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From Passive to Active Spectacle: Afterimages of the LA Riots

From Bayofrage:


LOS ANGELES, March 3, 1991 – On the shoulder of the freeway, police are beating a man. Because we are in the US, and because the man is black, we will know that this is a routine event, an ordinary brutality, part of the very fabric of everyday life for non-whites. But something is exceptional this time. There is an observer, as there often is, but the observer holds in his hands an inhuman witness, a little device for producing images which are accepted as identical with the real. The images – grainy, shaking with the traces of the body behind them – enframe this event, defamiliarize it, make it appear in all its awfulness as both unimaginable singularity and example of a broader category of everyday violence.  The recorded beating of Rodney King marks, as many have noted, the beginning of one of the most significant episodes of US history. But few have examined this event in terms of the transformative effects it exerted upon contemporary spectacle and its would-be enemies. By spectacle, we mean here those social relations and activities which are mediated directly by the representations, whether visual or verbal, which capital has subsumed (that is, remade according to its own imperatives).

For us, the advent of the Rodney King video marks the first major shift in the political economy of spectacle, which we choose to describe as a passage from passive to active spectacle, from spectacle as pacifying object of passive consumption to spectacle as the active product of the consumer (whose leisures or recreations have long since become forms of work). In its classical form, spectacle creates a situation in which “spectators are linked solely by their one-way relationship to the very center that keeps them isolated from each other” (Debord.) But at a certain point in its development, spectacle dispenses with the need for centralization, finding that passive consumers can quite easily be recruited to the production of spectacle. The shift from unilateral toward multilateral relations does not promise an end to isolation, but rather its perfection. We might think of the distinction here as the difference between the television screen and the computer screen, but since we are talking about a set of social relations as much as technological apparatuses, we should be careful to avoid identifying such relations with any particular technologies. The video camera is merely one of many devices which assist in the transformation of administered life into self-administered life.

But back to the origin story (like all origin stories, it’s partly myth). The mutation from passive to active spectacle begins, as seems properly literary, square in the middle of one of the most significant nerve-plexuses of the spectacular world: Rodney King is beaten to the edge of death a few miles from the studios of Burbank and Hollywood, while celebrities whizz by in Porsches and Maseratis. A routine event, an ordinary brutality, an everyday violence: a black man is pulled over by white police officers. They have some reason or another.  There is always a reason, if only raison d’État. They beat King savagely, until he is almost dead. Perhaps they have gone a little too far this time, gotten a little overexcited? In any case, it’s nothing that can’t be taken care of, made to disappear with a few obfuscatory phrases in the police report. Except that, somehow, everything is different here. Recorded, duplicated, transmitted, broken down into the pixels of a million television screens, the video tape is more than evidence. It is self-evidence.  And because these images are drained of all affect, reduced to pure objectivity, they can become the vehicle for the most violent and intense of affects.


The release of this video marks, more or less, the entrance into history of the video camera as weapon, as instrument of counter-surveillance. For a brief moment it does seem, for many, as if the truth really will set us free. As if the problem with capitalism was that people just didn’t know, just didn’t understand, just hadn’t seen what it’s really like underneath the ideological mist. Noam Chomsky’s politics as much as Julian Assange’s seem to hinge upon this kind of moment – so rare, really – when the release of information becomes explosive, as opposed to the thousands of other moments when the leaked photographs of government torture camps or the public records dump indicating widespread fraud and corruption fail to elicit any outrage whatsoever. From here and from the related forms of media activism which the Rodney King tape precipitates, there flows an entire politics of transparency, based on a correlation between the free circulation of information and freedom as such, which we will recognize as the politics of Wikileaks  and the more-libertarian wing of Anonymous. But this is also the matrix from which emerges the ideology of the Twitter hashtag and the livestreamed video that so animates the Occupy movement and the 15 May movement in Spain, an ideology that seems incapable of distinguishing between OWS and #ows, between the massification of “tweets” around a particular theme and the massing of bodies together in an occupied square. As many of us will know from the experience of the last year, this is an ideology that speaks of democracy but reeks of surveillance, whose wish for a world transparent to all means that it sees a provocateur behind every masked face and unassailable virtue in all that is visible and unmasked.


But we have already skipped to the end, it seems, far from the infancy of active spectacle. At first, it’s true, the mass media display a certain hostility to these newer “participatory” forms of media distribution and production, which seem to threaten the centralized, unidirectional spectacle upon which the mass media are built. The various conglomerates even resort to outright repression on occasion. But from the very beginning it is startlingly clear that recuperation and neutralization are a far easier path.  Take the industry of “news reporting,” for instance. As the cable channels shift over to 24/7 reporting, it is no longer sufficient to pursue the old spectacular schemata, creating, rather than merely reporting on, the various scandals and sensations. It is not enough to simply position the cameras in a certain spot and observe their effect on the filmed. The news must become co-extensive with the time of life itself. One must, therefore, do more than simply create novelties. In the era of active spectacle, one must create the proper conditions for the novel and newsworthy. But, as we know, the news has been manufactured to produce certain effects since long before the appearance of active spectacle. Reporters rarely pursue their prey, as one is led to believe. Instead, the reported-on must actively solicit coverage, since the various agencies will rarely venture out into the wild of lived experience. Why would they need to, when so much material is already manufactured to their specifications by corporations and governmental entities? Therefore, the periodization described above must be complicated a bit. The transformation that emerges with the video camera and social media is really a generalization of the capacity to produce the true which was, during the classical era of spectacle, limited to certain elites. Active spectacle was, in its way, always nascent within passive spectacle. You just had to pay more for its privileges.


Every scandal loves a trial. And this is the age, let’s remember, of the blockbuster trial, the totally televised trial, followed droolingly by the recently developed 24/7 cable news channels  still looking for content to fill out the hours. The 1990s: one could tell its story solely through the names King, Simpson, Clinton. And so the trial of the police officers begins, a trial that puts at stake the institution of the police itself, if only because the state must insist, in defending the officers, that their conduct was merely exemplary, that they were simply doing their job. But it is a trial in another sense, an experiment with a new form of publicity and sensationalism that places the courtroom square in the middle of every living room: it is a putting-on-trial of a new kind of reason, a new affect, and the various powers are reckless here in stoking a paranoid desire for apocalyptic violence. (Later, they will understand their own capacities better, and exhibit more circumspection in deploying such powers in unpredictable environments).

No one, therefore, is really all that surprised when – after the police officers who beat Rodney King are pronounced not guilty –  thousands upon thousands of the invisible residents of this hypervisible city rise up to smash and burn and loot the very machinery which determines who gets seen and how. In this sense, the Los Angeles riots of 1992 are a rare example of a struggle over the terms of representation which is not a diversion from struggle on the material plane but rather an incitement to it, perhaps because this is not a struggle for representation as much as it is a struggle against representation, one that puts into question the very means of deciding what gets seen or said, rather than the content of such seeing or saying. For a few nights, it promises the self-destruction of all our ways of making things visible or heard, a bonfire of the means of depicting and speaking which the most adventurous avant-garde could only dream about.

