from Jaime Semprun

To Jean-Pierre Baudet
Besanceuil, 2 March 1987
Dear Jean-Pierre:

I deplore the fact that you feel constrained -- to adopt your terms -- to react as you have to the text by Fargette,[1] because it seems to me that, if he has perhaps given an excessively polemical form to his critical remarks (on the occupation of the Sorbonne and the barricades of 6 December [1986]), this does not in return call for such violence in the denunciation (you go as far as speaking of infamies . . .). A direct discussion, as heated as need be, would, I believe, be preferable in such an instance. I certainly do not have the intention of offering myself as a mediator, with a blue or white helmet:[2] he will no doubt respond to you and his response will unfortunately contribute to souring your disagreement, which is quite unavoidable, given the way it started off. I will only make precise to you my own reasons for not being in solidarity with your virulent anti-critique.

First of all, I always find it painful that the appearance of a disagreement leads to the defamation of a friendship by suddenly discovering in the implicated individual the most conspicuous defects, which render still more unacceptable the qualities that one wants to continue to recognize in him: according to this logic, your reproach Fargette (in the short note that you attached to this document) for resembling post-ICO[3] workerists (but did you not associate with them together?) and, at the same time, "venturing quite beyond," which renders him worse than them, "disgusting," while they are merely impoverished. To paraphrase you, one can wonder if you reproach him for resembling them or distancing himself from. . . . As for me, I have never frequented this milieu, and I have no intention to start. But, in any case, I do not believe that one can so casually critique someone for what one did much better and accepted the day before or, rather, I know well that one can proceed thus, but it hardly pleases me.

Nevertheless, the quite museographic reference to ICO appears in your text with a more "theoretical" function: it is a question of opposing the contemplative point of view of the "petty judgments" to the initiative of the ephemeral occupiers of the Sorbonne, to "this unique example of real, spontaneous and free occupation." Is any judgment obligatorily petty (or galling, etc.) because the act judged remains minoritarian (so many ineptitudes are), because it involved "risks" (you speak in your note of "those who took the most risks in December")? Whatever appreciation one has of the "risks" that were involved in occupying the Sorbonne (it seems to me that the demonstrators at les Invalides in 4 December took other risks by attacking the police, which some people paid for more seriously than others), it remains that "risk" can never be a criteria for the pertinence of subversion: if not, it would be necessary to recognize subversion in all kinds of really risky imbecilities and to yield to the blackmail of activist voluntarism that repulses all questioning of its opportunism as simple cowardice. Likewise, the minoritarian character of an action does not suffice to justify it or disqualify it: it is a matter of circumstances, and what succeeds on one occasion will fail on another. You yourself proceed by affirmation without proof by speaking, for example, of real, spontaneous and free occupation. It is precisely the exemplary character of this occupation that Fargette contested and it seems to me (I was not there) that he had several reasons for doing so. Where you speak of "symbolic charge," he speaks of "laborious repetition": in revolutionary history, examples are not lacking of such repetitions (I will not inflict on you the remarks that Marx made on this question) and, as far as determining if -- beyond the fact that they had "nothing fundamentally wrong" [with them] -- they had something good as well, I think that their consequences in real history will show this and nothing other. From this point of view, the absence of consequences of this occupation of the Sorbonne can certainly protect it from blame, but that is all. The good will and sincerity o the participants are not at issue: after all, it is better to try what one perceives as possible, if one does not see anything else, than doing nothing. But this never prevents anyone from lucidly considering, in hindsight, the "voluntarism" of this attempt, and how much it found itself in an untenable position with respect to the movement that was certainly less advanced in many respects, but which nevertheless advanced by itself, in its own rhythm. That is to say, the fact that a significant portion of its participants did not recognize the "marginal experiments" that sought to make the movement "favorably fly off the handle" -- this is what no doubt weighs upon the consciences of the young protagonists, but also the "experimenters" themselves, their will to exemplarity. It is, in any case, an aspect of the problem that is indispensable to envision, if only to understand better what can be the means of a "radicalization" in the period that is beginning. It is thus a shame that, piqued by the effectively quite cruel mockeries of Fargette, you refuse to see the question in all of its aspects, and that you stiffen yourself in a unilateral defense of this attempted occupation. Does a movement that appears good enough to merit such an initiative, does it alone take the blame for its failure? If yes, it is its quality that one must coldly reconsider and this logically leads to putting back into question the validity of the initiative that believes it can push things further.

