Remarks concerning recent declarations by a thinker of radicality[1]

The adhesion of Rene Riesel[2] to the Encyclopedia of Nuisances[3] brings the latter [some] unexpected support. The EdN -- in the last few years become the publishers of a certain number of books that untiringly dwell upon the same generalities about the market falsification of the world and the alarming degree of this proliferation -- has been content to surf the growing wave of opposition to nuisances and to add to this wave a more "radical" tonality by the simple fact that the EdN refuses the customary reformist compromises (dialogues with institutions, experts, political parties, unions and NGOs[4] that are globally impossible to be associated with). Therefore, the sudden climb in the media of the star [Jose] Bove and his Confederation paysanne accorded a public aura that would be easy to exploit, especially if this exploitation presents itself as linked to a point of view (Riesel's) that is critical with respect to this very Confederation and if, supreme happiness, Riesel should join the Encyclopedia of Nuisances. Thus, with Riesel, the EdN has a new guarantor, who comes in the nick of time to replace Guy Debord, lost in 1987 in hardly promising circumstances[5] (upon which a leaden silence is scrupulously maintained, a veritable omerta of such a milieu) and this new guarantor, moreover, more easily authorizes a certain kind of activism.

These preliminary remarks being made, and simply intended to situate the strategic underpinnings of the public declarations of Rene Riesel, now become an "Encyclopedist," the essential obviously resides in the very content of these declarations.

Several themes are broached by Riesel: 1) the historical role of the S[ituationist] I[nternational]; 2) that of the rural world; and 3) that of scientific and technocratic rationality.

1) The Historical Role of the SI.

The remarks made by Riesel on this subject are passably ambiguous. Debord no doubt wrote "There is no longer opposition" at the moment at which he was writing, but he added that, "if history returns to us after this eclipse, which depends on factors still in struggle and thus on an outcome that no one can exclude with certainty, these Comments might serve in the writing of the history of the spectacle,"[6] thereby showing that, for him, history had not come to an end. No doubt Riesel confuses Debord with [Francis] Fukuyama, if not with the widow [Alice] Debord, for whom a fetishization of the disappeared has become a perfectly cynical, solipsistic marketing strategy. But the subsequent evolution of the [Guy] Debord persona, even if it did correspond to what Riesel affirms, obviously did not constitute a sufficient judgment of situationist theory: because to affirm this in a negative manner, one would only dismiss (in an inverted form) the identification of the theory with the person whom Riesel has reproached Debord for being; therefore, no theory is simply proven or refuted by the life of its author; on the contrary, it is the life that must be judged as compatible or incompatible with the theory. The only thing that proves or refutes a theory -- Debord expresses this quite well -- is the usage that future radical movements make of it.

In this context, it is fitting to recall that, in its issue #15, the EdN published a critique of the historical role played by the SI alongside a passably hypocritical judgment of Debord [himself] that sought to transform a banal killing-of-the-father into a fencing duel that counted upon the complicity of the adversary (the father, lulled by flattery, was supposed to assist without protesting his own burial): at the time, the EdN put on the kid gloves that Riesel has now taken off, and rejected the last publications of Debord by accrediting his persona with the prestige of the artist-adventurer who had personally succeeded, while Riesel today affirms that Debord's "aestheticization of his life," as well as his conspiracy theory, came to substitute for Debord's previous theoretical power, now become unless in a world without opposition. Of this, and of the general relations between Debord and the EdN -- of which Jean-Francois Martos' Correspondence with Guy Debord[7] gave such instructive glimpses -- Riesel does not breathe a word, which does not truly argue in favor of perfect honesty on his part.

Having thus made precise the circumstances that Riesel feigns to ignore and that he actively hides from his readers, it remains for us to focus on the affirmation that Riesel implicitly advances: the critique of nuisances has surpassed situationist theory and allows one to fight anew, which situationist theory no longer allows it.[8]

It is above all historically false to oppose the critique of nuisances and situationist critique in general. The journal I[nternationale] S[ituationniste], the publication of which was interrupted in 1969, had certainly not dealt with nuisances, and had possibly accumulated a certain retardation or myopia in this respect (although, at the time, ecological critique did not fill the streets, since the ecological misdeeds of industry were still of limited proportions); but the subject was broached in 1972 in The Veritable Split in the International[9] and one can believe with no possible error that [Jaime] Semprun and his entourage [at the EdN] were content, starting in 1980 (the publication date of [Semprun's] The Nuclearization of the World) to take up in Debord's thought this specific aspect of his critique, so as to completely forget the rest of it and so as to make a specialty of it, but without adding anything to the conceptualization.[10] The least that one can say is that one could not be more ill-advised than the EdN to reproach anything in Debord's thought, of which the EdN was only a partial rejection.