As noted, none of this controverts the extent to which these were bread riots, or their late 20th-century equivalent – organized, as is the case with all looting, around a material expropriation of necessaries and luxuries alike. But perhaps, more importantly, crystallized around the hatred of commodities, a hatred whose satisfaction means, in fact, the slaking of a thirst almost as urgent as the need for the use-values themselves. We have to understand this as a period of outright war, when the number of people – black men, in particular –  serving prison sentences increased by an order of magnitude, when cops were being trained by Special Forces who brought the “lessons” of the Central American counter-insurgency wars home to South Central Los Angeles. Which is to say that these were matters of life and death as well as recognition – closer to the original Hegelian story of life-and-death struggle for recognition than its pale electoral successors . One must see people stealing the video-cameras and televisions – the big-ticket appliances of which they bad been, for so long, the object – as an attempt to secure their very reality. To become subject, not object.  Spectacle, for a brief moment, reveals its own fragility: transmitting, disseminating and relaying antagonism rather than muting and deflecting it. For a moment, self-representation is not the newest face of domination, an internalization of the enemy, but promises the destruction of all mediation, all intermediaries.  Bill Cosby goes on TV to urge the rioters to return to their homes and watch the season finale of The Cosby Show.

In a certain manner, this project of expropriating the means of representation and transmission is an eloquent literalization of the music of the riots itself, hip hop, a music based upon the transformation of consumer electronics – the turntable, the home stereo – into instruments of musical production.  Technologies which were once means of production – capital goods, in other words – become consumer products. But then, in a final turn, these consumer products become, once again, the means of production for a new generation of untrained musicians whose output is based upon appropriation and sampling, which are a particular kind of consumption-become-production. All the dreams of decentralization and horizontality which we will fondly remember in their suffusion through the 1990s begin here: the politics of the rhizome, the network, the galaxy, the autonomous nuclei. They begin here, with mass-produced consumer electronics whose drive is not only toward cheapening but miniaturization. It’s not just that information wants to be free; it wants to become a kind of gas, an array of volatilized nano-machines, circumambient, hyperlocative. “Copwatch” organizations and other counter-surveillance projects – taking the Rodney King video as their clarion call – spread faster and farther as the price of the camcorder falls, as it becomes smaller, lighter.  They spread at the same rate as CCTV spreads, adorning every street corner in cities like Chicago and London. And, of course, tactical representation finds itself eminently suited to the politics of representation that dominates the liberal multiculturalism of the 1990s. An entire ethos is built upon this pedagogical and epistemological basis. Information and its dissemination becomes the means by which everyone can have their voice. The independent media initiatives that emerge at the end of the decade essentially elaborate upon this foundation: the free circulation of information as a placeholder for other freedoms.

In Los Angeles during the 1990s, this made a certain sense. We will render power visible, we thought. We will show everyone that the emperor has no clothes. We will show everyone who they are. Like the sunglasses in John Carpenter’s They Live, capable of revealing the slithering horror beneath the familiar present which our normal (that is, ideological) vision construes – the camcorder would disclose what others couldn’t see. It would be visceral and immediate in a way that language cannot, even if language is capable of making finer distinctions. But it would also make things seem unreal. It would also be an instrument of de-realization, shifting struggle from the ground of praxis toward the ground of epistemology, and from there toward questions of knowledge and ideology which, presumably, only the technicians of politics can solve for us.  And so, in the wake of the riots, the recuperation begins. Like all recuperations, it will seem to precede, somehow, the acts of resistance from which it sprang, if only by erasing their real origin.


The shift from static, passive spectacle to dynamic, active spectacle is nothing other than this process of recuperation and subsumption. Charged with reproducing the social relations necessary for the continuation of capitalism, spectacle adjusts to its critique, subsumes it, offers up a series of false alternatives decorated in the bracing negativity of the day. Spectacle stages its own negation, the way a hunted criminal might stage her own death by leaving behind someone else’s corpse in place of her own. Spectacle in its classical phase proceeded by replacing all exchanges between persons with dead phrases and images subject to the whims of the commodity, with static and chatter designed to baffle and delay any intelligent action. It thwarted any meaningful activity by all manner of phantasms, false leads, cul-de-sacs and proxies. But its weakness was that it required the constant ministrations of a class of petit-bourgeois intermediaries, clericals, creatives and technicians, themselves the group most deeply colonized by spectacle. Active spectacle, on the other hand, does away with some portion of this class. Active spectacle is, first and foremost, a labor-saving device. It is a way of getting the consumer of spectacle to become the producer of spectacle, all the while pretending that this voluntary labor is, in fact, a form of freedom and greater choice, an escape from the stultifying imposition of this or that taste which the vertical power of the passive spectacle forces on us.

This is an alternate way to talk about the recuperation of negativity which has been ongoing since the 1970s. Everyone is familiar with this – the graffiti kids who add value to a neighborhood by fucking it up, giving it the right degree of color and edginess, and perhaps inspiring, with their visual style, some future generation of designers and advertisers. Eventually, as we all know, the great spread of alternative lifestyles and forms and subcultures that follow in the wake of the aborted liberations of the 1960s and 1970s find their final resting place in the boutique or the museum, and this process – let’s call it the turnover time of recuperation – is constantly accelerating. But the paradigmatic case here, the final profusion, comes in the realm of technology: the merger of home and office, work and leisure, effected by the personal computer means that one finally becomes the consumer of one’s own self-designed fantasias. These are tools for taking the dream of autonomy concealed in the notion of self-management and converting it into an efficient machine for exploitation and control – a way of making the cop and the boss immanent to our every activity.  The miniaturization of information technology – which also means the recession and involution of all its working components, so that the surface can be humanized, made aesthetically pleasing – allows for control to be decentralized, networked, built from the ground up in new shapes and flavors. It is a way of spreading the bureaucratic protocols of office technology across the entirety of society.

