Society of the Spectacle & Commentaires 1

Guy Debord

Chapter 1 “Separation Perfected”

But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence... illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness. -Feuerbach, Preface to the second edition of The Essence of Christianity

1.  In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.

2. The images detached from every aspect of life fuse in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be reestablished. Reality considered partially unfolds, in its own general unity, as a pseudo-world apart, an object of mere contemplation. The specialization of images of the world is completed in the world of the autonomous image, where the liar has lied to himself. The spectacle in general, as the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the non-living.

3. The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as all of society, as part of society, and as instrument of unification. As a part of society it is specifically the sector which concentrates all gazing and all consciousness. Due to the very fact that this sector is separate, it is the common ground of the deceived gaze and of false consciousness, and the unification it achieves is nothing but an official language of generalized separation.

4. The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.

5. The spectacle cannot be understood as an abuse of the world of vision, as a product of the techniques of mass dissemination of images. It is, rather, a Weltanschauung which has become actual, materially translated. It is a world vision which has become objectified.

6. The spectacle grasped in its totality is both the result and the project of the existing mode of production. It is not a supplement to the real world, an additional decoration. It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society. In all its specific forms, as information or propaganda, as advertisement or direct entertainment consumption, the spectacle is the present model of socially dominant life. It is the omnipresent affirmation of the choice already made in production and its corollary consumption. The spectacle’s form and content are identically the total justification of the existing system’s conditions and goals. The spectacle is also the permanent presence of this justification, since it occupies the main part of the time lived outside of modern production.

7. Separation is itself part of the unity of the world, of the global social praxis split up into reality and image. The social practice which the autonomous spectacle confronts is also the real totality which contains the spectacle. But the split within this totality mutilates it to the point of making the spectacle appear as its goal. The language of the spectacle consists of signs of the ruling production, which at the same time are the ultimate goal of this production.

8. One cannot abstractly contrast the spectacle to actual social activity: such a division is itself divided. The spectacle which inverts the real is in fact produced. Lived reality is materially invaded by the contemplation of the spectacle while simultaneously absorbing the spectacular order, giving it positive cohesiveness. Objective reality is present on both sides. Every notion fixed this way has no other basis than its passage into the opposite: reality rises up within the spectacle, and the spectacle is real. This reciprocal alienation is the essence and the support of the existing society.

9. In a world which really is topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false.

10. The oncept of spectacle unifies and explains a great diversity of apparent phenomena. The diversity and the contrasts are appearances of a socially organized appearance, the general truth of which must itself be recognized. Considered in its own terms, the spectacle is affirmation of appearance and affirmation of all human life, namely social life, as mere appearance. But the critique which reaches the truth of the spectacle exposes it as the visible negation of life, as a negation of life which has become visible.

11. To describe the spectacle, its formation, its functions and the forces which tend to dissolve it, one must artificially distinguish certain inseparable elements. When analyzing the spectacle one speaks, to some extent, the language of the spectacular itself in the sense that one moves through the methodological terrain of the very society which expresses itself in the spectacle. But the spectacle is nothing other than the sense of the total practice of a social-economic formation, its use of time. It is the historical movement in which we are caught.

12. The spectacle presents itself as something enormously positive, indisputable and inaccessible. It says nothing more than “that which appears is good, that which is good appears. The attitude which it demands in principle is passive acceptance which in fact it already obtained by its manner of appearing without reply, by its monopoly of appearance.

13. The basically tautological character of the spectacle flows from the simple fact that its means are simultaneously its ends. It is the sun which never sets over the empire of modern passivity. It covers the entire surface of the world and bathes endlessly in its own glory.

14. The society which rests on modern industry is not accidentally or superficially spectacular, it is fundamentally spectaclist. In the spectacle, which is the image of the ruling economy, the goal is nothing, development everything. The spectacle aims at nothing other than itself.

15. As the indispensable decoration of the objects produced today, as the general expose of the rationality of the system, as the advanced economic sector which directly shapes a growing multitude of image-objects, the spectacle is the main production of present-day society.

16. The spectacle subjugates living men to itself to the extent that the economy has totally subjugated them. It is no more than the economy developing for itself. It is the true reflection of the production of things, and the false objectification of the producers.

17. The first phase of the domination of the economy over social life brought into the definition of all human realization the obvious degradation of being into having. The present phase of total occupation of social life by the accumulated results of the economy leads to a generalized sliding of having into appearing, from which all actual “having” must draw its immediate prestige and its ultimate function. At the same time all individual reality has become social reality directly dependent on social power and shaped by it. It is allowed to appear only to the extent that it is not.

18. Where the real world changes into simple images, the simple images become real beings and effective motivations of hypnotic behavior. The spectacle, as a tendency to make one see the world by means of various specialized mediations (it can no longer be grasped directly), naturally finds vision to be the privileged human sense which the sense of touch was for other epochs; the most abstract, the most mystifiable sense corresponds to the generalized abstraction of present-day society. But the spectacle is not identifiable with mere gazing, even combined with hearing. It is that which escapes the activity of men, that which escapes reconsideration and correction by their work. It is the opposite of dialogue. Wherever there is independent representation, the spectacle reconstitutes itself.

19. The spectacle inherits all the weaknesses of the Western philosophical project which undertook to comprehend activity in terms of the categories of seeing; furthermore, it is based on the incessant spread of the precise technical rationality which grew out of this thought. The spectacle does not realize philosophy, it philosophizes reality. The concrete life of everyone has been degraded into a speculative universe.

20. Philosophy, the power of separate thought and the thought of separate power, could never by itself supersede theology. The spectacle is the material reconstruction of the religious illusion. Spectacular technology has not dispelled the religious clouds where men had placed their own powers detached from themselves; it has only tied them to an earthly base. The most earthly life thus becomes opaque and unbreathable. It no longer projects into the sky but shelters within itself its absolute denial, its fallacious paradise. The spectacle is the technical realization of the exile of human powers into a beyond; it is separation perfected within the interior of man.

21. To the extent that necessity is socially dreamed, the dream becomes necessary. The spectacle is the nightmare of imprisoned modern society which ultimately expresses nothing more than its desire to sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of sleep.

22. The fact that the practical power of modern society detached itself and built an independent empire in the spectacle can be explained only by the fact that this practical power continued to lack cohesion and remained in contradiction with itself.

23. The oldest social specialization, the specialization of power, is at the root of the spectacle. The spectacle is thus a specialized activity which speaks for all the others. It is the diplomatic representation of hierarchic society to itself, where all other expression is banned. Here the most modern is also the most archaic.

24. The spectacle is the existing order’s uninterrupted discourse about itself, its laudatory monologue. It is the self-portrait of power in the epoch of its totalitarian management of the conditions of existence. The fetishistic, purely objective appearance of spectacular relations conceals the fact that they are relations among men and classes: a second nature with its fatal laws seems to dominate our environment. But the spectacle is not the necessary product of technical development seen as a natural development. The society of the spectacle is on the contrary the form which chooses its own technical content. If the spectacle, taken in the limited sense of “mass media” which are its most glaring superficial manifestation, seems to invade society as mere equipment, this equipment is in no way neutral but is the very means suited to its total self-movement. If the social needs of the epoch in which such techniques are developed can only be satisfied through their mediation, if the administration of this society and all contact among men can no longer take place except through the intermediary of this power of instantaneous communication, it is because this “communication” is essentially unilateral. The concentration of “communication” is thus an accumulation, in the hands of the existing system s administration, of the means which allow it to carry on this particular administration. The generalized cleavage of the spectacle is inseparable from the modern State, namely from the general form of cleavage within society, the product of the division of social labor and the organ of class domination.

25. Separation is the alpha and omega of the spectacle. The institutionalization of the social division of labor, the formation of classes, had given rise to a first sacred contemplation, the mythical order with which every power shrouds itself from the beginning. The sacred has justified the cosmic and ontological order which corresponded to the interests of the masters; it has explained and embellished that which society could not do. Thus all separate power has been spectacular, but the adherence of all to an immobile image only signified the common acceptance of an imaginary prolongation of the poverty of real social activity, still largely felt as a unitary condition. The modern spectacle, on the contrary, expresses what society can do, but in this expression the permitted is absolutely opposed to the possible. The spectacle is the preservation of unconsciousness within the practical change of the conditions of existence. It is its own product, and it has made its own rules: it is a pseudo-sacred entity. It shows what it is: separate power developing in itself, in the growth of productivity by means of the incessant refinement of the division of labor into a parcellization of gestures which are then dominated by the independent movement of machines; and working for an ever-expanding market. All community and all critical sense are dissolved during this movement in which the forces that could grow by separating are not yet reunited.

26. With the generalized separation of the worker and his products, every unitary view of accomplished activity and all direct personal communication among producers are lost. Accompanying the progress of accumulation of separate products and the concentration of the productive process, unity and communication become the exclusive attribute of the system’s management. The success of the economic system of separation is the proletarianization of the world.

27. Due to the success of separate production as production of the separate, the fundamental experience which in primitive societies is attached to a central task is in the process of being displaced, at the crest of the system’s development. by non-work, by inactivity. But this inactivity is in no way liberated from productive activity: it depends on productive activity and is an uneasy and admiring submission to the necessities and results of production; it is itself a product of its rationality. There can be no freedom outside of activity, and in the context of the spectacle all activity is negated. just as real activity has been captured in its entirety for the global construction of this result. Thus the present “liberation from labor,” the increase of leisure, is in no way a liberation within labor, nor a liberation from the world shaped by this labor. None of the activity lost in labor can be regained in the submission to its result.

28. The economic system founded on isolation is a circular production of isolation. The technology is based on isolation, and the technical process isolates in turn. From the automobile to television, all the goods selected by the spectacular system are also its weapons for a constant reinforcement of the conditions of isolation of “lonely crowds.” The spectacle constantly rediscovers its own assumptions more concretely.

29. The spectacle originates in the loss of the unity of the world, and the gigantic expansion of the modern spectacle expresses the totality of this loss: the abstraction of all specific labor and the general abstraction of the entirety of production are perfectly rendered in the spectacle, whose mode of being concrete is precisely abstraction. In the spectacle, one part of the world represents itself to the world and is superior to it. The spectacle is nothing more than the common language of this separation. What binds the spectators together is no more than an irreversible relation at the very center which maintains their isolation. The spectacle reunites the separate, but reunites it as separate.

30. The alienation of the spectator to the profit of the contemplated object (which is the result of his own unconscious activity) is expressed in the following way: the more he contemplates the less he lives; the more he accepts recognizing himself in the dominant images of need, the less he understands his own existence and his own desires. The externality of the spectacle in relation to the active man appears in the fact that his own gestures are no longer his but those of another who represents them to him. This is why the spectator feels at home nowhere, because the spectacle is everywhere.

31. The worker does not produce himself; he produces an independent power. The success of this production, its abundance, returns to the producer as an abundance of dispossession. All the time and space of his world become foreign to him with the accumulation of his alienated products. The spectacle is the map of this new world, a map which exactly covers its territory. The very powers which escaped us show themselves to us in all their force.

32. The spectacle within society corresponds to a concrete manufacture of alienation. Economic expansion is mainly the expansion of this specific industrial production. What grows with the economy in motion for itself can only be the very alienation which was at its origin.

33. Separated from his product, man himself produces all the details of his world with ever increasing power, and thus finds himself ever more separated from his world. The more his life is now his product, the more lie is separated from his life.

34. The spectacle is capital to such a degree of accumulation that it becomes an image.

Chapter 2 “Commodity as Spectacle”

The commodity can only be understood in its undistorted essence when it becomes the universal category of society as a whole. Only in this context does the reification produced by commodity relations assume decisive importance both for the objective evolution of society and for the stance adopted by men towards it. Only then does the commodity become crucial for the subjugation of men’s consciousness to the forms in which this reification finds expression.... As labor is progressively rationalized and mechanized man’s lack of will is reinforced by the way in which his activity becomes less and less active and more and more contemplative.
Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness

35. In the essential movement of the spectacle, which consists of taking up all that existed in human activity in a fluid state so as to possess it in a congealed state as things which have become the exclusive value by their formulation in negative of lived value, we recognize our old enemy, the commodity, who knows so well how to seem at first glance something trivial and obvious, while on the contrary it is so complex and so full of metaphysical subtleties.

36. This is the principle of commodity fetishism, the domination of society by “intangible as well as tangible things,” which reaches its absolute fulfillment in the spectacle, where the tangible world is replaced by a selection of images which exist above it, and which simultaneously impose themselves as the tangible par excellence.

37. The world at once present and absent which the spectacle makes visible is the world of the commodity dominating all that is lived. The world of the commodity is thus shown for what it is, because its movement is identical to the estrangement of men among themselves and in relation to their global product.

38. The loss of quality so evident at all levels of spectacular language, from the objects it praises to the behavior it regulates, merely translates the fundamental traits of the real production which brushes reality aside: the commodity-form is through and through equal to itself, the category of the quantitative. The quantitative is what the commodity-form develops, and it can develop only within the quantitative.

39. This development which excludes the qualitative is itself, as development, subject to qualitative change: the spectacle indicates that it has crossed the threshold of its own abundance; this is as yet true only locally at some points, but is already true on the universal scale which is the original context of the commodity, a context which its practical movement, encompassing the Earth as a world market, has verified.

40. The development of productive forces has been the real unconscious history which built and modified the conditions of existence of human groups as conditions of survival, and extended those conditions: the economic basis of all their undertakings. In a primitive economy, the commodity sector represented a surplus of survival. The production of commodities, which implies the exchange of varied products among independent producers, could for a long time remain craft production, contained within a marginal economic function where its quantitative truth was still masked. However, where commodity production met the social conditions of large scale commerce and of the accumulation of capitals, it seized total domination over the economy. The entire economy then became what the commodity had shown itself to be in the course of this conquest: a process of quantitative development. This incessant expansion of economic power in the form of the commodity, which transformed human labor into commodity-labor, into wage-labor, cumulatively led to an abundance in which the primary question of survival is undoubtedly resolved, but in such a way that it is constantly rediscovered; it is continually posed again each time at a higher level. Economic growth frees societies from the natural pressure which required their direct struggle for survival, but at that point it is from their liberator that they are not liberated. The independence of the commodity is extended to the entire economy aver which it rules. The economy transforms the world, but transforms it only into a world of economy. The pseudo-nature within which human labor is alienated demands that it be served ad infinitum, and this service, being judged and absolved only by itself, in fact acquires the totality of socially permissible efforts and projects as its servants. The abundance of commodities, namely, of commodity relations, can be nothing more than increased survival.

41. The commodity’s domination was at first exerted aver the economy in an occult manner; the economy itself, the material basis of social life, remained unperceived and not understood, like the familiar which is not necessarily known. In a society where the concrete commodity is rare or unusual, money, apparently dominant, presents itself as an emissary armed with full powers who speaks in the name of an unknown force. With the industrial revolution, the division of labor in manufactures, and mass production far the world market, the commodity appears in fact as a power which comes to occupy social life. It is then that political economy takes shape, as the dominant science and the science of domination.

42. The spectacle is the moment when the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life. Not only is the relation to the commodity visible but it is all one sees: the world one sees is its world. Modern economic production extends its dictatorship extensively and intensively. In the least industrialized places, its reign is already attested by a few star commodities and by the imperialist domination imposed by regions which are ahead in the development of productivity. In the advanced regions, social space is invaded by a continuous superimposition of geological layers of commodities. At this point in the “second industrial revolution,” alienated consumption becomes for the masses a duty supplementary to alienated production. It is all the sold labor of a society which globally becomes the total commodity for which the cycle must be continued. For this to be done, the total commodity has to return as a fragment to the fragmented individual, absolutely separated from the productive forces operating as a whole. Thus it is here that the specialized science of domination must in turn specialize: it fragments itself into sociology, psychotechnics, cybernetics, semiology, etc., watching over the self-regulation of every level of the process.

43. Whereas in the primitive phase of capitalist accumulation, “political economy sees in the proletarian only the worker” who must receive the minimum indispensable for the conservation of his labor power, without ever seeing him “in his leisure and humanity,” these ideas of the ruling class are reversed as soon as the production of commodities reaches a level of abundance which requires a surplus of collaboration from the worker. This worker, suddenly redeemed from the total contempt which is clearly shown him by all the varieties of organization and supervision of production, finds himself every day, outside of production and in the guise of a consumer, seemingly treated as an adult, with zealous politeness. At this point the humanism of the commodity takes charge of the worker’s “leisure and humanity,” simply because now political economy can and must dominate these spheres as political economy. Thus the “perfected denial of man” has taken charge of the totality of human existence.

44. The spectacle is a permanent opium war which aims to make people identify goods with commodities and satisfaction with survival that increases according to its own laws. But if consumable survival is something which must always increase, this is because it continues to contain privation. If there is nothing beyond increasing survival, if there is no point where it might stop growing, this is not because it is beyond privation, but because it is enriched privation.

45. Automation, the most advanced sector of modern industry as well as the model which perfectly sums up its practice, drives the commodity world toward the following contradiction: the technical equipment which objectively eliminates labor must at the same time preserve labor as a commodity and as the only source of the commodity. If the social labor (time) engaged by the society is not to diminish because of automation (or any other less extreme form of increasing the productivity of labor), then new jobs have to be created. Services, the tertiary sector, swell the ranks of the army of distribution and are a eulogy to the current commodities; the additional forces which are mobilized just happen to be suitable for the organization of redundant labor required by the artificial needs for such commodities.

46. Exchange value could arise only as an agent of use value, but its victory by means of its own weapons created the conditions for its autonomous domination. Mobilizing all human use and establishing a monopoly over its satisfaction, exchange value has ended up by directing use. The process of exchange became identified with all possible use and reduced use to the mercy of exchange. Exchange value is the condottiere of use value who ends up waging the war for himself.

