Debord, Kotanyi & Vaneigem

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Kronstadt and Vicinity

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"The traditional revolutionary workers' movement must be re-examined without any illusions and, first and foremost, without any illusions as to its various political and pseudo-theoretical heirs, for all they have inherited is its failure. What seem to be the achievements of this movement (reformism or the installation of a state bureaucracy) arc its fundamental failures, while what seem to be its failures (the Commune or the Asturias revolt of 1934) are its greatest achievements, for us and tor the future." (Internationale Situationniste No. 7)


I'he t ominune was the bluest festival 01 the nineteenth century. Underlying all the e\ents of that spring of 1X71 one can see the insurgents* fee line that i!uy had become the masters of their own history, not on the level ot the politic, of "government/* but on the level of their everyday life (Consider for ev.unple. the s«//m \ everybody played with their weapons: they were, in fact. playing with Power.1 It is ohu in this sense that Marv should be understood when he s;t>s that "the most important social measure of the Commune was ik ou n existence m acts"


1 he remark by tngels and Marx; "take a look at the Paris Commune. It was the dictatorship of the proletariat", should be taken seriously, in ordei to reveal what the dictatorship of the proletariat as a political regime is not Uhe various forms of dictatorship over the proletariat, in the name of the proletariat).

it is not difficult to make perfectly justified criticisms of the incoherence and obvious lack of a machine in the Commune. As the problem of political machinery scorns far more complex to us today than the would-be heirs of the bolshevik-type machinery claim it to be, it is high time we examine the Commune not just as a superseded example of revolutionary primitivism. all the mistakes of which have long been overcome, but as a positive experiment whose whole truth has never been either rediscovered or accomplished to this day.


The Commune had no leaders. And this at a time when the idea of the necessity of leaders held undisputed sway over the proletarian movement. This is the first reason for its paradoxical successes and failures. The official organisers of the Commune were incompetent (if measured up against Marx, Lenin or even Blanqui). But on the other hand, the various "irresponsible" acts ot this moment are precisely what should be claimed for the continuation of the revolutionary movement of our own time. This is so, even if the circumstances forced almost all of those acts to remain destructive. (The most famous example being the rebel who, when a suspected bourgeois insisted that he had never had anything to do with polities, replied "That's precisely why I am going to kill you/*)


The vital importance of the general arming of the masses was manifest, practically and symbolically, from the beginning to the end of the movement. By and large the right to impose popular will by force was not surrendered and left to any specialized detachments. The exemplary value of this autonomy of armed groups had its counterpart in their lack of co-ordination; at no point of the struggle against Versailles, on the offensive or the defensive, did the forces of the people attain real military effectiveness. It should, however, be born in mind that the Spanish Revolution was lost-as, in the last analysis, was the war itself-in the name of a similar transformation into a "republican army". The contradiction between autonomy and co-ordination would seem to be determined very largely by the point reached by the technology of that period.

Armed Strikers, Southern Colorado cost fie.'ds. 1914.

rhe Commune represents the only realization of a revolutionary urbanism to date-attacking, on the spot, the pertrified signs of the dominant organization of life, understanding social space in political terms, when they refused , for example , to accept the innocence of a single monument. Anyone who reduces this to som^'lumpen-proletarian nihilism", some "irresponsibility of petrol-bombers", should be forced to state what, on the contrary, he believes to be of positive value in contemporary society and worth conserving (it will turn out to bo almost everything . . . VThc entire space is already occupied by the enemy . . . Authentic urbanism will appear at the moment when the absence of this occupation is crcated in certain zones. What we call construction of situations starts there. It can be clarified by the concept of the positive hole coined by modern physics." (Unitary Urbanis/u out of I S. 6)


The Paris Commune succumbed less to the force of arms than to the force of habit. The most scandalous practical example was the refusal to use artillery to seize the French National Bank when money was in such desperate need. Throughout the whole of the Commune, the Bank remained an enclave of Versatile in Paris, defended by no more than a few rifles and the myth of property and theft. The other ideological habits proved in every respect equally disastrous (the resurrection ol Jacobinism, the defeatist strategy o! barricades in memory of '48 and so on )


The Commune shows how those who defend the old world always benefit, at one point or another, from the complicity of the revolutionaries: and. above all. from those who think out the revolution. This occurs at the point where the revolutionaries think like those guardians of the old world In this way. the old world retains some tones (ideology, language, morality, habits) in the deployment of its enem:. and uses them to reconquer the terrain it lost. (Only the thought-in-act>'•..» natural to the revolutionary proletariat escapes it irrevocably: the Tax Bureau went up in flames* The "fifth column" exists, in tact, m the very mind of ihe revolutionaries.

The story of the arsonists who. during, the last days of the Commune, went to destroy Notre-Pame. only to find themselves confronted by an armed bataliion of Commune artists, is rich in meaning: it is a fine example of direct democracy; it shows further the kind of problems still raised in the perspective of the. power of the workers* councils. Were these artists .is such right l«> defend a cathedral in the name of eternal aesthetic values and in the last analysis, in the name of museum culture - while al the same time other men wanted nothing but to express themselves, for the first time there and then; to make this destruction symbolize their absolute defiance in the face of a bociety which, in its moment of triumph, was about to consign their lives to silence and oblivion? The artist partisans of the Commune, acting as specialists, already found themselves in conflict with an "extremist" form of struggle against alienation. The Communards must be criticized for not having dared to answer the totalitarian terror of power with the total power of weapons. Everything indicates that those poets who. at that moment, actually expressed the Commune's inherent poetry were simply wiped out. "Hie abortive nature of the commune as a whole let its tentative actions be turned into "atrocities" and made it easy to censor the memory of its real intentions. Saint Just's remark that "those who make but half a revolution dig naught but their own graves" helps also explain his own silence.


rheoretieians who, like the traditional novelists, try to study the history of this movement from a divine omniscient standpoint can very easily prove that, in purely objective terms, the Commune was condemned to failure and that it could never have been superseded. They forget that for those who really lived through it, the supercesston was there already.


The audacity and imagination of the Commune can only be measured in terms of the prevailing political, intellectual and moral attitudes of its own time in terms of the cohesion of all the prevailing platitudes it blasted to pieces In the same way. tlu inventiveness we can expect of a comparable explosion today can only be measured in terms of the cohesion of the prevailing platitudes from the right or the "left", of our own time.

The social war. of which the Commune was oik- moment, is still being fought today (though its superficial conditions have changed considerably) As to the task of "making.the unconscious tendencies of the Commune conscious" (Engels). the last word is >1ill to be said.


For almost twenty years in France, the Christians of the left and the Stalinists, in memory of their national anti-German front, have agreed to emphasize the aspect of national disarray and offended patriotism appearing in the Commune, to explain that "the French people petitioned to be better governed" (in agreement with contemporary Stalinist "politics"), and were finally brought to despair by the default of the country-less right wine of the bourgeoisie. In order to regurgitate this holy water it would suffice to study the role played by foreigners who came to fight for the Commune. The Commune, in fact, was above all the inevitable battle, climax of twenty-three years of struggle in Furope by "our party" as Marx said.

18 March 1%: Debord. Kotanvi and Vaneigein