Letter from Guy Debord to Jon Horelick and Tony Verlaan

28 October 1970

Dear comrades:

I must reply to your letter of 21 September [1970] by explaining to you why, regrettably, I will not take part in the tendency of which you have begun to lay down the groundwork.

I'll explain to you first my regret. To the degree that I have been able to know Jon, I have seen nothing that divides us; and in my latest conversations with Tony, we were sincerely in agreement about the general questions that we discusssed (the necessities of practice, the proletariat, the urgency of criticizing the inert illusionism in the SI etc.). But what is more important in my eyes is the fact that up to now you are the only ones to have undertaken a response to my text of 27 July [1970] ("Remarks on the Situationist International Today"), when one would have, literally, to be a voluntary blindman not to see the practical urgency of it (an urgency augmented still more, in the few days following, by the scandalous adventure of Paolo [Salvadori]). I believe you are right to want to form a tendency, for careful regoupings are obviously the only way to get out of the derisive paralysis that has displayed itself in the SI since Venice -- indeed for 18 months or 2 years -- and which now can last no longer.

Here unfortunately my approval of your position ends. For it looks certain to me that the true tendecy must constitute itself on deep and exact analysis of past errors (theoretical and practical), must have propose for itself a precise program on the basis of this analysis. But I consider that your analysis of the past is at the same time superficial and incorrrect. In addition, your currently stated main program point appears unrealistic and deadly. Finally, a related question that was added to the discussion at the same time (the use of our finances) seems to me to be a regression from our former habits. I am going to summarize for you my point of view on each of these three questions, successively.

First let's talk about your analysis of the errors of the SI since Venice. This analysis is dominated by a kind of anger about the predominance of the French section in the management of all of our affairs (whereas, to me, it's more the quasi-nonexistence of this French section that would be the more serious problem). I must remind you of this: the French section has never intermixed, in any way, with the activity of the SI in America or Scandanavia (nor with your theory, nor with your practice, nor with your outside contacts, etc.). If it did involve itself, once or twice, with our policies in Italy (participation in the analysis of "the cold autonome," and advice about the attitudes to take in the face of the December [1969] repression), it was at the request of the Italians, justified notably by our geographic proximity; and nobody could complain about the outcome of our advice. This geographic proximity was pushed to its culminating point at the end of December 1969, when the whole Italian section assembled in Paris for a stay.

It's also necessary to take this reality into account: at this time, the French and Italian sections comprised four-fifths of the participants in the SI. Their accord on every urgent question was ipso facto a majority. If we had used this majority to deliver policy directives to you of whatever sort, one could speak of non-respect for the autonomy of the sections. But we never made any decisions -- in the successive crises of the Italians -- except about urgent problems that uniquely concerned cases of evident departure from rules of participation common to us all. This form of "activity," altogether elementary and boring, was imposed on us like a hardship, and was never sought out as a pleasure. (You are right to say that Paolo's last telephone conversations are a manifest excess, but do they mean that Paolo was teleguided from Paris? Appropriately, his operation did not succeed.) To summarize: On every important question, the French section did not interfere, but there have been, unfortunately, very few [important questions], in America as elsewhere. And it's that which is fundamentally deserving of criticism. To find oneself having to manage routine and misery is not an enviable job. You give the impression, not of regretting the underdevelopment of our real autonomous activity here and elsewhere, but rather of regretting that your remoteness didn't allow you to listen to tens of hours of regressive chitchat and to repeat some "policy" that has been obvious for 10 years. I am persuaded that you, in our place, would have said the same thing (with a little more or a little less success). But it is strange that you should appear to consider your absence from this as a lack. If you had the same troubles in your contacts with a Mexican section, we wouldn't have therefore considered you to be bosses impeding our autonomy. (Perhaps you're thinking about some debatable decision we would have taken about some real theoretical or strategic question? But I really don't know what it is a question of, and you ought therefore to clarify it).

Your superficial critique is also imprecise. You write that, "The first Italian crisis immediately affected the French section." You are forgetting that, right after Venice, the first crisis was American. It immediately concerned all other situationists, and not just "Paris." We all stepped in to defend you. Do you think that the autonomy of the American section would have been more respected if we had left you out? In fact, the lack of autonomy of the sections doesn't come from the authority of a center (nor from a foreign majority), but from the infantilism of sections that haven't learned how to find a concrete field of action, and which haven't even learned to establish correct interpersonal relations (Tony demonstrated very well the interraction of these two factors in his first intervention here in the "Orientation Debate").

I come now to your program. Its main proposition consists of re-examining the cases of certain excluded or resigned members (without specifying anyone). You start out from this strange idea that, since everything is not excellent and beyond criticism in the current SI, all exclusions (or only some of them?) have something perverted about them. But I don't agree with this view: the breaks have not been made in the name of a would-be perfection, against strictly or arbitrarily designated failures, but simply on the basis of certain realities that we have not found it possible to accept. There are no unjustified exclusions (or, rather, the only three such [unjustified] attempts were refused). We have always been too indulgent and in no way too strict. There have not been too many "shortcomings" declared unacceptable; there have been too few. I'm certainly not using these terms in a moral or psychological sense. It's not a question of being amiable or being nasty. It's a question of defining in a demystified fashion what we want and are able to do; and how to do it effectively. Certain [excluded] comrades were very sympatico and had some real capabilities. Their participation could be of great value in certain general circumstances many times described by us. I am thinking, for example, of Donald [Nicholson-Smith] and Eduardo [Rothe]: they were excluded, one and then the other, two years apart, for having totally failed to live up to an accord on a specific problem, an accord that they agreed to after very extended discussions. In revoking the enforecement of this basic rule of the game, the SI would be ten times worse.

