from Guy Debord

To Raoul Vaneigem
8 June 1963
Dear Raoul:

I have finally come to the aid of [J.V.] Martin, because his practical activity, though considerable and engaged, is in maximum disorder, and we are obliged to bring out material in a deplorably short period of time. We work excessively. We have postponned the opening of the [RSG-6] air-raid shelter to Saturday 22 June [1963]. All this gives us a good chance to realize the project that we have planned. But this will be more or less in suspense until the last day.

We await news of Deutsche Gedanke -- all the same! -- and, in addition to the copies that we need, we count on receiving the 5 paintings[1] promised by Jan. The rest will be made here, that is to say, in seven or eight points (very badly coordinated) from all over Denmark.

I hope that I can go to Belgium afterwards.

Yes, there will be time to prepare a manifesto by assembling our responses to the question: "What is the S[ituationist] I[nternational]? What must the SI do?" An inquiry towards the exterior will be placed in this perspective, in the same way as in our series of mimeographed documents. I don't believe that your text merits being simply omitted (there are good phrases in it) or replaced, as we have discussed. Two reasons for this:

a) This text is a partial text (struggle on only one front, if I may say so: how to explain to autonomous groups their possible relations with an SI "center." Defining, making known and advancing this center isn't our only problem).

b) I believe that it is even more necessary to thoroughly explore the project of a mimeographed suite of documents. I myself find that it will be two weeks before it is possible to launch a good issue of Potlatch, and I believe that this wouldn't be the best way to resume this stage of action. Rather, it would be quite necessary -- it seems to me -- to orient us towards the publication of a series of autonomous documents. But then they must have more weight than "the SI and spontaneity," which is rather calculated -- or understood by me -- to be the basic text of a bulletin a bit like Potlatch but without a title or issue number. For such a bulletin, I have several very good, short articles and news items. But then it would be necessary to give it a title, etc (in brief, to decide yes or no if it's a regular mimeographed bulletin and a "profitable" operation, which makes it, etc.).

Attila [Kotanyi] has announced to me that he's written several notes for an internal discussion in the SI (on our use of art, practically). We can join them to your article. And perhaps I will also have the time to write several propositions on our possible activities.

Concerning what you say concerning personal conflicts, the situationist project, and the people who are around, I will advance several remarks:

The SI must serve our passions. Realize them. And this quite surely in the sense in which "we don't have only one vice, but several"; and in the sense that they can be more profound, thus realizable, in this collective project. But not only in this sense. The SI must not hinder our passions (in the sense in which Attila wrote that the situationists do not have as a goal an opposition to the creation of situations). Thus, each must choose which attitude he prefers, but without ever "sacrificing" a particular passion to the SI (nor obviously the inverse, since the situationist project has nothing to do with the confrontation with a particular passsion at this level). One must even "understand" the minimum negative passion of not being bored, so that the situationists are not hindered by being tiresome people by virtue of their sole possession of their "movement cards."

This would be a perfectly metaphysical declaration if one didn't see it clearly in a historical "milieu," in the reality of a communal practical action, that is to say, the reality of the SI's internal practical relations and the SI's relations with the exterior (the exterior is here or there entirely hostile or half-way seduced). The example of Hennebert, the day on which, at my friend's house, he abused our patience, is clear as a gross caricature. Hennebert is an individual who, all his life, has engaged in a perpetual self-critique and has been a follower of all the various conformisms. In the name of the liberty that we have theoretically and practically defended (but without him and even against him), this Hennebert suddenly demanded the recognition of his "pure liberty" and against us, exactly. And this under the form of the most trivial caprice, which socialized infants older than six have grown out of. And, perhaps, he thinks to embarass us theoretically for thirty seconds by this kind of sub-Stirnerist exigency (I recall what it was: a refusal to go out to buy some beer, and being opposed to letting others go out for it, because he found himself so happy in our company). Except for the fact that Hennebert is an imbecile -- which guarantees him the tragedy of torments of this kind -- one can say that we have here the best example of an individual who is completely distant from us on all practical questions (as well on all theoretical questions, when he proclaims himself a Leftist Stalinist).

