To Guy Debord

Dear Guy:

Since September 1 [1970], we have received the two letters you addressed to us in New York, as well as the one mentioned several times by Rene Riesel. [1] The photocopies sent to Maine have also reached us.

We have awaited your return to Paris and your response to our letter of 17 August [1970] [2] before communicating to someone in the French section [of the Situationist International or "SI"] the totality of considerations in which the recent evolution of the incipient crisis have placed us. The response of the three comrades [3] to our questions of 17 August is extremely symptomatic of all that we have recognized in the crisis of the SI. We don't think that a direct response to the letter of the 25th [August 1970] would be useful.

A supplementary note concerning Barret: [4] it is the imprecision of the phrase "positive refusal" in your letter that forces us to reserve all conclusions, taking account of other information concerning telephone calls. The imprecision that we see in this expression isn't merely semantic; it relates immediately to our own practice, which has brought us to wanted to admit Barret [into the American section]. From our point of view, the initial splits and accords merit being expressed directly in a decisive fashion. The semantic liberty that is taken in the ending of formal relations can contain an imprecision concerning the situation itself, there where it doesn't exist. When these imprecisions are less and less recognized each time, the error excedes the porportions of a vague reflection that no longer considers the essential details, according to the rules of the game itself. As another example: the letter of exclusion addressed to Chasse and Elwell [5] can be considered as a proposal to exclude on the basis of a similiar semantic interpretation. Here the error becomes more serious -- rather than limited, as was the case -- as it goes unrecognized.

From what we know, the citations of our letter have been reduced to motorcyclism of the "situ-ist" militantism of [Paolo] Salvadori. The role played by the woman in this theatre of the ideal extends and intensifies the aberration visibly manifested in the first communications.

We find that the doubts raised by your letter of 17 August appear to be confirmed by your other letters and emphasized by the 25 August letter from the French comrades. Knowing all this, we have abandoned our initial and agreeable decision to complete several concrete projects on the American terrain, so that we can engage in preliminary discussions concerning a regroupment. The publication of issue #2 of the American journal [6] seems impossible before this discussion has begun; it appears to us that the current organization of the SI is on the verge of pseudo-practice.

The last crisis centered around Paolo [Salvadori] reveals to us the total paralysis of the SI in the recent period, in which organizational separations only exist in themselves, and an ineluctable determinism follows the lines traced between individual and collective failures. By its moral style (critique taken as "bad humor"), and its automatic invocation of all sorts of qualifications in relation to non-existent questions, the letter of the three comrades lets one see the subjective depths of the collective failure of the SI. And so, though we have directed to you personally several provisional and banal considerations on the organization, they are quite obviously in no way personal.

It is only after so many defeats that we have considered what is defeating us. We see a tendency in the SI after May 1968 to try to be more than a group of theoreticians, without seeking the necessary objective bases for such a project. This point of departure, among others, serves as a critical recognition of the real differences that exist between us in theoretico-practical development, of the importance of realizing everyone's different capacities and eliminating the limited inequalities that exist between us. Seen from afar, the failure to communicate such a perspective seems to derive as much from the symptoms of hierarchy in the French section, despite the best of intentions, as from the extremism and costumed drama of each critique.

In Venice, [7] we met and paraded around in front of each other, without ever speaking of what we are and what we think we can do together in this new era of the SI. After the [recent] interminable crises, one has begun to seek a new terrain, at the moment when the comedy of exclusions was becoming the entirety of situationist practice. [8] We must speak in a most decisive fashion of the headache atop the shoulders. Despite the large number of recent exclusions, the strategic debate hasn't yet included a precise discussion of the criteria for individual participation. What's the meaning of the fact that these criteria haven't been formulated?

Besides the objective fog in which the SI has found itself for a while, it is in the exclusions that we see a second disastrous force. Here, we have shown that we haven't learned to "wait," and have perhaps lost all discernment for organizational situations. The SI hasn't succeded in realizing the autonomy of its sections. The first Italian crisis immediately affected the French section. It was in Paris that [Claudio] Pavan began to discuss the real state and details of the financial affairs of Gianfranco [Sanguinetti], and this after the Delegates Conference [9] at which he was supposed to reveal all that he knew. The [March 1970] visit of the Italians to Paris, which coincided with the most shrill moments of the crisis in their section, didn't require weakening the frontiers between the French and Italian sections, nor guarantee the necessity for the French section to respond immediately to an obscure "ultimatum" from the Italian section. It seems that all this came to head with the telephone calls from Paolo to Paris and in the responses that were made to them.

