Incitement to Self-Defense

By Michel Bounan

Chapter V

Over the last 20 years, other novelties have appeared in our world that have tragically confirmed the Marxist and situationist critiques. In truth, everything happens today as if the sinister masquerade of the spectacle only serves -- by worsening the effects -- to delay the collapse that Marx announced.

Certainly the evanescent and labile nature of modern production has (beyond generalized dispossession) not involved the accumulation of stocks of unsaleable commodities, but merely the accumulation of polluting waste-products, as Debord already remarked at the beginning of the 1970s.[1] Our garbage-covered beaches show the crudest perceivable aspect. But the worst, the most dangerous and the most scandalous aspect -- quantitatively and qualitatively -- is obviously invisible: chemical and radioactive. In this domain, accidents -- although they are more and more frequent -- only represent the extraordinary part of the space and time of a progressive, accelerated and uniform poisoning of the planet. For example, those who observe the conditions of our forests and rivers can suspect what is taking place in our own living cells. The explosion of human cancers, the recrudescence of tuberculosis and the unexpected appearance of new infections are today tied to a general immunological deficit, of which chemical and radioactive pollutants are the co-factors and AIDS is the most recent expression.

Moreover, the accelerated production of neo-commodities and the illusions that they have supported for the last 60 years -- necessary to the maintenance of order -- have caused an exhaustion of living "resources" and the reappearance of deprivations that market civilization had promised to suppress definitively. Massive deforestation, irreversible desertification, impoverishment of the land and the oceans are today responsible for episodic famines and especially an endemic malnutrition that effects one in four individuals. And the return of old-time poverty worsens the perverse effects of the preceding poisons in what concerns immuno-depression, fatal infections, cancer and AIDS.

The only remedies that the market world can conceive and elaborate have already produced their intolerable secondary effects. Fertilizers and pesticides intended to reduce famine increase cancer. Anti-infection and anti-cancer medical treatments are themselves immuno-depressants. If one wants to also consider the fact that the agri-business and pharmaceutical industries are among the most dangerous polluters, one can measure the difficulties of managing such a world.


The monstrous acceleration of market production over the last three-quarters of a century, which has led us to the brink of planetary destruction and fatal poisoning, has nevertheless permitted the prolonged survival of market socio-economic organization. It has assured full employment, progressively increasing salaries and social peace through the means of multiple compensatory lucky charms. And yet one can no longer maintain such an accelerated production. The era of full employment and guaranteed salaries is over. The era in which no one in Europe is forced to sleep outside on packing crates and to beg for food or search for it in trashcans is also over. The air of our modern towns "emancipates," certainly, because Third-World conditions of life invade them more each year. And this new Third-World that envelops us will not return by charter to Africa, which had to be destroyed to obtain the historical postponement that is today completed. At the peripheries of the modern towns, there accumulate new immigrants, the children of the old inhabitants of these towns, whom one incites against the Africans, themselves chased from their ravaged countries. Among their TV sets and anxiolytic tablets, the haggard old people await the cancer or the infection that will led them (without return) to C.H.U.[2] More and more youths hide from the police to take drugs, many to commit suicide as well.

To respond to the growing disquiet of the public that is faced with such surprising novelties, new concepts of normality -- including what everyone now estimates to be extravagant -- have been hastily forged and diffused, the very novelty of which is in fact explained by an increase of collective well-being. Thus, for 20 years, one has heard many speak of "natural chemical pollution" (produced by volcanoes) and "natural radioactivity" (from certain rocks): the waste products produced by industrial pollution are thus completely relative phenomena. Certainly it is necessary to hospitalize more people each year, but the concept of sickness itself must be relativized: it has become normal, and even admirable, due to our new demands for comfort and delicacy, to consume remedies daily, a few antibiotics or anti-depressants, or A.Z.T., each according to his/her small differences, demands and comforts. But the suicides of the young testify to a kind of normality and a new well-being: simple effects of an existential dissatisfaction, obviously greater today due to a material comfort unknown to preceding generations. The World Health Organization nevertheless relays the following alarming news: everywhere vitality, biological self-defenses and resistances to aggression are weakening, and disastrous epidemics can be expected in the next few years. But, after all, isn't that life? A quite vague, uncertain and relative concept!

With the end of market illusions and the return of old-time poverty, it is naturally the public peace and social consensus that are in the process of dissolving. The importance of current unemployment and economic recession have the effect of discrediting models of behavior, without which a social organization such as ours can no longer function. The young workers can no longer believe that any security will be automatically conceded to them as a counterpart to their silent submission to work. Their elders can no longer believe that 40 years of perfect resignation will guarantee them retirement when they are infirm. The students can no longer believe, as before, that the diplomas that they strive to acquire will assure them of any subsequent soporific peace of mind. And even the merchants no longer believe in a "rebound" that would bring an end to the current "crisis": they have discovered that, this time, it is not a question of a sharp and violent illness, as in 1929, but rather a progressive and inexorable collapse, as in death throes. In sum, almost no one any longer believes in an acceptable future than could guarantee good management. And the discrediting of the "values" on which our society of "progress" rests has contributed to rendering common previously marginal behaviors, which one today ranks under the modest name "minor delinquency."