Thus the critique of nuisances has not surpassed the Debordian critique of which it, on the contrary, represents a tardy emanation and does not at all represent a superior stage of the old proletarian critique but, as necessary as the critique of nuisances is, it represents a potential danger to proletarian critique. Indeed, and one has already seen it practically, the critique of nuisances facilitates the rise of a reformed management (which Riesel quite justly calls the "party of the historically vanquished") more than the rise of radical democracy -- at least if it does not re-situate itself in the framework of a more global critique (it thus runs the exact same danger as that run by the old critique of economic liberalism, which emerged into nationalization and bureaucratic management). It is in this regard significant to ascertain at what point this subject [nuisances] has succeeded in eclipsing any other consideration in a journal like the EdN, just as it has in the various ecological dens.[11] At best, the EdN is to Debord what Marxism was to Marx, except that the production of nuisances has been replaced the private ownership of the means of production.

As Riesel recalls, it is true that, in the current conditions, the rejection of nuisances stirs up the public more than the critique of the spectacle, in the same way that the refusal of layoffs and unemployment have always made their victims react more strongly than the critique of capital as a mode of production. One can easily understand the reasons for this, but in what way can they be interpreted to the detriment of the most radical and comprehensive critique, which is quite obviously that of the spectacle and capital? Does not one see from the first glance the danger of such limitations and their opportunistic over-estimation? Does not all historical experience recall it? Is not the formidable talent of capitalism to survive entirely founded on the perpetual reiteration of such confusions? This awakening, as old as the beginning of the workers movement [itself], does not even surface in Riesel's remarks. They were made as if the refusal of the most recent performances of capital is equivalent to the refusal of capital itself: whereas everyone knows the point at which such implications promptly cover themselves in ridicule. And, in the EdN -- the orphan of Debordian tutelage, in the process of being involuntarily adopted by Theodore Kaczynski and Teddy Goldsmith[12] -- the critique of "industrial society" is on the verge of replacing that of capital and the commodity.

2. The historical role of the rural world.

Riesel's remarks concerning the peasant world are eminently self-contradictory. Riesel justly mocks the attempts to reassure the individual "with the return to pseudo-rural traditions, which would be a possible refuge for quality in agricultural products," but he nevertheless affirms that in the rural milieu, it has been possible for him "to reclaim practices that in many ways constitute the real wealth of humanity." This second phrase greatly limits the import of the first, because -- if it is necessary to reject the mediatic[13] affirmation of the maintenance of the rural world where it has already disappeared -- it is only fitting to also reject the very nature of this rural world such as it still exists. In the 1970s, when Mao's regime was exiling disgraced intellectuals and functionaries to rural penal colonies to purify them through contact with rural labor, the Western drop out[14] acted in complete liberty, discovering one, a hundred, a thousand places like the Larzacs[15] and the "wealth of humanity" in the deserted Causses; he thus escaped from the historical dialectic issued from the movement of [19]68, without confronting its unexpected prolongations. Marginal work was thus the idol of the time, for a generation of flower children, and hardly anything other than that. "There is no longer any peasantry in France," Riesel has found -- but why reject it? -- the class and milieu that individuals in love with emancipation fled like the plague ever since Greek Antiquity and throughout Western history, sealing their own destiny by becoming -- without regret and hardly any hesitation -- "farmers integrated into a segment of agro-industrial production," hidden salaried workers of the Credit Agricole [Bank], accepting the total loss of all autonomy under the pretext of becoming "modern"[16] and momentarily forgetting their historical unreality. It is not a question of weighing down under irony a class that finds itself exposed to the pressures of an irresistible force, and of which the vestiges survive in more and more miserable conditions, torn by the different sharks of the food-processing industry: the weak peasant masses are already sufficiently weighed down so that one can thank them by adding to their difficulties; but for all that it seems indispensable to recall that the peasant class presents all the traits that make it the dupe of religion, the State, private property, the narrowest morality and all of the traditions susceptible of obscuring the mind. To this finding, formulated and justified over the course of many centuries, Riesel opposes considerations such as this: "one finds in it attitudes towards life and especially social life that are quite antinomical to those of the dominant rationalism, a mode of life, in any case, less separated than what industrialization has ended up as, by reducing mankind to work and by colonizing free time." The less fragmented character of rural work was already what attracted the drop out[17] of post-68 and who went into ecstasy when he found out that one fed animals and that one took care of their maladies before finally taking them to the slaughterhouses. If, moreover, one personally harvests the hay that one then gives them to eat, and if one tans the pelts that one has taken from their bodies, does not one begin to brush up against the famous "total man" envisioned by the young Marx in somewhat different circumstances? No one, in sum, wants to understand that rural labor follows the evolution of all labor and that complete dehumanization is quite simply the merited destiny of [all] alienated labor, from which there is no return: because it is perhaps useful to recall, as a basic banality, that rural labor was and remains labor; that the peasant does not labor for his pleasure, but for his livelihood; and that his task, despite its archaic appearance, was as purely economic as the maneuver at Renault and the foreclosure at Assedic.[18] The degradation that ensued in one has nothing to teach the other, and who can be surprised by this?

