distributed clandestinely in Algiers, July 1965
reprinted in Internationale Situationniste #11 (October 1967)
Translated by Ken Knabb
The collapse of the revolutionary image presented by the international Communist movement is taking place forty years after the collapse of the revolutionary movement itself. This time gained for the bureaucratic lie — that supplement to the permanent bourgeois lie — has been time lost for the revolution. The history of the modern world pursues its revolutionary course, but unconsciously or with false consciousness. Everywhere there are social confrontations, but nowhere is the old order destroyed, not even within the very forces that contest it. Everywhere the ideologies of the old world are criticized and rejected, but nowhere is “the real movement that suppresses existing conditions” liberated from one or another “ideology” in Marx’s sense of the word: ideas that serve masters. Revolutionaries are everywhere, but nowhere is there any real revolution.
The recent collapse of the Ben-Bellaist image of a quasi-revolution in Algeria is a striking example of this general failure. The superficial power of Ben Bella represented the moment of rigid balance between the movement of the Algerian workers toward the management of the entire society and the bourgeois bureaucracy in the process of formation within the framework of the state. But in this official balance the revolution had nothing with which to further its objectives — it had already become a museum piece — whereas those in possession of the state controlled all power, beginning with that fundamental repressive instrument, the army, to the point of finally being able to throw off their mask, i.e. Ben Bella. Two days before the putsch, at Sidi Bel Abbes, Ben Bella added the ridiculous to the odious by declaring that Algeria was “more united than ever.” Now he has stopped lying to the people and the events speak for themselves. Ben Bella fell as he had reigned, in solitude and conspiracy, by a palace revolution. He was ushered out by the same forces that had ushered him in: Boumédienne’s army, which had opened the road to Algiers for him in September 1962. Ben Bella’s regime ratified the revolutionary conquests that the bureaucracy was not yet able to repress: the self-management movement. The forces so well hidden behind the “Muslim Brother” Boumédienne have this clear goal: to eliminate all self-management. The June 19th Declaration sums up the policy of the new regime with a mixture of Western technocratic jargon and bombast about enforcing Islamic moral values: “We must put a stop to the current stagnation, which is already manifesting itself in lowered productivity, decreasing profitability and a disturbing withdrawal of investments,” while “keeping in mind our faith, our convictions and the secular traditions and moral values of our people.”
The astonishing acceleration of practical demystification must now serve to accelerate revolutionary theory. The same society of alienation, of totalitarian control (here the sociologist predominates, there the police), and of spectacular consumption (here the cars and gadgets, there the words of the venerated leader) reigns everywhere, despite the diversity of its ideological and juridical disguises. The coherence of this society cannot be understood without an all-encompassing critique, illuminated by the inverse project of a liberated creativity, the project of everyone’s control of all levels of their own history. This is the demand in acts of all proletarian revolutions, a demand until now defeated by the specialists of power who take over revolutions and turn them into their own private property.
To revive and bring into the present this inseparable, mutually illuminating project and critique entails appropriating all the radicalism borne by the workers movement, by modern Western poetry and art (as preface to an experimental research toward a free construction of everyday life), by the thought of the period of the supersession and realization of philosophy (Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx), and by the liberation struggles from the Mexico of 1910 to the Congo of today. To do this, it is first of all necessary to recognize, without holding on to any consoling illusions, the full extent of the defeat of the entire revolutionary project in the first third of this century and its official replacement, in every region of the world and in every domain of life, by delusive shams and petty reforms that camouflage and preserve the old order. The domination of bureaucratic state-capitalism over the workers is the opposite of socialism — this is a fact that Trotskyism has refused to face. Socialism exists wherever the workers themselves directly manage the entire society. It therefore exists neither in Russia nor in China nor anywhere else. The Russian and Chinese revolutions were defeated from within. Today they provide the Western proletariat and the peoples of the Third World with a false model which actually serves as a mere counterbalance to the power of bourgeois capitalism and imperialism.
A resumption of radicality naturally requires a considerable deepening of all the old attempts at liberation. Seeing how those attempts failed due to isolation, or were converted into total frauds, enables one to get a better grasp of the coherence of the world that needs to be changed. In the light of this rediscovered coherence, many of the partial explorations of the recent past can be salvaged and brought to their true fulfillment (the liberating content of psychoanalysis, for example, can be neither understood nor realized apart from the struggle for the abolition of all repression). Insight into this reversible coherence of the world — its present reality in relation to its potential reality — enables one to see the fallaciousness of half-measures and to recognize the presence of such half-measures each time the operating pattern of the dominant society — with its categories of hierarchization and specialization and its corresponding habits and tastes — reconstitutes itself within the forces of negation.
Moreover, the material development of the world has accelerated. It constantly accumulates more potential powers; but the specialists of the management of society, because of their role as guardians of passivity, are forced to ignore the potential use of those powers. This same development produces widespread dissatisfaction and objective mortal dangers which these specialized rulers are incapable of permanently controlling. The fundamental problem of underdevelopment must be resolved on a worldwide scale, beginning with the revolutionary overcoming of the irrational overdevelopment of productive forces in the framework of the various forms of rationalized capitalism. The revolutionary movements of the Third World can succeed only on the basis of a lucid contribution to global revolution. Development must not be a race to catch up with capitalist reification, but a satisfaction of all real needs as the basis for a genuine development of human faculties.