47. The tendency of use value to fall, this constant of capitalist economy, develops a new form of privation within increased survival: the new privation is not far removed from the old penury since it requires most men to participate as wage workers in the endless pursuit of its attainment, and since everyone knows he must submit or die. The reality of this blackmail accounts for the general acceptance of the illusion at the heart of the consumption of modern commodities: use in its most impoverished form (food and lodging) today exists only to the extent that it is imprisoned in the illusory wealth of increased survival. The real consumer becomes a consumer of illusions. The commodity is this factually real illusion, and the spectacle is its general manifestation.

48. In the inverted reality of the spectacle, use value (which was implicitly contained in exchange value) must now be explicitly proclaimed precisely because its factual reality is eroded by the overdeveloped commodity economy and because counterfeit life requires a pseudo-justification.

49. The spectacle is the other side of money: it is the general abstract equivalent of all commodities. Money dominated society as the representation of general equivalence, namely, of the exchangeability of different goods whose uses could not be compared. The spectacle is the developed modern complement of money where the totality of the commodity world appears as a whole, as a general equivalence for what the entire society can be and can do. The spectacle is the money which one only looks at, because in the spectacle the totality of use is already exchanged for the totality of abstract representation. The spectacle is not only the servant of pseudo-use, it is already in itself the pseudo-use of life.

50. At the moment of economic abundance, the concentrated result of social labor becomes visible and subjugates all reality to appearance, which is now its product. Capital is no longer the invisible center which directs the mode of production: its accumulation spreads it all the way to the periphery in the form of tangible objects. The entire expanse of society is its portrait.

51. The victory of the autonomous economy must at the same time be its defeat. The forces which it has unleashed eliminate the economic necessity which was the immutable basis of earlier societies. When economic necessity is replaced by the necessity for boundless economic development, the satisfaction of primary human needs is replaced by an uninterrupted fabrication of pseudo-needs which are reduced to the single pseudo-need of maintaining the reign of the autonomous economy. The autonomous economy permanently breaks away from fundamental need to the extent that it emerges from the social unconscious which unknowingly depended on it. “All that is conscious wears out. What is unconscious remains unalterable. But once freed, does it not fall to ruins in turn?” (Freud).

52. As soon as society discovers that it depends on the economy, the economy, in fact, depends on society. This subterranean force, which grew until it appeared sovereign, has lost its power. That which was the economic it must become the I. The subject can emerge only from society, namely from the struggle within society. The subject’s possible existence depends on the outcome of the class struggle which shows itself to be the product and the producer of the economic foundation of history.

53. The consciousness of desire and the desire for consciousness are identically the project which, in its negative form, seeks the abolition of classes, the workers’ direct possession of every aspect of their activity. Its opposite is the society of the spectacle, where the commodity contemplates itself in a world it has created.

Chapter 3 “Unity and Division Within Appearance”

A lively new polemic about the concepts “one divides into two” and “two fuse into one” is unfolding on the philosophical front in this country. This debate is a struggle between those who are for and those who are against the materialist dialectic, a struggle between two conceptions of the world: the proletarian conception and the bourgeois conception. Those who maintain that “one divides into two” is the fundamental law of things are on the side of the materialist dialectic; those who maintain that the fundamental law of things is that “two fuse into one” are against the materialist dialectic. The two sides have drawn a clear line of demarcation between them, and their arguments are diametrically opposed. This polemic is a reflection, on the ideological level, of the acute and complex class struggle taking place in China and in the world.
Red Flag, (Peking), 21 September 1964

54. The spectacle, like modern society, is at once unified and divided. Like society, it builds its unity on the disjunction. But the contradiction, when it emerges in the spectacle, is in turn contradicted by a reversal of its meaning, so that the demonstrated division is unitary, while the demonstrated unity is divided.

55. The struggle of powers constituted for the management of the same socio-economic system is disseminated as the official contradiction but is in fact part of the real unity–on a world scale as well as within every nation.

56. The spectacular sham struggles of rival forms of separate power are at the same time real in that they translate the unequal and antagonistic development of the system, the relatively contradictory interests of classes or subdivisions of classes which acknowledge the system and define themselves as participants within its power. Just as the development of the most advanced economy is a clash between some priorities and others, the totalitarian management of the economy by a State bureaucracy and the condition of the countries within the sphere of colonization or semi-colonization are defined by specific peculiarities in the varieties of production and power. These diverse oppositions can be passed off in the spectacle as absolutely distinct forms of society (by means of any number of different criteria). But in actual fact, the truth of the uniqueness of all these specific sectors resides in the universal system that contains them: the unique movement that makes the planet its field, capitalism.

57. The society which carries the spectacle does not dominate the underdeveloped regions by its economic hegemony alone. It dominates them as the society of the spectacle. Even where the material base is still absent, modern society has already invaded the social surface of each continent by means of the spectacle. It defines the program of the ruling class and presides over its formation, just as it presents pseudo-goods to be coveted. it offers false models of revolution to local revolutionaries. The spectacle of bureaucratic power, which holds sway over some industrial countries, is an integral part of the total spectacle, its general pseudo-negation and support. The spectacle displays certain totalitarian specializations of communication and administration when viewed locally, but when viewed in terms of the functioning of the entire system these specializations merge in a world division of spectacular tasks.

58. The division of spectacular tasks preserves the entirety of the existing order and especially the dominant pole of its development. The root of the spectacle is within the abundant economy the source of the fruits which ultimately take over the spectacular market despite the ideological-police protectionist barriers of local spectacles aspiring to autarchy.

59. Under the shimmering diversions of the spectacle, banalization dominates modern society the world over and at every point where the developed consumption of commodities has seemingly multiplied the roles and objects to choose from. The remains of religion and of the family (the principal relic of the heritage of class power) and the moral repression they assure, merge whenever the enjoyment of this world is affirmed–this world being nothing other than repressive pseudo-enjoyment. The smug acceptance of what exists can also merge with purely spectacular rebellion; this reflects the simple fact that dissatisfaction itself became a commodity as soon as economic abundance could extend production to the processing of such raw materials.

60. The celebrity, the spectacular representation of a living human being, embodies this banality by embodying the image of a possible role. Being a star means specializing in the seemingly lived; the star is the object of identification with the shallow seeming life that has to compensate for the fragmented productive specializations which are actually lived. Celebrities exist to act out various styles of living and viewing society unfettered, free to express themselves globally. They embody the inaccessible result of social labor by dramatizing its by-products magically projected above it as its goal: power and vacations, decision and consumption, which are the beginning and end of an undiscussed process. In one case state power personalizes itself as a pseudo-star; in another a star of consumption gets elected as a pseudo-power over the lived. But just as the activities of the star are not really global. they are not really varied.

61. The agent of the spectacle placed on stage as a star is the opposite of the individual, the enemy of the individual in himself as well as in others. Passing into the spectacle as a model for identification. the agent renounces all autonomous qualities in order to identify himself with the general law of obedience to the course of things. The consumption celebrity superficially represents different types of personality and shows each of these types having equal access to the totality of consumption and finding similar happiness there. The decision celebrity must possess a complete stock of accepted human qualities. Official differences between stars are wiped out by the official similarity which is the presupposition of their excellence in everything. Khrushchev became a general so as to make decisions on the battle of Kursk, not on the spot, but at the twentieth anniversary, when he was master of the State. Kennedy remained an orator even to the point of proclaiming the eulogy over his own tomb, since Theodore Sorenson continued to edit speeches for the successor in the style which had characterized the personality of the deceased. The admirable people in whom the system personifies itself are well known for not being what they are; they became great men by stooping below the reality of the smallest individual life, and everyone knows it.

62. False choice in spectacular abundance, a choice which lies in the juxtaposition of competing and complimentary spectacles and also in the juxtaposition of roles (signified and carried mainly by things) which are at once exclusive and overlapping, develops into a struggle of vaporous qualities meant to stimulate loyalty to quantitative triviality. This resurrects false archaic oppositions, regionalisms and racisms which serve to raise the vulgar hierarchic ranks of consumption to a preposterous ontological superiority. In this way, the endless series of trivial confrontations is set up again. from competitive sports to elections, mobilizing a sub-ludic interest. Wherever there is abundant consumption, a major spectacular opposition between youth and adults comes to the fore among the false roles–false because the adult, master of his life, does not exist and because youth, the transformation of what exists, is in no way the property of those who are now young, but of the economic system, of the dynamism of capitalism. Things rule and are young; things confront and replace one another.

63. What hides under the spectacular oppositions is a unity of misery. Behind the masks of total choice, different forms of the same alienation confront each other, all of them built on real contradictions which are repressed. The spectacle exists in a concentrated or a diffuse form depending on the necessities of the particular stage of misery which it denies and supports. In both cases, the spectacle is nothing more than an image of happy unification surrounded by desolation and fear at the tranquil center of misery.

64. The concentrated spectacle belongs essentially to bureaucratic capitalism, even though it may be imported as a technique of state power in mixed backward economies or, at certain moments of crisis, in advanced capitalism. In fact, bureaucratic property itself is concentrated in such a way that the individual bureaucrat relates to the ownership of the global economy only through an intermediary, the bureaucratic community, and only as a member of this community. Moreover, the production of commodities, less developed in bureaucratic capitalism, also takes on a concentrated form: the commodity the bureaucracy holds on to is the totality of social labor, and what it sells back to society is wholesale survival. The dictatorship of the bureaucratic economy cannot leave the exploited masses any significant margin of choice. since the bureaucracy itself has to choose everything and since any other external choice, whether it concern food or music, is already a choice to destroy the bureaucracy completely. This dictatorship must be accompanied by permanent violence. The imposed image of the good envelops in its spectacle the totality of what officially exists, and is usually concentrated in one man, who is the guarantee of totalitarian cohesion. Everyone must magically identify with this absolute celebrity or disappear. This celebrity is master of non-consumption, and the heroic image which gives an acceptable meaning to the absolute exploitation that primitive accumulation accelerated by terror really is. If every Chinese must learn Mao, and thus be Mao, it is because he can be nothing else. Wherever the concentrated spectacle rules, so does the police.

65. The diffuse spectacle accompanies the abundance of commodities, the undisturbed development of modern capitalism. Here every individual commodity is justified in the name of the grandeur of the production of the totality of objects of which the spectacle is an apologetic catalogue. Irreconcilable claims crowd the stage of the affluent economy’s unified spectacle; different star-commodities simultaneously support contradictory projects for provisioning society: the spectacle of automobiles demands a perfect transport network which destroys old cities, while the spectacle of the city itself requires museum-areas. Therefore the already problematic satisfaction which is supposed to come from the consumption of the whole, is falsified immediately since the actual consumer can directly touch only a succession of fragments of this commodity happiness, fragments in which the quality attributed to the whole is obviously missing every time.

66. Every given commodity fights for itself, cannot acknowledge the others, and attempts to impose itself everywhere as if it were the only one. The spectacle, then, is the epic poem of this struggle, an epic which cannot be concluded by the fall of any Troy. The spectacle does not sing the praises of men and their weapons, but of commodities and their passions. In this blind struggle every commodity. pursuing its passion, unconsciously realizes something higher: the becoming-world of the commodity, which is also the becoming-commodity of the world. Thus, by means of a ruse of commodity logic, what’s specific in the commodity wears itself out in the fight while the commodity-form moves toward its absolute realization.

67. The satisfaction which no longer comes from the use of abundant commodities is now sought in the recognition of their value as commodities: the use of commodities becomes sufficient unto itself; the consumer is filled with religious fervor for the sovereign liberty of the commodities. Waves of enthusiasm for a given product, supported and spread by all the media of communication, are thus propagated with lightning speed. A style of dress emerges from a film; a magazine promotes night spots which launch various clothing fads. Just when the mass of commodities slides toward puerility, the puerile itself becomes a special commodity; this is epitomized by the gadget. We can recognize a mystical abandon to the transcendence of the commodity in free gifts, such as key chains which are not bought but are included by advertisers with prestigious purchases, or which flow by exchange in their own sphere. One who collects the key chains which have been manufactured for collection, accumulates the indulgences of the commodity, a glorious sign of his real presence among the faithful. Reified man advertises the proof of his intimacy with the commodity. The fetishism of commodities reaches moments of fervent exaltation similar to the ecstasies of the convulsions and miracles of the old religious fetishism. The only use which remains here is the fundamental use of submission.

68. The pseudo-need imposed by modern consumption clearly cannot be opposed by any genuine need or desire which is not itself shaped by society and its history. The abundant commodity stands for the total breach in the organic development of social needs. Its mechanical accumulation liberates unlimited artificiality, in the face of which living desire is helpless. The cumulative power of independent artificiality saws everywhere the falsification of social life.

69. In the image of the society happily unified by consumption, real division is only suspended until the next non-accomplishment in consumption. Every single product represents the hope for a dazzling shortcut to the promised land of total consumption and is ceremoniously presented as the decisive entity. But as with the diffusion of seemingly aristocratic first names carried by almost all individuals of the same age, the objects which promise unique powers can be recommended to the devotion of the masses only if they’re produced in quantities large enough for mass consumption. A product acquires prestige when it is placed at the center of social life as the revealed mystery of the ultimate goal of production. But the object which was prestigious in the spectacle becomes vulgar as soon as it is taken home by its consumer–and by all its other consumers. It reveals its essential poverty (which naturally comes to it from the misery of its production) too late. But by then another object already carries the justification of the system and demands to be acknowledged.

70. The fraud of satisfaction exposes itself by being replaced, by following the change of products and of the general conditions of production. That which asserted its definitive excellence with perfect impudence nevertheless changes, both in the diffuse and the concentrated spectacle, and it is the system alone which must continue: Stalin as well as the outmoded commodity are denounced precisely by those who imposed them. Every new lie of advertising is also an avowal of the previous lie. The fall of every figure with totalitarian power reveals the illusory community which had approved him unanimously, and which had been nothing more than an agglomeration of solitudes without illusions.

71. What the spectacle offers as eternal is based on change and must change with its base. The spectacle is absolutely dogmatic and at the same time cannot really achieve any solid dogma. Nothing stops for the spectacle; this condition is natural to it, yet completely opposed to its inclination.

72. The unreal unity proclaimed by the spectacle masks the class division on which the real unity of the capitalist made of production rests. What obliges the producers to participate in the construction of the world is also what separates them from it. What brings together men liberated from their local and national boundaries is also what pulls them apart. What requires a mare profound rationality is also what nourishes the irrationality of hierarchic exploitation and repression. What creates the abstract power of society creates its concrete unfreedom.

Chapter 4 “The Proletariat as Subject and as Representation”

The equal right of all to the goods and enjoyment of this world, the destruction of all authority, the negation of all moral restraints – these, at bottom, are the raison d’etre of the March 18th insurrection and the charter of the fearsome organization that furnished it with an army.
Enquete parlementaire sur l’insurrection du 18 mars

73. The real movement which suppresses existing conditions rules over society from the moment of the bourgeoisie’s victory in the economy, and visibly after the political translation of this victory. The development of productive forces shatters the old relations of production and all static order turns to dust. Whatever was absolute becomes historical.

74. By being thrown into history, by having to participate in the labor and struggles which make up history, men find themselves obliged to view their relations in a clear manner. This history has no object distinct from what takes place within it, even though the last unconscious metaphysical vision of the historical epoch could look at the productive progression through which history has unfolded as the very object of history. The subject of history can be none other than the living producing himself, becoming master and possessor of his world which is history, and existing as consciousness of his game.

75. The class struggles of the long revolutionary epoch inaugurated by the rise of the bourgeoisie, develop together with the thought of history,the dialectic, the thought which no longer stops to look for the meaning of what is, but rises to a knowledge of the dissolution of all that is, and in its movement dissolves all separation.

76. Hegel no longer had to interpretthe world, but the transformation of the world. By only interpreting the transformation, Hegel is only the philosophical completion of philosophy. He wants to understand a world which makes itself. This historical thought is as yet only the consciousness which always arrives too late, and which pronounces the justification after the fact. Thus it has gone beyond separation only in thought.The paradox which consists of making the meaning of all reality depend on its historical completion, and at the same time of revealing this meaning as it makes itself the completion of history, flows from the simple fact that the thinker of the bourgeois revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries sought in his philosophy only a reconciliation with the results of these revolutions. Even as a philosophy of the bourgeois revolution, it does not express the entire process of this revolution, but only its final conclusion. In this sense, it is not a philosophy of the revolution, but of the restoration” (Karl Korsch,Theses on Hegel and Revolution). Hegel did, for the last time, the work of the philosopher, ” the glorification of what exists”; but what existed for him could already be nothing less than the totality of historical movement. The external position of thought having in fact been preserved, it could he masked only by the identification of thought with an earlier project of Spirit, absolute hero who did what he wanted and wanted what he did, and whose accomplishment coincides with the present. Thus philosophy, which dies in the thought of history, can now glorify its world only by renouncing it, since in order to speak, it must presuppose that this total history to which it has reduced everything is already complete, and that the only tribunal where the judgment of truth could be given is closed.

77. When the proletariat demonstrates by its own existence, through acts, that this thought of history is not forgotten, the exposure of the conclusion is at the same time the confirmation of the method.

78. The thought of history can be saved only by becoming practical thought; and the practice of the proletariat as a revolutionary class cannot be less than historical consciousness operating on the totality of its world. All the theoretical currents of the revolutionary workers’ movement grew out of a critical confrontation with Hegelian thought–Stirner and Bakunin as well as Marx.

