally, which places any Nashist contradiction on the plane of pure dishonesty. But the basis of the problem is elsewhere: if the bad politics of blind recruitments and the infiltration of the SI in certain countries by debilitated or interested followers had been tolerated for a little longer, it is certain that the number of false situationists officially integrated into the SI would have become the majority.[21] This would have changed nothing of the right and the duty of the situationists to reject them as non-situationists. And this for the most elementary motivations: because they [the reputed situationists] do not understand or approve of our bases of thought and action, as everything demonstrates at every moment, with one unique exception: their decision to belong to the SI. Acting thus, we did not represent anything less than all of the SI and they represented nothing. But it would have been better to spare us such recourse to scissionist violence, and it was out of the question to follow the Nashists on their terrain of struggle by agreeing to lower (even slightly) the bar demanded by the situationists in the majority of the countries, so as to augment the weight of the "loyalist" sections. Such a slyness practiced so as to maintain the appearance of an egalitarian vote would in fact have signified the renunciation by all of the a real equality in the SI (the irreversible admission of disciples or subordinate militants). It was thus time to reject the opportunist minority before it could proliferate through cooptation, and to instaurate more objective rules for entrance into the SI, where the question is posed.[22]

The SI cannot be a massive organization and cannot even accept disciples, as is done by conventional artistic avant-garde groups. At this moment in history, in which -- in the most unfavorable conditions -- the task of reinventing culture and the revolutionary movement on an entirely new basis is posed, the SI can only be a Conspiracy of Equals,[23] a general staff that does not want troops. It is a question of finding, of opening the "Northwest Passage"[24] towards a new revolution that will not involve masses of executants, and that must spread out over the central terrain of the conquest of everyday life, which until now has been sheltered from the shocks of revolution. We will only construct the detonator:[25] the free explosion must escape us and escape every other form of control.

One of the traditional weapons of the old world, perhaps most often employed against the groups that undertake research into the disposition of life, is the distinction and isolation of several "stars." We must defend ourselves against this process that, like almost all of the ignoble customary choices of current society, present the appearance of being "natural." It is unquestionable that those who would like to hold the role of star or count on the stars among us must be rejected.[26] It happens, moreover, that such people do not have the means suitable for their ambitions, and we are in a position to guarantee their complete disappearance from the zone of influence in the situationist problematic -- with the single exception of Nash, for whom we will make a destiny: he will be celebrated in place of the others! Among the members of the SI today -- none of whom want to play the hierarchical game -- this objective peril presents itself more concretely [reellement], because the SI is entering into a public phase, and the situationists -- more than the Nashists -- will provide more material to the exegeses or commentaries that can be extremely far from their real goals and those of the SI (see the very personal interpretations of the last chapter of the work by Mr Robert Estivals, The Parisian Cultural Avant-Garde since 1945[27]).

By parrying this star-making process, which tends to reconstitute the old models of culture and society, we must bear in mind the different degrees of publicity that obligatorily comes with participation in the SI, if only the division between the known situationists and our clandestine comrades,[28] this clandestinity being unavoidable in the countries in which we cannot develop our liaisons in any other way, and even being desirable in several other cases. on the condition that the clandestine members of the SI are chosen from among the most trustworthy and not, as the Nashists propose, from among the elements who are more or less uncontrollable or two-faced [doubles]. Even repression will normally fall more on some of us than others. In the wars for the decolonialization of everyday life, there should be no cult of leaders ("a single hero: the SI").[29]

This is the same movement that would make us admit executant situationists, and that would fix us into erroneous positions. It is in the nature of the disciple to demand certitudes, to transform real problems into stupid dogmas, so as to extract his [personal] qualities and his intellectual comfort. And then, of course, to revolt in the name of these reduced certitudes against the very ones who transmitted them to him, so as to rejuvenate their instruction. Thus, over time, the renewal of elites of acceptance is brought about. We want to leave such people outside [the SI] because we combat all those who want to transform the theoretical problematic of the SI into a simple ideology; these people are extremely disadvantaged and uninteresting in comparison to those who do not know about the SI, but regard their own lives. Those who, on the contrary, have understood the direction in which the SI is going can join in, because all of the supercession of which we speak is actually to be found in reality, and we must find it together. The task of being more extremist than the SI belongs to the SI: this is even the first law of its permanence.[30]

There are already certain people who, through laziness believe they can freeze our project into a perfect program, already here, admirable, uncriticizable, before which there is nothing more to do. Except to declare themselves even more radical of heart, by abstaining, since everything has already been said by the SI, one cannot do better. On the contrary, we not only say that the most important questions that we will ask are still to be found -- by the SI and by others -- but also that the most important of what we have already been found has still not been published, due to our lack of means of all kinds;[31] without even speaking of the even more perceptible absence of the means for the experiments that the SI has sketched out in other domains (and first of all in matters of comportment). But, for example, without creating editorial problems,[32] we now estimate that we ourselves must re-write the most interesting of all that we have published to date. It is not a matter of doing so to correct certain errors or suppress several deviationist germs of which one has subsequently seen the growing results (for example, Constant's technocratic conception of the situationist metier: see I.S. #4, pages 24 and 25[33]), but, on the contrary, to correct and improve the most important of these theses, those of which the development has led us the farthest, from the knowledge since acquired thanks to them. Which will oblige different, new editions, while the current publishing difficulties of the SI are far from being resolved.