Even more seriously, such a loss of trust in the current socio-economic system appears -- for the first time in our century -- without the existence of any other model that would be more satisfactory, that could be opposed to this system. The old model called "socialist" actually collapsed almost everywhere under the same pressures of the economic downturn and the pollution that had, in the West, destroyed the mirage of market happiness. The Stalinist empire collapsed and the old mafiosi who collectively managed it have given way to their degenerate children. These children no longer even care to keep up an appearance of legitimacy, assured in any case of the obligated complicity of the western States, who still prefer them to the frightening possibility of proletarian revolt. In several countries in which the revolutionary mirage reigns as master, one has even seen the resurgence of what the spectacle had just a little while ago assured us were improbable historical accidents: State racism and ethnic cleansing.

The collapse of the revolutionary lie produced its own effects in the West, where its illusions had long permitted the encysting of any proletarian revolt. Our banlieus "at risk" thus are no longer kept in check by the Stalinists. They are currently and simultaneously controlled by the drug networks, the socio-cultural animators and especially the police, who have always known how to arrange alliances in all the milieus.

The "social climate" has thus changed a lot in thirty years. The automobile and television, those old irrecusable witnesses to "Western luxury," have said their last words in the pollution of the towns and the irrationality of their inhabitants. The Cuban, Algerian and Yugoslavian Revolutions have said their last words in famine, State terrorism and ethnic massacres. Heroin and suicide have replaced Coca-Cola and Leftist militancy; the old songs about the "little banlieus" have changed tone, and one especially hears this anguished refrain: "Where is all this leading us?"


In truth, great anger and frenzied demands are publicly expressed today. To each particular suffering there corresponds a main protest group or several of them, according to the variable sensibilities of the public, with their signs and pamphlets, their vocabularies and slogans, responsible leaders or wild lunatics. Here one clamors for jobs or housing with great cries, and one threatens to occupy a cathedral that is no longer used. Further on, one requires more police officers against the drug dealers, but fewer unfortunate mistakes made by the police in working-class neighborhoods. Still elsewhere, one strives to obtain the closure of a nuclear power plant or even the closure of all nuclear power plants. Several exotic people protest against the bombardment of Sarajevo, against the deforestation of the Amazon, or even against the slow death throes of the children in Chernobyl. There are not lacking some comedians who demand that priests be given the right to get married by a judge and that homosexuals be given the right to get married in a church. Finally, one furiously demands of the government that it stop the AIDS epidemic as quickly as possible.

The media often democratically retransmit these claims and demands. Moreover, is it not virtuous to defend the homeless and the endangered species, the homosexuals and Abbe Pierre, purchasing power and the Bishop of Evreux, the old Belleville and the new Opera? Is it not dignified and courageous to denounce the police-architects, the wormy doctors, the corrupt judges and, of course, the bad leaders whom one must change one more time?

Moreover, some governments strive to satisfy the just demands as best they can. But nevertheless it is necessary to bear everyone in mind. How to assure the protection of jobs and satisfy the ecologists? How to get the ecologists to agree with each other? The all-carbon anti-nuclearists and the protectors of the ozone layer? A responsible government can only propose a "negotiated multi-party solution" between the prisoners of Paris and those of Timbuktu, between the workers' unions and the associations of ecologists, between the police delegates and the representatives of the bludgeoned, and especially between all these fine demands and the terrible "economic imperatives."

Despite their contradictory protests, the main protesters nevertheless present a remarkable shared character. None of them link the sufferings that they denounce to the market root of the social organization that produced them, whether these sufferings concern the destruction of the environment, workplace conflicts or material deprivations. Thus they are not at all troubled by recognizing the legitimacy of a government to which they present their firmly worded petitions and which willingly receives their spokespeople.

On the other hand, they can not recognize any shared demand: they are isolated because they are separated from the root of the evil that they claim to denounce. "Stop AIDS" has nothing to do with "Nogent Out," nor do those expelled from Belleville have anything to do with those expelled from la Goutte-d'Or; they have no chance to encounter each other elsewhere than in front of the President's palace. Their leaders, moreover, carefully protect them from all risk of contamination. Thus, in the current social system, these protest groups quite exactly occupy the place that the workers' unions occupied in the 1960s.

[1] See The Sick Planet (written in 1971 but unpublished in Debord's lifetime) and Theses 11-15 in Theses on the Situationist International and Its Time (published in 1972).

[2] The University Hospital Center.

(New revised edition, published by Editions Allia, 2005. First edition published in 1995. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! November 2007. Footnote by the translator.)

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