Thus Riesel finds himself ascertaining that, on the one hand, the peasant world -- which remains uncriticized by him and considered in a non-historical fashion -- no longer exists and that, on the other hand, "one ascertains that, without peasant civilization, it is civilization itself that fails." This critical theory of a new type is thus that of a historically defunct subject; that of a cause that is irremediably lost; a series of posthumous comments; in short, a "negative dialectic" with respect to which that of Adorno could pass as an exuberant form of positivism.[19] Fortunately, Riesel's practice does not conform to his theory, since he is among those who have acted against the food-processing industry and who will surely do so again, among the quite-merited peasant revolts that the peasant class will foment before disappearing.

The supercession of the opposition between town and country -- of which the food-processing industry and the mercantilization of products, methods of production and rural places has only momentarily constructed the most sinister caricature -- must civilize the countrysides more than inherit their "civilization." There won't be any heritage.

3. The historical role of scientific and technocratic rationality.

[Riesel states:] "The stakes of the industrialization of agriculture, which reaches a final stage with genetic chimeras: it is a question, neither more nor less, of an attempt to definitively supplant nature (outside and inside man), to eliminate this last resistance to the domination of technological rationalism. A "reason" that wants to ignore -- and here practically suppressing -- whatever is not it, is, I believe, is the minimum definition of the delirium." These claims actually represent the sine qua non departure point of all critique of the modernized domination of nature, already exposed in a passably old work.[20] But as much as a delirium, it is a question of a merciless war, condemned to be pursued to the extreme, that exchange-value fights against use-value, a war "that smolders at the very heart of the simple market form." "The market war (...) is the absolute form of war, the unlimited and immoderate search for destruction, the blind indifference to the survival of its protagonists and to a post-war period that it cannot even conceive of (...) The war that exchange-value and its power of abstraction have declared upon all of reality is of another kind: because it can only end when there are no more combatants; no kind of peace can be reached by the commodity, which reasons as if it came from another world and with absolute scorn for ours -- which is nevertheless its only terrain of action, to our great misfortune."[21] The gigantic tunic of Nessus[22] that capital imposes on the real fatally burns its skin, but this is not -- as some people think -- a question of reason or irrationality: it is a question of the enslavement of reason, because there exists no other irrationality than enslaved reason. nature only being taken as an initial and exhaustible reservoir of primary matter, capital has made its formal appropriation -- fragile because easy to contest -- follow its real appropriation, that is to say, the penetration of matter, the detournement of genetic programming, [and] the confiscation of the capacity to reproduce the living.

The war of exchange-value against the real has enlisted rational and scientific capacities in its camp. These will thus not be the last that are implicated in their principles, but rather their mercenary status and the rational degradation that imposes this servile state on them [will be]. The blindness of science is not consubstantial with it, but the rictus that shows that it has sold its soul to the devil and that it prefers to become the contrary of itself rather than break its pact with power and money. When the system of dominant alienation "unreasons" in terms of use-value, it is simply that it is reasoning in terms of exchange-value.

It is still necessary to return to the principle that the SI established and that the EdN has stupidly rejected: the confrontation over change. Because in the resistance to the frenzy of change of capitalist-commodity society, one will see the multiplication of the positions that call for falling back on an imaginary past, and it will be necessary to be opposed to them as well as to the principal enemy.

February 2001

[1] Author's note: Rene Riesel, The progress of submission moves at a frightening speed, Liberation, 4 February 2001. [Translator's note: this interview with Riesel was subheaded "From Situationism to the Peasants' Confederation: A Radical Thinker."]

[2] A member of the Sisyphus anarchist group (with Christian Sebastiani) and active in the occupations movement of May 1968, Riesel joined the SI at the age of 16 in June 1968. Riesel did not do well in the SI: he was unable to successfully discharge his responsibilities as one of the editors of Internationale Situationniste, which did not come out after Debord resigned as its editor-in-chief in 1969. (One of the articles that consequently never got published was Debord's groundbreaking essay The Sick Planet.) One of the "contemplative" situationists, Riesel was excluded from the organization in September 1971.