Once the internet is streamlined,  cheapened, and made easy-to-use, an entire political ontology gets attached to “the net”– its origin in military-industrial and bureaucratic protocols hidden beneath warm, “user-friendly” layers which promise the end of a merely unilateral media, promise a new media based upon participation, self-actualization, democracy, promise to free us from reliance upon authoritarian or hierarchical communication. It is a media, as many will claim, which encourages dissent rather than suppresses it, a media no longer dependent upon the massifications and conformities of the broadcast form. No longer the passive receiver of consumable representations, we become the co-creators of the conditions of our own subordination – we don’t merely choose from the 1001 flavors of horror on offer but actively create them, share them, use them as the basic substance of our connections to others, whether friend, enemy, or acquaintance. We are free to make and remake ourselves endlessly in the shape of a thousand avatars and personae. Never mind that these technologies depend, at root, upon standardized lumps of silica and copper and plastic, on the smoothing of electrical switches into reified patterns and routines,  on the transformation of matter into algebra. For the various “independent media” initiatives, the internet is as fundamental an apparatus as the video-camera was for the copwatch programs.

The advent of blogging and the various social networking sites – MySpace, then Facebook, and finally (once everyone realized that anything worth saying in such fora could be said in 140 characters or not at all) Twitter – essentially build upon the protocols, models and values established by “independent media.” They represent the depoliticization of these forms, something easy to do since, from the start, “indymedia” as a concept was built around a false formalism. Because the website proved itself such an effective tool for the coordination of thousands of bodies at the counter-summit – distributing information about the location of rioting, tactical weaknesses, arrestees, food and medical services – it was obvious that it could also serve to coordinate thousands of bodies in other kinds of campaigns: advertising campaigns, fundraising drives, mobilizations for this or that political candidate. Social media: the term means that our sociality itself has become what is communicated, has become content, not form. No longer do we merely read the news: now we can write it, now we can make it even more banal and empty than before. Yes, everyone their 15 minutes of celebrity, except now these 15 minutes are broken up into millisecond-sized atoms of time, salted throughout our hours and days, held by invisible readers and contacts and “friends.” Here the voyeur meets the exhibitionist. Here the exhibitionist meets the voyeur. Here the most gregarious sociality and the most contorted narcissism are absolutely identical. Tellingly, new cellular phones now contain two cameras – one facing out into the world, away from the screen, and one reflecting back upon the ego.

But because active spectacle takes hostility toward spectacle as one of its primary fuel sources, because it is always cultivating such antagonism at the same time as it neutralizes it, there is always the possibility of explosive breakdown, the possibility that a violent proletarian content may become contagious. Such was the case when the WikiLeaks affair – initially subsumed almost completely by a libertarian logic of transparency and the free flow of information – transformed into a low-intensity cyberwar with the arrival of Anonymous, LulzSec and others. Although originally entirely devoted to a kind of Assangiste framework that cared only about the free flow of internet information (namely, porn, pirated media and software) – a position that still dominates much of their discourse – these groups eventually became frameworks into which more and more radical content could get injected, and now one routinely hears Anonymous communiqués cite various insurrectionary watchwords, and describe their enemy not as censorship but capitalism and the state as such. Perhaps more significantly, we can note the way in which technologies like Twitter – originally developed so that we could better market commodities to each other – are now used for all-out assaults on the commodity, used to organize proletarian flashmobs and rioting in the suburbs of London, in Baltimore and Kansas City and Milwaukee.


10 years later, we all recognize the limits of the anti-globalization movement, limits that still constantly reimpose themselves even if we have moved into a new age of austerity and riot. The antiglobalization movement failed by winning all that it won on the ground of representation alone. Not only were its politics essentially a representational critique of the representational (direct democracy); not only did it fight via representational means (media activism); but more importantly its focus remained limited to the representatives of multi-national capital: the institutions and ambassadors responsible for maintaining the international monetary and trade system. Over and over again, the countersummit conflated the representative institutions for the thing itself – moving back and forth between an attack on a proxy for capital, and capital itself.

It is obvious that this imprisonment within the imaginary is an effect of the very basis – a technopolitical basis – upon which these struggles are conducted, rather than the other way around.  Representation is means, content and form: everyone has a camera at the protest and the dangers here are not only that one is unwittingly capturing evidence for the state, but that we are therefore entrapped within the imaginary, our finest moments rendered pornographic – that is, made into a simple conduit for charge or sensation, upon which any idea, no matter how fascist, can be overlaid.

Let’s put it bluntly: with only a few exceptions, the journalists whose presence at the demonstration or riot is vouchsafed by the camera are nothing other than the agents of the state, little different than informants in their attitude toward what transpires. Their feigned neutrality is the neutrality of “the citizen,” of public opinion, an enemy position. Except when used with incredible care and sensitivity and artfulness, the camera is basically an instrument of neutralization. We can have no tolerance for those who attempt to use our antagonism as stepping-stones in their career; nor can we tolerate the special rights and privileges which journalists want to claim, as if holding a camera or press-badge entitled them to exceptional status. This is liberalism’s phantasm – the materialization of the abstract personhood which has mangled our lives for centuries. In any case, the police no longer give a fuck. Everywhere there are new laws prohibiting the filming of police and they now routinely arrest people because they have a camera, not only to protect themselves from scandal but to collect evidence.


Surveillance and countersurveillance, spectacle and counterspectacle, then, merge together into one representational surround. Riot footage becomes an advertisement for jeans, as if shopping and destroying a shop were equivalent activities. If counter-surveillance aims to light up the unevenesses, the blotches and stains that the picture of the world hides, it also runs the risk, as all struggles do, of fighting on the ground of representation alone, and of winning thusly the mere representation of winning. Though we do not use the term in this sense exclusively, this is what it means to speak of “politics” in the pejorative sense – the translation of struggle to the realm of representation, either through the substitutionism of the assembly, the party, or the image-world.   It means to fight representatives and proxies endlessly and pyrrhically, because capital is nothing more than this process of creating proxies. The catch is that, because they still believe that the question of representation is the question that must be answered, many anti-representational strategies – the participatory democracy of the general assembly, for instance – remain trapped within politics in the same way that the atheist remains trapped within religion because he or she takes seriously the question of god’s existence.


The one exception to this story of diversion to the ground of representation is the black bloc, which by its very nature refuses visibility. The black bloc emerges as a counterweight to the regime of hypervisibilty, emerges as the avenging angel of all that has been cast into the burning hell of the overlit world. It conjures a black spot which makes the illumination of the world all the more severe; it is a kind of “darkness visible,” as Milton says of Lucifer’s resting place. But at what point does this darkness become only its own visibility, a set of predictable movements and moments, easily recognized simply because it is the thing which refuses recognition?  How often is it the case that the plate glass of the bank is shattered but the camera lens, with all of its frightening transparency, remains? One of the problems, here, as others have noted, is that the black bloc often distinguishes itself from the larger mass of people in the streets. Even if all identity inside the group is quickly liquidated by masks and black clothing, the bloc still affirms an identity – albeit a negative one – with regard to its environment.  Rather than attempting an absolute negation of visibility, we might instead cultivate a kind of chiaroscuro effect, attending to the ebb and flow of light and shadow naturally at play in such situations. True anonymity is the anonymity of the crowd, the anonymity of people in regular dress who begin to throw rocks at cops, loot stores, and burn cars, and whose anonymity comes from their subtle commonalities with thousands upon thousands of other figures. (Though, of course, concealing one’s face is a precaution that can never be dispensed with, and should be actively encouraged on all occasions). The more it becomes possible for the active minority to merge with the anonymous crowd, to dissolve and abolish its own specificity at the height of the attack, the closer we come to the kind of riot which continues past the first night. Whether people continue to use black blocs is a practical matter, of course, and has to do with local conditions which cannot be evaluated in the abstract. But we must be honest about the limitations of the form, and note that there are anonymities superior to the black bloc, forms of self-abolition that do not establish a radical identity apart from the larger mass of people in the streets.

