About the Situationist International

Note: You may have seen the term "SituationISM" before. This is not a valid use of the concept (as an ideology or "ism"), according to the origional situationist positions, as the idea of turning a critique of the imposition of fixed methods of thought and mediated, alienating experiance into the very thing it criticizes would be wrong.

A Short Defense of the Situationist International

The Situationist International was a highly intellectual and imaginative leftist student movement with strong Marxist influences, located primarily in France during the 1960s. What made the Situationist International different from traditional Marxist-Leninist political parties was not only it's critique of the capitalist system in ways which kept the (intellectual) reader's attention by using more up-to-date terms and a sense of humour, but also a critique of the authoritarian "Communist" Parties (origionaly referred to by the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin as "state capitalist" in response to Karl Marx, some time before the existance of the USSR & it's Bolshevik coup.)

The Situationist writings have their greatest appeal to educated youth who oppose capitalism but dislike the banality of the Leninist, Trotskyist, Maoist or Social Democratic forms of "Socialism". The situationist critique of capitalism is modernized in that it integrates the effects of mass media on the minds and behavior of the workers in contemporary consumer culture. The Situationist International advocated the voluntary & spontanious creation of workers councils at the time of a worker's revolution which would democraticaly own and manage the means of capital production, in order to ensure equal distribution of wealth: from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs. Most vital to situationists was the avoidence of any reliance on a set of bureacratic administrators, but rather the creation of a grass-roots, bottom-up democratic structure, with maximal preservation of liberty for the individual. Obviously, by definition, the Situationist International was a revolutionary, dissident movement... far to the left of what was considered the official "left".

Situationist writing is mostly inaccessable because of it's heavy intellectual jargon. It's puzzle-like, complex style makes it something which those who have time to over-intellectualize feel proud to be a part of (perhaps, simmilar to the more obscure computer programmers who teach themselves a programming language for the pure enjoyment of it?) But what this means is that a highly egalitarian theory and philosophy is quite palitable to a social sub-class which origionaly was not considered important in taking a part in social revolution: the intellectual lumpenproletariat (which includes students, who often do not have jobs), who generaly are considered the future technological and scientific life-blood of capitalist progression.

Here, then, is a body of leftist theory able to stand up to even the most voluptuous and enticing seductions of capitalist propaganda... living and breathing in a time when Marxists such as Alvin Toffler and Andre Gorz declaired the working class "dead", or others the idea of class stuggle (and human "history") to be "over"!

Some situationist-inspired writers are Bob Black, Hakim Bey, and Jean Baudrillard- the first two are best defined as neo-situationists, in line with the publication "Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed"'s on-the-surface situationist slant, the latter a "post-modernist" who at times openly praised the alienation of capitalist society, while using a writing style simmilar to situationist tracts. In relation to the Situationist International's origional deeply class-conscious orientation, the works of these individuals (and others like them) has been part of something of an antithisis and obscuration of the origional situationist direction. Many neo-situationists have openly dismissed the Situationist Internationals' commitment to class-struggle orientation of the past as hopeless, idealistic, unrealistic, or even beureacratic, the fact remains that the origional situationist movement never discredited itself by being authoritarian or unreasonable, it simply did not "win" any perminant ground in the real-world political/social sphere. If the situationists are guilty of anything, it is a lack of organization and ability to defeat the more "pragmatic" elements of political society (nationalists, Stalinists, reformist unions, etc.). Is being the "loser" a crime? Certainly one does not live life simply to perpetualy fail, but failure is one of the best experiances to learn and grow from.

The depth, forsight and insight of the situationists was so penitrative and fascinating that it tends to attract status-quo theorists who attempt to create versions which allow for, even attempt to strengthen capitalist culture. The very fact that the Situationist International represented a direct attack on capitalism using aesthetics as well as theory meant that capitalism must attempt to absorb it, or be destroyed by it (as with all countercultures, but counterculture alone without political organizing and activity is forever doomed to faulure). Common versions of such turn-arounds include situationist style graphics and writings which glorify the aesthetics of advertising or inadvertantly support the "free market", though usualy the message is simply: "Yes, society is dominated by illusions, simulations, and spectacles.. but so what? Let's all go along for the ride." (I.E.: The Revolution will be televised...", and simmilar statements.)

It may be hard to believe that technology-as-panecea can very well be the modern day snake-oil scam, but really, just how much has changed in the last 100 years? Religious zealotry is still as strong as ever, nations dominate each other, and so on. Intellectualism and hard-knowledge of technology does not garuntee wise choices or insights. What looks so "true" and relevant (because we wish it to be) may in fact not be what we expect at all. Where capitalism is concerned, the goal is never seeking truth, but rather, profits. Technology and the entertainment industry simply cannot be seen as benign entities within a capitalist society, since they will be used as tools of exploitation, rather than for human betterment.

If humanity will accept domination so long as it looks, tastes, feels, smells and sounds "nice" or even "exciting", this suggests that we redefine exactly what "domination" means. To say that only that which is defined by the status-quo as "boring" and "the uninteresting" is what is negative in the world is to accept the culture such as MTV, WiRED, Mondo 2000 perpetualy advertise: a virtual, simulated existance in which we are dominated but we do not care. How important is freedom verses convienience? If our five senses do not know that we are not free, but we are not in fact free, does freedom matter? We might do well to ask ourselves this question.


Situationist related links:

Spudboy's Situationist International Archive
Chuck's Situationist Anthology Index
Texts from the Spectacle (Bibliography)
Guy Debord: Timeline of events.


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Keywords: anarchy anarchism socialist libertarian socialism syndicalism anti-authoritarian anti-state council communism Marxism Marxist left-wing

Last update: 5/13/96. Send comments to jah AT iww.org