from Guy Debord

To Juvenal Quillet
Thursday 11 November [19]71
Dear Juju:

For several days, I had proposed to write you, but I put it off for the next day because it would have been a question of a quite long letter, then I received your letter of the 4th, which further complicated the matter. Thus, I respond immediately and a little more briefly. Your purely proletarian vocabulary at first obliged me to search in the dictionary for "cyreanic": "the pleasures of the senses moderated by reason." Agreed. Or, rather: "dialectical reason tempered by the pleasure of the passions."

For clarity, I respond to the different questions with separated points of very unequal importance.

1) I strongly advise you to write a book on the characterization of the current era and its methodology, etc. (perhaps including a critique of the SI?). In the text that you have communicated to me, there are many excellent bases for such a work: it would only be necessary to change the tone -- and thus also occasionally push the argumentation -- in all of the passages that are destined to be part of a debate between comrades who know the question well. Obviously, without the power to give you absolute assurances, I am practically sure that Champ Libre would immediately take this book, on my warm recommendation. I also firmly believe that they will not rip you off, which is the most that one can expect from a publisher, and which is already quite rare good fortune.

2) I am sure that the current movement has need of several books; and it will know how to make good use of them. I completely accept your ideas on the objective opportunity for a journal. But on this point I am completely persuaded that, for the moment, your project of a "national journal" is premature for very practical reasons that concern the current weakness of our forces. A journal must express a more advanced moment of the revolutionary current, as well as the subjective capacity for intervention of the revolutionary individuals associated with it. The I.S. [Internationale Situationniste] ended as a journal precisely because it didn't know how to modify itself in the sense that you indicate and that I proposed ten times to the situs, who abstractly approved. To publish a journal such as you have proposed, it is necessary to have a real team. In other words, at least three or four other comrades, in addition to you and I. And I mean to say: people at least as capable as we are. As you know, I will never again direct a journal the way I directed the I.S. in its last three or four issues. The times that justified such an effort are past, and the clear awareness that we have to face several apparently minor problems with the editing of such a journal, even if it weakens a part of our possible intervention for the moment, is precious and can no longer be put to the side: this is in itself an obvious product of the general improvement of the movement that one can already call proletarian without making people laugh. The four or five individuals who will write the new books can, without doubt, subsequently plan to collectively publish such a "national journal," and if it becomes international, so much the better.

3) I completely share all of your opinions of [Raoul] Vaneigem that you enunciate in your letter of the 4th, but allow me to add to them two nuances: the first more "severe," the second more "indulgent."

a) Vaneigem hasn't written his life, alas, but a preface to his life, to what his life could be, that is to say, exactly the opposite of what it actually is (the person who has a more amusing life is less pressed to write about it). After all, he hasn't changed life. The return of the revolutionary movement rendered obsolete and laughable the most lyrical of its "prophets," precisely because he placed too much emphasis on the personal side of the struggles that would begin again and, even on this personal side, quite too much emphasis on the pure sollen[1] and thus even more on the bluff that is the contrary of illusion: deliberate illusionism. Instead of correcting his nice "literary" excesses in the light of the praxis already recaptured by the masses -- which, after all, he could have wanted to do and could have done very well -- he remained mute so as to make it believed that, for him, all had already arrived and was perfect. The pro-situs in the SI and beyond it have reprised this ditty without even having his pretty voice.

b) In the era when Vaneigem wrote the Treatise [on Living for the Young Generations] (1964-65), he was sincere; and this book was more useful than harmful in agitating a fraction of the youth, even sometimes workers, too. It became more harmful than useful after May [1968]. If the book had appeared when Vaneigem had finished it, its period of utility would have been lengthened by two years; and Vaneigem was not responsible for the delay.