It is not, therefore, merely a question of creating “zones of offensive opacity.” Every opacity has its complementary transparency, and we must attend to both. We must be willing to make ourselves visible here, invisible there, and neither everywhere. Language, in this sense, is often superior to the photograph’s ontological trickery. We all recognize the power of the well-written communiqué or manifesto, the well-designed poster with the explosive phrase. This power is art, poetry, art that lives on, nevertheless, after the death of art. Taken up on the field of battle, conjoined with real practices of negation, this poetry – the beautiful language of our century, as it was once called – has a real explosive force, one that does not pass through reason and understanding alone, but which trades on affect, perception, sensation. The technical means we have at present for conveying such affects and perceptions are, let’s admit it, very weak – a series of pre-given filters and plug-ins which we can apply to this or that image or idea. Why is it, then, that the various radical milieus do not at present produce more films, more poetry and novels, communicate through drawings and illustrated stories as well as photographs? Why must we subordinate ourselves to a barren plain-style, on the one hand, and a mawkish sentimentalism on the other? Why do we accept the self-evidence of the very images which the state uses to speak about us? In expanding our capacities for thought and communication, in expanding the formal and technical means for such, we must learn to speak of and to each other in a way that takes exception with the way we are spoken about, which takes exception with the language of the status quo, the state.  This is a matter of how we say such things as much as what we say. Active spectacle, let’s remember, hides the issue of content by allowing for modest transformations of the form of communication. This is why the transposition of the locus of questioning from what to how relies on a weak understanding of recent history. Asking how has, for a long time now, been a counter-revolutionary question.


Late in life, in the midst of his drunken melancholia and paranoid rumination, Guy Debord entertained himself by inventing a chess-like game of war in which the chief innovation was the establishment of lines of communication between pieces. Pieces that were unconnected via intermediating, communicating pieces could not move at all. Debord understood, in this game as well as in his writing, that all struggles have a communicative dimension. The difference, however, between the situation we confront and the situation in Debord’s game is that we are forced to use the very same lines of communication as our enemy. Every one of our communications is at one and the same time an enemy transmission, part of the enemy system, part of spectacle. To operate effectively, to turn spectacle in its active form against itself, we have to examine our communications both from our own standpoint and the enemy’s, developing forms of communication which are transparent for us but opaque for them, which allow us to communicate and expand our ability to think and perceive collectively without assisting the state in its attempts to monitor and obstruct us, and which reach out to sympathizers, fellow-travelers, and comrades without giving away vital information to the enemy.

In this regard, matters of style are at one and the same time matters of survival.


Research & Destroy
Oakland, CA
April, 2012

Ab Ovo – Encyclopedie des Nuisances

In this essay the EdN argues that, in light of the destruction of the old framework of working class resistance, revolutionaries must start all over from scratch (Ab Ovo–”from the egg”) and engage in new forms of contestation under the new totalitarian conditions imposed by the autonomous development of the society of the spectacle, for the “future economic secession of the immense majority”.

Those who want to prosper under domination are condemned to reproduce it; negation has never been able to rely upon existing institutions or class organizations whenever it sought to survive uncorrupted. It cannot be renewed unless it returns to its vital principle, once again beginning the task from the beginning, ab ovo; proletarians must, now and always, re-appropriate their project and, by fighting against their official representatives, rediscover the “lost treasure of modern revolutions”. {….} This article is organized in the form of extracts from the first two issues of our Encyclopedia, which appeared in November of 1984 and February of 1985, respectively.

In his Florentine Histories, Machiavelli recounted the words of Cosimo the Elder: faced with being reproached for having expelled “so many good men” from Florence because they were his political enemies, this merchant, inventor of the first form of dictatorship disguised as a republic, responded that a city was worth more destroyed than lost. The merchants of our epoch—variously men of the State, of finance, of the Church, of industry or the communications media—have applied this maxim to the whole planet, even if they have not formulated it so baldly: they prefer to speak of modernization. The expulsion of good men on the scale of a planet destroyed is certainly not very practicable (our merchants have to settle, where necessary, for murder), but it is not even necessary, since the very universality of corruption generally suffices in preventing the appearance of this kind of man, or at least his influence. At the dawn of modern despotism, that of Napoleon, Benjamin Constant observed: “The interests and memories born of local customs contain a germ of resistance which authority unwillingly bears and tries to eradicate.” The uniformity imposed by the commodity tries to corrupt everything in order to leave no directly accessible quality which inflicts the offense of its independent existence upon the authority of the falsifiers; the very memory of it would have disappeared were it not for the obstinacy of a few who dedicate themselves to an activity as subversive as memory.

This usurpation has not become more rational, however, by virtue of the fact of its being almost universally considered to be eternal. In order to avoid a rapid end, it has only had to conceal its origins, the beginning of degradation. The technicians of disaster can therefore remain calm at their control monitors: only the facts will refute their science, and the facts are nothing if there is no one to violently champion them. When the time of the State’s neologism arrives, the decomposition of life is officially, and without any scandal, the principal reality imposed on human activity, and is fearlessly entrusted to the management of the authorities and their experts (see our article, “Abracadabra”).

Five years have passed since we stated in the “Preliminary Discourse” of our Encyclopedia, concerning the “project of total emancipation born with the struggles of the proletariat of the 19th century,” that: “it is true that the course followed by the material organization of commodity production, far from establishing the foundations for the realization of this project, has to the contrary made it more difficult than ever.” And we added that: “Perhaps this was necessary so that it would dare to show itself for what it was—the project of a conscious history that cannot base its cause on any necessities external to those recognized by individuals themselves.” The rather black humor of this “perhaps” could not have escaped the reader’s attention, since we had previously observed that “discussions concerning the market economy were never as rare as they are today, when, for the first time, the whole world can discuss it.”

