from Guy Debord

To Juvenal Quillet
Tuesday 14 December 1971
Dear Juju:

Receiving your letter of the 9th, I discover that I must respond to you and concerning many things. Everything may not be in this letter, but I begin anyway.

Right away, to reassure you -- and to reassure myself -- I re-read the first fifteen theses of the [Society of the] Spectacle and truly not one more than that! (this isn't a figure of speech: I rushed ahead to read your text on the thought of Comrade [Jean-Marc] Loiseau).

I will affirm to you straight away: I understand perfectly what I have written. Obviously one cannot fully comprehend it without Marx, and especially Hegel; but this hasn't posed problems for you. Thus, if these theses are not clear, it is at a level that escapes me and that you must show me.

These fifteen theses are the introduction to the whole book, and they say in theoretical terms what one could express trivially by a thousand empirical observations -- as much sociological as revolutionary, but certainly only the revolutionary point of view can possess the meaning of this ensemble of phenomena. Its meaning can be summarized as follows: this is capitalism today.

If I deceive myself in these fifteen theses, it would be necessary to conclude that the spectacle doesn't exist. Of course, there has been television, the theatre, the bureaucratic falsification of the concrete revolutionary movement, etc., but current capitalist society would not be fundamentally spectacular and even deliberately "spectaclist" due to these things alone. In what I'm writing now,[1] I do not envision the negation that has invaded the spectacle since 1968. On the one hand, I announced it in the book [The Society of the Spectacle], by founding myself on the -- always present -- past of this negation -- the existence of which was proved by the fact that such a book could be written. On the other hand, modern society has remained fundamentally spectacular after it was obliged to go on the defensive; and it was fundamentally spectacular during the two preceding decades, which were its most triumphal moments. (The spectacle is also present in the ranks of its enemies; not only among the Mao-Trotskyists, but also among the situs. I reprised at the end of the book what I had said at the beginning: the spectacle can be designated ideology materialized.)

Thus, I am completely at your disposal:

1) so as to explain to you any point that appears obscure to you in the expression of these fifteen theses;

2) so as to expound to you, if you like, in more everyday terms, what I think the spectacle is in the life of people and in the failures of the preceding revolutions. I have come to this concept through real experience (although it is very "avant-gardist") of revolutionary activity in the 50s and 60s -- but the phenomenon is quite a bit older than that: it has its basis in Greek thought; it increased towards the Renaissance (with capitalist thought); and still more in the XVIIIth century, when one opened museum collections to the public; it appeared under its completed form around 1914-1920 (with the ballyhoo of the war and the collapses of the workers' movement). Certainly "the concept is operational," as our enemies say. I even believe that it is more and more so. However, the question remains posed: is the spectacle the central concept that qualifies this moment of capitalism (its "last moment," as one believes and hopes for several good reasons)? I modestly believe the answer to be "Yes," but we will see -- we or others. It is history (and not "the historians" of whom Vaneigem spoke in his last gasp[2]) that will show us.

