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10/11/2014 Guy Debord's letters

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from Guy Debord
To Mario Perniola[1]
26 December 1966
Dear Perniola:
I finally have a free moment to write you at length. Please excuse the immense delay.
This is the Strasbourg affair: in the midst of the general "depolitization" of the student masses, our
manifesto [On the Poverty of Student Life] has been welcomed with sympathy -- and often half-
attachment -- rather than with hate and revolt. The sacred union of all those who attack us firmly
(Catholics, Protestants and Stalinist communists) is at best equal to those who openly support us: they are
now around a hundred on each side! The fear of the authorities in the face of our appeal to the base to
practically dissolve this ridiculous [student] union, has involved a first judgment by a tribunal[2] that
broke "our bureau," a prohibition of any general assembly, and a prelude to legal action, at least on the
financial level, against those responsible. At the same time, several provincial associations, and one in
Paris, have manifested a more or less firm approval of the positions of Strasbourg. With the result that our
perspective on the apotheosis of this scandal is logically to propose the dissolution of the U.N.E.F.
entirely at its assembly, which will be held in Paris in January [1967].
Several groups of foreign students have made contact with Strasbourg: that is to say, the excessive fears
of the first Italian newspaper[3] that you sent me were a little better founded than we thought. This is a
good sign concerning the deepening general crisis.
It is now a question of reprinting the pamphlet, of which ten thousand copies have already been
distributed. It will be translated into Dutch. Also, the SI group that just formed in London will publish an
English pamphlet with a translation of a large part of the text and commentaries. I believe that, even if
Tempo presente has accepted "Arte e Rivoluzione" [for publication], its courage will not allow it to
publish an Italian translation of a part [of Student Life]. Thank you for L'Europeo[4]: very honest and
sympathetic, despite the "objective information" aspect of the end. Have you seen something in an Italian
daily called ABC?
In Le Nouvel Observateur for this week, there is a long article,[5] basically hostile, but striving to a
certain certain kindness and "objectivity" on the details of the affair. Something objective -- but restrained
-- also in the Times.[6] The scandal has reached such an extent that it is impossible to treat it as a
pleasantry: the fact that only Justice has succeded in suspending us from Strasbourg (still without settling
the problem) especially reveals the seriousness of the crisis.
It is also a fact that, for quite a long time, many French intellectuals have known about the SI and have
tried to never speak of it: this blow has suddenly broken the fabricated silence.
Concerning your article, so as to specify our fundamental approval of it and also our reservations, I will at
first say that we seem to be quite in agreement on all of the perspectives that have been expressed and that
we especially critique the fact that some information is missing from the article or -- something that
probably derives from this -- there are certain references to thinkers (Tolstoi or Brown) who could be
very advantageously replaced by others who would be capable of more solidly and radically supporting
your thesis.
To attack the problem otherwise: I believe that I can specify that we are in full agreement with you and
your formulations on the artistic and cultural part, considered in its revolutionary supercession. Of course,
we are also in agreement on the project of general supercession of political revolution; but here we find
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your formulations to be less exact. For more than a century, the project of proletarian revolution has not
simply been a project of political revolution, but also complete social revolution (the abolition of classes).
We think that what has come to pass of this project -- in its excessively political manner of organization -
- is either simple integration into bourgeois society or, in Russia, a social upheaval (expropriation of the
bourgeoisie) that has not been a proletarian social revolution, because classes have certainly not been
abolished (a bureaucratic class continues to possess the economy and the State, which it manages with an
absolutism that is supported by ideology at the stage of the total lie). Since then, one has seen the
immensely counter-revolutionary role of this bureaucracy, domestically and internationally, where it has
been the prinicipal global force in the disarmament of the workers' movement.
Schematically, I will say that there are, for me, four points that appear fundamental in the general
revolutionary theory that the SI has wanted to begin to formulate (obviously so as to serve a translation
into practice):
1) The supercession of art, for a free construction of life. This supercession wants to be the conclusion of
revolutionary modern art, in which Dadaism wanted to suppress art without realizing it, and Surrealism
wanted to realize art without suppressing it[7] (these two demands are inseparable; here I reclaim the
terms that the young Marx employed for the philosophy of his time).
2) The critique of the spectacle, that is to say, modern society insofar as it is the concrete lie, the
realization of an inverted world, ideological consumption, concentrated and expanded alienation (finally:
the critique of the modern stage of the global reign of the commodity).
3) The revolutionary theory of Marx -- to be corrected and completed in the sense of its proper radicality
(at first against all of the heritages of "Marxism"). One can say: the dialectical method that came from
Hegel -- the thinker of the bourgeois revolution -- as it is really overthrown and realized in the method of
total revolution: which is in fact the minimum principle of the project of proletarian revolution, but which
was generally encumbered, even in its exposition, by the remnants of the thoughts, habits and interests of
the old world.
4) The model of the revolutionary power of the Workers' Councils, as the goal and as the model that has
already dominated the revolutionary organization that aims at this goal: thus, the self-emancipation of the
proletariat, which, in the acute forms of dispossession of the modern world, once again finds in
concentrated form all of the historic incitements to the free control of all of life.
The first two points are, in a certain way, our principal theoretical contributions up until now. The third
comes from the revolutionary theory of the beginning of the historic period in which we find ourselves.
The fourth comes from the revolutionary practice of the proletariat in the current century. It is a question
of unifying them; and, of course, I neglect here many important elements that also enter into play.
Regarding these four theoretical bases, the SI has had, in my opinion, a practical merit: in a coherent and
"disciplined" fashion, undertaking to make reappear the possibility of a revolutionary option, expressing
in the most adequate terms the richness of this project (for example, what derives from the first point).
I hope that we can soon develop this discussion, through letters or in person [de vive voix]. Are there
certain SI documents -- beyond the journals -- that would be useful to you? Or certain books in which we
are referred to? (Of course, keep the first issues that you have proposed to send back to us.)
Guy Debord
[1] Author of the article "Art and Revolution," favorable to the SI, which appeared in December 1966 in
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the Italian journal Tempo recente; director of the studies of the future Guy Debord biographer, Anselm
[2] On 13 December [1966], an ordinance of the tribunal of referees sequestered the offices of the
General Federated Association of the Students of Strasbourg.
[3] La Gazetta del Popolo, in Turin.
[4] L'Europeo of 15 December 1966, entitled: "I partiti non hanno piu niente da dirci."
[5] "Strasbourg in a situation" by Oliver Todd.
[6] "Crisis in French Student Movements," The Times [of London], 14 December 1966.
[7] Translator: this is the precise formulation of Thesis 191 of The Society of the Spectacle.
(Published in Guy Debord, Correspondance, Volume 3, 1965-1968. Footnotes by Alice Debord, except
where noted. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! August 2005.)
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