4) In the same way, you appear too severe in your critique of the SI. The Bordas Encyclopedia isn't the end of History nor its last tribunal (I prefer [Richard] Gombin, who, in The Origins of Leftism, credits the SI with having "superceded" Marxism; fortunately it is he who uses the quotation marks). It seems that, in your most recent letter, you judge the SI outside of a historic perspective that truly imposes itself in this case more than elsewhere:

a) You take the current period, that is, since 1969, as characteristic of the whole. This would be dialectically very valuable if the SI had revealed at its end what it wanted to be in germ from its beginning: to know this poor glory and the illusionism of several people. But you aren't unaware that, in the SI, one is also critiqued and combatted. Therefore . . .

b) You seem to take the SI as a bloc (following the Vaneigemists and pro-situs on their terrain, which no longer even exists). But the SI has never been a bloc, neither in this period nor at the origin, nor in between; and still less a Debordist bloc! For my part, I believe that I have only had a decisive and dominant role in this band at the following moments: in imposing the schism of 1962; in May-June 1968; and in imposing the schism of 1970. In two cases, this meant breaking the SI and, in the third, of merging it with all of the autonomous revolutionaries one found.

I am thus not to be ranked among the admirers of the SI. But I see in it historical merits. What seems easy today was, back then, extremely difficult to formulate, publish and then diffuse in the consciousness of the era (including the old themes and knowledge that we, more than all the others, contributed to bringing back: if, for example, the idea of Workers' Councils is slightly fashionable today, that is, as a simple vague notion but also as a new problem, this isn't because of I.C.O., the surviving Pannekoekists or even Socialisme ou Barbarie). Vaneigem also had his role to play in this enterprise. All this cannot happen without errors and there have been many. Even what is done for the best, or the least bad, contains an unfortunate counterpart (the "glory" of the SI in a certain milieu is currently the most dangerous consequence, but not the only one). One can not hope that future enterprises will be able to avoid all stammering and bad reading! The central problem is how an era, that is to say, its practice, finds its own ideas (the theoretical ideas that haven't only come from the era but through very complicated and perilous mediations). A large part of these ideas will be badly stated; but no matter if they are very well or very badly stated and written, they will often be poorly heard or poorly comprehended by many people. These risks should not discourage us from acting in history even though the demonstration will exactly be remade by the influence of the revolutionary theses on the praxis that has created them. Sometimes a measure that was really well-suited to our goals shows itself, in a subsequent stage, to have also been the source of errors on another front; as I said the last time I saw you, the good reason (not only that: the good intention) for the adoption in 1957 of the nearly anonymous collective creation of the journal -- to combat the tendency of the public to create stars -- today doesn't facillitate reading of it, and has helped make the SI itself a collective star. Thus, cretins have often simultaneously presented the SI as a monolithic bloc and as my personal work; from whence comes the noise about my dictatorship, whereas I have never possessed any other dictatorship than that of the dialectic in theory and deeds. Nevertheless, an attentive reading is always possible; and I believe that, for example, the extreme differences in preoccupation and tone between the articles signed by Vaneigem and by me in issue #12 are quite discernible. Those who want to dream religiously for or against the SI as an inaccessible or lost paradise can not comprehend any of these realities, because they do not want to. Likewise, one can not speak of "coherence" in the first years of the SI. If this idea can be expressed in such a context, it refers to the period begun in 1962 and in large part as a project that was more or less verified later on. But this "coherence" became false after 1968 and in the subsequent pro-situ mode. Etc. Briefly, it is necessary to envision a historical critique, rather than a "psychological" or "moral" one. It is clear that there is a world of difference between the SI of 1957-66 and that of '66-71: it is the change of the era (I don't even want to say that the SI worsened; yes and no, but the world basically changed). As far as psychology, I always think of what our current critics would say if, on two or three important questions, we had proceded differently. But they see the SI as an inevitable result that could not be anything other than what it is. They haven't had the least experience of historic activity; when they have it, their taste for anecdotes will diminish and, at the same time, become clearer.

5) The beautiful metro strike -- despite an uncontestibly corporatist side -- has thrown the unions into an unusual pile of shit, even for them in this era. One can measure it by the tone that Le Figaro took, the tone of the current Italian bourgeoisie, seeing and showing unionism as its last rampart. It is the first time that Le Figaro has deplored, in a euphemism but nevertheless clearly, the weakness of the CGT!