And what have we done to shed light on the possibility of subjecting the economy to a collective critique? To begin explaining what the various instances of progress of a more-than-debatable nature have brought or eliminated, we have tried to contribute means by which they could be measured. Whatever our obvious deficiencies with regard to the fulfillment of this task, they can be considered to be incidental, or purely “theoretical”, since the principal practical obstacle which stands in the way of the crystallization of a project for a higher social organization is precisely the complete transformation in the nature of the production of material life, the site where proletarian struggles had previously discovered, suddenly and spontaneously, the concrete terrain for their unification, the point where their subversion was to be carried out and the object itself of a program of re-appropriation.

The form adopted by technological development has made it impossible to identify it as necessary progress directing its course according to the preferences of a society of free men, and proletarians have seen how the testament according to which they were named as inheritors of the Earth has become blurred and lost. But the loss of the illusions of progress, illusions that proved to be so disastrous for the old workers movement, allows for the resurgence of those revolts against the “despicable imposture” of the industrial system that had long been suppressed by that ideology. The belief in progress cannot even be called, in the style of Baudelaire, a “doctrine for the lazy”, since laziness itself as well as any kind of tranquility have been banished from the life of the slaves of the economy (see our article “Abolish”). When dispossessed individuals have no other reasonable way out than reinventing their world in its entirety, they must at least begin by setting the example of subjecting all the illusory needs before which submission gives way to a serene scorn, along with the achievements and satisfactions to which that submission is dedicated. The more their critique is deprived of means of expression and organization, the more it must be formulated and practiced without any concessions. “What great deed is not extreme when it is first conceived? Only when it has been carried out does it seem possible to the masses” (Stendhal).

The process whose beginnings were described by Marx under the name of machine production (as dispossession “in the face of the prodigious science, the enormous natural forces and the immensity of the social capital incorporated in a mechanical system which comprises the power of the Master”) has crossed a decisive qualitative threshold over the course of the last century, first in the United States and later more or less everywhere (in France, during the 1960s). The production of commodities has become disconnected, globally and irreversibly, from the satisfaction of human needs and from the possibility of its emancipatory use, which had in a way legitimized it for most revolutionaries, those for whom it was only a question (if it can be phrased this way) of transforming the mode of appropriation of the existing productive forces. The form adopted by the latter within the spectacle in fact constitutes an irrefutable proof ad absurdum, like all those inflicted by modern history, of the impossibility of transforming this mode of appropriation without integrally transforming all the productive forces, since the latter have been developed, in all their material aspects, with the object of perpetuating separation, hierarchy and the arbitrary power of specialists. The immensity of this task of transformation, which everyone at least vaguely perceives, is undoubtedly the most universal and true cause of the prostration of our contemporaries, something which is granted a relative efficacy by spectacular propaganda and which also allows the latest Japanese-American theorist of the end of history, with his description of what will remain of the field of human activity (“economic calculation, the endless solution of technological problems and ecological preoccupations and the satisfaction of the sophisticated demands of consumption”), to celebrate in his own manner the success, according to him, of the attempt to “irrevocably reduce history to the ample reproduction of the past, and the future to the management of the wastes of the present” (“Preliminary Discourse”).

The historical condemnation of workerism and revolutionary ideologies is reflected by the spectacle as the condemnation of the revolutionary project, and honest souls, although they want to oppose this or that aspect of domination, try in the interests of a supposed realism to avoid speaking of revolution or of revolutionary activity. We, however, not only believe that a cause which does not dare to speak its name has never attracted supporters, but we also believe that in a world on the verge of self-destruction today’s revolutionaries are capable, although they generally fail to take advantage of the opportunity, of speaking more clearly than ever before about their objectives, since the latter “are not only a different option but represent pure realism: they defend a rejection and a project at the same time, and their cause can mobilize the desire for the unknown as well as the instinct for self-preservation” (Ibid.).

The catastrophic existence of harmful phenomena (“Nuisances” in French—tr. note) is only the latest manifestation of the contradiction between the forces of production, whose conscious rule has become such a vital demand due to their irrational development, and the relations of production that, against all odds, perpetuate unconsciousness. At this level, when the contradiction is no longer economic and when its spectacular management is literally priceless, the theoretical critique of the economy immediately demands a qualitative judgment, formulated from a point of view exterior to the economy, just as the proletarians’ practical critique, in its search for its reasons, must radically declare itself against the existing system of production. The critique of the totality of alienated life, formulated during the 1960s by the situationists, must therefore be assumed as a minimum, but not because it will create an active revolutionary movement, but because the last twenty years have proven all too well that such a movement cannot be established without making that critique its own. We cannot place our trust in any short cut that would raise the proletariat to the consciousness of its revolutionary task without finishing off the totality of its misery. Even though the realities of dispossession will be much more radical in the questioning of the organization of survival than in the situationist critique, this is no reason to moderate or to abandon that critique but, on the contrary, to develop and reinforce it.

By pointing out that the “possible conjunction between the past of the workers struggles (the exemplary rough draft of the methods of proletarian revolution) and the new rebellion that springs from the soil of the society of the spectacle (the critique of work, of the commodity and of all alienated life) which was momentarily within reach in some highly-developed countries, can no longer be viewed or awaited as an inevitable result of the objective process of the dominant conditions” (“History of a Decade”), we wanted to distance ourselves from that category of expectant extremism that devoutly clings to the conviction that modernized alienation will inevitably produce its respective modernized negation, and which is all the more easily persuaded of its unassailable logic the more it entrenches itself in a position which has long been overwhelmed by the spectacle’s deployments, perfectly protected by its inoffensive anachronism. But we declared a little later that the conjunction referred to above had entered “memory and consciousness as the task of a new epoch”, which is to say that it had to be actively pursued. Since the enemy has integrally reconstructed the territory in accordance with its repressive necessities, all subversive intentions must begin by soberly considering which experiences will once again engender collective critical consciousness and seeking those points of application of rebellion that incorporate all the previous ones.

In any event, we cannot communicate the most minor critical truth if we do not want to see the results of social atomization and if we strive to maintain the illusion of an immediately given practical community of proletarians. As a situationist said 20 years ago: “We are outsiders because materially we do not conform to any particular social stratum. Socially we are nothing, and society is nothing for us anyway.” From now on, for us this is the only road of the negative open to individual affirmation and the construction of a real community, since, confronted by the forces of commodity production, one cannot effectively rebel unless “the majority of the individuals from whom these forces have been alienated, whose real lives have thus been frustrated and who have become abstract individuals, but who, for this very reason and only from that moment, are prepared to relate to each other as individuals” (The German Ideology).

