Tuesday, February 2, 2010

IS no. 11, 1967

over the past two months, i've been reading through Christopher Gray's Leaving the 20th Century: The Incomplete Work of the Situationist International. i cannot stress how important this book is. granted, it is not the original SI publications, but it is a fantastic selection. last night, i was reading the entry entitled, "Nihilism" and was blown away by this statement:

"As a last-ditch effort, Power has produced the spectacle of nihilism - on the principle that the more we contemplate, as spectators, the degradation of all values, the less likely we are to get on with a little real destruction."

i know i fall victim to this when it comes to large matters, but i'd like to think that i've found ways out of it in small acts and gestures. is it enough to be quietly subversive? or does it just lead to more reform? i have a pretty good sense of an answer, but would like to hear someone else's thoughts on it.


Ethan said...

I think it ties in with what I was talking about in the previous post. All we can do is little things, because big things require a critical mass that's almost impossible to achieve without the kind of working-class organization that has been so thoroughly eviscerated in the past decades.

Whether or not small things do any good is a question I don't have an answer to. But for now I think it's all we can do.

Anonymous said...

I've thought of this problem recently too. My only (tenuous) conclusion is that quiet subversion is the only thing that can carry us through until some point in time when open subversion becomes possible. Large systems do undergo rapid shifts from time to time, and the key is waiting for just such a shift.

Hopefully there will be one soon... No one person and very few groups of people are capable of acting under the current state of affairs.

--Bolo (forgot my password, so posting anon. for now)

thebaronette said...

we all seem to be on the same plane here. a solution will only manifest once that working-class organization has reached a critical mass and a spontaneous, appropriate form of revolution occurs. i know the SI believed that the organizational structure would be workers' councils. i am kind of unclear on the specifics behind such an organization, but i can tell that they did not see them as just an extension of a union. they saw the union as another way that power tried to control the workers under the capitalist system. the only purpose a union could serve - from their perspective - was a means for workers to meet so they could begin to develop councils outside of the union relationship.

JRB said...

Anyone operating at an extreme disadvantage has to be very patient in order to maximize their effect when opportunities arise, while limiting their exposure over the long term. I think of the workplace (for example) as a kind of prison system which warrants close study before any effective action can be pursued.

As far as unions are concerned, it depends on their structure. If you and I are "united" in a course of action that undermines the authority of the boss, that is as robust a conception of "unionism" as has ever existed. Unsurprisingly, government and employers have tried very hard to shape unions in their own image -- i.e., as bureaucracies -- in order to preclude modes of union activity which conform to this dynamic and unpredictable (read: effective) model.

As to what shape effective forms of resistance must take, that has to be decided by participants at the time. In a class system where employers control and employees are controlled, however, some form of union approach seems implied, hopefully in tandem with other community initiatives.

You guys might enjoy the book Black Flame. I think it's set a new standard on this kind of thing for many people.

JRB said...

Oh, yeah -- and then join the IWW or something!

thebaronette said...

hey, thanks for the suggestions. i promptly requested the book. i've considered the IWW before, but never acted upon it.

i definitely agree with your point about unionism. one of the most powerful devices - if not, the most powerful - used against real revolution is the appropriation and re-packaging of revolutionary terminology and structures (the spectacle) i think this happens with help from both parties involved (the oppressors and the activists). it's clearly intentional on the part of those who stand for oppression. for those who want revolution, i think it is done through miscalculations or it is just plain unintentional. the SI talked about miscalculation in one entry. the example they used was a hunger strike by the heads of a coal miners' union. the action failed, because it was not the right response and they didn't connect with other workers.

so yeah, formal unions definitely have been co-opted to serve as another arm of state bureaucracy. i think the only way to escape this is for workers to conceive of a unique way to combat oppression based upon the type in place and to reach that critical mass through communication.

Anonymous said...

I like to think of it more in internet terms. Best to be not a quiet subversive but an INVISIBLE one, preferably with "admin privileges", poking around the subsystems and gathering resources for a single very un-quiet strike.

Remember though (switching metaphors again) a sledge hammer to the front fender of a car just leaves an ugly mark. But a pair of tweezers attacking the spark plug can disable the car entirely ;)

Ethan said...

But where is the spark plug? I've been over the whole damn thing and I can't find it!

Anonymous said...

Hi I know this post is from last year but I'm also very interested in the SI and thought I should mention that, although it was the first English translation of Situationist writings available, and so was the one that influenced for instance Malcolm McClaren and Tony Wilson, a far better translator of the SI is Ken Knabb, whose work can be found here http://www.bopsecrets.org/ , and in the Situationist International Anthology which is more thorough and precise than LTTC

thebaronette said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I haven't read any of Knabb's translations, but happened upon the bopsecrets site once or twice before. Glad you called them to my attention.