79. The inseparability of Marx’s theory from the Hegelian method is itself inseparable from the revolutionary character of this theory, namely from its truth. This first relationship has been generally ignored, misunderstood, and even denounced as the weakness of what fallaciously became a marxist doctrine. Bernstein, in his Evolutionary Socialism: A Criticism and Affirmation (Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie), perfectly reveals the connection between the dialectical method and historical partisanship, by deploring the unscientific forecasts of the 1847Manifesto on the imminence of proletarian revolution in Germany: “This historical self-deception, so erroneous that any political visionary could hardly have improved on it, would be incomprehensible in a Marx, who at that time had already seriously studied economics, if we did not see in this the product of a relic of the antithet ical Hegelian d ialectic from which Marx, no less than Engels, could never completely free himself. In those times of general effervescence, this was all the more fatal to him.”

80. The inversion carried out by Marx to “recover through transfer” the thought of the bourgeois revolutions does not trivially consist of putting the materialist development of produc- tive forces in the place of the journey of the Hegelian Spirit moving towards its encounter with itself in time, its objectification being identical to its alienation, and its historical wounds leaving no scars. History become real no longer has an end. Marx ruined Hegel’s position as separate from what happens, as well as contemplation by any supreme external agent whatever. From now on, theory has to know only what it does. As opposed to this, contemplation of the economy’s movement within the dominant thought of the present society is the untranscended heritage of the undialectical part of Hegel’s search for a circular system: it is an approval which has lost the dimension of the concept and which no longer needs a Hegelianism to justify itself, because the movement which it praises is no more than a sector without a world view, a sector whose mechanical development effectively dominates the whole. Marx’s project is the project of a conscious history. The quantitative which arises in the blind development of merely economic productive forces must be transformed into a qualitative historical appropriation. The critique of political economy is the first act of this end of prehistory: “Of all the instruments of production the greatest productive power is the revolutionary class itself.”

81. What closely links Marx’s theory with scientific thought is the rational understanding of the forces which really operate in society. But Marx’s theory is fundamentally beyond scientific thought, and it preserves scientific thought only by superseding it: what is in question is an understanding of struggle, and not of law. “We know only one science: the science of history” (The German Ideology).

82. The bourgeois epoch, which wants to give a scientific foundation to history, overlooks the fact that this available science needed a historical foundation along with the economy. Inversely, history directly depends on economic knowledge only to the extent that it remains economic history. The extent to which the viewpoint of scientific observation could overlook the role of history in the economy (the global process which modifies its own basic scientific premises) is shown by the vanity of those socialist calculations which thought they had established the exact periodicity of crises. Now that the constant intervention of the State has succeeded in compensating for the effect of tendencies toward crisis, the same type of reasoning sees in this equilibrium a definitive economic harmony’. The project of mastering the economy, the project of appropriating history, if it must know–and absorb–the science of society, cannot itself be scientific. The revolutionary viewpoint of a movement which thinks it can dominate current history by means of scientific knowledge remains bourgeois.

83. The utopian currents of socialism, although themselves historically grounded in the critique of the existing social organization, can rightly be called utopian to the extent that they reject history–namely the real struggle taking place, as well as the passage of time beyond the immutable perfection of their picture of a happy society–but not because they reject science. On the contrary. the utopian thinkers are completely dominated by the scientific thought of earlier centuries. They sought the completion of this general rational system: they did not in any way consider themselves disarmed prophets, since they believed in the social power of scientific proof and even, in the case of Saint-Simonism, in the seizure of power by science. “How did they want to seize through struggle what must be proved?” asked Sombart. The scientific conception of the utopians did not extend to the knowledge that some social groups have interests in the existing situation, forces to maintain it, and also forms of false consciousness corresponding to such positions. This conception did not even reach the historical reality of the development of science itself, which was oriented largely by the social demand of agents who selected not only what could be admitted, but also what could be studied. The utopian socialists, remaining prisoners of the mode of exposition of scientific truth, conceived this truth in terms of its pure abstract image–an image which had been imposed at a much earlier stage of society. As Sorel observed, it is on the model of astronomy that the utopians thought they would discover and demonstrate the laws of society. The harmony envisaged by them, hostile to history, grows out of the attempt to apply to society the science least dependent on history. This harmony is introduced with the experimental innocence of Newtonianism, and the happy destiny which is constantly postulated “plays in their social science a role analogous to the role of inertia in rational” (Materiaux pour une theorie du proletariat).

84. The deterministic-scientific facet in Marx’s thought was precisely the gap through which the process of “ideologization” penetrated, during his own lifetime, into the theoretical heritage left to the workers’ movement. The arrival of the historical subject continues to be postponed, and it is economics, the historical science par excellence, which tends increasingly to guarantee the necessity of its own future negation. But what is pushed out of the field of theoretical vision in this manner is revolutionary practice, the only truth of this negation. What becomes important is to study economic development with patience, and to continue to accept suffering with a Hegelian tranquility, so that the result remains “a graveyard of good intentions.” It is suddenly discovered that, according to the science of revolution,consciousness always comes too soon, and has to be taught. “History has shown that we, and all who thought as we did, were wrong. History has clearly shown that the state of economic development on the continent at that time was far from being ripe” Engels was to say in 1895. Throughout his life, Marx had maintained a unitary point of view in his theory, but the exposition of the theory was carried out on the terrain of the dominant thought and became precise in the form of critiques of particular disciplines, principally the critique of the fundamental science of bourgeois society, political economy. It is this mutilation, later accepted as definitive, which has constituted “marxism.”

85. The weakness of Marx’s theory is naturally the weakness of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat of his time. The working class did not set off the permanent revolution in the Germany of 1848; the Commune was defeated in isolation. Revolutionary theory thus could not yet achieve its own total existence. The fact that Marx was reduced to defending and clarifying it with cloistered, scholarly work, in the British Museum, caused a loss in the theory itself. The scientific justifications Marx elaborated about the future development of the working class and the organizational practice that went with them became obstacles to proletarian consciousness at a later stage.

86. All the theoretical insufficiencies of content as well as form of exposition of the scientific defense of proletarian revolution can be traced to the identification of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie from the standpoint of the revolutionary seizure of power.

87. By grounding the proof of the scientific validity of proletarian power on repeated past attempts, Marx obscured his historical thought, from the Manifesto on, and was forced to support a linear image of the development of modes of production brought on by class struggles which end, each time, “with a revolutionary transformation of the entire society or with mutual destruction of the classes in struggle.” But in the observable reality of history, as Marx pointed out elsewhere, the “Asiatic mode of production” preserved its immobility in spite of all class confrontations, just as the serf uprisings never defeated the landlords, nor the slave revolts of Antiquity the free men. The linear schema Hoses sight of the fact that the bourgeoisie is the only revolutionary class that ever won; at the same time it is the only class for which the development of the economy was the cause and the consequence of its taking hold of society. The same simplification led Marx to neglect the economic role of the State in the management of a class society. If the rising bourgeoisie seemed to liberate the economy from the State, this took place only to the extent that the former State was an instrument of class oppression in a static economy. The bourgeoisie developed its autonomous economic power in the medieval period of the weakening of the State, at the moment of feudal fragmentation of balanced powers. But the modern State which, through Mercantilism, began to support the development of the bourgeoisie, and which finally became its State at the time of “laisser faire, laisser passer,” was to reveal later that it was endowed with the central power of calculated management of the economic process. With the concept of Bonapartism, Marx was nevertheless able to describe the shape of the modern statist bureaucracy, the fusion of capital and State, the formation of a “national power of capital over labor, a public force organized for social enslavement,” where the bourgeoisie renounces all historical life which is not reduced to the economic history of things and would like to “be condemned to the same political nothingness as other classes,” Here the socio-political foundations of the modern spectacle are already established, negatively defining the proletariat as the only pretender to historical life.

88. The only two classes which effectively correspond to Marx’s theory, the two pure classes towards which the entire analysis of Capital leads, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, are also the only two revolutionary classes in history, but in very different conditions: the bourgeois revolution is over; the proletarian revolution is a project born on the foundation of the preceding revolution but differing from it qualitatively. By neglecting the originality of the historical role of the bourgeoisie, one masks the concrete originality of the proletarian project, which can attain nothing unless it carries its own banners and knows the “immensity of its tasks.” The bourgeoisie came to power because it is the class of the developing economy. The proletariat cannot itself come to power except by becoming the class of consciousness. The growth of productive forces cannot guarantee such power, even by way of the increasing dispossession which it brings about. A Jacobin seizure of power cannot be its instrument. No ideology can help the proletariat disguise its partial goals as general goals, because the proletariat cannot preserve any partial reality which is really its own.

89. If Marx, in a given period of his participation in the struggle of the proletariat, expected too much from scientific forecasting, to the point of creating the intellectual foundation for the illusions of economism, it is known that he did not personally succumb to those illusions. In a well-known letter of December 7, 1867, accompanying an article where he himself criticized Capital, an article which Engels would later present to the press as the work of an adversary, Marx clearly disclosed the limits of his own science: ” . . . The subjective tendency of the author (which was perhaps imposed on him by his political position and his past), namely the manner in which he views and presents to others the ultimate results of the real movement, the real social process, has no relation to his own actual analysis.” Thus Marx, by denouncing the “tendentious conclusions” of his own objective analysis, and by the irony of the “perhaps” with reference to the extra-scientific choices imposed on him, at the same time shows the methodological key to the fusion of the two aspects.

90. The fusion of knowledge and action must be realized in the historical struggle itself, in such a way that each of these terms guarantees the truth of the other. The formation of the proletarian class into a subject means the organization of revolutionary struggles and the organization of society at the revolutionary moment: it is then that the practical conditions of consciousness must exist, conditions in which the theory of praxis is confirmed by becoming practical theory. However, this central question of organization was the question least developed by revolutionary theory at the time when the workers’ movement was founded, namely when this theory still had the unitary character which came from the thought of history. (Theory had undertaken precisely this task in order to develop a unitary historical practice.) This question is in fact the locus of inconsistency of this theory, allowing the return of statist and hierarchic methods of application borrowed from the bourgeois revolution. The forms of organization of the workers’ movement which were developed on the basis of this renunciation of theory have in turn prevented the maintenance of a unitary theory, breaking it up into varied specialized and partial disciplines. Due to the betrayal of unitary historical thought, this ideological estrangement from theory can no longer recognize the practical verification of this thought when such verification emerges in spontaneous struggles of workers; all it can do is repress every manifestation and memory of such verification. Yet these historical forms which appeared in struggle are precisely the practical milieu which the theory needed in order to be true. They are requirements of the theory which have not been formulated theoretically. The soviet was not a theoretical discovery; yet its existence in practice was already the highest theoretical truth of the International Workingmen’s Association.

91. The first successes of the struggle of the International led it to free itself from the confused influences of the dominant ideology which survived in it. But the defeat and repression which it soon encountered brought to the foreground a conflict between two conceptions of the proletarian revolution. Both of these conceptions contain an authoritarian dimension and thus abandon the conscious self-emancipation of the working class. In effect, the quarrel between Marxists and Bakuninists (which became irreconcilable) was two-edged, referring at once to power in the revolutionary society and to the organization of the present movement, and when the positions of the adversaries passed from one aspect to the other, they reversed themselves. Bakunin fought the illusion of abolishing classes by the authoritarian use of state power, foreseeing the reconstitution of a dominant bureaucratic class and the dictatorship of the most knowledgeable, or those who would be reputed to be such. Marx thought that the growth of economic contradictions inseparable from democratic education of the workers would reduce the role of the proletarian State to a simple phase of legalizing the new social relations imposing themselves objectively, and denounced Bakunin and his followers for the authoritarianism of a conspiratorial elite which deliberately placed itself above the International and formulated the extravagant design of imposing on society the irresponsible dictatorship of those who are most revolutionary, or those who would designate themselves to be such. Bakunin, in fact, recruited followers on the basis of such a perspective: “Invisible pilots in the center of the popular storm, we must direct it, not with a visible power, but with the collective dictatorship of all the allies. A dictatorship without badge, without title, without official right, yet all the more powerful because it will have none of the appearances of power.” Thus two ideologies of the workers’ revolution opposed each other, each containing a partially true critique, but losing the unity of the thought of history, and instituting themselves into ideological authorities. Powerful organizations, like German Social-Democracy and the Iberian Anarchist Federation faithfully served one or the other of these ideologies; and everywhere the result was very different from what had been desired.

92. The strength and the weakness of the real anarchist struggle resides in its viewing the goal of proletarian revolution as immediately present (the pretensions of anarchism in its individualist variants have always been laughable). From the historical thought of modern class struggles collectivist anarchism retains only the conclusion, and its exclusive insistence on this conclusion is accompanied by deliberate contempt for method. Thus its critique of the political struggle has remained abstract, while its choice of economic struggle is affirmed only as a function of the illusion of a definitive solution brought about by one single blow on this terrain–on the day of the general strike or the insurrection. The anarchists have an ideal to realize. Anarchism remains a merely ideological negation of the State and of classes, namely of the social conditions of separate ideology. It is the ideology of pure liberty which equalizes everything and dismisses the very idea of historical evil. This viewpoint which fuses all partial desires has given anarchism the merit of representing the rejection of existing conditions in favor of the whole of life, and not of a privileged critical specialization; but this fusion is considered in the absolute, according to individual caprice, before its actual realization, thus condemning anarchism to an incoherence too easily seen through. Anarchism has merely to repeat and to replay the same simple, total conclusion in every single struggle, because this first conclusion was from the beginning identified with the entire outcome of the movement. Thus Bakunin could write in 1873, when he left the Federation Jurassiene: “During the past nine years, more ideas have been developed within the International than would be needed to save the world, if ideas alone could save it, and I challenge anyone to invent a new one. It is no longer the time for ideas, but for facts and acts.” There is no doubt that this conception retains an element of the historical thought of the proletariat, the certainty that ideas must become practice, but it leaves the historical terrain by assuming that the adequate forms for this passage to practice have already been found and will never change.

93. The anarchists, who distinguish themselves explicitly from the rest of the workers’ movement by their ideological conviction, reproduce this separation of competences among themselves; they provide a terrain favorable to informal domination over all anarchist organizations by propagandists and defenders of their ideology, specialists who are in general more mediocre the more their intellectual activity consists of the repetition of certain definitive truths. Ideological respect for unanimity of decision has on the whole been favorable to the uncontrolled authority, within the organization itself, of specialists in freedom;and revolutionary anarchism expects the same type of unanimity from the liberated population, obtained by the same means. Furthermore, the refusal to take into account the opposition between the conditions of a minority grouped in the present struggle and of a society of free in dividuals, has nourished a permanent separation among anarchists at the moment of common decision, as is shown by an infinity of anarchist insurrections in Spain, confined and destroyed on a local level.

94. The illusion entertained more or less explicitly by genuine anarchism is the permanent imminence of an instantaneously accomplished revolution which will prove the truth of the ideology and of the mode of practical organization derived from the ideology. In 1936, anarchism in fact led a social revolution, the most advanced model of proletarian power in all time. In this context it should be noted that the signal for a general insurrection had been imposed by a pronunciamiento of the army. Furthermore, to the extent that this revolution was not completed during the first days (because of the existence of Franco’s power in half the country, strongly supported from abroad while the rest of the international proletarian movement was already defeated, and because of remains of bourgeois forces or other statist workers’ parties within the camp of the Republic) the organized anarchist movement showed itself unable to extend the demi-victories of the revolution, or even to defend them. Its known leaders became ministers and hostages of the bourgeois State which destroyed the revolution only to lose the civil war.

95. The “orthodox Marxism” of the Second International is the scientific ideology of the socialist revolution: it identifies its whole truth with objective processes in the economy and with the progress of a recognition of this necessity by the working class educated by the organization. This ideology rediscovers the confidence in pedagogical demonstration which had characterized utopian socialism, but mixes it with a contemplative reference to the course of history: this attitude has lost as much of the Hegelian dimension of a total history as it has lost the immobile image of totality in the utopian critique (most highly developed by Fourier). This scientific attitude can do no more than revive a symmetry of ethical choices; it is from this attitude that the nonsense of Hilferding springs when he states that recognizing the necessity of socialism gives “no indication of the practical attitude to be adopted. For it is one thing to recognize a necessity, and it is quite another thing to put oneself at the service of this necessity” (Finanzkapital). Those who failed to recognize that for Marx and for the revolutionary proletariat the unitary thought of history was in no way distinct from the practical attitude to be adopted, regularly became victims of the practice they adopted.

96. The ideology of the social-democratic organization gave power to professors who educated the working class, and the form of organization which was adopted was the form most suitable for this passive apprenticeship. The participation of socialists of the Second International in political and economic struggles was admittedly concrete but profoundly uncritical. It was conducted in the name of revolutionary illusion by means of an obviously reformist practice. The revolutionary ideology was to be shattered by the very success of those who held it. The separate position of the movement’s deputies and journalists attracted the already recruited bourgeois intellectuals toward a bourgeois mode of life. Even those who had been recruited from the struggles of industrial workers and who were themselves workers, were transformed by the union bureaucracy into brokers of labor power who sold labor as a commodity, for a just price. If their activity was to retain some appearance of being revolutionary, capitalism would have had to be conveniently unable to support economically this reformism which it tolerated politically (in the legalistic agitation of the social-democrats). But such an antagonism, guaranteed by their science, was constantly belied by history.

97. Bernstein, the social-democrat furthest from political ideology and most openly attached to the methodology of bourgeois science, had the honesty to want to demonstrate the reality of this contradiction; the English workers’ reformist movement had also demonstrated it, by doing without revolutionary ideology. But the contradiction was definitively demonstrated only by historical development itself. Although full of illusions in other respects, Bernstein had denied that a crisis of capitalist production would miraculously force the hand of socialists who wanted to inherit the revolution only by this legitimate rite. The profound social upheaval which arose with the first world war, though fertile with the awakening of consciousness, twice demonstrated that the social-democratic hierarchy had not educated revolutionarily; and had in no way transformed the German workers into theoreticians: first when the vast majority of the party rallied to the imperialist war; next when, in defeat, it squashed the Spartakist revolutionaries. The ex-worker Ebert still believed in sin, since he admitted that he hated revolution “like sin.” The same leader showed himself a precursor of the socialist representation which soon after confronted the Russian proletariat as its absolute enemy; he even formulated exactly the same program for this new alienation: “Socialism means working a lot”.

