from Guy Debord

To Patrick Straram
Monday, 10 October 1960
Dear Patrick:

I will respond at length, over several days, to your letter and the documents received via boat.

In haste, I respond here to your air-mailed letter concerning the Declaration on the right to insubordination in the Algerian war.

Published in the first days of September [1960], this text roughly expresses -- there are several exceptions, more interesting or even more lukewarm -- the habitual tendencies of today's "Leftist intellectuals," that is to say, those people who have been the worst enemies of all revolutionary research (the Sartres, Nadeaus, Mascolos and re-heated surrealists). But in the exceptional ambiance of the Gaullist regime, the evidence of the colonial war [in Algeria] that can't be ended by gestures of good will from the Prince, and also the evidence of the decomposition of all Leftist organizations, these people have, for the first time, clearly and courageously placed themselves in a position of pure scandal (as we say: artistic scandal, in the sense of the best gestures of surrealism in its halycon era). Meanwhile, it is still the same "Leftist club," although complicated by certain particular manoeuvres made by several representations of other currents (Leftist Christian moralists and "frontists" who are unconditionally placed at the disposition of the administration of the FLN and who anticipate -- incorrectly, it seems to me -- the imminent formation of Maquis in France). This part of the "exclusive club," which is dominated by small obstructionists (anti-situationists, also: they expend a lot of effort to surround us with silence), complains that no one invited them to sign a text that presents itself as a general assembling of free artists and writers. I haven't even read it.

Because the government responded with several indictments, a new wave of signatories were very quickly added (Sagan, etc.; one very quickly approaches around 180 names). This has produced the turning point in the repression: panic-stricken and trying to stop the movement at all costs, the government carries itself to extremes. The crime of provoking the military to acts of insubordination and desertion, which used to be punishable by six months in prison, is now by ordinance punishable by three years in prison, without retroactive effect on the 121 original plus 60 additional recorded signatures, but officially intended to discourage subsequent followers. Moreover, one is now prohibited from displaying or even citing the names of the authors or signatory actors on radio or TV. This includes subsidized theatres and the near-totality of French cinema, of which the economic existence depends on the good will of the State (grants, advances, even censorship ratings -- this last point hasn't been explicitly mentioned, but it is in all the doubtful cases a means of economic pressure even worse than the others[1]).

It is in this atmosphere that one has finally decided to appeal to our solidarity: returning late one evening from London -- where the [situationists'] conference had made us stay for 8 exhausting but good days -- I found this appeal and immediately sent it off, signed by Michele [Bernstein] and me (the humor of the thing is that, if the S[ituationist] I[nternational] has, in principal, always excluded TV, etc., Michele, on the contrary, insofar as she is the young author of a "fake novel," was able to give a very remarkable interview, which radically placed in question the rules of this small game[2]).

The conditions in which I have had the text in hand haven't even permitted me to make a copy -- no French journal has published it.

I have only noted the end of it, which I give you here. The rest is a long exposition that one can reproach for a certain political confusion, but which is, on the whole, very firm and perfectly honorable ethically.

The undersigned, considering that each person must express his or her opinion about acts that are henceforth impossible to present as isolated events; considering that, in their own way and according to their means, they have the duty to intervene, not in order to give counsel to the men who have personally decided to face very serious problems, but to demand of those who judge these men that they do not let themselves take words and values in an equivocal fashion, declare:

-- We respect and deem justified the refusal to take up arms against the Algerian people.

-- We respect and deem justified the conduct of the French people who consider it their duty to provide aid and protection to the Algerians oppressed in the name of the French people.

-- The cause of the Algerian people, which contributes in a decisive way to the ruination of the colonial system, is the cause of all free men.

Since then, I have reason to think that we are, in all, around 250 signatories. Perhaps more? In any case, hardly less than that. The enterprise appears disorganized by the searches (the arrest of Robert Barrat[3]) and certain divisive manoeuvres, such as the much more moderate and "Third Force" appeal to public opinion launched by scoundrels such as Edgar Morin.[4]

In addition to the blows struck by the enemy, one must consider that the fundamental blunders and hesitations of the organizers of the thing, before the repression, were unfortunate. Thus, rather than vaguely hoping to re-launch the declaration with signatories from the factories -- it would at first appear that we are a ridiculous minority -- the fundamental problem is, on the contrary, to constitute, as a dominant force on the terrain of struggle maladroitly opened up by the government, a war to the limit between the intelligentsia and the government. This would make the biggest effect abroad, where the war is the most strongly denounced. All the better to bring fire to the powder, if there is in fact any powder.

