“Socialism or Planète”

[from Internationale Situationniste, no. 10,  March 1966]

We put forward several apparently risky assertions with the assurance of subsequently seeing an historical display of their undeniable seriousness. The more limited our remarks — for example when we analyse a detail of the pseudo-critique that attempts to cover the [entire] field of the real criticism of the present — the quicker [such] demonstrations naturally follow, even though the same objective limits in such cases lead only to demystification in some restricted milieus, with which we are justly concerned. Such is the result now evident of the boycott launched by the S.I. against the journal Arguments (1956-1962), [a] journal that was also the European concentrate of this pseudo-critique.[1]

Arguments, as we know, had two very big heads, [Kostos] Axelos and Edgar Morin.[2] Since the collapse of their highest undertaking, their careers have been speaking. Starting in July 1964, Axelos threw himself into Planète no. 17, presented by its editorial board as swimming “in a meditation that is ours”, and attempting to promote “an open and multi-dimensional thought, questioning and global”.[3] In the following year, in several issues of Le Monde, Morin seriously examined the doctrines and methods of Planète (this pseudo-impartiality before the void being already unanimity). He had elsewhere concluded rather positively, not before inviting Planète to improve itself by becoming still more “planetary”, and he designated his acolyte, Axelos, as [the] already-present sign of this progress. The rewards for his good offices in “public relations” hardly had to wait. One could read in Le Monde of 28 January1966: “In the offices of the journal Planète, Louis Pauwels and Claude Planson, the old director of the Theatre of Nations, installed the headquarters of a new association, l’A.R.C. (Association pour la recherche des cultures).[4] In the directorial committee we find the names of Maurice Béjart, Jean Duvignaud, Edgar Morin, Jean Vilar, Jan Kott”.[5] Sub-intellectual manifestations of the Planète type are only the extreme products of the decomposition of the totality of culture. Those who do not know how to refuse the totality of the politico-cultural spectacle — and who do not want to practically break with its numerous defenders — cannot even, finally, refuse the monstrous evidence of the stupidity spread by Planète. The very frontier of this “Planetism” is not evident to [those] who have truly broken with nothing of the organised confusion of today. Such [people], who certainly will not accept all of Planetism, will accept some Planetism, like some Godard, or some psycho-sociology, or some bureaucratic “orthodoxy”. Already, back in the day, it accepted some confused critique from some leftovers. All respectful contestation will end by accepting cohabitation with Planetism, because the many hollow intentions that those people oppose to almost everything [will] not hold them back from practically juxtaposing themselves, with reciprocal support, in an identical framework of spectacular-confusionist thought. This juxtaposition is the same principle of the present intellectual spectacle, the schizophrenic false consciousness of our time (cf. the works of J[oseph] Gabel).[6] The breaking up of Arguments also illuminated its past as the “university of left Planetism” by also revealing the process of contamination by osmosis of all the half-critiques that conceal themselves before a totally clear option, inseparable from acts themselves clearly decided [tranchés] in all areas of activity (including the tastes and encounters of everyday life).

The group associated with the journal Socialisme ou Barbarie have taken over from Arguments. They will end like Arguments. In Socialisme ou Barbarie, no. 39 (March 1965) the same Morin — [who is there] without doubt due to the shortage of more mediocre editors, and in any case he no longer had to fear compromising himself by appearing there — can legitimately feel at home in the entourage of a [Paul] Cardan, theoretician of the bread crumb who wanted, two years ago, “to recommence the revolution”; and who, in fact, accomplished his reconversion to the common culture of middle management particularly badly.[7] [Daniel] Mothé, the exemplary worker of this old revolutionary group, announced in his book Militant chez Renault (Seuil) his joyous membership in the ex-French Confederation of Christian Workers, whose democracy strongly attracts him.[8] As a result, here he is in the journal Esprit (February 1966), which reveals, apropos the presidential election: “It is the privatisation of the citizen and his reduction to a consumer of spectacle that obliges him to transfer the political to the level of household problems.” Here is the usual development of the Argumentist[9]: to circulate in polite society a little diffuse “situationism”, which is to say degraded critical thought, but on a degraded basis — one baseness compensating the other! The ex-Argumentist Yvon Bourdet, in the same issue of Socialisme ou Barbarie, no. 39, unleashes himself [se déchaîne] against the First International, confusing it so much with the bureaucratic powers that dominated the subsequent two Internationals — notwithstanding the differences between them — that he audaciously concludes: “In fact, the three are the same.” Furthermore, for him, closed to all the historical proofs (the place of Poland and of Polish exiles in all the struggles of the 19th century would have in itself been sufficient), the notion of internationalism would never have been “lived, except at the level of the apparatus (the general council) composed principally of émigrés”.[10] We see the two-fold delirium that transfers the modern reality of the apparatus, in the form of a timeless concept eternally rich from all of its crimes, to a time that has not known it[11] and that, on the other hand, succeeds in isolating the quality of émigré from its origin: a struggle spontaneously born in many countries, from similar conditions, and tending toward a community of international action, towards a party in the spontaneous sense that Marx then gave to this term. The measure of internationalism is exactly the measure of the consciousness of the revolutionary reality, a consciousness that has always been weak, repressed by all the mental and morale organisations of the dominant society, by a thousand defeats, and by one hundred thousand Cardan-Bourdets. But the return of what is repressed has its domain in all modern society. It is the end of its spectacle that will reveal it. Meanwhile Socialisme ou Barbarie thinks like the historian [Jacques] Rougerie does in the special number of Mouvement Social on the I.W.A. (April 1965).[12] The prudence of his scholarly conclusion, with one hundred years of hindsight, results in this admirable, involuntary parody, this masterpiece of questioning: “The problem remains open; momentarily, we have for the sole proof of the existence of worker internationalism that of the International itself.”