On the terrain of an abstract practice and with the appearence of an organizational spontaneity-ism, an implicit ideologization is intervening in the exclusions. The deficiencies themselves do not escape from the domain of subjective loss and individual decline, which isn't a factor added to the development that we can see, nor the unilateral result of a collective incoherence. In the most recent period, the SI has been the sum total of individual failures become a conscious practice, uncritically applied to our disappointments in individually engaging in theoretical analysis and putting into practice a large number of excellent propositions that have been versed in the strategic debate. The most bizarre trait of the last Italian tragic-comedy is the fact that the two Italians involved have done nothing over the last six months; unless what they have effectively done has no meaning for them. The aberration of Paolo is an extreme expression of one of the aspects of the final force with which we must contend: "situ-ism." [10] We have here the last embellishments of an abstract fusion of everyday life with revolutionary organization in their collective decrepitude. With the delay in creating the bases for activity in the new period (and when several ideas are formulated, one is aware that they are simply theoretical), and with the geometrically abstract understanding of the terrain of practice, the most basic banalities finally become magnified historical relations. We believe that the type of exclusion determined by unexpected failure in banalized situations finds its origin in a past that goes back to the disappearance of Chevalier. [11]

Here, where the domain of practice mercilessly criticizes the existing world isn't in step with the situationist organization, we must suspend the tone of the ultimatum, as well as the practice of exclusions, so that we can see how they concretely interfere with the real project. On the other side of extremism in the service of the arms of exclusion, which consequently turns into "situ-ism," there is the position of the three French comrades [Riesel, Vienet and Sebastiani] with regard to Gianfranco: he engages in the euphoric idealization of the "situ" because his real failures are not considered correctable, and this in direct proportion to the blindness that they manifest with regard to their participation in these errors (initial submission) and thus their blindness to themselves. This type of malaise isn't automatically fatal. And so, in light of the development of fantasmagorically subjective criteria [for exclusion], the generalized silence concerning the bases of participation in a revolutionary organization today, and the collective failure of practice in general, we believe that it is necessary to reconsider the totality of the recent, unexpected, incorrigible failures, in the sense that several old friends who were excluded now merit more than an exclusion, that is to say, a chance for supercession at the heart of the SI. None of the individual failures must be considered as a function of our current weakness; several failures don't merit the least reflection.

We envision a preliminary discussion of regroupment that would concern several excluded comrades. This could also be applied to several current situationists who have committed serious errors, as you noted in your second letter. The immediate first condition would be the verified awareness by each member of his own errors, formulated as self-critique and put into the action of their supercession.

For the moment, we must be voluntarily vague concerning the identities to whom abstract allusion has been made, forgive their errors on basic points and say that their presence in the SI merits a second chance, a chance to correct themselves in the framework of the regroupment. We don't want to play a political game of redemption. We want to participate in the salvaging of the SI -- the truth of its theory.

We conclude with the preliminaries of a tendency [within the SI], of which the most discussable point would be the following: the SI must be capable -- in the light of the collective responsibility for several of the individual failures that ended in an exclusion, and for several failures not yet judged -- of reconsidering participation in a dialogue concerning a regroupment with those who have most directly denounced their respective failures. As said above, the immediate preliminary to such participation is self-critique.

Without dead time,

Jon, Tony

Note: written in English by Jon Horelick and Tony Verlaan, 21 September 1970. Original text not available. Translated back into English September 2004 by NOT BORED! from a French translation.

Translator's notes:

[1] None of these letters were included in the original 1974 edition of Debat de l'Orientation de l'Ex-Internationale Situationniste, 1969-1971.

[2] Not included in the original edition of Debat de l'Orientation de l'Ex-Internationale Situationniste, 1969-1971.

[3] In Debord's absence, the three comrades would have been Rene Riesel, Rene Vienet and Christian Sebastiani, that is, the Editorial Committee for issue #13 of Internationale Situationniste.

[4] Someone (first name unknown) whom the American section wanted to admit into the SI. It seems the French situationists (see footnote [3] above) issued a "positive refusal" of his candidacy, perhaps because they thought no new members should be admitted until "the orientation debate" had been concluded.

[5] Robert Chasse and Bruce Elwell were members of the American section of the SI from 1967 to early 1970. See their text A Field Study in the Dwindling Force of Cognition, Where it is Expected Least: A Critique of the Situationist International as a Revolutionary Organization. The letter excluding them from the SI was not included in the original edition of Debat de l'Orientation de l'Ex-Internationale Situationniste, 1969-1971.

[6] The first issue of The Situationist International was published in New York in June 1969.

[7] Venice, Italy: the location of the VIIIth Conference of the SI, September 1969.

[8] An excellent insight. "Contrary to the preceding purifications, which had to aim at reinforcing the SI in less favorable historical conditions (and which reinforced it on every occasion), this one aimed at weakening it." Guy Debord and Gianfranco Sanguinetti, Theses on the Situationist International and Its Time (April 1972).

[9] The Delegates Conference was held 17-19 January 1970 in Wolsfield and Trier, East Germany. In attendance were JV Martin (Scandanavian section), Claudio Pavan (Italian section), Rene Riesel (French section) and Tony Verlaan (American section).

[10] I.e., "situationism" or a "pro-situ" posture.

[11] Alain Chevalier was excluded from the French section in October 1969.

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