If the concept of spectacle is radically false (because it can indeed be relatively "false" -- and thus "true" for historical thought -- in that it is only "the maximum of possible consciousness" at this moment in society, which one will explain much better after one has left it behind or when one will be more advanced in the endeavour to leave it), then I have said a thousand other things in my book that are just (of which 995 come from comrades from the past), but they all contain something erroneous, because I have not understood or reassembled them on the basis of this concept. In this book, there are certainly some points, touched upon in passing, where I have deceived myself (I am really not sure that weren't any notable technological revolutions between the casting of iron and [modern] industry; I have read two or three things that have led me to think so, but my ignorance is great in the paleo-historical domain, etc.). I have also and more seriously deceived myself in my hypotheses on historical time, which are surely the fundamental research in the book, for which there is hardly precedent -- "and not by chance," to employ a phrase affected by the Stalinists! -- and I have formulated them as the other side of the question of the spectacle. If the proletarian revolution is truly a possibility, then I am certainly not deceived on the minimum tasks that I have amiably assigned to the mature Workers' Councils (on the contrary, now that the first councilist fashion has begun among the intellectuals and sub-intellectuals, I regret not having added one or two more crudely explicit theses on what a "Workers' Council" in this sense must be, instead of letting it appear that the demand for councils only comes from historical theory). But if the concept of spectacle is an error, fuck! The whole book collapses. However, I do not know a better one on the subject that occupies us, which is a detail that leads us to the fundamental question of consciousness in history and what it does in it. For example, Capital is obviously true and false: essentially, it is true, because the proletariat recognized it, although quite badly (and thus also let its errors pass), etc. Although the concept of the spectacle is the center of the book, the title is merely provisional [occasionnel] and intends an agitation-effect: one could just as well have called it "The Society of the Proletariat." But it would be necessary to guard against the historical recuperation of the words. This is why this book, which is communist if it is anything, almost never uses this term.

In brief, I am very happy that you have undertaken the critique of this book and you are, of course, the first to do so. With great interest, I await the results of this effort. (You can naturally communicate my current explanation to the comrade from Angers,[3] if they are useful with respect to the questions that he has posed.)

We move on to other subjects. It seems to me that, in your letter of 7 December [1971] to [Jean-Marc] Loiseau, you said the essential of what was necessary to say in response to him. Your critique of his weak text[4] is very good and especially as a critique of his method of thought (I will specify several points about your text later). This will allow me to make a briefer response to him, to note only the principal points that he can't manage to understand. I will do so in a short amount of time, because I have a lot of work to do and because Loiseau hardly interests me anymore. I believe I've already said to you that Eve is much better than he is, on the intellectual level, too: but such a household arrangement does not help anyone, quite the contrary.

I find the letter that he wrote to me in response to what I said about his text -- photocopy attached[5] -- to be properly stupefying. In all of my life, I have never agreed to meet anyone on the basis of an uncertainty so obvious and crude. This is a fact that is as objective as any of the others that he neglects so cheerfully. Who does he think he is, proposing to make me change? What importance does he attribute to himself, despite all of the experiences that, alas, one can have of him? Has he even read Internationale Situationniste, at the most anecdotal level? Or does he think that he can buy me? I hope "no" for his sake, because people richer than him have broken their teeth on this morsel, and especially because I only know of one of his properties (which loses its value by becoming private property).

The program that you traced for your book is completely enticing, and of course merits two full years' of work, despite our legitimate impatience to read it. But it is truly an enormous dish.

In what I do now [The Veritable Split in the International], I certainly do not go as far, but treat what is urgent: the SI as a still-weak expression of a contemporary revolutionary movement, a movement that is itself even weaker. However, I start out with -- in an obvious paradox -- a eulogy for the SI and our times as time become revolutionary once again. All of the cruel critique of the pro-situs and the situs has only meaning in the wake of that euology. Because, finally: why are there pro-situs? And, when we see them, why are they only miserable (with the result that they never have their own second-degree pro-situs)? This can not only be the fault of the more or less clumsy errors of Vaneigem or the entire SI: because, in the ensemble, these errors have been contained in a process that succeded (and that even succeded, finally and perhaps justly, in not succeding in the sense of the alienated success that had already been offered to the SI two or three times, at different levels, before 1968 and that, I hope, will also be rejected as it must be). The doubly concrete question would, rather, be this: why are the groupings of pro-situs less numerous than the SI, but "the SI" of today, that is to say, doing the same type of work as that done by the SI in what I continue to estimate to be "more difficult times"? (And thus, naturally, make a very different work.) And why have so many situs been incapable of continuing -- and for many, personally, the problem was that of the pro-situs: continuing to want to begin -- to practice the theory that now imposes itself, at a quite different moment, with as much evidence as around 1960? There are also the problems of the revolution and its spectacle; the passage of the new revolutionary current into the spectacle and, reciprocally [the passage of the spectacle into the new revolutionary current]; the uncontestable progress and the insufficient bursts of the current proletarian contestation; and also the question of the social bases and social intentions of the pro-situs and the situs. But I believe that everything turns around this point: the change of the era, which cannot be emphasized too much (on the condition of not emphasizing it as a catechism, as Loiseau does). In any case, I can affirm to you -- in response to a phrase in your letter to Loiseau -- that this work [The Veritable Split in the International] "will see the light of day" quite soon, except if I experience a misfortune in the next two or three months.