Similarly we have for the sole proof of the existence of Cardanism the thought of Cardan himself. This is not much! The disorder of current ideas mixed together in an interminable article by Cardan — who always fallaciously announces its end from one number to the next, and who restarts [it] in an incessant flight onward, without having ever commenced — marked the definitive impossibility of the existence of a group tolerating this.[13] The Macedonian Ideology of Cardan is such that ten individuals, themselves very close to mental debility, could not agree on a text whose own author decomposed it into scattered islands.[14] The dissipation of ideas goes so far that Cardan henceforth can no longer be satisfied with a five-year pseudonym; to hide his incoherent variations and the consequences of his poverty, he would need a different pseudonym every five pages.

Cardan, who no doubt believes, here as elsewhere, that it suffices to speak of something in order to possess it, vaguely gargles about “the imaginary”, thus wanting to justify, more or less, his gelatinous inconsistency of thought. He grasps hold of — following the example of the now-official world — psychoanalysis as a justification of the irrational and the profound reasons of the unconscious; whereas in fact the discoveries of psychoanalysis are a reinforcement  — still unused, for evident socio-political motives — of the rational critique of the world. Psychoanalysis deeply tracks down the unconscious, its misery and its miserable repressive instances, which only derives their strength and magical pageantry from a very common practical repression in everyday life. Cardan immediately looses himself, before seeing that there is always a constituted imaginary that hides the actual imaginable. The social imaginary never has the pure innocence, the independence, attributed to it by its neophyte Cardan. For example, the greatest political problem of the century is an imaginary affair: we have imagined that the socialist revolution was successful in the U.S.S.R. The imagination is not free in an enslaved society. Without it, why would we imagine not only Planète, [but] so many Cardaneries?[15]

In Socialisme ou Barbarie, no. 40, Cardan sumptuously extended his questioning to “the fabrication of needs” in the advanced capitalist society. Cardan is a questioner of size; he sees far; one does not deceive him with the common idea of “true needs”; he seeks the highest assurance of the fundamental uncertainty of human enterprises. He writes (our emphasis): “It is vain to present this situation exclusively as a ‘replacement response’, as the offer of substitutes for other needs, ‘true’ needs, which the present society leaves unsatisfied. Because, by admitting that such needs exist and that we can define them, it can only become more striking that such a reality can be totally covered by a ‘pseudo-reality’. Thus the same oppression and all its precisely oriented lies, all its spectacular organisation of the “pseudo-reality”, become problematic for Cardan and are absolved, from the moment that he completely passed from [the side of] critique to the side of the pseudo-reality. In place of trying to explain the astonishing, the “striking” function of social appearance in modern capitalism (key to all new revolutionary attempts), Cardan has the flat positivist self-confidence of the comic bourgeois who says “this would be all the same” [in order] to deny a problem that upsets his great common sense. Not only is he blind here, but he also denies that there is anything to see. However, pseudo-reality itself shows, negatively, what it hides. That all the needs that solicit or could solicit the production of commodities are equally artificial or arbitrary is what belies the dazzling contradiction of advertising in the social spectacle, which speaks of what it does not sell and does not sell that which it speaks of. It is easy, even for sociologists, to see what advertising promises and does not give publicity to — effective for the diffusion of some commodity or another: it promises security and adventure; the novel development of personality and recognition by others; communication and, above all, the fulfilment of erotic desires. For example, after Freud and Reich, we effectively know more than before about what are sexual “true needs,” and their dominant role in advertising imagery is manifestly intended to sell to people the market substitution for what they don’t have, rather than an infinity of equally acceptable imaginary possibilities. The existing imaginary of which Cardan speaks is not beyond some elementary needs, but an obstacle on the same side as them. These needs are still in no way transcended [dépassés] (except simple dietary needs in only a part of the world). But all of these truths that elude Cardan still do not mean that there existed this “essentially unalterable human nature in which the predominant motivation would be the economic motivation” — [an] error that Cardan, in his total ignorance of dialectical thought, believed can be revealed as the “hidden postulate” of Marxism (cf. our citation in S.I. 9, page 18).[16] We think, like Marx, that “the whole of history is only the progressive transformation of human nature”.[17] [And] the whole is understood in the moment of history that is here and now. All those who understand it at the same time understand very well the incomprehension of Morin and Cardan, and their effective fraternization. Even the rout of Socialisme ou Barbarie is nothing original: it faithfully follows Arguments into the dustbin that we have been able, in advance, to assign it.