98. Lenin, as a Marxist thinker, was no more than a consistent and faithful Kautskyist who applied the revolutionary ideology of “orthodox Marxism” to Russian conditions, conditions unfavorable to the reformist practice carried on elsewhere by the Second International. In the Russian context, the external management of the proletariat, acting by means of a disciplined clandestine party subordinated to intellectuals transformed into “professional revolutionaries,” becomes a profession which refuses to deal with the ruling professions of capitalist society (the Czarist political regime being in any case unable to offer such opportunities which are based on an advanced stage of bourgeois power). It therefore became the profession of the absolute management of society.

99. With the war and the collapse of the social-democratic international in the face of the war, the authoritarian ideological radicalism of the Bolsheviks spread all over the world. The bloody end of the democratic illusions of the workers’ movement transformed the entire world into a Russia, and Bolshevism, reigning over the first revolutionary breach brought on by this epoch of crisis, offered to proletarians of all lands its hierarchic and ideological model, so that they could “speak Russian” to the ruling class. Lenin did not reproach the Marxism of the Second International for being a revolutionary ideology, but for ceasing to be one.

100. The historical moment when Bolshevism triumphed for itself in Russia and when social-democracy fought victoriously for the old worldmarks the inauguration of the state of affairs which is at the heart of the domination of the modern spectacle: the representation of the working class radically opposes itself to the working class.

101. “In all previous revolutions,” wrote Rosa Luxemburg in Rote Fahne of December 21, 1918, “the combatants faced each other directly: class against class, program against program. In the present revolution, the troops protecting the old order do not intervene under the insignia of the ruling class, but under the flag of a ‘social-democratic party.’ If the central question of revolution had been posed openly and honestly: capitalism or socialism? the great mass of the proletariat would today have no doubts or hesitations.” Thus, a few days before its destruction, the radical current of the German proletariat discovered the secret of the new conditions which had been created by the preceding process (toward which the representation of the working class had greatly contributed): the spectacular organization of defense of the existing order, the social reign of appearances where no ” “central question” can any longer be posed “openly and honestly.” The revolutionary representation of the proletariat had at this stage become both the main factor and the central result of the general falsification of society.

102. The organization of the proletariat on the Bolshevik model which emerged from Russian backwardness and from the abandonment of revolutionary struggle by the workers’ movement of advanced countries, found in this backwardness all the conditions which carried this form of organization toward the counter-revolutionary inversion which it unconsciously contained at its source. The continuing retreat of the mass of the European workers’ movement in the face of the Hic Rhodus, hic salta of the 1918-1920 period, a retreat which included the violent destruction of its radical minority, favored the completion of the Bolshevik development and let this fraudulent outcome present itself to the world as the only proletarian solution. By seizing state monopoly over representation and defense of workers’ power, the Bolshevik party justified itself and became what it was: the party of the proprietors of the proletariat (essentially eliminating earlier forms of property).

103. During twenty years of unresolved theoretical debate, the varied tendencies of Russian social-democracy had examined all the conditions for the liquidation of Czarism: the weakness of the bourgeoisie, the weight of the peasant majority and the decisive role of a concentrated and combative but hardly numerous proletariat. The debate was resolved in practice by means of a factor which had not been present in the hypotheses: a revolutionary bureaucracy which directed the proletariat seized State power and gave society a new class domination. Strictly bourgeois revolution had been impossible; the “democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants” was mean- ingless; the proletarian power of the Soviets could not maintain itself simultaneously against the class of small landowners, against the national and international White react ion, and against its own representation externalized and alienated in the form of a workers’ party of absolute masters of State economy, expression, and soon of thought. The theory of permanent revolution of Trotsky and Parvus, which Lenin adopted in April 1917. was the only theory which became true for countries where the social development of the bourgeoisie was retarded, but this theory became true only after the introduction of the unknown factor: the class power of the bureaucracy. In the numerous arguments among the Bolshevik directors, Lenin was the most consistent defender of the concentration of dictatorial power in the hands of the supreme representatives of ideology. Lenin was right every time against his adversaries in that be supported the solution implied by earlier choices of absolute minority Power: the democracy which was kept from peasants by means of the state would have to be kept from workers as well, which led to keeping it from communist leaders of unions, from the entire party, and finally from leading party bureaucrats. At the Tenth Congress, when the Kronstadt Soviet had been defeated by arms and buried under calumny, Lenin pronounced against the leftist bureaucrats of the “Workers’ Opposition” the following conclusion (the logic of which Stalin later extended to a complete division of the world): “Here or there with a rifle, but not with opposition. . . We’ve had enough opposition.”

104. After Kronstadt, the bureaucracy–sole proprietor of a State Capitalism–consolidated its power internally by means of a temporary alliance with the peasantry (with the “new economic policy”) and externally by using workers regimented into the bureaucratic parties of the Third International as supports for Russian diplomacy, thus sabotaging the entire revolutionary movement and supporting bourgeois governments whose aid it needed in international politics (the power of the Kuonmintang in China in 1925-27, the Popular Front in Spain and in France, etc.). The bureaucratic society continued the consolidation by terrorizing the peasantry in order to implement the mast brutal primitive capitalist accumulation in history. The industrialization of the Stalin epoch revealed the reality behind the bureaucracy: the continuation of the power of the economy and the preservation of the essence of the market society commodity labor. The independent economy, which dominates society to the extent of reinstituting the class domination it needs for its awn ends, is thus confirmed. Which is to say that the bourgeoisie created an autonomous power which, so long as its autonomy lasts, can even do without a bourgeoisie. The totalitarian bureaucracy is not “the last owning class in history” in the sense of Bruna Rizzi; it is only a substitute ruling class for the commodity economy. Capitalist private property in decline is replaced by a simplified, less diversified surrogate which is condensed as collective property of the bureaucratic class. This underdeveloped ruling class is the expression of economic underdevelopment, and has no perspective other than to overcome the retardation of this development in certain regions of the world. It was the workers’ party organized according to the bourgeois model of separation which furnished the hierarchical-statist cadre for this supplementary edition of a ruling class. While in one of Stalin’s prisons, Anton Ciliga observed that “technical questions of organization turned out to be social questions”(Lenin and the Revolution).

105. Revolutionary ideology, the coherence of the separate, of which Leninism represents the greatest voluntaristic attempt, supervising a reality which rejects it, with Stalinism returns to its truth in incoherence. At that paint ideology is no longer a weapon, but a goal. The lie which is no longer challenged becomes lunacy. Reality as well as the goal dissolve in the totalitarian ideological proclamation: all it says is all there is. This is a local primitivism of the spectacle, whose role is nevertheless essential in the development of the world spectacle. The ideology which is materialized in this context has not economically transformed the world, as has capitalism which reached the stage of abundance; it has merely transformed perception by means of the police.

106. The totalitarian-ideological class in power is the power of a topsy-turvy world: the stranger it is, the more it claims not to exist, and its force serves above all to affirm its nonexistence. It is modest only on this point, because its official nonexistence must also coincide with the nec plus ultra of historical development which must at the same time be attributed to its infallible command. Extended everywhere, the bureaucracy must be the class invisible to consciousness; as a result all social life becomes insane. The social organization of the absolute lie flows from this fundamental contradiction.

107. Stalinism was the reign of terror within the bureaucratic class itself. The terrorism at the base of this class’s power must also strike this class because it possesses no juridical guarantee, no recognized existence as owning class, which it could extend to every one of its members. Its real property being hidden, the bureaucracy became proprietor by way of false consciousness. False consciousness can maintain its absolute power only by means of absolute terror, where all real motives are ultimately lost. The members of the bureaucratic class in power have a right of ownership over society only collectively, as participants in a fundamental lie: they have to play the role of the proletariat directing a socialist society; they have to be actors loyal to a script of ideological disloyalty. But effective participation in this falsehood requires that it be recognized as actual participation. No bureaucrat can support his right to power individually, since proving that he’s a socialist proletarian would mean presenting himself as the opposite of a bureaucrat, and proving that he’s a bureaucrat is impossible since the official truth of the bureaucracy is that it does not exist. Thus every bureaucrat depends absolutely on the central guarantee of the ideology which recognizes the collective participation in its “socialist power” of all the bureaucrats it does not annihilate. If all the bureaucrats taken together decide everything, the cohesion of their own class can be assured only by the concentration of their terrorist power in a single person. In this person resides the only practical truth of falsehood in power: the indisputable permanence of its constantly adjusted frontier. Stalin decides without appeal who is ultimately to be a possessing bureaucrat; in other words, who should be named “a proletarian in power” and who “a traitor in the pay of the Mikado or of Wall Street.” The bureaucratic atoms find the common essence of their right only in the person of Stalin. Stalin is the world sovereign who in this manner knows himself as the absolute person for whose consciousness there is no higher spirit. “The sovereign of the world has effective consciousness of what he is–the universal power of efficacy–in the destructive violence which he exerts against the Self of his subjects, the contrasting others.” Just as he is the power that defines the terrain of domination, he is “the power which ravages this terrain.”

108. When ideology, having become absolute through the possession of absolute power, changes from partial knowledge into totalitarian falsehood, the thought of history is so perfectly annihilated that history itself, even at the level of the most empirical knowledge, can no longer exist. The totalitarian bureaucratic society lives in a perpetual present where everything that happened exists for it only as a place accessible to its police. The project already formulated by Napoleon of “the ruler directing the energy of memory” has found its total concretization in a permanent manipulation of the past, not only of meanings but of facts as well. But the price paid for this emancipation from all historical reality is the loss of the rational reference which is indispensable to the historical society, capitalism. It is known how much the scientific application of insane ideology has cost the Russian economy, if only through the imposture of Lysenko. The contradiction of the totalitarian bureaucracy administering an industrialized society, caught between its need for rationality and its rejection of the rational, is one of its main deficiencies with regard to normal capitalist development. Just as the bureaucracy cannot resolve the question of agriculture the way capitalism had done, it is ultimately inferior to capitalism in industrial production, planned from the top and based on unreality and generalized falsehood.

109. Between the two world wars, the revolutionary workers’ movement was annihilated by the joint action of the Stalinist bureaucracy and of fascist totalitarianism which had borrowed its form of organization from the totalitarian party tried out in Russia. Fascism was an extremist defense of the bourgeois economy threatened by crisis and by proletarian subversion. Fascism is a state of siege in capitalist society, by means of which this society saves itself and gives itself stop-gap rationalization by making the State intervene massively in its management. But this rationalization is itself burdened by the immense irrationality of its means. Although fascism rallies to the defense of the main points of bourgeois ideology which has become conservative (the family, property, the moral order, the nation), reuniting the petty-bourgeoisie and the unemployed routed by crisis or deceived by the impotence of socialist revolution, it is not itself fundamentally ideological. It presents itself as it is: a violent resurrection of myth which demands participation in a community defined by archaic pseudo-values: race, blood, the leader. Fascism is technically-equipped archaism. Its decomposed ersatz of myth is revived in the spectacular context of the most modern means of conditioning and illusion. Thus it is one of the factors in the formation of the modern spectacle, and its role in the destruction of the old workers’ movement makes it one of the fundamental forces of present-day society. However, since fascism is also the most costly form of preserving the capitalist order, it usually had to leave the front of the stage to the great roles played by the capitalist States; it is eliminated by stronger and more rational forms of the same order.

110. Now that the Russian bureaucracy has finally succeeded in doing away with the remains of bourgeois property which hampered its rule over the economy, in developing this property for its own use, and in being recognized externally among the great powers, it wants to enjoy its world calmly and to suppress the arbitrary element which had been exerted over it: it denounces the Stalinism of its origin. But the denunciation remains Stalinist, arbitrary, unexplained and continually corrected, because the ideological lie at its origin can never be revealed. Thus the bureaucracy can liberalize neither culturally nor politically because its existence as a class depends on its ideological monopoly which, with all its weight, is its only title to property. The ideology has no doubt lost the passion of its positive affirmation, but the indifferent triviality which survives still has the repressive function of prohibiting the slightest competition, of holding captive the totality of thought. Thus the bureaucracy is bound to an ideology which is no longer believed by anyone. What used to be terrorist has become a laughing matter, but this laughing matter can maintain itself only by preserving, as a last resort, the terrorism it would like to be rid of. Thus precisely at the moment when the bureaucracy wants to demonstrate its superiority on the terrain of capitalism it reveals itself to be a poor relation of capitalism. Just as its actual history contradicts its claims and its vulgarly entertained ignorance contradicts its scientific pretentions, so its project of becoming a rival to the bourgeoisie in the production of commodity abundance is blocked by the fact that this abundance carries its implicit ideology within itself, and is usually accompanied by an indefinitely extended freedom of spectacular false choices, a pseudo-freedom which remains irreconcilable with the bureaucratic ideology.

111. At the present moment of its development, the bureaucracy’s title to ideological property is already collapsing internationally. The power which established itself nationally as a fundamentally internationalist model must admit that it can no longer pretend to maintain its false cohesion over and above every national frontier. The unequal economic development of some bureaucracies with competing interests, who succeeded in acquiring their “socialism” beyond the single country, has led to the public and total confrontation between the Russian lie and the Chinese lie. From this point on, every bureaucracy in power, or every totalitarian party which is a candidate to the power left behind by the Stalinist period in some national working classes, must follow its own path. The global decomposition of the alliance of bureaucratic mystification is further aggravated by manifestations of internal negation which began to be visible to the world with the East Berlin workers’ revolt, opposing the bureaucrats with the demand for “a government of steel workers,” manifestations which already once led all the way to the power of workers’ councils in Hungary. However, the global decomposition of the bureaucratic alliance is in the last analysis the least favorable factor for the present development of capitalist society. The bourgeoisie is in the process of losing the adversary which objectively supported it by providing an illusory unification of all negation of the existing order. This division of labor within the spectacle comes to an end when the pseudo-revolutionary role in turn divides. The spectacular element of the collapse of the workers’ movement will itself collapse.

112. The Leninist illusion has no contemporary base outside of the various Trotskyist tendencies. Here the identification of the proletarian project with a hierarchic organization of ideology stubbornly survives the experience of all its results. The distance which separates Trotskyism from a revolutionary critique of the present society allows Trotskyism to maintain a deferential attitude toward positions which were already false when they were used in a real combat. Trotsky remained basically in solidarity with the high bureaucracy until 1927, seeking to capture it so as to make it resume genuinely Bolshevik action externally (it is known that in order to conceal Lenin’s famous “testament” he went so far as to slanderously disavow his supporter Max Eastman, who had made it public). Trotsky was condemned by his basic perspective, because as soon as the bureaucracy recognizes itself in its result as a counterrevolutionary class internally, it must also choose, in the name of revolution, to be effectively counter-revolutionary externally,just as it is at home. Trotsky’s subsequent struggle for the Fourth International contains the same inconsistency. All his life he refused to recognize the bureaucracy as the power of a separate class, because during the second Russian revolution he became an unconditional supporter of the Bolshevik form of organization. When Lukacs, in 1923, showed that this form was the long-sought mediation between theory and practice, in which the proletarians are no longer “spectators” of the events which happen in their organization, but consciously choose and live these events, he described as actual merits of the Bolshevik party everything that the Bolshevik party was not. Except for his profound theoretical work, Lukacs was still an ideologue speaking in the name of the power most grossly external to the proletarian movement, believing and making believe that he, himself, with his entire personality, was within this power as if it were his own. But the sequel showed just how this power disowns and suppresses its lackeys; in Lukacs’ endless self-repudiations, just what he had identified with became visible and clear as a caricature: he had identified with the opposite of himself and of what he had supported in History and Class Consciousness. Lukacs is the best proof of the fundamental rule which judges all the intellectuals of this century: what they respect is an exact measure of their own despicable reality. Yet Lenin had hardly encouraged this type of illusion about his activity, considering that “a political party cannot examine its members to see if there are contradictions between their philosophy and the party program. The real party whose imaginary portrait Lukacs had inopportunely drawn was coherent for only one precise and partial task: to seize State power.

113. The neo-Leninist illusion of present-day Trotskyism, constantly exposed by the reality of modern bourgeois as well as bureaucratic capitalist societies, naturally finds a favored field of application in “underdeveloped” countries which are formally independent. Here the illusion of some variant of state and bureaucratic socialism is consciously manipulated by local ruling classes as simply the ideology of economic development. The hybrid composition of these classes is more or less clearly related to their standing along the bourgeois-bureaucratic spectrum. Their games on an international scale with the two poles of existing capitalist power, as well as their ideological compromises (notably with Islam), express the hybrid reality of their social base and remove from this final byproduct of ideological socialism everything serious except the police. A bureaucracy establishes itself by staffing a national struggle and an agrarian peasant revolt; from that point on, as in China, it tends to apply the Stalinist model of industrialization in societies less developed than Russia was in 1917. A bureaucracy able to industrialize the nation can set itself up from among the petty-bourgeoisie, or out of army cadres who seize power, as in Egypt. A bureaucracy which sets itself up as a para-statist leadership during the struggle can, on certain questions, seek the equilibrium point of a compromise in order to fuse with a weak national bourgeoisie, as in Algeria at the beginning of its war of independence. Finally, in the former colonies of black Africa which remain openly tied to the American and European bourgeoisie, a bourgeoisie constitutes itself (usually on the basis of the power of traditional tribal chiefs) by seizing the State. These countries, where foreign imperialism remains the real master of the economy, enter a stage where the compradores have gotten an indigenous State as compensation for their sale of indigenous products, a State which is independent in the face of the local masses but not in the face of imperialism. This is an artificial bourgeoisie which is not able to accumulate, but which simply squanders the share of surplus value from local labor which reaches it as well as the foreign subsidies from the States or monopolies which protect it. Because of the obvious incapacity of these bourgeois classes to fulfill the normal economic function of a bourgeoisie, each of them faces a subversion based on the bureaucratic model, more or less adapted to local peculiarities, and eager to seize the heritage of this bourgeoisie. But the very success of a bureaucracy in its fundamental project of industrialization necessarily contains the perpsective of its historical defeat: by accumulating capital it accumulates a proletariat and thus creates its own negation in a country where it did not yet exist.