This work has a double-goal (I do not even consider here the obvious necessity of clearly settling accounts with the people whose actions or inactions implicate me personally to the highest degree):

1) to provide some theoretical specifications of what has happened -- specifications in which I am surprised not to see any traces of the productions of a hundred revolutionary groups that for two years, while the SI stayed silent, couldn't be embarassed by their puerile respect, nor by our terrorist dogmatism.

2) to best utilize practically the possibilities that the SI can give, as it has already given for a dozen years, when it comes to combatting recuperation (which is not the mythically absolute evil of which the comrades of 1968 spoke, but which is a permanent process, however little one merits it. . . .); and to be as useful as possible to the real movement. I give you a trivial example: Editions Feltrinelli has asked to publish in Italian either the totality or a selection from the Van Gennep edition [of Internationale Situationniste]. I have communicated to them the most formal and insolent refusal, noting that "Feltrinelli, this Stalinist reptile, by becoming a Trotskyist, has obviously not changed his role as subaltern policeman of the bureaucracy."[6] And I quite believe that they will be crushed. The famous "prestige of the SI" can definitely serve (as it has already served) something other than the sad masturbation of the pro-situ spectators. In a certain way, it is because the SI has conducted itself in this way (and because it is really a revolutionary need of our spectacular times) that it is enviously admired by these pro-situ cretins. But this hasn't been done so as to acquire their admiration, but for a truly vital result, of which their admiration is only one of the bad by-products.

I think that my next work will only be a very quick and general outline of what has happened to our society since 1968; but, as for the pro-situs and the futilities that define them, without flattering myself with annihilating them, I believe that I will deliver to them a severe blow -- certainly not in endeavouring to convince them of anything, but in showing them the basis of all this misery, and by inciting those people who, at this moment, want to listen to us and can do so.

In brief, I believe that this work, rather than the scattered fragments of the 1970 debate in the SI,[7] will be exactly what you have to critique in a part of your book, subsequently finished: because "ideas improve."[8]

I now return to your critique of Loiseau's text. I completely agree with the second part [of your critique], which is in line with what I'm currently writing on this same question. I have several reservations concerning the first part. Essentially, these [reservations are]: you have given me the impression of resorting to the heavy artillery to knock down a door to which you do not have the key, but the door isn't locked. You instruct Loiseau severely that there had been a revolutionary workers' movement, revolutions and programmes, Spartakists and the FAI,[9] etc. etc., while the current movement is still weak, unorganized and -- in the old, theoretical and proletarian organizational sense of the term -- almost unconscious, because no part of it explicitly formulates the goals that, according to several readers, Loiseau wants to salute it for; and because no part of it has even conquered the means of explicitly formulating them. But Loiseau mocks these historico-practical considerations. Not that he is against them: he will voluntarily agree that they are quite just. But he doesn't think about them, he isn't at all interested in them, he would only like to understand them as supplementary data that an esteemed comrade is instructed to provide him with. His purpose is to speak in generalities, of which he has read in the [texts by the] most modern revolutionaries; and the more general they are, the more they seem to attain, without risk or fatique, the [benefits of the] "extemist" label and thus to justify its "quality" -- because this is the goal. In fact, your second part should rather have been your first part, which would have saved you from having to say more; I doubt very much that he [Loiseau] will respond to the concrete points that you have raised in your second part, he who has not wanted to examine or explain a much simpler history that immediately and seriously concerns him.