LAST EDIT: 27 January 2017


[1] This boycott was announced in I.S. no 5 (December 1960), in ‘Renseignements situationnistes’ (‘Situationist News’), p. 13: “the [Central] Council [of the S.I.] has decided to take advantage, without delay, of progress made by the S.I. and the support that it has begun to gain, to make an example of the most representative tendencies of the pseudo-leftist and conformist intelligentsia who have painstakingly organised so far the silence around us; and whose resignation in all fields begins to appear before the eyes of informed people: [i.e.,] the French journal Arguments. The Council has decided that all people who collaborate with the journal Arguments starting from January 1st, 1961, cannot be admitted under any circumstances, now or in the future, among the Situationists. The announcement of this boycott draws its force from the importance that we know the S.I. secures at least in the culture of the years ahead. Interested parties can bet, on the contrary, on the dubious company it will attract.”

[2] Morin and Axelos were the chief editors and animating ‘spirits’ of Arguments during its entire run (1957-62).

[3] “The journal Planète often incurred the criticism of the S.I. […] Planète, a magazine that combined science fiction stories with articles on speculative ‘science’, is perhaps the progenitor of such English language magazines as Omni and Wired, and is indeed the forerunner of the ideological function of such magazines. In their article Ideologies, Classes, and the Domination of Nature from I.S. no. 8, the Situationists compared Planète’s function to that of the journal Arguments. Whereas Arguments, under the guise of being a journal of ‘eclectic’ and ‘critical’ Marxist theory, was criticized for producing ‘the futile questioning of pure speculation’ (and thus played an important role in the spectacle of criticism), Planète was criticized for haranguing ‘ordinary people with the message that henceforth everything must be changed — while at the same time taking for granted 99% of the life really lived in our era.’ Thus the similarity of function – both journals were mouthpieces of the ideology of ‘progressive’ change (a central tenant of bourgeois ideology in its ‘free market’ and ‘state capitalist’ variants), whilst operating within and by virtue of the parameters of the bourgeois market. Their function as commodities that offered non-threatening change was central to the Situationist critique of them. Thus it was this appearance of modernity that was effectively non-threatening vis-à-vis capitalist modernity that was most egregious in the eyes of the Situationists, whose alternative was encapsulated in their conception of a coherent revolutionary project. Such an appearance would soon be shifted into the spectacle of post-modernism; the babble of ultra-modern theoretical radicalism that apparently interrogated everything all the better to hide the unitary nature of capitalist exploitation and alienation.” (from fn. 5, Well Said S.I.! (I.S. No. 9)

[4] Association for the Study of Cultures.

[5] In I.S. no. 9 under the title of ‘Les Mois Les Plus Longs’ (‘The Longest Months’), the names of Jean Duvignaud, Edgar Morin and many others were listed as ‘collaborators of Arguments’.

[6] Joseph Gabel was one of the Argumentists whose name was published in I.S. no. 9 (see footnote 5). Nonetheless his work on false consciousness, which he argued manifested as the non-dialectical ‘schizophrenic’ character of capitalist subjects, was used critically by the SI. See in particular Gabel’s book False Consciousness: An Essay on Reification (translated by Margaret A. Thompson, New York: Harper & Row, 1975), ‘Quelques recherches sans mode d’emploi’ (‘Investigations without a Guidebook’) in I.S. no. 10, p. 73, and Guy Debord The Society of the Spectacle,  Chapter 9, ‘Ideology Materialised’, Theses nos. 217-220.

[7] Paul Cardan was one of several pseudonyms used by Cornelius Castoriadis. In Socialisme ou Barbarie, no. 35 (January 1964), Castoriadis’ article ‘Recommencer la révolution’ (‘Recommencing the Revolution’) was published. ‘Recommencing the Revolution’ was written by Castoriadis in the midst of what would shortly become the formalisation of a ‘de facto scission within the group’ in July 1963 — cf. Cornelius Castoriadis ‘Postface to “Recommencing the Revolution”’ in Cornelius Castoriadis, Political and Social Writings, Volume 3, translated and edited by David Ames Curtis, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993, pp. 80-88.