114. In this complex and terrible development which has carried the epoch of class struggles toward new conditions, the proletariat of the industrial countries has completely lost the affirmation of its autonomous perspective and also, in the last analysis, its illusions, but not its being. It has not been suppressed. It remains irreducibly in existence within the intensified alienation of modern capitalism: it is the immense majority of workers who have lost all power over the use of their lives and who,once they know this,redefine themselves as the proletariat, as negation at work within this society. The proletariat is objectively reinforced by the progressive disappearance of the peasantry and by the extension of the logic of factory labor to a large sector of “services” and intellectual professions.Subjectively the proletariat is still far removed from its practical class consciousness, not only among white collar workers but also among wage workers who have as yet discovered only the impotence and mystification of the old politics. Nevertheless, when the proletariat discovers that its own externalized power collaborates in the constant reinforcement of capitalist society, not only in the form of its labor but also in the form of unions, of parties, or of the state power it had built to emancipate itself, it also discovers from concrete historical experience that it is the class totally opposed to all congealed externalization and all specialization of power. It carries the revolution which cannot let anything remain outside of itself, the demand for the permanent domination of the present over the past, and the total critique of separation. It is this that must find its suitable form in action. No quantitative amelioration of its misery, no illusion of hierarchic integration is a lasting cure for its dissatisfaction, because the proletariat cannot truly recognize itself in a particular wrong it suffered nor in the righting of a particular wrong. It cannot recognize itself in the righting of a large number of wrongs either, but only in the absolute wrong of being relegated to the margin of life.

115. The new signs of negation multiplying in the economically developed countries, signs which are misunderstood and falsified by spectacular arrangement, already enable us to draw the conclusion that a new epoch has begun: now, after the workers’ first attempt at subversion,it is capitalist abundance which has failed. When anti-union struggles of Western workers are repressed first of all by unions, and when the first amorphous protests launched by rebellious currents of youth directly imply the rejection of the old specialized politics, of art and of daily life, we see two sides of a new spontaneous struggle which begins under a criminal guise. These are the portents of a second proletarian assault against class society. When the last children of this still immobile army reappear on this battleground which was altered and yet remains the same, they follow a new “General Ludd” who, this time, urges them to destroy the machines of permitted consumption.

116. “The political farm at last discovered in which the economic emancipation of labor could be realized” has in this century acquired a clear outline in the revolutionary workers’ Councils which concentrate in themselves all the functions of decision and execution, and federate with each other by means of delegates responsible to the base and revocable at any moment. Their actual existence has as yet been no mare than a brief sketch, quickly opposed and defeated by various defensive farces of class society, among which their awn false consciousness must often be included. Pannekoek rightly insisted that choosing the power of workers’ Councils “poses problems” rather than providing a solution. Yet it is precisely in this power where the problems of the proletarian revolution can find their real solution. This is where the objective conditions of historical consciousness are reunited. This is where direct active communication is realized, where specialization, hierarchy and separation end, where the existing conditions have been transformed “into conditions of unity.” Here the proletarian subject can emerge from his struggle against con- templation: his consciousness is equal to the practical organization which it undertakes because this consciousness is itself inseparable from coherent intervention in history.

117. In the power of the Councils, which must internationally supplant all other power, the proletarian movement is its own product and this product is the producer himself. He is to himself his own goal. Only there is the spectacular negation of life negated in its turn.

118. The appearance of the Councils was the highest reality of the proletarian movement in the first quarter of this century, a reality which was not seen or was travestied because it disappeared along with the rest of the movement that was negated and eliminated by the entire historical experience of the time. At the new moment of proletarian critique, this result returns as the only undefeated point of the defeated movement. Historical consciousness, which knows that this is the only milieu where it can exist, can now recognize this reality, no longer at the periphery of what is ebbing, but at the center of what is rising.

119. A revolutionary organization existing before the power of the Councils (it will find its own farm through struggle), for all these historical reasons, already knows that it does not represent the working class. It must recognize itself as no more than a radical separation from the world of separation.

120. The revolutionary organization is the coherent expression of the theory of praxis entering into non-unilateral communication with practical struggles, in the process of becoming practical theory. Its own practice is the generalization of communication and of coherence in these struggles. At the revolutionary moment of dissolution of social separation, this organization must recognize its own dissolution as a separate organization.

121. The revolutionary organization can be nothing less than a unitary critique of society, namely a critique which does not compromise with any farm of separate power anywhere in the world, and a critique proclaimed globally against all the aspects of alienated social life. In the struggle between the revolutionary organization and class society, the weapons are nothing other than the essence of the combatants themselves: the revolutionary organization cannot reproduce within itself the dominant society’s conditions of separation and hierarchy. It must struggle constantly against its deformation in the ruling spectacle. The only limit to participation in the total democracy of the revolutionary organization is the recognition and self-appropriation of the coherence of its critique by all its members, a coherence which must be proved in the critical theory as such and in the relation between the theory and practical activity.

122. When constantly growing capitalist alienation at all levels makes it increasingly difficult for workers to recognize and name their own misery, forcing them to face the alternative of rejecting the totality of their misery or nothing, the revolutionary organization has to learn that it can no longer combat alienation with alienated forms.

123. Proletarian revolution depends entirely on the condition that, for the first time, theory as intelligence of human practice be recognized and lived by the masses. It requires workers to become dialecticians and to inscribe their thought into practice. Thus it demands of men without quality more than the bourgeois revolution demanded of the qualified men which it delegated to carry out its tasks (since the partial ideological consciousness constructed by a part of the bourgeois class was based on the economy, this central part of social life in which this class was already in power). The very development of class society to the stage of spectacular organization of non-life thus leads the revolutionary project to become visibly what it already was essentially.

124. Revolutionary theory is now the enemy of all revolutionary ideology and knows it.

Chapter 5 “Time and History”

O, gentlemen, the time of life is short!... And if we live, we live to tread on kings.
Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I

125. Man, “the negative being who is only to the extent that he suppresses Being,” is identical to time. Man’s appropriation of his own nature is at the same time his grasp of the unfolding of the universe. “History is itself a real part of natural history, of the transformation of nature into man” (Marx). Inversely, this “natural history” has no actual existence other than through the process of human history, the only part which recaptures this historical totality, like the modern telescope whose sight captures, in time, the retreat of nebulae at the periphery of the universe. History has always existed, but not always in a historical form. The temporalization of man as effected through the mediation of a society is equivalent to a humanization of time. The unconscious movement of time manifests itself and becomes true within historical consciousness.

126. Properly historical movement, although still hidden, begins in the slow and intangible formation of the “real nature of man,” this “nature born within human history–within the generating action of human society,” but even though that society developed a technology and a language and is already a product of its own history, it is conscious only of a perpetual present. There, all knowledge, confined within the memory of the oldest, is always carried by the living. Neither death nor procreation is grasped as a law of time. Time remains immobile, like an enclosed space. A more complex society which finally becomes conscious of time devotes itself to negating it because it sees in time not what passes, but only what returns. A static society organizes time in terms of its immediate experience of nature, on the model of cyclical time.

127. Cyclical time already dominates the experience of nomadic populations because they find the same conditions repeated at every moment of their journey: Hegel notes that “the wandering of nomads is only formal because it is limited to uniform spaces.” The society which, by fixing itself in place locally, gives space a content by arranging individualized places, thus finds itself enclosed inside this localization. The temporal return to similar places now becomes the pure return of time in the same place, the repetition of a series of gestures. The transition from pastoral nomadism to sedentary agriculture is the end of the lazy liberty without content, the beg inning of labor. The agrarian mode of production in general, dominated by the rhythm of the seasons, is the basis for fully constituted cyclical time. Eternity is internal to it; it is the return of the same here on earth. Myth is the unitary construction of the thought which guarantees the entire cosmic order surrounding the order which this society has in fact already realized within its frontiers.

128. The social appropriation of time, the production of man by human labor, develops within a society divided into classes. The power which constituted itself above the penury of the society of cyclical time, the class which organizes the social labor and appropriates the limited surplus value, simultaneously appropriates the temporal surplus value of its organization of social time: it possesses for itself alone the irreversible time of the living. The wealth that can be concentrated in the realm of power and materially used up in sumptuous feasts is also used up as a squandering of historical time at the surface of society. The owners of historical surplus value possess the knowledge and the enjoyment of lived events. Separated from the collective organization of time which predominates with the repetitive production at the base of social life, this time flows above its own static community. This is the time of adventure and war, when the masters of the cyclical society travel through their personal histories, and it is also the time which appears in confrontations with foreign communities, in the derangement of the unchangeable order of the society. History then passes before men as an alien factor, as that which they never wanted and against which they thought themselves protected. But by way of this detour returns the human negative anxiety which had been at the very origin of the entire development that had fallen asleep.

129. Cyclical time in itself is time without conflict. But conflict is installed within this infancy of time: history first struggles to be history in the practical activity of masters. This history superficially creates the irreversible; its movement constitutes precisely the time it uses up within the interior of the inexhaustible time of cyclical society.

130. “Frozen societies” are those which slowed down their historical activity to the limit and maintained in constant equilibrium their opposition to the natural and human environment as well as their internal oppositions. If the extreme diversity of institutions established for this purpose demonstrates the flexibility of the self-creation of human nature, this demonstration becomes obvious only for the external observer, for the anthropologist who returns from historical time. In each of these societies a definitive structuring excluded change. Absolute conformism in existing social practices. with which all human possibilities are identified for all time, has no external limit other than the fear of falling back into formless animality. Here, in order to remain human, men must remain the same.

131. The birth of political power which seems to be related to the last great technological revolutions (like iron smelting), at the threshold of a period which would not experience profound shocks until the appearance of industry, also marks the moment when kinship ties begin to dissolve. From then on, the succession of generations leaves the sphere of pure cyclical nature in order to become an event-oriented succession of powers. Irreversible time is now the time of those who rule, and dynasties are its first measure. Writing is its weapon. In writing, language attains its complete independent reality as mediation between consciousnesses. But this independence is identical to the general independence of separate power as the mediation which constitutes society. With writing there appears a consciousness which is no longer carried and transmitted directly among the living: an impersonal memory, the memory of the administration of society. “Writings are the thoughts of the State; archives are its memory” (Novalis).

132. The chronicle is the expression of the irreversible time of power and also the instrument that preserves the voluntaristic progression of this time from its predecessor, since this orientation of time collapses with the fall of every specific power and returns to the indifferent oblivion of cyclical time, the only time known to peasant masses who, during the collapse of empires and their chronologies, never change. The owners of history have given time a meaning: a direction which is also a significance. But this history deploys itself and succumbs separately, leaving the underlying society unchanged precisely because this history remains separated from the common reality. This is why we reduce the history of Oriental empires to the history of religions: the chronologies which have fallen to ruins left no more than the apparently autonomous history of the illusions which enveloped them. The masters who make history their private property, under the protection of myth, possess first of all a private ownership of the mode of illusion: in China and Egypt they long held a monopoly over the immortality of the soul, just as their famous early dynasties are imaginary arrangements of the past. But the masters’ possession of illusion is at that moment the only possible possession of a common history and of their own history. The growth of their real historical power goes together with a popularization of the possession of myth and illusion. All this flows from the simple fact that, to the extent that the masters took it upon themselves to guarantee the permanence of cyclical time mythically, as in the seasonal rites of Chinese emperors, they themselves achieved a relative liberation from cyclical time.

133. The dry unexplained chronology of divine power speaking to its servants, which wants to be understood only as the earthly execution of the commandments of myth, can be surmounted and become conscious history; this requires that real participation in history be lived by extended groups. Out of this practical communication among those who recognized each other as possessors of a singular present, who experienced the qualitative richness of events as their activity and as the place where they lived–their epoch–arises the general language of historical communication. Those for whom irreversible time has existed discover within it the memorable as well as the menace of forgetting: “Herodotus of Halicarnassus here presents the results of his study, so that time may not abolish the works of men...”

134. Reasoning about history is inseparably reasoning about power. Greece was the moment when power and its change were discussed and understood, the democracy of the masters of society. Greek conditions were the inverse of the conditions known to the despotic State, where power settles its accounts only with itself within the inaccessible obscurity of its densest point: through palace revolution, which is placed beyond the pale of discussion by success or failure alike. However, the power shared among the Greek communities existed only with the expenditure of a social life whose production remained separate and static within the servile class. Only those who do not work live. In the division among the Greek communities, and in the struggle to exploit foreign cities, the principle of separation which internally grounded each of them was externalized. Greece, which had dreamed of universal history, did not succeed in unifying itself in the face of invasion–or even in unifying the calendars of its independent cities. In Greece historical time became conscious, but not yet conscious of itself.

135. After the disappearance of the locally favorable conditions known to the Greek communities, the regression of western historical thought was not accompanied by a rehabilitation of ancient mythic organizations. Out of the confrontations of the Mediterranean populations, out of the formation and collapse of the Roman State, appeared semi-historical religions which became fundamental factors in the new consciousness of time, and in the new armor of separate power.

136. The monotheistic religions were a compromise between myth and history, between cyclical time which still dominated production and irreversible time where populations clash and regroup. The religions which grew out of Judaism are abstract universal acknowledgements of irreversible time which is democratized, opened to all, but in the realm of illusion. Time is totally oriented toward a single final event: “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” These religions arose on the soil of history, and established themselves there. But there they still preserve themselves in radical opposition to history. Semi-historical religion establishes a qualitative point of departure in time (the birth of Christ, the flight of Mohammed), but its irreversible time–introducing real accumulation which in Islam can take the form of a conquest, or in Reformation Christianity the form of increased capital is actually inverted in religious thought and becomes a countdown: the hope of access to the genuine other world before time runs out, the expectation of the last Judgment. Eternity came out of cyclical time and is beyond it. Eternity is the element which holds back the irreversibility of time, suppressing history within history itself by placing itself on the other side of irreversible time as a pure punctual element to which cyclical time returned and abolished itself. Bossuet will still say: “And by means of the time that passes we enter into the eternity which does not pass.”

137. The Middle Ages, this incomplete mythical world whose perfection lay outside it, is the moment when cyclical time, which still regulates the greater part of production, is really chewed away by history. A certain irreversible temporality is recognized individually in everyone, in the succession of stages of life, in the consideration of life as a journey, a passage with no return through a world whose meaning lies elsewhere: the pilgrim is the man who leaves cyclical time and becomes in reality the traveller that everyone is symbolically. Personal historical life still finds its fulfillment within the sphere of power, within participation in struggles led by power and in struggles over disputed power; but the irreversible time of power is shared to infinity under the general unification of the oriented time of the Christian era, in a world of armed faith, where the game of the masters revolves around fidelity and disputes over owed fidelity. This feudal society, born out of the encounter of “the organizational structure of the conquering army as it developed during the conquest” with “the productive forces found in the conquered country” (German Ideology) and in the organization of these productive forces one must count their religious language divided the domination of society between the Church and the state power, in turn subdivided in the complex relations of suzerainty and vassalage of territorial tenures and urban communes. In this diversity of possible historical life, the irreversible time which silently carried off the underlying society, the time lived by the bourgeoisie in the production of commodities, in the foundation and expansion of cities and in the commercial discovery of the earth–practical experimentation which forever destroyed all mythical organization of the cosmos–slowly revealed itself as the unknown work of this epoch when the great official historical undertaking of this world collapsed with the Crusades.

138. During the decline of the Middle Ages, the irreversible time which invades society is experienced by the consciousness attached to the ancient order in the form of an obsession with death. This is the melancholy of the demise of a world, the last world where the security of myth still counterpoised history, and for this melancholy everything worldly moves only toward corruption. The great revolts of the European peasants are also their attempt to respond to history–which was violently wrenching the peasants out of the patriarchal sleep that had guaranteed their feudal tutelage. This millenarian utopia of achieving heaven on earth revives what was at the origin of semi-historical religion, when Christian communities which grew out of Judaic messianism responded to the troubles and unhappiness of the epoch by looking to the imminent realization of the Kingdom of God and brought a disquieting and subversive factor into ancient society. When Christianity reached the point of sharing power within the empire, it exposed what still survived of this hope as a simple superstition: that is the meaning of the Augustinian affirmation, archetype of all the satisfecit of modern ideology, according to which the established Church has already for a long time been this kingdom one spoke of. The social revolt of the millenarian peasantry defines itself naturally first of all as a will to destroy the Church. But millenarianism spreads in the historical world, and not on the terrain of myth. Modern revolutionary expectations are not irrational continuations of the religious passion of millenarianism, as Norman Cohn thought he had demonstrated in The Pursuit of the Millennium. On the contrary, it is millenarianism, revolutionary class struggle speaking the language of religion for the last time, which is already a modern revolutionary tendency that as yet lacks the consciousness that it is only historical. The millenarians had to lose because they could not recognize the revolution as their own operation. The fact that they waited to act on the basis of an external sign of God’s decision is the translation into thought of the practice of insurgent peasants following chiefs taken from outside their ranks. The peasant class could not attain an adequate consciousness of the functioning of society or of the way to lead its own struggle: because it lacked these conditions of unity in its action and consciousness, it expressed its project and led its wars with the imagery of an earthly paradise.