Nazi and Stalinist totalitarianism proved, in what we called their pilot projects, that “the transformation of classes into masses and the parallel elimination of any kind of group solidarity are the conditions sine qua non of total domination.” (Hannah Arendt, The Totalitarian System). After that bloody interlude in the history of the society of the spectacle, the total domination of the commodity, in this respect closer to Nazi empiricism than to the ideological voluntarism of Stalinism (as Hitler said: “Why should we socialize the banks and the factories? We are socializing the people”), has been able, by various means, to fulfill the conditions sine qua non for its implementation. In order to create the atomized society where one person cannot relate to another except through the spectacle, and therefore can never escape isolation and impotence, it was necessary to destroy the practical environment of collective autonomous consciousness constructed by the working class.

Along with the cumulative continuity of revolutionary history, the unity of the particular and the universal and of ends and means, by virtue of which any workers struggle of any magnitude incarnated the interests of the entire society for any conscious individual and was capable of directing the course of history towards general emancipation, was also broken, because it went directly against social oppression and, by doing so, had opened up the road to its supersession. From the IWA’s resolution concerning the trade unions (“organized centers of the working class, just as the communes and municipalities of the Middle Ages were organized centers for the bourgeois class”), to the theses of the supporters of the Workers Councils, all those who in the past had wanted to revolutionize society had taken for granted the circumstance that workers autonomy, the self-organization of the workplace, pursued with determination, would from the start contain the distant goal (the re-appropriation of the productive apparatus), by rendering its attainment possible. And each struggle, even those that were strictly defensive in their explicit objectives, would allow for the acquisition and accumulation of revolutionary experience, and comprised a moment in the constitution of the proletariat as an historical subject. It was said in the beginnings of the workers movement by one of those who thought that “monopoly and the horrible accumulation of capital in the hands of a few” engendered “by its own monstrosity the germs of its cure”: “Each great workshop or factory is a kind of political society that no law can reduce to silence and no magistrate can force to disperse” (John Thelwall, The Rights of Nature Against the Usurpations of Establishments, 1796, quoted by E.P. Thompson in The Making of the English Working Class).

By making the proletarians constantly feel—through, among other things, the replacement of skilled by unskilled labor—their dispossession by the continuous movement of accelerated technological change, the latter realizes as its very basis that which the ideological primitivism of the Nazis and the Stalinists could only formally obtain through police terror and the fanaticism of identification with the unpredictable caprice of the tyrant. The dissolution of the authentic bond created by the community of productive function (because the technologies employed prohibit any kind of autonomous application and the sense of production dissolves into absurdity) imposes upon the atomized masses the typical characteristics of the totalitarian mentality such as the capacity for adaptation, malleability in the face of authoritarian conditioning, and the absence of continuity (loss of memory, perpetual present). The permanent instability of the conditions of life imposed in modern society has guaranteed, for a while, the stability of domination.

Permanent change, involving the destruction of all stable communities that once made the formation and transmission of critical judgment possible, submerges everyone, with the object of achieving their resignation, in that type of bewilderment that led Tocqueville to describe the first form manifested by modern society in America, where “private individuals attend to small affairs, and the State, to great affairs”: “When the past does not shed light on the future, the spirit walks in darkness.” The disastrous collapse which drags down with it all references to what until now was human existence simultaneously sweeps away the foundations of the most elementary common sense. And what lies beneath common sense, that “intermediate state between stupidity and genius”? Fear brings us there, as well as the isolation which it provokes and upholds. The modern spectator will not act with good sense anyway, since everything around him demands from him an anger whose consequences, in the isolation in which he finds himself, cause him more terror than everything he endures. He thus continually sees a precipice next to his television. This terrorized impotence, which walls itself up in private life, in the familiarity with privation, has been eulogistically baptized in the language of the most advanced servitude: cocooning. And as long as we are on the subject of larva, we will recall that the Greek word which denotes the private man (idiotes), he who occupies himself with that which “is for himself” (idion), has provided us with the word with which lasting stupidity is denominated in various European languages.

The particular form typical of the workers milieu, of pride in one’s trade, the positive recognition of that “professional value” which, according to social democratic ideology, constituted the worker’s “credentials for sovereignty in the world of tomorrow” (Jaurès, quoted by Emile Pouget in Sabotage) has definitively dissolved into the general false consciousness of everyday life. But “the destruction of the workers milieu in those countries where the conditions of the most modern capitalism prevail does not signify, except for old disappointed workerists, the disappearance of the proletariat: the expropriation of life exists, and so does the class struggle” (“History of a Decade”). By abolishing the conditions for the existence of the community of labor which embraces all individuals in common as workers, it can be said that history has once again turned towards the heart of the matter: it is not a question of teleology, what happens is that the consequences of slavery accumulate according to their own logic. Today, the proletarians must themselves create the community in which they will participate as individuals, and they will never do this if they do not first fully consciously execute the sentence which the production of harmful phenomena (“nuisances”) pronounces against itself, and if they do not fight to recover control over the conditions of their existence. The total negation of the economy, its interruption by any means, is not only necessary because there is no other way to end the degradation of life, but also because such a constriction of the automatic reproduction of alienation and of its conditioning of peoples’ behavior will allow individual rebels to sweep aside the putrefaction of the old system which the latter saddles them with and to become capable of establishing society on a new basis.

The class “which is no longer considered to be a class in society, which is no longer recognized as such and which is the expression of the dissolution of all classes” has effectively lost everything that made it anything except revolutionary: dispossessed individuals are concretely faced by “the alternative of rejecting the totality of their misery, or nothing” (The Society of the Spectacle). But at a time when the critique of reformist illusions collapses under its own weight and the theses of the most radical critique are verified everywhere, never before have fewer people been disposed to avail themselves of them. It turns out that this kind of truth is uncomfortable: it leaves no room for faith, and they confront everyone with the urgency of finding, each for himself and presently, the form of a practical accord between the total critique that they subscribe to and the lives they actually lead. Since 1968, those who adhered to the situationist critique maintained the extremism of their positions because they were convinced that in the very short term the workers struggle would bring the workers over to their positions and the situationist critique. But they did not take into account the organizational difficulties of a radical current capable of crystallizing latent revolutionary energies.

