from Guy Debord

To Pascal Dumontier
24 October 1989
Dear Sir:

(Believe that, if I do not say "Dear Comrade," this is only for fear that one might one day suspect me of seeking to influence a historian, among so many other crimes.)

Given the subject, Editions Lebovici has thought to send me a copy of your thesis this past week. I read it immediately and I congratulate you warmly.

Your book is an important work on the SI and on May 68 -- in my opinion, the truest to date by far and also a response to the redoubtable crisis in the current status of historical explication: the epigraph that you have chosen[1] shows your intention to take up the challenge. In its three inseparable parts, your book is a critique of the society of today. I am surprised, but pleasantly so, by the courage of the people who have accepted the "direction" of your thesis. If there are now professors in Nanterre, perhaps one will see judges in Berlin one day? The history of any passed era is obviously tied to the knowledge, experience and discoveries of the present. There is also a continual dialectic between one and the other of these terms, which often favors their reconsideration and enrichment. But, nevertheless, at certain moments of regression and brutalization, one can quite easily organize the forgetting of the past, its reductive re-writing, so as to obtain the cumulative augmentation -- not of discoveries of the real facts -- but, on the contrary, ridiculous legends that are useful to the dominant interests, deliberate ignorance, etc. Our society has made progress in decadence; and it re-reads all of its past with the eyes and techniques of its most recent progress.

You are obviously right to recall that the first thing to recover, so as to truly understand an historic moment, is the knowledge of what the different actors in the moment thought and wanted; and thus -- whatever the manner in which one finally interprets it -- knowledge of what they actually said and did. Our era easily deals with people and their traces in the past, just as it deals with its contemporary slaves: according to the immediate interests of the current owners. In this regard, you have seen how the thinkers who organized the recent Bicentennial -- no longer finding utility in supporting the least perspective on their society (finally arrived in the driveway of the perfection that one now knows) -- deny louder and louder that 1789 was a social revolution. Instead, it becomes an important institutional experiment, unfortunately bungled by a bit of genocide! Such an intention quite normally leads one to valorize Sieyes and to neglect Jacques Roux, Babeuf, Cloots, Saint-Just and even Robespierre, not to mention the masses. . . . When the French Revolution was supposed to have ended up in the Third Republic, such commemorations principally valorized Danton and Carnot.

I completely approve of you clarifying May [1968] in terms of the SI, and the SI in terms of May. Here, fortunately, is the pure contrary of the "Nashist" exposition imagined in the spring [of 1989] by the burlesque "Pompidou Center." This exhibition wanted to evoke the origins of the SI by refusing and hiding its destiny. "Becoming is the truth of being." This phrase by Hegel can be applied, even better than elsewhere, to revolutionary efforts (and often to their detriment, of course). The museographs have thus assembled the "artistic victims" sacrificed by the SI, who -- except for [Asger] Jorn, who was not a victim, but one of the lucid protagonists -- wouldn't ever be gathered together in a museum if they had not once upon a time had such important and bad associations. Which are only important and bad thanks precisely to May 68.

It seems to me that you have shown quite well how "form and content" were in accord in the conduct of the SI: having certain ideas, one found it normal to act according to them, despite many opportunities to do the opposite. I find that you have given the greatest proof of your comprehension where (page 120) you expose the alternative before which the SI found itself after the movement of 68, and by concluding that, "in both cases, it was the perspective of the dissolution of the SI that could be seen on the horizon." I can say to you that this was exactly the reasoning that I engaged in back then. The others truly did not want to see it, which confirms the stupefying glaciation that came over the group around this time. This explains how what can appear a posteriori as "my choice" concerning the dissolution -- which appeared, from the beginning, quite difficult to translate into practice -- was in fact imposed quite easily. I am still very satisfied with having succeeded at bringing about this result, given all that we have seen since then.

As I suppose that you have not spoken with the witnesses of those days, I find it very reassuring to ascertain what one can do, simply by knowing how to decipher the texts that have been so clumsily dissimulated. But which were clear: the difficulty of reading them comes precisely from this fact.

I will mention to you only a few points at which your work could be improved, because these faults are completely negligible with respect to its central qualities. For example, to say that Rene Riesel still wasn't 19 years old during the May movement can allow one to glimpse what an admirable young man Riesel was during that year; he already has a startling presence in your narrative, very legitimately so. It would perhaps be just to emphasize that, during the years 1969 and 1970, the situs -- if they had completely abandoned true theoretical work -- were deeply involved in transmitting the conclusions of May, which were even more falsified and ignored in France (where many people had at least experienced them first hand), to advanced groups in several foreign countries (where they had touched the proletariat more deeply and eventually ruined Stalinism), just as during the preceding years we had devoted more time to precise critiques of China, Algeria and the USA than radicalizing the student movement. Until now, the SI had only found historians in America (and one in Italy), but they were concerned with the SI's origins and its artistic side. It is very good that such a historian appears in France[2] and it seems to me to occur at the right time. As Herodotus says, "so that time does not abolish the works of men." Your conclusion tells the SI's history in a manifestly subversive way. For my part, it is a eulogy.

Naturally, I desire that this book appears as soon as possible. As you must know, I have no participation in or function at Editions Lebovici, but only an old friendship with the family, despite numerous legends that have circulated. I will recommend your book, if you like. In any case, you can say that I recommend it, of course.

Very cordially,
Guy Debord

[1] An extract from Comments on the Society of the Spectacle: "Spectacular domination's first priority was to make historical knowledge in general disappear; beginning with just about all rational information and commentary on the most recent past. The evidence for this is so glaring it hardly needs further explanation. With mastery the spectacle organizes ignorance of what is about to happen and, immediately afterwards, the forgetting of whatever has nonetheless been understood. The most important is the most hidden. Nothing in the last twenty years has been so thoroughly coated in obedient lies as the history of May 1968. Some useful lessons have been learned from certain demystifying studies of those days and their origins; these, however, are State secrets."

[2] Translator's note: here Debord excludes from consideration the book by Jean-Francois Martos, History of the Situationist International, which was published by Editions Gerard Lebovici in 1989.

(Published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol 7: Janvier 1988-Novembre 1994 by Librairie Artheme Fayard, 2008. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! December 2008. Footnotes by the publisher, except where noted.)

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