139. The new possession of historical life, the Renaissance, which finds its past and its legitimacy in Antiquity, carries with it a joyous rupture with eternity. Its irreversible time is that of the infinite accumulation of knowledge, and the historical consciousness which grows out of the experience of democratic communities and of the forces which ruin them will take up. with Machiavelli, the analysis of desanctified power, saying the unspeakable about the State. In the exuberant life of the Italian cities, in the art of the festival, life is experienced as enjoyment of the passage of time. But this enjoyment of passage is itself a passing enjoyment. The song of Lorenzo di Medici considered by Burckhardt to be the expression of “the very spirit of the Renaissance” is the eulogy which this fragile feast of history pronounces on itself: “How beautiful the spring of life which vanishes so quickly.”

140. The constant movement of monopolization of historical life by the State of the absolute monarchy, transitional form toward complete domination by the bourgeois class, brings into clear view the new irreversible time of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie is attached to labor time, which is liberated for the first time from the cyclical. With the bourgeoisie, work becomes labor which transforms historical conditions. The bourgeoisie is the first ruling class for which labor is a value. And the bourgeoisie which suppresses all privilege, which recognizes no value that does not flow from the exploitation of labor, has justly identified with labor its own value as a dominant class, and has made the progress of labor its own progress. The class which accumulates commodities and capital continually modifies nature by modifying labor itself, by unleashing its productivity. All social life has already been concentrated within the ornamental poverty of the Court, the tinsel of the cold state administration which culminates in “the vocation of king”; and all particular historical liberty has had to consent to its defeat. The liberty of the irreversible temporal game of the nobles is consumed in their last lost battles, the wars of the Fronde and the rising of the Scotch for Charles-Edward. The world’s foundation has changed.

141. The victory of the bourgeoisie is the victory of profoundly historical time, because this is the time of economic production which transforms society, continuously and from top to bottom. So long as agrarian production remains the central activity, the cyclical time which remains at the base of society nourishes the coalesced forces of tradition which fetter all movement. But the irreversible time of the bourgeois economy eradicates these vestiges on every corner of the globe. History, which until then had seemed to be only the movement of individuals of the ruling class, and thus was written as the history of events, is now understood as the general movement, and in this relentless movement individuals are sacrificed. This history which discovers its foundation in political economy now knows of the existence of what had been its unconscious, but this still cannot be brought to light and remains unconscious. This blind prehistory, a new fatality dominated by no one, is all that the commodity economy democratized.

142. The history which is present in all the depths of society tends to be lost at the surface. The triumph of irreversible time is also its metamorphosis into the time of things, because the weapon of its victory was precisely the mass production of objects according to the laws of the commodity. The main product which economic development has transferred from luxurious scarcity to daily consumption is therefore history, but only in the form of the history of the abstract movement of things which dominates all qualitative use of life. While the earlier cyclical time had supported a growing part of historical time lived by individuals and groups, the domination of the irreversible time of production tends, socially, to eliminate this lived time.

143. Thus the bourgeoisie made known to society and imposed on it an irreversible historical time, but kept its use from society. “There was history, but there is no more,” because the class of owners of the economy, which cannot break with economic history, is directly threatened by all other irreversible use of time and must repress it. The ruling class, made up of specialists in the possession of things who are themselves therefore a possession of things, must link its fate with the preservation of this reified history, with the permanence of a new immobility within history. For the first time the worker, at the base of society, is not materially a stranger to history, because it is now the base that irreversibly moves society. In the demand to live the historical time which it makes, the proletariat finds the simple unforgettable center of its revolutionary project; and every attempt (thwarted until now) to realize this project marks a point of possible departure for new historical life.

144. The irreversible time of the bourgeoisie in power at first presented itself under its own name, as an absolute origin, Year One of the Republic. But the revolutionary ideology of general freedom which had destroyed the last remnants of the mythical organization of values and the entire traditional regulation of society, already made visible the real will which it had clothed in Roman dress: the freedom of generalized commerce. The commodity society, now discovering that it needed to reconstruct the passivity which it had profoundly shaken in order to set up its own pure reign, finds that “Christianity with its cultus of abstract man ... is the most fitting form of religion” (Capital). Thus the bourgeoisie establishes a compromise with this religion, a compromise which also expresses itself in the presentation of time: its own calendar abandoned, its irreversible time returns to unwind within the Christian era whose succession it continues.

145. With the development of capitalism, irreversible time is unified on a world scale. Universal history becomes a reality because the entire world is gathered under the development of this time. But this history, which is everywhere simultaneously the same, is still only the refusal within history of history itself. What appears the world over as the same day is the time of economic production cut up into equal abstract fragments. Unified irreversible time is the time of the world market and, as a corollary, of the world spectacle.

146. The irreversible time of production is first of all the measure of commodities. Therefore the time officially affirmed over the entire expanse of the globe as the general time of society refers only to the specialized interests which constitute it and is no more than a particular time.

Chapter 6 “Spectacular Time”

We have nothing that is ours except time, which even those without a roof can enjoy.
Baltasar Gracian, Oraculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia

147. The time of production, commodity-time, is an infinite accumulation of equivalent intervals. It is the abstraction of irreversible time, all of whose segments must prove on the chronometer their merely quantitative equality. This time is in reality exactly what it is in its exchangeable character. In this social domination by commodity-time, “time is everything, man is nothing; he is at most the carcass of time” (Poverty of Philosophy). This is time devalued, the complete inversion of time as “the field of human development.”

148. The general time of human non-development also exists in the complementary form of consumable time which returns as pseudo-cyclical time to the daily life of the society based on this determined production.

149. Pseudo-cyclical time is actually no more than the consumable disguise of the commodity-time of production. It contains the essential properties of commodity-time, namely exchangeable homogeneous units and the suppression of the qualitative dimension. But being the by-product of this time which aims to retard concrete daily life and to keep it retarded, it must be charged with pseudo-valuations and appear in a sequence of falsely individualized moments.

150. Pseudo-cyclical time is the time of consumption of modern economic survival, of increased survival, where daily life continues to be deprived of decision and remains bound, no longer to the natural order, but to the pseudo-nature developed in alienated labor; and thus this time naturally reestablishes the ancient cyclical rhythm which regulated the survival of preindustrial societies. Pseudo-cyclical time leans on the natural remains of cyclical time and also uses it to compose new homologous combinations: day and night, work and weekly rest, the recurrence of vacations.

151. Pseudo-cyclical time is a time transformed by industry. The time which has its basis in the production of commodities is itself a consumable commodity which includes everything that previously (during the phase of dissolution of the old unitary society) was differentiated into private life, economic life, political life. All the consumable time of modern society comes to be treated as a raw material for varied new products which impose themselves on the market as uses of socially organized time. “A product which already exists in a form which makes it suitable for consumption can nevertheless in its turn become a raw material for another product” (Capital).

152. In its most advanced sector, concentrated capitalism orients itself towards the sale of “completely equipped” blocks of time, each one constituting a single unified commodity which integrates a number of diverse commodities. In the expanding economy of “services” and leisure, this gives rise to the formula of calculated payment in which “everything’s included”: spectacular environment, the collective pseudo-displacement of vacations, subscriptions to cultural consumption, and the sale of sociability itself in the form of “passionate conversations” and “meetings with personalities.” This sort of spectacular commodity, which can obviously circulate only because of the increased poverty of the corresponding realities, just as obviously fits among the pilot-articles of modernized sales techniques by being payable on credit.

153. Consumable pseudo-cyclical time is spectacular time, both as the time of consumption of images in the narrow sense, and as the image of consumption of time in the broad sense. The time of image-consumption, the medium of all commodities, is inseparably the field where the instruments of the spectacle exert themselves fully, and also their goal, the location and main form of all specific consumption: it is known that the time-saving constantly sought by modern society, whether in the speed of vehicles or in the use of dried soups, is concretely translated for the population of the United States in the fact that the mere contemplation of television occupies it for an average of three to six hours a day. The social image of the consumption of time, in turn, is exclusively dominated by moments of leisure and vacation, moments presented at a distance and desirable by definition, like every spectacular commodity. Here this commodity is explicitly presented as the moment of real life, and the point is to wait for its cyclical return. But even in those very moments reserved for living, it is still the spectacle that is to be seen and reproduced, becoming ever more intense. What was represented as genuine life reveals itself simply as more genuinely spectacular life.

154. The epoch which displays its time to itself as essentially the sudden return of multiple festivities is also an epoch without festivals. What was, in cyclical time, the moment of a community’s participation in the luxurious expenditure of life is impossible for the society without community or luxury. When its vulgarized pseudo-festivals, parodies of the dialogue and the gift, incite a surplus of economic expenditure, they lead only to deception always compensated by the promise of a new deception. In the spectacle, the lower the use value of modern survival-time, the more highly it is exalted. The reality of time has been replaced by the advertisement of time.

155. While the consumption of cyclical time in ancient societies was consistent with the real labor of those societies, the pseudo-cyclical consumption of the developed economy is in contradiction with the abstract irreversible time of its production. While cyclical time was the time of immobile illusion, really lived, spectacular time is the time of self-changing reality, lived in illusion.

156. What is constantly new in the process of production of things is not found in consumption, which remains the expanded repetition of the same. In spectacular time, since dead labor continues to dominate living labor, the past dominates the present.

157. Another side of the deficiency of general historical life is that individual life as yet has no history. The pseudo-events which rush by in spectacular dramatizations have not been lived by those informed of them; moreover they are lost in the inflation of their hurried replacement at every throb of the spectacular machinery. Furthermore, what is really lived has no relation to the official irreversible time of society and is in direct opposition to the pseudo-cyclical rhythm of the consumable by-product of this time. This individual experience of separate daily life remains without language, without concept, without critical access to its own past which has been recorded nowhere. It is not communicated. It is not understood and is forgotten to the profit of the false spectacular memory of the unmemorable.

158. The spectacle, as the present social organization of the paralysis of history and memory, of the abandonment of history built on the foundation of historical time, is the false consciousness of time.

159. The preliminary condition required for propelling workers to the status of “free” producers and consumers of commodity time was the violent expropriation of their own time. The spectacular return of time became possible only after this first dispossession of the producer.

160. The irreducibly biological element which remains in labor, both in the dependence on the natural cycle of waking and sleep and in the existence of irreversible time in the expenditure of an individual life, is a mere accessory from the point of view of modern production; consequently, these elements are ignored in the official proclamations of the movement of production and in the consumable trophies which are the accessible translation of this incessant victory. The spectator’s consciousness, immobilized in the falsified center of the movement of its world, no longer experiences its life as a passage toward self-realization and toward death. One who has renounced using his life can no longer admit his death. Life insurance advertisements suggest merely that he is guilty of dying without ensuring the regularity of the system after this economic loss; and the advertisement of the American way of death insists on his capacity to maintain in this encounter the greatest possible number of appearances of life. On all other fronts of the advertising onslaught, it is strictly forbidden to grow old. Even a “youth-capital,” contrived for each and all and put to the most mediocre uses, could never acquire the durable and cumulative reality of financial capital. This social absence of death is identical to the social absence of life.

161. Time, as Hegel showed, is the necessary alienation, the environment where the subject realizes himself by losing himself, where he becomes other in order to become truly himself. Precisely the opposite is true in the dominant alienation, which is undergone by the producer of an alien present. In this spatial alienation, the society that radically separates the subject from the activity it takes from him, separates him first of all from his own time. It is this surmountable social alienation that has prohibited and petrified the possibilities and risks of the living alienation of time.

162. Under the visible fashions which disappear and reappear on the trivial surface of contemplated pseudo-cyclical time, the grand style of the age is always located in what is oriented by the obvious and secret necessity of revolution.

163. The natural basis of time, the actual experience of the flow of time, becomes human and social by existing for man. The restricted condition of human practice, labor at various stages, is what has humanized and also dehumanized time as cyclical and as separate irreversible time of economic production. The revolutionary project of realizing a classless society, a generalized historical life, is the project of a withering away of the social measure of time, to the benefit of a playful model of irreversible time of individuals and groups, a model in which independent federated times are simultaneously present. It is the program of a total realization, within the context of time, of communism which suppresses “all that exists independently of individuals.”

164. The world already possesses the dream of a time whose consciousness it must now possess in order to actually live it.

Chapter 7 “The Organization of Territory”.

And he who becomes master of a city used to being free and does not destroy her can expect to be destroyed by her, because always she has as pretext in rebellion the name of liberty and her old customs, which never through either length of time or benefits are forgotten, and in spite of anything that can be done or foreseen, unless citizens are disunited or dispersed, they do not forget that name and those institutions...
Machiavelli, The Prince

165. Capitalist production has unified space, which is no longer bounded by external societies. This unification is at the same time an extensive and intensive process of banalization. The accumulation of commodities produced in mass for the abstract space of the market, which had to break down all regional and legal barriers and all the corporative restrictions of the Middle Ages that preserved the quality of craft production, also had to destroy the autonomy and quality of places. This power of homogenization is the heavy artillery which brought down all Chinese walls.

166. In order to become ever more identical to itself, to get as close as possible to motionless monotony, the free space of the commodity is henceforth constantly modified and reconstructed.

167. This society which eliminates geographical distance reproduces distance internally as spectacular separation.

168. Tourism, human circulation considered as consumption, a by-product of the circulation of commodities, is fundamentally nothing more than the leisure of going to see what has become banal. The economic organization of visits to different places is already in itself the guarantee of their equivalence. The same modernization that removed time from the voyage also removed from it the reality of space.

169. The society that molds all of its surroundings has developed a special technique for shaping its very territory, the solid ground of this collection of tasks. Urbanism is capitalism’s seizure of the natural and human environment; developing logically into absolute domination, capitalism can and must now remake the totality of space into its own setting.

170. The capitalist need which is satisfied by urbanism in the form of a visible freezing of life can be expressed in Hegelian terms as the absolute predominance of “the peaceful coexistence of space” over “the restless becoming in the passage of time.”

171. If all the technical forces of capitalism must be understood as tools for the making of separations, in the case of urbanism we are dealing with the equipment at the basis of these technical forces, with the treatment of the ground that suits their deployment, with the very technique of separation.

172. Urbanism is the modern fulfillment of the uninterrupted task which safeguards class power: the preservation of the atomization of workers who had been dangerously brought together by urban conditions of production. The constant struggle that had to be waged against every possible form of their coming together discovers its favored field in urbanism. After the experiences of the French Revolution, the efforts of all established powers to increase the means of maintaining order in the streets finally culminates in the suppression of the street. “With the present means of long-distance mass communication, sprawling isolation has proved an even more effective method of keeping a population under control,” says Lewis Mumford in The City in History, describing “henceforth a one-way world.” But the general movement of isolation, which is the reality of urbanism, must also include a controlled reintegration of workers depending on the needs of production and consumption that can be planned. Integration into the system requires that isolated individuals be recaptured and isolated together: factories and halls of culture, tourist resorts and housing developments are expressly organized to serve this pseudo-community that follows the isolated individual right into the family cell. The widespread use of receivers of the spectacular message enables the individual to fill his isolation with the dominant images–images which derive their power precisely from this isolation.

173. For the first time a new architecture, which in all previous epochs had been reserved for the satisfaction of the ruling classes, is directly aimed at the poor. The formal poverty and the gigantic spread of this new living experience both come from its mass character, which is implicit in its purpose and in modern conditions of construction. Authoritarian decision, which abstractly organizes territory into territory of abstraction, is obviously at the heart of these modern conditions of construction. The same architecture appears in all industrializing countries that are backward in this respect, as a suitable terrain for the new type of social existence which is to be implanted there. The threshold crossed by the growth of society’s material power alongside the lag in the conscious domination of this power, are displayed as clearly by urbanism as by problems of thermonuclear armament or of birth control (where the possibility of manipulating heredity has already been reached).

174. The present is already the time of the self-destruction of the urban milieu. The explosion of cities which cover the countryside with “formless masses of urban residues” (Lewis Mumford) is directly regulated by the imperatives of consumption. The dictatorship of the automobile, pilot-product of the first phase of commodity abundance, has been stamped into the environment with the domination of the freeway, which dislocates old urban centers and requires an ever-larger dispersion. At the same time, stages of incomplete reorganization of the urban fabric polarize temporarily around “distribution factories,” enormous shopping centers built on the bare ground of parking lots; and these temples of frenzied consumption, after bringing about a partial rearrangement of congestion, themselves flee within the centrifugal movement which rejects them as soon as they in turn become overburdened secondary centers. But the technical organization of consumption is only the first element of the general dissolution which has led the city to the point of consuming itself.

175. Economic history, which developed entirely around the opposition between town and country, has reached a level of success which simultaneously cancels out both terms. The current paralysis of total historical development for the sake of the mere continuation of the economy’s independent movement makes the moment when town and country begin to disappear, not the supersession of their cleavage, but their simultaneous collapse. The reciprocal erosion of town and country, product of the failure of the historical movement through which existing urban reality should have been surmounted, is visible in the eclectic melange of their decayed elements which cover the most industrially advanced zones.

176. Universal history was born in cities and reached maturity at the moment of the decisive victory of city over country. To Marx, one of the greatest revolutionary merits of the bourgeoisie was “the subjection of the country to the city” whose very air emancipates. But if the history of the city is the history of freedom, it is also the history of tyranny, of state administration that controls the countryside and the city itself. The city could as yet only struggle for historical freedom, but not possess it. The city is the locus of history because it is conscious of the past and also concentrates the social power that makes the historical undertaking possible. The present tendency to liquidate the city is thus merely another expression of the delay in the subordination of the economy to historical consciousness and in the unification of society reassuming the powers that were detached from it.