The same refusal to envision the disagreeable realities appears still more pronounced in your reflections on the barricades of Saturday the 6th, when, according to you, "young punks from the city outskirts, Parisian high-school students and adults of every shade and hue found themselves together fraternally." It is remarkable that you do not envision the possibility that the police -- without even speaking of rather useless, particular provocations -- had abandoned the terrain to the riot for three hours, so as to be able to make much of "the violence," etc. It is true that this type of manipulation is a double-edged sword and can be if there is a crowd committed to confronting the police, giving the crowd time to get organized. But this is exactly what did not take place that evening and it was this general indecision that gave the fury of some an unreal character, without (by this) condemning each individual who was present, of course, but no more glorifying anyone as an Alexander [the Great] of the riot. As for Fargette's judgment ("strange simulacrum of a riot"), it is at first necessary to remark that what he said about 4 December demonstrates, if such a thing is necessary, that he is not an apostle of non-violence and that he appreciates when a violent minority causes those who, as Hegel practically said, recognize their own internal spirit that comes to encounter them [from outside]. Moreover, all those who were there and who have spoken to me, have said to me that they got the same impression that Fargette had, and had thus -- despite their desire to cross swords and the pronounced taste for fighting among some who were there -- preferred to keep aside what appeared to them to be, if not completely artificial, then at least very external. If the appreciation of this evening must now be the touchstone for any radicality, it is thus necessary for me to admit that I only associate with lamentable moderates, softened by a paralyzing respect for the "democratic majority." As I do not at all think it is such a touchstone, I instead believe that it is the judgment about this evening is less simple than you want it to be so that you can in, an expedited fashion, judge as raging moralists those who judge that evening differently than you do. So as to conclude, I will remark again that I do not see any valid reason -- when one has had doubts in the moment about the "strategic quality" of such a confrontation -- to silence them after the fact, in the name of solidarity with the barricaders: a silence that implies silence on certain truths suited to trouble it is not a revolutionary solidarity. Because revolutionary solidarity cannot exclude critique, and if it does so, then this would be a situation to speak of moralism.

There were obviously many things to say about all this. But although the esteem I have for your intelligence has led me to develop my point of view at length, it is necessary for me to admit that our principal divergence in this affair -- rather than the qualification of such an d such a moment -- concerns the method of discussing these problems among revolutionaries. On this subject, moreover, Fargette has told me that he told you his opinion of the occupation of the Sorbonne (and the appeal made on that occasion); and that you agreed the attempt had an erroneous character; and, as for the evening of the 6th, we spoke together and what I said to you (in the same sense as here) did not arouse any indignation from you about my "moralism" or my desires to be an apprentice-legislator. Thus I find it so much more surprising that you now make the heavy artillery of critique thunder against Fargette's pamphlet. In your text, you twice evoke personal antipathy as the supposed motivation for Fargette's remarks. I do not believe, according to what I know of him, that he is at all brought to extrapolate from his sympathies or antipathies his statements of opinion or historical judgments. But, in any case, for myself, I am more than ever decided to not let personal matters compromise the seriousness of the critical debate that is so necessary today: one must not play with ad hominen arguments, nor make in an irresponsible fashion accusations that aim at purely and simply rejecting debatable theses by disqualifying their author. This procedure is well known for its irrational use in extremist milieus, and it is unfortunately the one that you use when -- through a series of amalgams -- you make Fargette an emulator of journalistic and bureaucratic calumny. I obviously will not ask you to go back on this disagreement that opposes you two, which is no doubt real and has at least the gravity that you have chosen to give it. On the other hand, I cannot accept accusations so flippantly made against an individual whose honesty and courage are, to me, beyond doubt. Thus, I hope that you will reflect upon the dangers of such a manner of proceeding: here is an example of "risks" that can in no way demonstrate the validity that that there was to take them.


P.S. You will furthermore read our own reflections on the December movement in the next issue of the Encyclopedia of Nuisances, currently at the printer. Thus you can, if you judge it to be useful, have us profit from your critiques. I hope that they would be formulated in a less disproportionate style that those addressed to Fargette.

[1] Letter written in response to Guy Fargette, dated 22 February 1987.

[2] UN peacekeeping forces wear blue or white helmets, depending on their mission.

[3] ICO stands for Informations et Correspondances Ouvriere (Workers Information and Letters), which was a "workerist" publication in the 1960s.

(Published in Jean-Francois Martos, Correspondance avec Guy Debord, Le fin mot de l'Histoire, August 1998. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! June 2007. Footnotes by the translator.)

To Contact NOT BORED!
ISSN 1084-7340.
Snail mail: POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998