from Guy Debord

To Branko Vucicovic[1]
27 November 1965
Dear Sir:

I would like to defend "the situationists" from the reproach that you addressed to them; certainly not with the intention of convincing you, from afar and with a few words. I will only try to show you that your reading on this point is too simple and that the question -- discussable in itself -- of our "intolerance" has certainly not been well posed in these terms. As you do, I think that it is a fundamental question, and that our theoretical positions (on play, language, etc.) not only risk becoming mendacious and valueless, but would already be so today if we supported them in co-existence with the dogmatism of a doctrine, whatever it might be.

As you do, we think that "the freedom to travel by all roads and especially by unusual roads" must be absolute (and not only on the artistic and theoretical levels, but in all aspects of practical life). For a thousand reasons, of which the experience of the East [of Europe] is the most obvious, we know that an ideology in power passes from partial truth to the absolute lie. Thus, how can we, in this spirit, affirm rigorous ruptures with the fashionable thinkers or with the situationists who have thought or acted against our positions, which have been communally defined? It is for the following reasons, which I ask you to consider.

1) We are not a power in society, and thus our "exclusions" only signify our own freedom to distinguish ourselves from the confusionism around and even among us, a confusionism that is much closer to existing social power and has all of its advantages. We have never wanted to prevent anyone from expressing his [or her] ideas or from doing what he [or she] wants (and we have never looked to be in a practical position in which we could exert pressure in this sense). We only refuse to mingle against our convictions and our tastes. Note that this is much more vital than having hardly any freedom to express our own convictions and tastes such as they really are, given that their character is so clearly against the current. Our "intolerance" is always only a response -- quite limited -- to the practically very solid intolerance and exclusion that we encounter everywhere, particularly in the "installed intelligentsia" (considerably stronger than that which surrealism had to suffer), and which hardly surprises us.

2) In the same way that we are not at all a power of control in this society, we refuse to become one one day, due to some kind of political modification (in this matter, we are partisans of radical self-management, of councils of workers that abolish all state power and even the power of separated "theory"); and we even refuse to transform ourselves into any kind of power, even at the low level that would currently be possible, as we do not accept the enrollment of disciples who give us the right of control and direction over them, a more widely recognized social value, but also vulgar artistic or political ideology. On this point, certainly, we have nothing in common with [Andre] Breton.

3) We absolutely refuse to constitute a doctrine (we reject the term "situationism"), which is something that claims to exist as a normative value to some extent beyond the practice of real individuals who share our experiences. Here as well, we are opposed to surrealism as well as to the multiple variants of Marxist ideologies. I grant to you that, in so far as he was an imperious defender of a limited aesthetico-moral doctrine, Breton is not without similarities to Jdanov[2] (and even to the calumnious proceedings sacralized by the authority of surrealism); nevertheless, the difference is that Breton did not exercise his "terrorist power" with the arms of social repression (besides, the artistic value of surrealism over the course of twenty years and its partially revolutionary and liberatory content are incontestible).

4) One can not confound the practical conditions of free thought here [in Western Europe] and in the East -- or for example in Spain. Where nothing can be overtly expressed, it is obviously necessary to support the right of everyone to express themselves. But in the conditions where everyone can express themselves (although across a fantastic inequality of abilities), radical thought, without of course wanting to suppress this practical freedom, must at first claim its right to exist (an "unusual road" of the possible), without which it is "recuperated" and faked by the order that manifestly reigns above this open confusion and complexity that apparently and finally has does indeed have a monopoly over appearances (cf. our critique of "the spectacle" in the society of the consumption of abundant commodities). Finally, the ruling "tolerance" has a unique sense and this at the planetary level, despite the antagonisms and the complexities of different types of societies of exploitation. Fundamentally, what tolerates the tolerant people who have the floor is the power established everywhere. You tell me that you live in Prague: you will see in Paris how the tolerant intellectuals of the Left are finally uncertain, understanding and tolerant of the established conditions in Prague or Peking. They call "the sense of history" their Hegelian adhesion to what they read in the daily newspapers. On the contrary, my friends [in the SI] appear to me lucid about the conditions of general liberty, at the same price as our rigorous opposition to the more or less "modernized" defenders of the old ruling hierarchy.

Cordially yours,
Guy Debord

[1] Translator: a Czechoslavakian art historian. Parts of this letter were published in the essay, "The Ideology of Dialogue," Internationale Situationniste #10, March 1966.

[2] Jdanov, member of the Politburo, directed cultural politics under Stalin.

(Published in Guy Debord, Correspondance, Volume 3, 1965-1968. Footnotes by Alice Debord, except where noted. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! August 2005.)

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