[8] Daniel Mothé, Militant chez Renault (Militant at Renault) published by Seuil, October 1965. In this work Mothé (pseudonym for Jacques Gautrat), detailed his recent membership of the C. F. D. T. (Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail, i.e. French Democratic Confederation of Labour), which had only the year before, in 1964, been immaculately conceived from the C. F. T. C. (Confédération Française des Travailleurs Chrétiens, i.e. French Confederation of Christian Workers).

[9] I.e. a member or follower of the journal Arguments.

[10] Solidarity with the Polish uprising of January 1863 – and indeed with the question of Polish freedom throughout the nineteenth century – was instrumental in forging the links between French and English workers that led to the founding of the International Workingmen’s Association: “Henri Tolain, Perrachon, and Limousin visited London in July 1863, attending a meeting held in St. James’ Hall in honour of the Polish uprising. Here there was discussion of the need for an international organisation, which would, amongst other things, prevent the import of foreign workers to break strikes. In September, 1864, some French delegates again visited London with the concrete aim of setting up a special committee for the exchange of information upon matters of interest to the workers of all lands.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Workingmen%27s_Association)

Indeed attention was drawn to Poland in the Inaugural Address of the International Working Men’s Association written by Marx.

[11] ‘Apparatus’ from the French ‘appareil’. ‘Appareil’ can also denote in French, the ‘machinery of power’ or ‘political machinery’. The point the S.I. are making here is that it is questionable if the General Council of the First International (called an apparatus by Bourdet) can be classified as a part of the ‘machinery of political power’ simply because (and unlike the Second and Third Internationals), it was first of all, so singly opposed to the existence of such political machinery in its own time; secondly even in the 1860s and 70s the bourgeois machinery of power was still primitive in comparison to the political machinery of state of the 20th century — and particularly of the 1960s; and finally the First International, unlike the Second and Third, was never embroiled in the political and economic management and defence of capitalist states (e.g. the leading Second International party, the German S.P.D., and its counter-revolutionary role in saving the German state against  the revolutionary wave of 1918-21, and of course the Third International’s role in defending and exporting the state-capitalist dogma of the ‘Soviet’ state).

[12] I.W.A.: the International Workingmen’s Association, aka the First International (1864-1876).

[13] The reference is to Cardan’s/Castoriadis’ article ‘Marxisme et Théorie Révolutionnaire’ (‘Marxism and Revolutionary Theory’) published in no less than 5 issues of the Socialisme ou Barbarie journal between April 1964 and June 1965. This article later formed the first part of Castoriadis’ 1975 work, L’institution imaginaire de la societé (The Imaginary Institution of Society — translated by Kathleen Blamey, 1987). Castoriadis even refers to the original article in his 1974 preface as “itself the never-ending development” of an earlier article. The S.I. also reference the conditions under which this long article was written, i.e. the ‘de facto scission’ of 1963 (cf. footnote 7).

[14] Here the reference must be to the remaining members of Socialisme ou Barbarie. By 1966 the journal had ceased publication the year before, effectively ending the group’s activity even though it was only formally  dissolved in 1967. There were, however, several groupuscules influenced by Socialisme ou Barbarie left in its wake.

[15] The S.I.’s joke at the expense of Cardan/Castoriadis, ‘Cardaneries’, is difficult to translate.  We assume it means in this case organisations or metaphorical shops peddling the ideas of Cardan, thus ‘Cardaneries’.

[16] Cf. ‘La Contestation en Miettes’ (‘Critique in Shreds’), I.S. no. 9, pp. 17-18. Translated by the Thomas Y. Levin, the citation reads: “The Marxist theory of history . . . is ultimately based on the hidden postulate of an essentially unchangeable human nature whose overriding motivation is an economic one. — Paul Cardan, Socialisme ou Barbarie, no. 37, July 1964.” The SI had briefly commented, in the same section: “[Paul] Cardan, when he is not organizing votes for or against the meaning of the Realm of God, presents to his movement (whose mission is to “recommence the revolution”) the same anti-Marxist and grossly falsifying platform that was proclaimed by the professors of philosophy in 1910” (ibid.).

[17] Cf. Karl Marx, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Third Manuscript under the title ‘Private Property and Communism’. Here is the entire sentence from the 1974 English translation by Gregor Benton: “But since for socialist man the whole of what is called world history is nothing more than the creation of man through human labour, and the development of nature for man, he therefore has palpable and incontrovertible proof of his self-mediated birth, of his process of emergence.” (http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/epm/3rd.htm#s2)

First published in Internationale Situationniste no. 10, March 1966, pp. 77-79. Translated from the French by Anthony Hayes, October 2013. Thanks to Not Bored! and Marblepunk for help with the translation. You can find a pdf of the original issue number 10 here.

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