We recall that those difficulties, while they were correctly brandished against the revolutionary unrealism of the time, were sidestepped in the text that announced the self-dissolution of the Situationist International: “The situationists are everywhere, etc.” (The Veritable Split in the International, 1972). But by doing so they disregarded the fact that it was not the task of theory to preserve the space set aside by the latter between the violently extremist partisanship of a few individuals and the horizon of the Councils, society’s self-organization in revolution: the most it could have done was to explicitly recognize the extension of that space. “For us, there is no room for irony concerning the part corresponding to the illusion often maintained by past revolutionaries in respect to their own actions: we leave that to those realists who, attending to their own affairs, find solace and what they call pleasure directly within the current degradation, which is truly well-suited for their minuscule appetites. We not only prefer to be mistaken alongside those who believed they were the last to bear the mutilation of life and who could not conceive that the accumulation of dispossession would last much longer, instead of being correct with their conquerors, or with the heirs of their conquerors—but we prefer, above all, the more solid if less ‘scientific’ reasons of those defeated rebels which are to this day the most concrete and most urgent. For all those who, against all odds, do not identify with the forces of inertia that are rapidly propelling everything down the slope of programmed horror, such reasons are as tangible as the macabre project of making the results of the prolific development of commodities irreversible which, in a sinister parody of the revolutionary project of the complete man, piles up yet more evidence of man’s nullity, definitively reducing individuals to the state of convulsing marionettes, set in motion by innumerable commercial prostheses, to the rhythm of an omnipresent computerized machinery. (…) The conviction of inheriting the Earth not only lies at the heart of bureaucratic ideology, of course, but has also constituted a wellspring of firmness and courage, even unto death, for numerous revolutionaries. We and all those who really want to hasten the disappearance of the existing world do not have to say that it is our fate not to be able to avail ourselves of any guarantee of that kind of courage and firmness” (“Preliminary Discourse”).

We agree with the words of Guy Debord: “Never have conditions everywhere been so revolutionary, but it is only the rulers who think so. Negation has been perfectly deprived of its thought, which has been dispersed for some time” (Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, 1988). There has been no lack of readers who find this to be a darkly exaggerated picture. Nonetheless, not only is it correct to say that “in a sense only the truth itself can exaggerate; nothing else can withstand the test” (Chesterton), but there are moments when exaggeration is particularly fitting, so that it will be heard, and endowed with its great capacity for scandal: a brilliant quality which the author of The Society of the Spectacle, at any rate, never lacked. On the other hand, no critical analysis can aspire to anything more than an approximation to reality, one which is sufficiently precise to recognize the historical forces at work, and which above all would need to strategically calculate its possible margin of error, that is, to choose the aspect which one prefers to exaggerate or present in a simplified form; one could thus attempt to “magnify” a gestating subversive reality or, conversely, to anticipate a tendency of domination on the road to realization, without which scientific certainty about the future would be impossible (the analysis provided by the Communist Manifesto is for example an undeniable exaggeration in view of the social reality of the epoch, but the historical tendency as it was described in that text was clearly the principle one of its time). In an epoch in which social struggles advance towards their unification in a confrontation of universal scope, the best will have to be reserved for the purpose of communicating its still-concealed historical content to the movement. In compensation, in an epoch in which a restored domination has recovered the initiative, and in which the memories of the preceding epoch hinder the lucid critique of this revolutionary development, new, hitherto unnoticed features must be accented. This is what happened in the Comments, for example, with the importance it conceded to the capacity for initiative on the part of the State’s security services: although it could be objected, as the author himself does elsewhere, that the general decomposition of all historical intelligence fully affects the operation of those “services”, one must not forget that “in a confrontation of this nature, the forces measure themselves in accordance with their relative magnitude and not from the point of view of some kind of absolute knowledge which speaks quite eloquently of decadence while it pores through the pages of the historical dictionary” (“History of a Decade”); and that if “the spectacle is much more of a misery than a conspiracy” this does not obviate the fact that, as time passes and society’s problems accumulate, the spectacle will decide upon an increasing proliferation of conspiracies, which are easier to manage the more they necessarily benefit from the terrain prepared by misery. In short, if the Commentaries, being limited “to pointing out that which is” (instead of proposing that which is “desirable or even only preferable”), by casually considering the possibility that the cause of freedom might not prevail, perform no less of a service for the cause that their author believes to be lost.

Dissatisfaction has not been abolished, but excluded from the public arena by the ubiquity of the fictitious world erected by the spectacle. And those who have based their cause upon dissatisfaction have less reason than ever to take the trouble to justify themselves when the bankruptcy of the organization of survival is so notorious: they only have to start sweeping aside all the deceptive justifications which keep a tight rein on the boredom universally aroused by the production of harmful phenomena.

Those workers movements which have defensively arrayed themselves with autonomous means of organization (coordinating committees, base committees, etc.) cannot transcend the bounds of the neo-trade union struggle, and thus find allies, except by denouncing, wherever they may be found, the economic pseudo-needs imposed equally upon everyone. And if, in only one vital sector of production (and almost all are vital, in view of the fragility of a technologically over-equipped irrationality), proletarians violently assert themselves as such and demonstrate the superiority of humanity over the machinery of decadence by means of a calculated sabotage, and know how to directly communicate the truth of their action, anticipating the inevitable calumnies, all the sophisms daily employed to justify the old commercial corruption will be instantly exposed. Only such a start of the implementation of the program of the immediate cessation of anti-historical production, together with its direct effects on the reigning fatalism, may perhaps be capable of preventing men from having to learn how to separate themselves from a world of illusions under the harsh blows of repeated ecological disasters. In view of such imperious necessities, we regretfully observe that those movements which have known how to become strong enough to make themselves heard, have had literally nothing to say against the sector of the economy in which they were involved; and that, for example, health care workers are organized as wage workers without the slightest questioning, as individuals who suffer a fate common to all, of that strange industry whose job-creating growth is realized in symbiosis with that of other economic activities (like the food-processing or fast food industries) which assure it an ever more numerous clientele. This complementarity is also equally applicable to the flourishing mental health industry, gorged with patients thanks to the disintegration of previously-existing forms of sociability.

Unlike wage workers’ defensive struggles, the protest movements against harmful phenomena share a goal which, even if it only involves a struggle against a local, particular degradation, possesses a universal character insofar as it rejects a poisonous abundance. At the level of methods of association, however, they show themselves to be weaker and, due to a lack of experience in self-organization, prove to be quite defenseless against recuperative representation. As was stated in a pamphlet distributed on the First of May in 1989 at the demonstration against the dam project at Serre de la Fare, in the Haute-Loire: “Among those who oppose the pillaging of the planet, there are many who reject politics, which they identify with a game of personal ambitions. They will have to accept the existing politics, and with it, everything which they claim to reject. (…) Against the fraud of the democratic definition of alternative production, the adversaries gathered here must understand and help others to understand that they are the true democracy, guarantor of the interests of all and the only possible future”. The only way such movements can escape the blindness of green ecologism is the active supersession of politics by means of the organization of autonomous communication that will make possible the explanation and popularization of the critique of the economy and of labor which is in fact entailed by their initial motives. In this matter as well, one exemplary act is worth more than many long discourses, and it goes without saying that a sufficient criterion of suitability is that of being useful for the reinforcement of protest against external repression (in opposition to terrorism which, even if sincere, imposes the most external and uncontrollable representation). The truth cannot begin to organize its forces and win its right to exist unless it confronts anyone who occupies its terrain as recuperators, in this case the State ecologists.