New revolutionary theory must move in step with reality, it must keep abreast with the revolutionary praxis which is starting up here and there but which yet remains partial, mutilated and without a coherent total project. Our language, which will perhaps seem fantastic, is the very language of real life. History continues to present ever more glaring confirmations of this. If in this history the familiar is not necessarily known, it is because real life itself only appears in a fantastic form, in the upside-down image imposed on it by the modern spectacle of the world: in the spectacle all social life, including even the representation of sham revolutions, is written in the lying language of power and filtered by its machines. The spectacle is the terrestrial heir of religion, the opium of a capitalism that has arrived at the stage of a “society of abundance” of commodities. It is the illusion actually consumed in “consumer society.”
The sporadic explosions of revolutionary contestation are countered by an international organization of repression, operating with a global division of tasks. Each of the blocs, or of the spinoff splinters of blocs, ensures the lethargic sleep of everyone within its sphere of influence, contributing toward maintaining a global order that remains fundamentally the same. This permanent repression ranges from military interventions to the more or less complete falsification practiced today by every constituted power: “The truth is revolutionary” (Gramsci) and all existing governments, even those issuing out of the most liberatory movements, are based on lies inside and out. It is precisely this repression that constitutes the most resounding verification of our hypotheses.
Revolutionary endeavors of today, because they have to break all the rules of false understanding imposed by the “peaceful coexistence” of reigning lies, begin in isolation, in one particular sector of the world or in one particular sector of contestation. Possessing only the most rudimentary conception of freedom, they attack only the most immediate aspect of oppression. As a result, they meet with the minimum degree of aid and the maximum of repression and slander (they are accused of rejecting one existing order while necessarily approving of an existing variant of it). The more difficult their victory, the more easily it is confiscated by new oppressors. The next revolutions can find aid in the world only by attacking this world as a whole. The freedom movement of the American blacks, if it can assert itself incisively, will call into question all the contradictions of modern capitalism; it must not be sidetracked by the “black nationalism” and “black capitalism” of the Black Muslims. The workers of the United States, like those in England, are engaging in “wildcat strikes” against the bureaucratized unions that aim first of all at integrating them into the concentrated, semiregulated capitalist system. It is with these workers and with the students who have just won their strike at the University of California in Berkeley that a North American revolution can be made; and not with the Chinese atom bomb.
The movement drawing the Arab peoples toward unification and socialism has achieved a number of victories over classical colonialism. But it is more and more evident that it must finish with Islam, an obviously counterrevolutionary force as are all religious ideologies. It must grant freedom to the Kurdish people. And it must stop swallowing the Palestinian pretext that justifies the dominant policy in the Arab states — a policy that insists on the destruction of Israel and thereby perpetuates itself since this destruction is impossible. The repressive forces of the state of Israel can be undermined only by a model of a revolutionary society realized by the Arabs. Just as the success of a model of a revolutionary society somewhere in the world would mean the end of the largely sham confrontation between the East and the West, so would end the Arab-Israel confrontation which is a miniature version of it.
Revolutionary endeavors of today are abandoned to repression because it is not in the interest of any existing power to support them. So far, no practical organization of revolutionary internationalism exists to support them. We passively watch their combat and only the delusory babble of the UN or of the specialists of “progressive” state powers accompanies their death throes. In Santo Domingo US troops dared to intervene in a foreign country in order to back up fascist army officers against the legal government of the Kennedyist Caamano, simply for fear that he would be overwhelmed by the people he had had to arm. What forces in the world took retaliatory measures against the American intervention? In the Congo in 1960 Belgian paratroopers, UN expeditionary forces and the Mining Association’s tailor-made state [Katanga] broke the impetus of the people who thought they had won independence, and killed Lumumba and Mpolo. In 1964 Belgian paratroopers, American transport planes, and South African, European and anti-Castroist Cuban mercenaries pushed back the second insurrectional wave of the Mulelists. What practical aid was provided by “revolutionary Africa”? A thousand Algerian volunteers, victors of a much harder war, would have been enough to prevent the fall of Stanleyville. But the armed people of Algeria had long been replaced by a classical army on lease to Boumédienne, who had other plans.
The next revolutions are confronted with the task of understanding themselves. They must totally reinvent their own language and defend themselves against all the forms of cooption prepared for them. The Asturian miners’ strike (virtually continuous since 1962) and all the other signs of opposition that herald the end of Francoism do not indicate an inevitable future for Spain, but a choice: either the holy alliance now being prepared by the Spanish Church, the monarchists, the “left Falangists” and the Stalinists to harmoniously adapt post-Franco Spain to modernized capitalism and to the Common Market; or the resumption and completion of the most radical aspects of the revolution that was defeated by Franco and his accomplices on all sides — the revolution that realized truly socialist human relationships for a few weeks in Barcelona in 1936.
The new revolutionary current, wherever it appears, must begin to link up the present contestatory experiences and the people who bear them. While unifying such groups, it must at the same time unify the coherent basis of their project. The first gestures of the coming revolutionary era embody a new content, both visible and hidden, of the critique of present societies, and new forms of struggle; and also the irreducible moments of all the old revolutionary history that has remained in abeyance, moments which reappear like ghosts. Thus the dominant society, which prides itself so much on its constant modernization, is going to meet its match, for it is at last beginning to produce its own modernized negation.