As one said in the XVIIIth century: "In the memory of the rose, no one has ever seen a gardener die." As far as Loiseau thinks, the revolution was less in fashion in the past than it is today, the situs aren't well known in his school -- and he himself still hasn't read Proletarian Perspectives. Thus it seems to me that he said purely by chance many of the phrases that you picked out. This leaves a good feeling: presenting himself as a charming man, ready to do all for the revolution and especially ready to give ridiculous lessons to anyone, provided that one doesn't demand anything more from this brave, extremist discourse in general, which only testifies to his brilliant intentions. But bearing in mind what the proletariat has done, what we -- including him -- must do, and the difficulties of the proletariat today (whereas he will not confess even the least of his own difficulties, even when they have obviously flown back in his face) -- it is too much. You want him dead!

I also believe that your just indignation (which apears to me to be largely beside the point here) with his text has led you to quarrel too much with what Loiseau said about the workers; I suppose that he thought of the "proletarians" without engaging a particular workerism, because, on the level at which he thinks, these questions do not even get posed. But this part of your text takes on a certain pessimistic coloration that seems to me to be, in general, exaggerated, although I see that it was written in reaction to the transcendental optimism of his really empty text. Because, to the extent that the revolution will advance as a profound crisis of society, the cretins with revolutionary intentions who simply say "It goes well and better and better" will actually have some right to say so, without meriting a response. You are in agreement with him (and with me) on the question of "social amoralization" -- which I express by the formula: "respect for alienation has been lost." It is, all the same, a very important element in the partial collapse of the constituted spectacle, as much on its positive side as on the side of its revolutionary pseudo-negation, from Stalin to Mao-Castro, which had for a half-century radically paralyzed the revolutionary impulse. On the other hand, the crisis of the economy (I do not say "the economic crisis,"[10] which again becomes a possibility in this context) is objectively presented and subjectively expresses itself -- notably in America -- by stray impulses to put all existing technology back into question. All the current signs lead me to believe, as I have believed for ten years, that the proletarian revolution is more difficult than all of the preceding attempts, but it has very good chances of going quite a bit further than its predecessors, that is to say, going right where it has been necessary for it to go since the origin of its project. The reality of these immense difficulties will hopefully remove much of what I call your pessimism from this text, because it is undeniable that the progress of the movement in the last four years has already been great, although it remains quite below the explicit demands that had previously been advanced by movements of proletarian subversion that didn't go as far and that believed they knew their own programmes, but as the least programmes. (Loiseau is quite far from such questions.)

Dear comrade, exhaustion overtake me after so many pages. I hope that your health improves and that I will see you here in February.


P.S. I add a tract on the pseudo-liberators of sexuality, by the author of Reich: How to Use.[11]

[1] Translator: "Theses on the SI and its Time," published in The Veritable Split in the International (1972).

[2] Translator: Raoul Vaneigem's 14 Novembre 1970 Letter of Resignation from the SI.

[3] Bernard Schumacher.

[4] Translator: a pamphlet entitled Et pour quelques connards de plus [And for several cunts moreover], September 1971.

[5] Translator: not included in the Fayard Edition.

[6] Translator: see letter dated 9 December 1971.

[7] Translator: the so-called orientation debate.

[8] Translator: Lautremont. See thesis 207 of Debord's The Society of the Spectacle.

[9] Translator: Iberian Anarchist Federation.

[10] Translator: this play would later appear in Gianfranco Sanguinetti's Censor pamphlet (1975).

[11] Translator: Jean-Pierre Voyer, Open letter to the citizens of "The Homosexual Front for Revolutionary Action."

(Published in Guy Debord, Correspondance, Volume 4 1969-1972. Footnotes by Alice Debord, except where noted. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! September 2005.)

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