I will end with several simple pieces of news.

I've sent you the pamphelt by Behouir,[2] which we vaguely foresaw when you were in Paris. Besides several quite delirious or provocative aspects (quoting Lukacs' most atrociously Stalinist book, the unhinged tone of several phrases that make one think it is all a practical joke, etc.) that intrude upon the first reading, there are several very true points and, for example, it seems to me that he has quite understood the roots of the burlesque debate between the pro-situs, and that his critique of the SI is, finally, quite just and valuable.

Buchet has acted to seize the new edition of [The Society of the] Spectacle. But a good part has already been sold, the rest are inaccessible; and he has only found four copies, plus the lead under seal at the printer.

Unhappy [Rene] Riesel only reflected three days after receiving the letter from Gianfranco [Sanguinetti] before making it known to me that he remitted to us the money, the P.O. box, the documents, etc., that he was withholding. Which means that one more time a glorious little faker who ceded nothing to the truth has immediately ceded to threats. This is quite logical; we have seen it in others; here it is, a point on which we are never deceived in our prognostications.

Concerning the enrichment that comes to us, we have voted that you receive a thousand Francs. It isn't only when they are in prison that revolutionaries should be supported. Check attached: I hope that you do not have difficulties endorsing it; if you do, send it back to me and I will address you a money order.

The response of Schu[3] appears very honest to me and certainly constitutes the basis for a discussion between us. But I find that he too much idealizes "the revolutionary": or that one applies this title to someone according to excellent intentions that exclude all faults and even render culpable the several months' of dead time in which he posed several problems without arriving at any results (and yet he agrees that this was recently the case), or that one denies him this title and then does one dare to say that he is a traitor or a bourgeois? I believe that one gains less by employing this label concerning the total existence of an individual, and more by applying it to the ideas and actions that have been concretely produced. One can call "revolutionary" any individual who realizes something objectively revolutionary and who furthermore refuses to do anything that must be understood as clearly counter-revolutionary -- or has no desire to do so. I am not sure I am "a revolutionary," or, rather, it is only because, socially, I have hardly done anything else. But I consider that I am, at the same time, to a personal degree, defined by other, diverse characteristics (an "anti-artist," a drunk, a gambler, a lazy person, etc.). I find worrisome this phenomenon of the cart of an ontological revolutionary totality that arrives before the horses of praxis. We wait for the horses and we will qualify the meaning of the furrow. If my sagacity on this point can appear extremely earthbound, it is because the situ-spectacular illusionism that we now leave behind, intimately connected to the fact that, today, there are tens of thousands of revolutionary intentions that know themselves and accomplish very little, and millions of others that do not know themselves and often accomplish something, now demands an extreme vigilance concerning those who neglect the concrete or deceive themselves concerning it. Your response contains a very good concrete analysis of the Nantese, who are unknown to me, but I can recognize the exactitude of the fact that, trait for trait, they are a Loire-Atlantic version of the international pro-situ milieu (which proves that the direct influence of situ ideology isn't necessarily in such a milieu, which obeys the laws of a more profound alienation). Schu has recently sent me a text. Thank him for me, but ask him not to give my address to anyone. I will respond to him as soon as possible.

I've also sent you, in the documents included with this letter, the "response" from Jean-Marc. It is really difficult to express less than he has, concerning an affair that nevertheless concerns him at the highest level. Perhaps he believes himself to have been clever -- and why? -- in this extraordinarily diplomatic response; but it seems to be that the striking contrast between my letter and his is already very significant.

Cordially yours,

[1] The "duty to be."

[2] Bartholome Bahouir, Of the International Conciergerie of the Situationists.

[3]Bernard Schumacher.

(Published in Guy Debord, Correspondance, Volume 4, 1969-1972. Footnotes by Alice Debord. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! July 2005.)

To Contact NOT BORED!
ISSN 1084-7340.
Snail mail: POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998