177. “The countryside shows the exact opposite: isolation and separation” (German Ideology). Urbanism destroys cities and reestablishes a pseudo-countryside which lacks the natural relations of the old countryside as well as the direct social relations which were directly challenged by the historical city. A new artificial peasantry is recreated by the conditions of housing and spectacular control in today’s “organized territory”: the geographic dispersal and narrowmindedness that always kept the peasantry from undertaking independent action and from affirming itself as a creative historical force again today become characteristics of the producers–the movement of a world which they themselves produce remaining as completely beyond their reach as the natural rhythm of tasks was for the agrarian society. But when this peasantry, which was the unshakable foundation of “Oriental despotism” and whose very fragmentation called for bureaucratic centralization reemerges as a product of the conditions of growth of modern state bureaucracy, its apathy must now be historically manufactured and maintained; natural ignorance has been replaced by the organized spectacle of error. The “new towns” of the technological pseudo-peasantry clearly inscribe on the landscape their rupture with the historical time on which they are built; their motto could be: “On this spot nothing will ever happen, and nothing ever has.” It is obviously because history, which must be liberated in the cities, has not yet been liberated, that the forces of historical absence begin to compose their own exclusive landscape.

178. History, which threatens this twilight world, is also the force which could subject space to lived time. Proletarian revolution is the critique of human geography through which individuals and communities have to create places and events suitable for the appropriation, no longer just of their labor, but of their total history. In this game’s changing space, and in the freely chosen variations in the game’s rules, the autonomy of place can be rediscovered without the reintroduction of an exclusive attachment to the land, thus bringing back the reality of the voyage and of life understood as a voyage which contains its entire meaning within itself.

179. The greatest revolutionary idea concerning urbanism is not itself urbanistic, technological or esthetic. It is the decision to reconstruct the entire environment in accordance with the needs of the power of the Workers’ Councils, of the anti-statist dictatorship of the proletariat, of enforceable dialogue. And the power of the Councils which can be effective only if it transforms existing conditions in their entirety, cannot assign itself a smaller task if it wants to be recognized and to recognize itself in its world.

Chapter 8 “Negation and Consumption Within Culture”

Do you seriously think we shall live long enough to see a political revolution? – we, the contemporaries of these Germans? My friend, you believe what you want to believe.... Let us judge Germany on the basis of its present history – and surely you are not going to object that all its history is falsified, or that all its present public life does not reflect the actual state of the people? Read whatever papers you please, and you cannot fail to be convinced that we never stop (and you must concede that the censorship prevents no one from stopping) celebrating the freedom and national happiness that we enjoy...
Ruge to Marx, March 1843

180. In the historical society divided into classes, culture is the general sphere of knowledge and of representations of the lived; which is to say that culture is the power of generalization existing apart, as division of intellectual labor and as intellectual labor of division. Culture detaches itself from the unity of the society of myth “when the power of unification disappears from the life of man and when opposites lose their living relation and interaction and acquire autonomy... (Hegel’s Treatise on the Differences between the Systems of Fichte and Schelling). By gaining its independence, culture begins an imperialist movement of enrichment which is at the same time the decline of its independence. The history which creates the relative autonomy of culture and the ideological illusions about this autonomy also expresses itself as history of culture. And the entire victorious history of culture can be understood as the history of the revelation of its inadequacy, as a march toward its self-suppression. Culture is the locus of the search for lost unity. In this search for unity, culture as a separate sphere is obliged to negate itself.

181. The struggle between tradition and innovation, which is the principle of internal cultural development in historical societies, can be carried on only through the permanent victory of innovation. Yet cultural innovation is carried by nothing other than the total historical movement which, by becoming conscious of its totality, tends to supersede its own cultural presuppositions and moves toward the suppression of all separation.

182. The growth of knowledge about society, which includes the understanding of history as the heart of culture, derives from itself an irreversible knowledge, which is expressed by the destruction of God. But this “first condition of any critique” is also the first obligation of a critique without end. When it is no longer possible to maintain a single rule of conduct, every result of culture forces culture to advance toward its dissolution. Like philosophy at the moment when it gained its full autonomy, every discipline which becomes autonomous has to collapse, first of all as a pretention to explain social totality coherently, and finally even as a fragmented tool which can be used within its own boundaries. The lack of rationality of separate culture is the element which condemns it to disappear, because within it the victory of the rational is already present as a requirement.

183. Culture grew out of the history which abolished the way of life of the old world, but as a separate sphere it is still no more than perceptible intelligence and communication, which remain partial in a partially historical society. It is the sense of a world which hardly makes sense.

184. The end of cultural history manifests itself on two opposite sides: the project of its supersession in total history, and the organization of its preservation as a dead object in spectacular contemplation. One of these movements has linked its fate to social critique, the other to the defense of class power.

185. The two sides of the end of culture–in all the aspects of knowledge as well as in all the aspects of perceptible representations exist in a unified manner in what used to be art in the most general sense. In the case of knowledge, the accumulation of branches of fragmentary knowledge, which become unusable because the approval of existing conditions must finally renounce knowledge of itself, confronts the theory of praxis which alone holds the truth of them all since it alone holds the secret of their use. In the case of representations, the critical self-destruction of society’s former common language confronts its artificial recomposition in the commodity spectacle, the illusory representation of the non-lived.

186. When society loses the community of the society of myth, it must lose all the references of a really common language until the time when the rifts within the inactive community can be surmounted by the inauguration of the real historical community. When art, which was the common language of social inaction, becomes independent art in the modern sense, emerging from its original religious universe and becoming individual production of separate works, it too experiences the movement that dominates the history of the entirety of separate culture. The affirmation of its independence is the beginning of its disintegration.

187. The loss of the language of communication is positively expressed by the modern movement of decomposition of all art, its formal annihilation. This movement expresses negatively the fact that a common language must be rediscovered no longer in the unilateral conclusion which, in the art of the historical society, always arrived too late, speaking to others about what was lived without real dialogue, and admitting this deficiency of life but it must be rediscovered in praxis, which unifies direct activity and its language. The problem is to actually possess the community of dialogue and the game with time which have been represented by poetico-artistic works.

188. When art, become independent, depicts its world in dazzling colors, a moment of life has grown old and it cannot be rejuvenated with dazzling colors. It can only be evoked as a memory. The greatness of art begins to appear only at the dusk of life.

189. The historical time which invades art expressed itself first of all in the sphere of art itself, starting with the baroque. Baroque is the art of a world which has lost its center: the last mythical order, in the cosmos and in terrestrial government, accepted by the Middle Ages–the unity of Christianity and the phantom of an Empire has fallen. The art of the change must carry within itself the ephemeral principle it discovers in the world. It chose, said Eugenio d’Ors, “life against eternity.” Theater and the festival, the theatrical festival, are the outstanding achievements of the baroque where every specific artistic expression becomes meaningful only with reference to the setting of a constructed place, a construction which is its own center of unification; this center is the passage, which is inscribed as a threatened equilibrium in the dynamic disorder of everything. The somewhat excessive importance given to the concept of the baroque in the contemporary discussion of esthetics is an expression of the awareness that artistic classicism is impossible: for three centuries the attempts to realize a normative classicism or neoclassicism were no more than brief artificial constructions speaking the external language of the State, the absolute monarchy, or the revolutionary bourgeoisie in Roman clothes. What followed the general path of the baroque, from romanticism to cubism, was ultimately an ever more individualized art of negation perpetually renewing itself to the point of the fragmentation and complete negation of the artistic sphere. The disappearance of historical art, which was linked to the internal communication of an elite and had its semi-independent social basis in the partly playful conditions still lived by the last aristocracies, also expresses the fact that capitalism possesses the first class power which admits itself stripped of any ontological quality, a power which, rooted in the simple management of the economy, is equally the loss of all human mastery. The baroque, artistic creation’s long-lost unity, is in some way rediscovered in the current consumption of the totality of past art. When all past art is recognized and sought historically and retrospectively constituted into a world art, it is relativized into a global disorder which in turn constitutes a baroque edifice on a higher level, an edifice in which the very production of baroque art merges with all its revivals. The arts of all civilizations and all epochs can be known and accepted together for the first time. Once this “collection of souvenirs” of art history becomes possible, it is also the end of the world of art. In this age of museums, when artistic communication can no longer exist, all the former moments of art can be admitted equally, because they no longer suffer from the loss of their specific conditions of communication in the current general loss of the conditions of communication.

190. As a negative movement which seeks the supersession of art in a historical society where history is not yet lived, art in the epoch of its dissolution is simultaneously an art of change and the pure expression of impossible change. The more grandiose its reach, the more its true realization is beyond it. This art is perforce avant-garde, and it is not. Its avant-garde is its disappearance.

191. Dadaism and surrealism are the two currents which mark the end of modern art. They are contemporaries, though only in a relatively conscious manner, of the last great assault of the revolutionary proletarian movement; and the defeat of this movement, which left them imprisoned in the same artistic field whose decrepitude they had announced, is the basic reason for their immobilization. Dadaism and surrealism are at once historically related and opposed to each other. This opposition, which each of them considered to be its most important and radical contribution, reveals the internal inadequacy of their critique, which each developed one-sidedly. Dadaism wanted to suppress art without realizing it; surrealism wanted to realize art without suppressing it. The critical position later elaborated by the Situationists has shown that the suppression and the realization of art are inseparable aspects of a single supersession of art.

192. Spectacular consumption which preserves congealed past culture, including the recuperated repetition of its negative manifestations, openly becomes in the cultural sector what it is implicitly in its totality: the communication of the incommunicable. The flagrant destruction of language is flatly acknowledged as an officially positive value because the point is to advertise reconciliation with the dominant state of affairs–and here all communication is joyously proclaimed absent. The critical truth of this destruction the real life of modern poetry and art is obviously hidden, since the spectacle, whose function is to make history forgotten within culture, applies, in the pseudo-novelty of its modernist means, the very strategy which constitutes its core. Thus a school of neo-literature, which simply admits that it contemplates the written word for its own sake, can present itself as something new. Furthermore, next to the simple proclamation of the sufficient beauty of the decay of the communicable, the most modern tendency of spectacular culture–and the one most closely linked to the repressive practice of the general organization of society–seeks to remake, by means of “team projects,” a complex neo-artistic environment made up of decomposed elements: notably in urbanism’s attempts to integrate artistic debris or esthetico-technical hybrids. This is an expression, on the level of spectacular pseudo-culture, of developed capitalism’s general project, which aims to recapture the fragmented worker as a “personality well integrated in the group,” a tendency described by American sociologists (Riesman, Whyte, etc.). It is the same project everywhere: a restructuring without community.

193. When culture becomes nothing more than a commodity, it must also become the star commodity of the spectacular society. Clark Kerr, one of the foremost ideologues of this tendency, has calculated that the complex process of production, distribution and consumption of knowledge already gets 29% of the yearly national product in the United States; and he predicts that in the second half of this century culture will be the driving force in the development of the economy, a role played by the automobile in the first half of this century, and by railroads in the second half of the previous century.

194. All the branches of knowledge, which continue to develop as the thought of the spectacle, have to justify a society without justification, and constitute a general science of false consciousness. This thought is completely conditioned by the fact that it cannot and will not investigate its own material basis in the spectacular system.

195. The system’s thought, the thought of the social organization of appearance, is itself obscured by the generalized sub-communication which it defends. It does not know that conflict is at the origin of all things in its world. Specialists in the power of the spectacle, an absolute power within its system of language without response, are absolutely corrupted by their experience of contempt and of the success of contempt; and they find their contempt confirmed by their knowledge of the contemptible man, who the spectator really is.

196. Within the specialized thought of the spectacular system, a new division of tasks takes place to the extent that the improvement of this system itself poses new problems: on one hand, modern sociology which studies separation by means of the conceptual and material instruments of separation itself, undertakes the spectacular critique of the spectacle; on the other hand, in the various disciplines where structuralism takes root, the apology for the spectacle institutes itself as the thought of non-thought, as the official amnesia of historical practice. Nevertheless, the false despair of non-dialectical critique and the false optimism of pure advertising of the system are identical in that they are both submissive thought.

197. The sociology which began, first in the United States, to focus discussion on the living conditions brought about by present development, compiled a great deal of empirical data, but could not fathom the truth of its subject because it lacked the critique immanent in this subject. As a result, the sincerely reformist tendency of this sociology resorts to morality, common sense, appeals devoid of all relevance to practical measures, etc. Because this type of critique is ignorant of the negative at the core of its world, it insists on describing only a sort of negative surplus which it finds deplorably annoying on the surface, like an irrational parasitic proliferation. This indignant good will, even if genuine, ends up blaming only the external consequences of the system, yet thinks itself critical, forgetting the essentially apologetic character of its assumptions and method.

198. Those who denounce the absurdity or the perils of incitement to waste in the society of economic abundance do not understand the purpose of waste. They condemn with ingratitude, in the name of economic rationality, the good irrational guardians without whom the power of this economic rationality would collapse. For example, Boorstin, in L’Image, describes the commercial consumption of the American spectacle but never reaches the concept of spectacle because he thinks he can exempt private life, or the notion of “the honest commodity,” from this disastrous exaggeration. He does not understand that the commodity itself made the laws whose “honest” application leads to the distinct reality of private life and to its subsequent reconquest by the social consumption of images.

199. Boorstin describes the excesses of a world which has become foreign to us as if they were excesses foreign to our world. But the “normal” basis of social life, to which he implicitly refers when he characterizes the superficial reign of images with psychological and moral judgments as a product of “our extravagant pretentions,” has no reality whatever, either in his book or in his epoch. Boorstin cannot understand the full profundity of a society of images because the real human life he speaks of is for him in the past, including the past of religious resignation. The truth of this society is nothing other than the negation of this society.

200. The sociology which thinks that an industrial rationality functioning separately can be isolated from the whole of social life can go so far as to isolate the techniques of reproduction and transmission from the general industrial movement. Thus Boorstin finds that the results he depicts are caused by the unfortunate, almost fortuitous encounter of an oversized technical apparatus for image diffusion with an excessive attraction to the pseudo-sensational on the part of the people of our epoch. Thus the spectacle would be caused by the fact that modern man is too much of a spectator. Boorstin fails to understand that the proliferation of the prefabricated “pseudo-events” which he denounces flows from the simple fact that, in the massive reality of present social life, men do not themselves live events. Because history itself haunts modern society like a spectre, pseudo-histories are constructed at every level of consumption of life in order to preserve the threatened equilibrium of present frozen time.

201. The assertion of the definitive stability of a short period of frozen historical time is the undeniable basis, proclaimed consciously and unconsciously, of the present tendency toward a structuralist systematization. The vantage point from which anti-historical structuralist thought views the world is that of the eternal presence of a system which was never created and which will never end. The dream of the dictatorship of a preexisting unconscious structure over all social praxis could be erroneously drawn from models of structures elaborated by linguistics and anthropology (and even the analysis of the functioning of capitalism)–models already misunderstood in this context–only because the academic imagination of minor functionaries, easily overwhelmed and completely entrenched in the awestruck celebration of the existing system, flatly reduces all reality to the existence of the system.

202. In order to understand “structuralist” categories, one must keep in mind, as with every historical social science, that the categories express forms as well as conditions of existence. Just as one cannot appraise the value of a man in terms of the conception he has of himself, one cannot appraise–and admire–this particular society by taking as indisputably true the language it speaks to itself; “...we cannot judge such epochs of transformation by their own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must rather be explained in the light of the contradictions of material life...” Structure is the daughter of present power. Structuralism is the thought guaranteed by the State which regards the present conditions of spectacular “communication” as an absolute. Its method of studying the code of messages is itself nothing but the product, and the acknowledgement, of a society where communication exists in the form of a cascade of hierarchic signals. Consequently it is not structuralism which serves to prove the transhistorical validity of the society of the spectacle; it is on the contrary the society of the spectacle imposing itself as massive reality which serves to prove the cold dream of structuralism.

203. The critical concept of spectacle can undoubtedly also be vulgarized into a commonplace hollow formula of sociologico-political rhetoric to explain and abstractly denounce everything, and thus serve as a defense of the spectacular system. It is obvious that no idea can lead beyond the existing spectacle, but only beyond the existing ideas about the spectacle. To effectively destroy the society of the spectacle, what is needed is men putting a practical force into action. The critical theory of the spectacle can be true only by uniting with the practical current of negation in society, and this negation, the resumption of revolutionary class struggle, will become conscious of itself by developing the critique of the spectacle which is the theory of its real conditions (the practical conditions of present oppression), and inversely by unveiling the secret of what this negation can be. This theory does not expect miracles from the working class. It envisages the new formulation and the realization of proletarian imperatives as a long-range task. To make an artificial distinction between theoretical and practical struggle since on the basis defined here, the very formulation and communication of such a theory cannot even be conceived without a rigorous practice it is certain that the obscure and difficult path of critical theory must also be the lot of the practical movement acting on the scale of society.

204. Critical theory must be communicated in its own language. It is the language of contradiction, which must be dialectical in form as it is in content. It is critique of the totality and historical critique. It is not “the nadir of writing” but its inversion. It is not a negation of style, but the style of negation.

205. In its very style. the exposition of dialectical theory is a scandal and an abomination in terms of the rules and the corresponding tastes of the dominant language, because when it uses existing concrete concepts it is simultaneously aware of their rediscovered fluidity, their necessary destruction.

206. This style which contains its own critique must express the domination of the present critique over its entire past. The very mode of exposition of dialectical theory displays the negative spirit within it. “Truth is not like a product in which one can no longer find any trace of the tool that made it” (Hegel). This theoretical consciousness of movement, in which the movement’s very trace must be evident, manifests itself by the inversion of the established relations between concepts and by the diversion of all the acquisitions of previous critique. The inversion of the genetive is this expression of historical revolutions, consigned to the form of thought, which was considered Hegel’s epigrammatic style. The young Marx, recommending the technique Feuerbach had systematically used of replacing the subject with the predicate, achieved the most consistent use of this insurrectional style, drawing the misery of philosophy out of the philosophy of misery. Diversion leads to the subversion of past critical conclusions which were frozen into respectable truths, namely transformed into lies. Kierkegaard already used it deliberately, adding his own denunciation to it: “But despite all the tours and detours, just as jam always returns to the pantry, you always end up by sliding in a little word which isn’t yours and which bothers you by the memory it awakens” (Philosophical Fragments). It is the obligation of distance toward what was falsified into official truth which determines the use of diversion, as was acknowledged by Kierkegaard in the same book: “Only one more comment on your numerous allusions aiming at all the grief I mix into my statements of borrowed sayings. I do not deny it here nor will I deny that it was voluntary and that in a new continuation to this pamphlet, if I ever write it, I intend to name the object by its real name and to clothe the problem in historical attire.”