I've talked here again about those who are "better excluded." In proposing to re-examine old separations, you are completely ignoring the truest cause of the obvious deficiency of the SI: it's a question of the mediocrity -- by comparison to stated criteria and goals -- of most of the comrades who have participated in the SI. And in this respect, one really must admit that the SI has not been as democratic as it thought. You can see this from the simple fact that, if each of us had really exteriorized the reality of his intentions and of his talents (which appeared in so many "unexpected" causes for separation), the SI would have said and done one hundred times more stupidities and perhaps would have realised nothing good.

Since you haven't specified anyone for a future discussion about re-joining -- one wonders if you are thinking about the subtle politician Mustapha [Khayati]? or the loyal [Claudio] Pavan? about the democratic [Robert] Chasse? about the revolutionary [Jean] Garnault? -- I'll just say that, in general, two big categories of conduct -- by being mixed up with the grandiose assertion of a sort of total goal on which the SI would already magically fix itself -- have explained all the particular shortcomings that can manifest themselves in any one person: 1). the real inability to reason, live, etc (this category is the less numerous); 2). some real but incoherent capabilities that hide, and in fact destroy themselves, behind the caricatural mask of a coherence desired, or even supposedly realized, by our "common" action. This person may be altogether admirable but he needs nothing short of the atmosphere of revolution for his talents to be revealed. In the absence of this atmosphere, we don't see anything. That person can write beautifully the best propositions, but the contrast with the trivilaity of the conduct of his daily life is only the more striking. False passions, which would make even slightly conscious adolescents smile, become the real theme of pompous reasonings. For some people, therefore, the SI becomes an abstract passion burdened with replacing real passions that have remained unknown to them. And as far as being a cold passion, the SI does exist in the abstract; it doesn't do anything; in any case it doesn't do anything by reconciliation with certain people who have certain real goals and certain comforting pretensions.

Since you say, quite rightly, that self-criticism is necessary (but it must be broader than those that you mention, above all must reach out to more comrades), I'll say that, for myself, I see at the moment only one to mention, but it is important: I have greatly underestimated the place and the usefulness of my personal activity in the SI by comparison to that of other comrades. I have too often, without realizing it and without anyone ever pointing it out (except Tony after Venice), responded to some objective problem (theoretical or even tactical) in the place of those who preferred to formulate no response. I use "answer" here in the broadest sense: response to what the outside world obliges us to choose and express at every moment. I believed in the autonomy and the essentially egalitarian participation of the other situationists (at least as a virtuality, when I was only beginning to know them) far more than reality suggested. I explain this by the fact that I am little accustomed to "keeping score" and am greatly deprived of the sense of hierarchy in interpersonal relations. Such tendencies that seem to me to be intended for a beautiful historical future in the coming forms of society, please me very much in everyone, myself included. The result of this was nonetheless a lack of clarity, which constitutes a serious error in organizational practice, entailing even no doubt an excessive simplification, and therefore an obscuring, of our theory of organization. Where [Raoul] Vaneigem formulated in writing some principles that were able to furnish a basis for an ideology of the SI, I certainly contributed, by one whole part of my practice, the appearance of verification of certain theses (trying meanwhile to limit their excessive interpretation on a theoretical level, by my intervention at the Conference of Paris and by my text of April 1968 on the organization of the SI). All I can add at this time about this subject is that since the overdue appearance of my awakening to the breadth of this problem -- in the spring of 1969 -- I have strived to act accordingly.

I will end with a question that is, unfortunately, related to this discussion. It was surprising to see you demand, and in such an inflexible tone, explanations about projects, explanations in which the French would justify to you the use of that portion of our recently acquired money that we did not distribute in Scandanavia, America and Holland. There was in your demand an intent to be blatantly inequal, since none of us ever thought to demand some account of the projects existing in those [three] countries. It is I, after our conversations with Tony in Amsterdam (where, furthermore, he did not mention the financial aspect of his projects of agitation in Holland), who suggested to the comrades having this money that they give him [Tony Verlaan] two million lire right away. No one discussed it for a minute, and in my view, money must always be distributed as soon as possible, without leaving the issue dormant out of respect for I-don't-know-what pompous formality. It goes without saying that if, for example, Jon had indicated to us that he felt he needed a million lire more in America, his "share" would have been augmented immediately, without his needing to furnish us with his reasons or with his bookkeeping records. It is really a shame that you have felt it necessary to act otherwise. This point is the only one, for several months now, that has aroused a unanimous and spontaneously felt accord in everybody here. On this matter our habits are good, and it's not that which must be changed. Without even bringing up the European source of this money, if the past implies a certain presupposition of possible future activity, what has been done thus far by the SI in France holds up honorably in comparison with its activity in America.

In any case, the strictly egalitarian division at which we have finally arrived leaves to you the resourcs that are your due, for any activity you freely choose, including a separation, should that appear necessary to you eventually (if you make a separation based on the idea of looking for a new accord with former members of the SI, I believe that you will not lack candidates, but neither will you lack troubles with them, nor new versions of exactly the same problems that we have settled).

I hope that this discussion will be pursued, between tendencies or otherwise.

Kind regards,


Can you send me 5 or 6 copies of the pirate edition of Spectacle? Even a bad English translation carefully handled could be useful to some European translator.

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