Those who believe that primitive situationist thought is already an historical acquisition, with respect to which the time has come for bad-tempered falsifications as well as smug admiration -- they have not understood the movement of which we speak. The SI has seeded the wind. It will harvest the tempest.

[1] Signed by Michele Bernstein, J.V. Martin, Alexander Trocchi and Raoul Vaneigem, and issued in Paris. Uwe Lausen was a German situationist who was arrested on 9 November 1961 due to the contents of Spur #6. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to 3 weeks in prison.

[2] Begin passage left out of Ken Knabb's translation of this text. Indeed, Knabb leaves out so many passages -- and not due to apparently objective considerations of "limited space," but due to obviously subjective considerations (we leave our readers to deduce what they are from the passages he has suppressed) -- that his efforts as putative "translator" constitute a one-man counter-situationist operation. Note as well that Knabb renders the title of this essay "The Counter-Situationist Campaign in Various Countries." But a "campaign" is not the same thing as an "operation": the former has to do with the conduct of war, while the second concerns the activity of the police.

[3] End passage left out of Ken Knabb's translation of this text.

[4] See item of "Situationist News" concerning the declaration by Jorgen Nash and Ansgar-Elde dated 15 March 1962.

[5] Begin passage left out of Ken Knabb's translation of this text.

[6] English in original.

[7] Jacqueline de Jong.

[8] A musician, Vian died in 1959.

[9] End passage left out of Ken Knabb's translation of this text.

[10] Begin passage left out of Ken Knabb's translation of this text.

[11] End passage left out of Ken Knabb's translation of this text. To smooth out his hatchet-job, Knabb adds the word "but": "But all their efforts to gain time . . . "

[12] Begin passage left out of Ken Knabb's translation of this text.

[13] End passage left out of Ken Knabb's translation of this text.

[14] The Spurists.

[15] See report entitled "The Fifth Conference of the SI in Goteborg."

[16] Begin passage left out of Ken Knabb's translation of this text.

[17] End passage left out of Ken Knabb's translation of this text.

[18] Begin passage left out of Ken Knabb's translation of this text.

[19] See essay entitled "Critique of Urbanism."

[20] A reference to the Spurists.

[21] In other words, the Nashists could have admitted so many people -- reputed to be situationists, but actually pro-Nashist artists -- into the section that the Nashists controlled that their numbers would have constituted the majority of the SI as a whole. Several sentences latter, the author will say that the members of the "loyalist" sections of the SI (chiefly the French section) could have done to same thing, but refused to do so.

[22] End passage left out of Ken Knabb's translation of this text.

[23] The name of a group founded and led by Gracchus Babeuf in France in 1796.

[24] In 1566, the explorer Humfrey Gilbert sought to find a all-water route that would lead in a northwesterly direction from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. Debord's use of this phrase is thus a detournement, part of the charm of which is the situationists' strong interest in exploring physical space, "psychogeography," et al.

[25] Knabb's translation of the French here -- Nous n'organisons que le detonateur -- as "We will only organize the detonation" changes the meaning of the phrase. Instead of being the engineers who will construct the device that is designed to explode, the situationists are either "organizers" of the explosion or are the exploding device itself. In the first rendering, the situationists need not be present at the moment of explosion, which may or may not even happen; in the second, they have to be present and the explosion itself seems to be certain. It is far more likely that the explosion would "escape" the situationists if they need not or were not present at its moment.

[26] Begin passage left out of Ken Knabb's translation of this text.

[27] Debord wrote two important texts about Estivals: the first was published in Internationale Situationniste #4, June 1960, under the title Concerning Several Errors of Interpretation, and the second was a letter to Estivals himself, dated 15 March 1963.

[28] Possibly someone like Branko Vucicovic, a Czech art historian? See Debord's letter to him dated 27 November 1965.

[29] End passage left out of Ken Knabb's translation of this text.

[30] Here Knabb translates sa permanence as "its continuation."

[31] Knabb's rendering of this key sentence is incorrect to the point of constituting a falsification of its meaning: "We say that, on the contrary, not only do the most important aspects of the questions we have posed remain to be discovered -- by the SI and by others -- but also that the greater portion of what we have discovered is not yet published due to our lack of all sorts of means" (our emphasis). The insertion of the word "aspects" suggests that no new questions will be discovered, but that only new aspects of the questions already asked will be explored; and "portion" is a term that refers to the quantity of what has been discovered, not its quality.

[32] Here Knabb renders the French Mais, for exemple, sans sortir des problems editoriaux as "But to speak of only editorial problems."

[33] The essay entitled "Description of the Yellow Zone."

(Unsigned; probably written by Guy Debord. Published in Internationale Situationniste #8, January 1963. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! August 2007. Footnotes by the translator.)

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