[3] The Encyclopedia des Nuisances ("Encyclopedia of Nuisances") was a journal and publishing house founded by Jaime Semprun and the ex-situationist Christian Sebastiani in 1984, in the wake of the assassination of Guy Debord's friend, publisher and film producer, Gerard Lebovici. Note that "nuisances" here does not refer to small irritations of individual sensibilities, but to great dangers to the general public.

[4] Non-governmental organizations.

[5] For an account of this falling out, see the text by Jean-Francois Martos and Jean-Pierre Baudet entitled The Encyclopedia of Powers.

[6] Author's note: Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, Chapter XXVII. [Translator's note: In point of fact, Guy Debord does not say anything of the sort. In Chapter XXVII, Debord merely quotes from Thucydides' The Peloponnesian War (Book VIII, Chapter 5), which he introduces with the suggestion that this is "something that has relevance to the situation in which we find ourselves."

[7] See both Martos' preface to this book and his comments on its subsequent interdiction by Alice Debord and the Librairie Artheme Fayard.

[8] Author's note: In this respect, it is useful to avoid a quite tiresome confusion that one finds in Riesel between situationist theory (elaborated and expressed by a group between 1956 and 1969) and Debordian theory, which was pursued until the man's death in 1994. [Translator's note: we have observed this distinction in our statement about the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Situationist International, though we found it necessary to conclude that, while Debordian theory remains relevant to today (2007), situationist theory does not.]

[9] Author's note: Issue #15 of the EdN still recalled this fact; Riesel has now forgotten it. [Translator's note: see theses 14-17 in Theses on the SI and Its Time (the main essay in The Real Split in the International).]

[10] Author's note: It was only later, after refusing to do so for a long time, that they read [Theodor] Adorno and cited [Hannah] Arendt, so as to escape the stupefying narrowness of the pro-situ corpus. It even seems that they would have been on the verge of discovering [Gunther] Anders. Like all the tardy attempts at catching up, theirs, alas, served less to enrich critical theory than to lead it astray, to literally deprive it of its critical character. The bio-regionalism professed in the pages of The Ecologist, the French version of which Riesel regularly publishes in, is the obsolete ideology that has taken the place of critical theory for university scholars and Anglo-Saxon researchers who have no ties -- neither theoretical nor practical -- to the history of the movement of social contestation. For these specialists in the nuisance, the enemy to defeat is not the capitalist-commodity society, of which it is necessary to think, but industrial society, of which it is sufficient to look at.

[11] Author's note: To the point that Riesel and the EdN are very proud of distinguishing themselves from some of the competing anti-GMO activists by not only taking exception to private research in and manipulation of genetic material, but public as well. They publish and post tracts that emphasize this astonishing radicality. What audacity! It is as if one dared to criticize [the Department] of National Education, the CNRS, Assedic or even a [government] minister! It is thus necessary to fearlessly have a foreboding of a veritable break in contemporary French history: the taboo of the public can be broken if the EdN persists and signs.

[12] Theodore Kaczynski is the real name of the "Unabomber," a American terrorist whose sexist and homophobic "manifesto" -- Industrial Society and Its Future -- was published because, in exchange, he promised to stop attempting to maim and kill people. Edward ("Teddy") Goldsmith is a wealthy Anglo-French environmentalist who founded The Ecologist in 1970.

[13] The French here is mediatique, for which there is no equivalent in English. Using genetique ("genetic") as our model, we have rendered it as "mediatic." It means more than simply media-related or mediatized, and suggests the spectacular.

[14] English in original.

[15] A limestone karst plateau in the southern part of the Massif Central in France.

[16] Author's note: Only 1% of agriculture in France is organic.

[17] English in original.

[18] The Association for Employment in Industry and Trade, a private organization.

[19] Adorno's Negative Dialectics (1966) was particularly pessimistic concerning the possibilities for proletarian revolution in capitalist societies.

[20] Author's note: Chernobyl: Anatomy of a Cloud, Editions Gerard Lebovici, 1987, p. 47: "'Scientific' understanding does not like to see spring up in front of it the irruption of the real, the rationality of facts, reason as such, of which it strives to construct an establish misrecognition, the scholarly denial; the rationality that appears to it as a double, a pitiless rival, the advance of which persists in relegating it -- despite its remarkable progress in sectoral knowledge -- to the state of animist superstition that has become a form of practice." [Translator's note: this book was written by Jean-Pierre Baudet.]

[21] Author's note: ibid.

[22] In Greek mythology, Nessus was a centaur that was killed by Heracles, who was in turn killed by its tainted blood.

(Translated from the French by NOT BORED! August 2007. Footnotes by the translator, except where noted.)

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