What really needs to be launched: a boycott of TV, radio, the National Theatre Center, etc. This is the position of fundamental dignity and elemental liberty that has been taken by a certain number of critics, producers, etc. This is the point upon which one could assemble the technicians of the spectacle (especially in the cinema, where teamwork is real, even among the actors), the bourgeois intellectuals "worthy of the name," and the capitalists of the spectacle (producers).

I have spoken of this possibility with Henri Lefebvre (the only one of the 121 [original signatories] with whom I'm in contact, for previously existing reasons). He also thinks that this would be the best, but we are not very sure that this choice will impose itself.

The question of more or less advanced clandestinity is posed here. I don't know where I[nternationale] S[ituationniste] #5 will appear. I have already concealed certain papers at a more secure address. We are in one of those moments of political hesitation (can the government go into reverse, provisionally?) in which anything can happen. Until yesterday, since my return from England on the 29th of September, I have been working non-stop on the shooting of a short film (an experimental documentary) called Critique of Separation. This obligation to work 14 or 15 hours a day has greatly handicapped me.

Soon I'll send more specific responses.

In friendship, always

P.S. Enclosed are several postage stamps for you to send several copies of the journal [Notebook for a landscape to be invented] directly to the addresses that I have provided (and at first: one for me, one to Maurice Wyckaert, Hoogstraat 16, Alsemberg, Belgium).

Sure enough, from Paris, Portugais[5] sent me your letter dated 26 September. Since then, he hasn't made any gesture towards joining us. In these conditions, I don't think that one can trust him with [relaying] communications between us.

I have asked [Andre] Frankin to send you the complete text of the Declaration, from Belgium, if he is disposed to do so, as I believe he is.

I have sent you the tract that we issued -- on a very moderate terrain -- in favor of A. Trocchi,[6] following the mandate of the conference of the SI in London. Attached is the SI's firmer and more theoretical resolution[7] on the case of this comrade. Alex is one of the best men one could know. He'd returned from Mexico, and was on his way to see us, when this unfortunate story unexpectedly broke out. It was only after his long voyage in America that he no longer took a very visible role in the action of the SI. I know no one in whom I have more confidence. The cops have gathered that he came to buy heroin: he had cocaine and marijuana on him. The accusation of trafficking fell apart, one tells me, because there was only one buyer. But, merely for consumption, he faces two years in jail. He is in Sing-Sing.[8]

It is agreed that you should sign "Preliminaries."[9] And I'm happy. One last point: are you sure about the internment of Ivan?[10] I have heard this for several months, but I haven't believed it. At this moment, Sacha (Strelkoff) affirms to me that he met him, free, less than three months ago. Thus, this will have to be verified. If it is true, then naturally I am ready for all useful steps.

[1] In the margin: "Note: also the supension of all civil servants, with reduction to one-fourth of their salaries."

[2] Interview with Pierre Dumayet, concerning the publication of All the King's Horses, in August 1960, in the framework of his broadcast "Playback for all."

[3] Robert Barrat, a Catholic journalist who was incarcerated in September 1955 following the publication of a report on Algerian Maquis in France-Observateur, was arrested again in October 1960 in the offices of the journal Espirit for his active participation in the Declaration on the right to insubordination in the Algerian war.

[4] In its bulletin Public Education, the Federation of National Education (FNE) published a petition that, due to its moderation, united a large number of signatories, among them Roland Barthes, Lean-Marie Domenach, Vladimir Jankelevitch, Claude Lefort, Edgar Morin and Paul Ricoeur (cf. "The Minute of Truth," I.S. #5, p. 5).

[5] Louis Portugais, Canadian film-maker, collaborator [with Straram] on the Notebook for a landscape to be invented.

[6] Hands Off Alexander Trocchi.

[7] Cf. I.S. #5, p. 14. [Translator's note: The Minute of Truth.]

[8] Sing-Sing, the state prison situated in Ossining, Westchester County, New York.

[9] "Preliminaries for a definition of the unity of revolutionary programme," P. Canjuers and G.-E. Debord, published 20 July 1960.

[10] Ivan Chtcheglov.

(Published in Guy Debord, Correspondance, Volume 2, 1960-1964. Footnotes by Alice Debord, except where noted. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! May 2005.)

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