If it is a question, one which is much more subtle and certainly more interesting, of relations in the SI, which risks ending up badly, this would be the fact that certain members take on the figure of specialists in the SI's practice (or, even, precisely in the SI's conflicts with those on the outside of the group). Owing to the fact of this specialization, others come to wait for the "practicians," who always engage in a "responsible" conduct, "devoted to the common good," "correct" (etc., all the vocabulary of the political party), who, at the same time, easily have the elegance to emancipate themselves (at least in the "situationist society"). For example, the comportment of Uwe [Lausen] at [J.V.] Martin's place and also (a bit) in Belgium. Of course, these "specialists" will be the most guilty, if, later on, they accept with respect to their conduct a conception that will signify the fundamental regression of the situationist project. I have already written, concerning other matters, that the change of conventional relations can only be tied to a thorough coherence. Whereas, the pseudo-affirmation of the SI by insolence, that is to say, by the unilateral denunciation of equal communication, is only a superficial agitation that only merits attracting to itself a superior insolence in return. In that instance, I don't see true personal conflicts and still less their development into fake ideological explications. But only this elementary question of the necessity of participation is practically equal in all aspects of practice. "Equality" isn't always waiting for the growth of participation by "young situationists"; one can find examples of the dimunition of participation as a result of the presence of young people who were reputed specialists. Quite surely, as Attila said en route to Hamburg, we have such different "educations" and experiences that what is admirable is the fact we are almost completely, profoundly in agreement on so many things (practical things, too).

The second serious question -- to be asked seriously -- is entirely interwoven into the first: what must the situationists do, and this only has meaning in relation to concrete responses to the first question, i.e., "Who can be in the SI?" not "Who is a situationist?" The latter is an empty question, to which I'll never be preoccupied with responding. One can not control the modes. Moreover, in a very wide sense, one can declare "all the beasts" (even certain irrecuperable elements) to be situationists more or less; just as the rulers of underground air-raid shelters can be considered people who have deflected and perverted "situationist meaning" (uncontesibly, there is something ludic, something of the passionately arranged, in the world of RSG-6, but this has clearly turned sour).

One can envision all the rest from coherent responses to these questions, as well as point 4 [in your letter], where you speak of using certain gestures to polarize attention on "radiographic radicalism." We are quite agreed. This is what I have tried to do here [in Denmark], concerning the "Spies for Peace"[2] and the students of Caracus. But your vocabulary leads us back to my position, above: it is necessary that there are gestures. One of the worst sources of error, of hollow discussions and lost time in the SI over the last two years, has been the treatment of certain affective tendencies that one can detect (best example: the young people from Pouvoir Ouvrier [P.O.] in 1961) as real gestures. I don't want to say that these affective tendencies are contemptible, without interest or charm. For each one that pleases us deeply, there are ten others that are in direct contradiction with our global project or are merely old trivialities that at least go against the coherence of this project. If we state our agreement with a valid point that is made to justify certain concessions, or if we see as novel what is unexpected among the old ideas, it is obvious that we aren't helping anyone go further, but we are, rather, undermining the base that, more or less confusedly, has attracted to us these incomplete people (that is to say, those who are more incomplete than the average required by an avant-garde that is forced into coherence by a society that organizes "incompleteness"). In other words, we must not treat the question of revolutionary organization, which P.O. posed with so little depth, by showing off. It is surely unhealthy for all to judge engagement in the SI in a truly "spectacular" and thus confusionist light. Cartridges make poor sandwiches and one shoots badly with custard pies, as Lumumba says.


[1] Where there is liberty, there is no State; Eulogy for Gracchus Babeuf; A spectre haunts the world: the spectre of Workers' Councils; We re-start the Spanish [Civil] War, and this time we intend to win it; and The weapon of critique doesn't make up for the critique of weapons, by Jan Strijbosch.

[2] Cf. "The Situationists and the New Forms of Action in Politics and Art," published by Mille et une nuits, #300, followed by "Report on the Construction of Situations."

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

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