Whatever aspect of the dominant reality is confronted, negation must deliberately produce its own terrain of unification, re-creating ab ovo the basic conditions, satisfied nowhere, of a future economic secession of the immense majority. To accomplish this, individuals who are not resigned to the degradation of life must take the liberty of constructing, in accordance with the vital necessities everywhere present alongside the consequences of an irresponsible domination, the forms of association which will allow them to respond to that degradation. Then, only a rigorous rejection of the corrupt means which the spectacle will offer them can take them forward. If this perspective has not already been imposed, this is probably due to the fact that many enemies of the old politics believed that the terrain of production provided sufficient means for its supercession. The partisans of social critique demanded the negation of politics, they wanted the germs of revolution constructed by workers’ struggles to be the point of departure, but they forgot that authentic germs of revolution have only been developed in the recent epoch (in France in 1968, in Poland in 1980-1981) through the creation of primary forms of liberated communication where all the problems of real life had to find their direct expression, and where individuals began, with the accomplishment of those acts demanded by the necessities of their emancipation, to construct the public realm where freedom displays its charms and becomes a tangible reality. In a word: one cannot negate politics without realizing it.

When people have come together over this or that particular outrage and have rebelled, their first goal is to express and to extend their protest. But they incur a new need at the same time, the need for direct communication, freed from any separation and specialization; in this manner, what had appeared to be a means becomes an end. The real result of such struggles is not victory in itself, which is rare and always ephemeral, but the formation of the “realm of communitarian relations which give meaning to common sense” (Hannah Arendt) and which allows the constitution of a collective point of view upon the basis of which the condemnation of all authoritarian technology becomes possible, without being subject to the clumsy reproach of nostalgia for the past.

One can do almost anything with cutting edge technology except sit on it. The usurpation which governs in the name of progress must incessantly fabricate new proofs. Exposed to all the comparisons suggested by nostalgia, prayers or hope, it is constantly obliged to justify itself with other rationales; the most reasonable and well-founded inaction is a danger to it. Technological overdevelopment, although it still manages only to superficially bother many people, profoundly undermines the terrain of approbation and lays the foundations of the downfall of all the stability of oppression. Thus, many are the successes of the spectacular invasion which negatively contain the possibility of reversing the correlation of forces thanks to the invader’s weakness. The social atomization which dispersed the forces of subversion is equally operative in the enemy’s camp, where power can only count on the very dubious loyalty of its servants. The generations that have known only these new conditions are also the first ones to not have positively experienced them as an emancipation compared to past conditions: the spectacle goes on, but the grass grows again. Modern society, not being loved by anyone, settles for being feared, but the nucleus so awakened can at any moment turn against it, because it is in no position to offer security in exchange for passivity: the biggest danger for States is that they must “always leave their subjects hanging in suspicion, unrest and anxiety”, because in those conditions men “protect themselves from danger at any price and, quickly becoming bold, have fewer scruples about trying something new” (Machiavelli). Finally, the global unification of domination causes the rebels of all countries to more obviously than ever have common reasons to place the blame on existing conditions.

The moment has almost arrived when everyone will be able, according to their intelligence and the forces at their disposal, to be of use to the vast and informal conspiracy of equals which must prepare, within the catacombs of the society of the spectacle, the means for its positive supersession. The end of any possibility of identifying with economic progress brings about a historical rupture whose demoralizing effectiveness we have already demonstrated, but whose beneficial effects are yet to be seen. To the aid of this rupture, the old war of freedom will reappear under new forms, the same war that the leveler Wildman evoked in 1647, during the army’s debates at Putney, where the soldiers’ delegates, the “agitators”, opposed the first recuperative representation which formed around Cromwell: “Since there was no longer any possible remedy, we must begin again from the beginning…and you will know how!” (Appeal to All Soldiers)….

Taken from the Libcom Library.

Summer Theory Discussion Supplementary reading for ‘The Society of the Spectacle’

“The only possible basis for understanding this world is to oppose it; and such opposition will be neither genuine nor realistic unless it contests the totality.” -Guy Debord

Sorry this is a bit late in being posted… These texts and links should be helpful for understanding the context, theoretical background and summary of the ideas in The Society of the Spectacle and further readings relating to the Situationists and the Situationist International (S.I.). If people have other suggestions for good critical introductions or texts that are interesting that relate to these ideas please post them to the comments to share them.


-Introduction to the Situationists by Jan D. Matthews (imposed) (for reading)

-Bring Out Your Dead by Endnotes (for reading) (This is more of a introduction to communization, but still relates a lot of the Situationist project and is very interesting)

-Paris: May 1968 Compiled by Prole.info (imposed)

-Making Sense of the Situationists compiled by Prole.info (imposed)

-Situationist text archives: Nothingness , Bureau of Public Secrets and Situationist International Online

Other reading in book form:

-Situationist International Anthology Compiled by Ken Knabb

-Beneath the Paving Stones Compiled by Darkstar Press

-Revolution of Everyday Life by Raoul Vanegiem

Summer Theory Discussion: The Society of the Spectacle

The format for the discussion series has changed (at least for the summer) to focus on reading books instead of shorter essays, although we will be discussing only sections at a time. The discussions will still be weekly, on Sundays, at the CCC, but will now be at 1pm. We’ll see how this goes.

The Society of the Spectacle:

May 2nd: Chapters 1-3 (-Separation Perfected -The Commodity as Spectacle -Unity and Division Within Appearances)

May 9th: Chapters 4-5 (-Proletariat as Subject and Representation -Time and History)

May 16th: Chapters 6-7 (-Spectacular Time -Environmental Planning)

May 23rd:
Chapters 8-9 (-Negation and Consumption in the Cultural Sphere -Ideology in Material Form)

May 30th: Comments on the Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord and Marginal Notes on Comments on the Society of the Spectacle by Giorgio Agamben

Copies of these texts will be available at the CCC for free (in zine form) and for sale (in book form). Or downloaded from here

Aux Libertaires (To Libertarians) zine
12/26/2009, 1:39 PM
Filed under: update | Tags: , , ,

From the description:

“Originally written in French in August 1980 and signed by 25,000 people. Published in November 1980 by Editions Champ Libre, as part of the volume Appels de la prison de Segovie [Appeals from the prison in Segovia], which was attributed to the “Coordinated autonomous groups of Spain.”

Aux Libertaires was signed Les Amis Internationaux (“International Friends”) and is presently attributed to “that Debord guy.”

An English translation, To Libertarians, was first published in London, August 1981, by “the British Internationalists” (Michel Prigent and Lucy Forsyth). It wasn’t consulted during this translation of Aux Libertaires in 2004.

If you know where a copy of the August 1981 translation can be found, or for any other qualms, mistakes, et cetera, please contact us: frannyglass at riseup dot net.”



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