207. Ideas improve. The meaning of words participates in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It embraces an author’s phrase, makes use of his expressions, erases a false idea, and replaces it with the right idea.

208. Diversion is the opposite of quotation, of the theoretical authority which is always falsified by the mere fate of having become a quotation a fragment torn from its context, from its movement, and ultimately from the global framework of its epoch and from the precise choice, whether exactly recognized or erroneous, which it was in this framework. Diversion is the fluid language of anti-ideology. It appears in communication which knows it cannot pretend to guarantee anything definitively and in itself. At its peak, it is language which cannot be confirmed by any former or supra-critical reference. On the contrary, its own coherence, in itself and with the applicable facts, can confirm the former core of truth which it brings out. Diversion has grounded its cause on nothing external to its own truth as present critique.

209. What openly presents itself as diverted in theoretical form, denying the durable autonomy of the sphere of the theoretically expressed by introducing there, through this violence, the action which upsets and overthrows the entire existing order, reminds us that the existence of theory is nothing in itself, and that it can know itself only through historical action and the historical correction which is its real counterpart.

210. Only the real negation of culture can preserve its meaning. It can no longer be cultural. Thus it is what in some way remains at the level of culture, but with a completely different meaning.

211. In the language of contradiction, the critique of culture presents itself as a unified critique in that it dominates the whole of culture, its knowledge as well as its poetry, and in that it no longer separates itself from the critique of the social totality. This unified theoretical critique goes alone to meet unified social practice.

Chapter 9 “Ideology Materialized”

Self-consciousness exists in itself and for itself, in that, and by the fact that it exists for another self-consciousness; that is to say, it is only by being acknowledged or “recognized.”
Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind

212. Ideology is the basis of the thought of a class society in the conflict-laden course of history. Ideological facts were never a simple chimaera, but rather a deformed consciousness of realities, and in this form they have been real factors which set in motion real deforming acts; all the more so when the materialization, in the form of spectacle, of the ideology brought about by the concrete success of autonomized economic production in practice confounds social reality with an ideology which has tailored all reality in terms of its model.

213. When ideology, the abstract will and the illusion of the universal, is legitimized by the universal abstraction and the effective dictatorship of illusion in modern society, it is no longer a voluntaristic struggle of the partial, but its victory. At this point, ideological pretention acquires a sort of flat positivistic exactitude: it is no longer a historical choice but a fact. In this type of assertion, the particular names of ideologies have disappeared. Even the role of specifically ideological labor in the service of the system comes to be considered as nothing more than the recognition of an “epistemological base” that pretends to be beyond all ideological phenomena. Materialized ideology itself has no name, just as it has no expressible historical program. This is another way of saying that the history of ideologies is over.

214. Ideology, whose whole internal logic led to “total ideology” in Mannheim’s sense the despotism of the fragment which imposes itself as pseudo-knowledge of a frozen totality, the totalitarian vision–is now completed in the immobilized spectacle of non-history. Its completion is also its disintegration throughout society. With the practical disintegration of this society, ideology–the final unreason that blocks access to historical life–must disappear.

215. The spectacle is ideology par excellence, because it exposes and manifests in its fullness the essence of all ideological systems: the impoverishment, servitude and negation of real life. The spectacle is materially “the expression of the separation and estrangement between man and man.” Through the “new power of fraud,” concentrated at the base of the spectacle in this production, “the new domain of alien beings to whom man is subservient... grows coextensively with the mass of objects.” It is the highest stage of an expansion which has turned need against life. “The need for money is thus the real need produced by political economy, and the only need it produces” (Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts). The spectacle extends to all social life the principle which Hegel (in the Realphilosophie of Jena) conceives as the principle of money: it is “the life of what is dead, moving within itself.”

216. In opposition to the project summarized in the Theses on Feuerbach (the realization of philosophy in praxis which supersedes the opposition between idealism and materialism), the spectacle simultaneously preserves, and imposes within the pseudo-concrete of its universe, the ideological characteristics of materialism and idealism. The contemplative side of the old materialism which conceives the world as representation and not as activity–and which ultimately idealizes matter–is fulfilled in the spectacle, where concrete things are automatically the masters of social life. Reciprocally, the dreamed activity of idealism is equally fulfilled in the spectacle, through the technical mediation of signs and signals-which ultimately materialize an abstract ideal.

217. The parallel between ideology and schizophrenia, established by Gabel (La Fausse Conscience) must be placed in this economic process of materialization of ideology. Society has become what ideology already was. The removal of praxis and the anti-dialectical false consciousness which accompanies it are imposed during every hour of daily life subjected to the spectacle; this must be understood as a systematic organization of the “failure of the faculty of encounter” and as its replacement by a hallucinatory social fact: the false consciousness of encounter, the “illusion of encounter.” In a society where no one can any longer be recognized by others, every individual becomes unable to recognize his own reality. Ideology is at home; separation has built its world.

218. “In clinical charts of schizophrenia,” says Gabel, “the decay of the dialectic of totality (with dissociation as its extreme form) and the decay of the dialectic of becoming (with catatonia as its extreme form) seem solidly united.” The spectator’s consciousness, imprisoned in a flattened universe, bound by the screen of the spectacle behind which his life has been deported, knows only the fictional speakers who unilaterally surround him with their commodities and the politics of their commodities. The spectacle, in its entirety, is his “mirror image.” Here the stage is set with the false exit of generalized autism.

219. The spectacle obliterates the boundaries between self and world by crushing the self besieged by the presence-absence of the world and it obliterates the boundaries between true and false by driving all lived truth below the real presence of fraud ensured by the organization of appearance. One who passively accepts his alien daily fate is thus pushed toward a madness that reacts in an illusory way to this fate by resorting to magical techniques. The acceptance and consumption of commodities are at the heart of this pseudo-response to a communication without response. The need to imitate which is felt by the consumer is precisely the infantile need conditioned by all the aspects of his fundamental dispossession. In the terms applied by Gabel to a completely different pathological level, “the abnormal need for representation here compensates for a tortuous feeling of being on the margin of existence.”

220. If the logic of false consciousness cannot know itself truly, the search for critical truth about the spectacle must simultaneously be a true critique. It must struggle in practice among the irreconcilable enemies of the spectacle and admit that it is absent where they are absent. The abstract desire for immediate effectiveness accepts the laws of the ruling thought, the exclusive point of view of the present, when it throws itself into reformist compromises or trashy pseudo-revolutionary common actions. Thus madness reappears in the very posture which pretends to fight it. Conversely, the critique which goes beyond the spectacle must know how to wait.

221. Emancipation from the material bases of inverted truth this is what the self-emancipation of our epoch consists of. This “historical mission of installing truth in the world” cannot be accomplished either by the isolated individual, or by the atomized crowd subjected to manipulation, but now as ever by the class which is able to effect the dissolution of all classes by bringing all power into the dealienating form of realized democracy, the Council, in which practical theory controls itself and sees its own action. This is possible only where individuals are “directly linked to universal history”; only where dialogue arms itself to make its own conditions victorious.


Comments on the Society of the Spectacle 1

Guy Debord

Translator's Introduction

In his "Translator's Note" to his truly terrible translation of Guy Debord's Comments on the Society of the Spectacle into English (Verso 1990, reprinted 1998), Malcolm Imrie states:

The French edition of Comments has no footnotes, and it would have been inappropriate to add any to this translation. However, with the author's approval, I have included these brief notes on certain references and allusions that might otherwise remain unnecessarily obscure to English readers.

In August 2004, we found ourselves in strong disagreement with this assessment: footnotes would definitely have helped many readers to better understand Comments, in part because some of the historical events to which Debord refers or alludes aren't very known (have been suppressed, obscured or completely forgotten) in English-speaking countries; and in part because Debord himself "take[s] care not to instruct just anybody." In the absence of such explanations, Debord seemed paranoid (which he wasn't) and his references seemed figural (when they are in fact historical). And so we added 40 brand-new footnotes, while at the same time preserving those written by Imrie. On some occasions, when we found Imrie's notes to be incomplete, we added more information.

Unfortunately, we have had to intervene once again, but this time in the main body of the text. When we compared Imrie's translation to the French original (Gallimard, 1988), we discovered a wide variety of problems with the former: it was verbose and awkward, while the original was pointed and elegant; it was loaded with words that made the developments described therein seem certain, unequivocal and irreversible, while the original descriptions were marked by hesitancy, equivocality and reversibility; it refused to render into English certain key terms that the original used consistently and with an obvious sense of purpose (mediatic, spectaculaire and disparition, among them); and, worst of all, it was full of bad, questionable or even flat-out wrong renderings of Debord's carefully chosen words. Let us cite an example, which is just one example among dozens we could have cited.

Here's Imrie's translation of Debord's citation of a key passage from Thucydides:

Nevertheless the Assembly and the Council chosen by lot still continued to hold meetings. However, they took no decisions that were not approved by the party of the revolution; in fact all the speakers were from this party, and what they were going to say had been considered by the party beforehand. People were afraid when they saw their numbers, and no one now dared to speak in opposition to them. If anyone did venture to do so, some appropriate method was soon found for having him killed, and no one tried to investigate such crimes or take action against those suspected of them. Instead the people kept quiet, and were in such a state of terror that they thought themselves lucky enough to be left unmolested even if they had said nothing at all. They imagined that the revolutionary party was much bigger than it really was, and they lost all confidence in themselves, being unable to find out the facts because of the size of the city and because they had insufficient knowledge of each other. For the same reason it was impossible for anyone who felt himself ill-treated to complain of it to someone else so as to take measures in his own defense; he would either have had to speak to someone he did not know or to someone he knew but could not rely upon. Throughout the democratic party, people approached each other suspiciously, everyone thinking that the next man had something to do with what was going on. And there were in fact among the revolutionaries some people whom no one could ever have imagined would have joined in an oligarchy. It was these who were mainly responsible for making the general mass of people so mistrustful of each other and who were of the greatest help in keeping the minority safe, since they made mutual suspicion an established thing in the popular assemblies.

Our translation:

Those who took the floor were of the conspiracy and the speeches that they pronounced had been submitted in advance to the examination of their friends. No opposition manifested itself among the remainder of the citizens, who were frightened by the number of conspirators. When someone tried despite everything to contradict them, one soon found a convenient way of making him die. The murderers weren't found and no pursuit was made of those one suspected. The people didn't react and were so terrorized that they estimated themselves happy, even in remaining mute, if they escaped the violence. Believing the conspirators much more numerous that they were, the people felt completely impotent. The town was too large and they didn't quite know each other, so that it was not possible for them to discover what it really was. In these conditions, so shameful were the people that they could not confide their grief to anyone. Thus, one had to renounce engaging in an action against the guilty ones, because it would have been necessary to address oneself either to an unknown person or a person of knowledge in whom one didn't have confidence. In the democratic party, the personal relations were everywhere stamped with scorn, and one always asked oneself if he with whom one had business wasn't coniving with the conspirators. There were actually among the conspirators men whom one could never believe that they had rallied themselves to the oligarchy.
Note well: "the party of the revolution" is not even remotely similar to complot (conspiracy); nor is "the revolutionary party" similar to les conjures (the conspirators). Such distortions make the text seem to be describing Stalinist Russia, and not ancient Greece! Taken together, these flaws turned Debord's book into something that it wasn't. This is most unfortunate, because Comments on the Society of the Spectacle is the only book of theory we have from Debord's later period (he committed suicide in 1994) and because, unlike his 1967 The Society of the Spectacle, it has only been translated once and that translation has been accepted as valid by English-speaking readers all over the world.

Supposedly Debord approved Imrie's translation. But he should have known better: neither a political activist nor a professional translator, Imrie was a senior editor at Verso, the very press that published his translation. Today, Imrie's is a hustler: a partner in the London-based literary agency Imrie & Dervis.

Our translation is Debord's Comments on the Society of the Spectacle is not copyrighted, and can be reproduced by anyone, provided that we are credited for the work we have done. - NOT BORED! 17 August 2005



In memory of Gerard Lebovici, assassinated in Paris on 5 March 1984, in a trap that remains mysterious.[1]
"However critical the situation and circumstances in which you find yourself, despair of nothing; it is on the occasions in which everything is to be feared that it is necessary to fear nothing; it is when one is surrounded by all the dangers that it is not necessary to dread any; it is when one is without resources that it is necessary to count on all of them; it is when one is surprised that it is necessary to surprise the enemy himself." Sun Tzu, The Art of War. [2]


These comments are sure to be promptly known by fifty or sixty people; a large number given the times in which we live and the gravity of the matters under discussion. But then, of course, in some circles I am considered to be an authority. It must also be borne in mind that a good half of this elite that will be interested will consist of people who devote themselves to maintaining the spectacular system of domination, [3] and the other half of people who persist in doing quite the opposite. Having, then, to take account of readers who are both attentive and diversely influential, I obviously cannot speak with complete freedom. Above all, I must take care not to instruct just anybody.

The unhappiness of the times thus compels me, once again, to write in a new way. Some elements will be intentionally omitted; and the plan will have to remain rather unclear. Readers will encounter certain lures, like the very hallmark of the era. As long as other pages are interpolated here and there, the overall meaning may appear just as secret clauses have very often been added to whatever treaties may openly stipulate [4]; just as some chemical agents only reveal their hidden properties when they are combined with others. However, in this brief work there will be only too many things which are, alas, easy to understand.


In 1967, in a book entitled The Society of the Spectacle, I showed what the modern spectacle was already in essence: the autocratic reign of the market economy, which had acceded to an irresponsible sovereignty, and the totality of new techniques of government that accompanied this reign. The disturbances of 1968, which in several countries lasted into the following years, having nowhere overthrown the existing organization of the society from which it springs apparently spontaneously, the spectacle has thus continued to reinforce itself, that is, to spread to the furthest limits on all sides, while increasing its density in the center. It has even learned new defensive techniques, as powers under attack always do. When I began the critique of spectacular society, what was particularly noticed -- given the period -- was the revolutionary content that could be discovered in that critique; and it was naturally felt to be its most troublesome element. As to the spectacle itself, I was sometimes accused of having invented it out of thin air, and was always accused of indulging myself to excess in my evaluation of its depth and unity, and its real workings. I must admit that others who later published new books on the same subject demonstrated that it was quite possible to say less. All they had to do was to replace the totality and its movement by a single static detail on the surface of the phenomenon, with each author demonstrating his originality by choosing a different and all the less disturbing one. No one wanted to taint the scientific modesty of his personal interpretation by interposing reckless historical judgments.

Nonetheless, the society of the spectacle has continued to advance. It moves quickly for in 1967 it had barely forty years behind it, though it had used them to the full. And by its own development, which no one took the trouble to investigate, it has since shown with some astonishing achievements that it is effectively just what I said it was. Proving this point has more than academic value, because it is undoubtedly indispensable to have understood the spectacle's unity and articulation as an active force in order to examine the directions in which this force has since been able to travel. These questions are of great interest, for it is under such conditions that the next stage of the conflict in society will necessarily be played out. Since the spectacle today is certainly more powerful than it was before, what is it doing with this additional power? What point has it reached, that it had not reached previously? What, in short, are its present lines of advance? The vague feeling that there has been a rapid invasion which has forced people to lead their lives in an entirely different way is now widespread; but this is experienced rather like some inexplicable change in the climate, or in some other natural equilibrium, a change about which ignorance knows only that it has nothing to say. What is more, many see it as a civilizing invasion, as something inevitable, and even want to collaborate. Such people would rather not know the precise purpose of this conquest, and how it is advancing.

I am going to outline certain practical consequences, still little known, that result from the spectacle's rapid deployment over the last twenty years. I have no intention of entering into polemics on any aspect of this question; these are now too easy, and too useless. Nor will I try to convince. The present comments are not concerned with moralizing. They do not propose what is desirable, or merely preferable. They simply record what is.


No one today can reasonably doubt the existence or the power of the spectacle; on the contrary, one might doubt whether it is reasonable to add anything on a question which experience has already settled in such draconian fashion. Le Monde of 19 September 1987 offered a felicitous illustration of the saying, 'If it exists, there's no need to talk about it,' a fundamental law of these spectacular times which, at least in this respect, ensure there is no such thing as a backward country.

That modern society is a society of spectacle now goes without saying. It will soon be necessary to remark those who do nothing remarkable. One loses count of all the books describing a phenomenon which now characterizes all the industrialized nations yet equally spares none of the countries which have still to catch up. What is so droll, however, is that all the books which do analyze this phenomenon, usually to deplore it, must sacrifice themselves to the spectacle if they're to become known.

It is true that this spectacular critique of the spectacle, which is not only late but, even worse, seeks 'to make itself known' on the same level, inevitably sticks to vain generalities or hypocritical regrets; just as vain as the clowns who parade their disabused sagacity in newspapers.

The empty debate on the spectacle -- that is, on the activities of the world's owners -- is thus organized by the spectacle itself: everything is said about the extensive means at its disposal, to ensure that nothing is said about their extensive deployment. Rather than talk of the spectacle, people often prefer to use the term 'media.' And by this they mean to describe a mere instrument, a kind of public service which with impartial 'professionalism' would facilitate the new wealth of mass communication through mass media [English in original] -- a form of communication which has at last attained a unilateral purity, whereby decisions already taken are presented for peaceful admiration. For what is communicated are orders; and with great harmony, those who give them are also those who tell us what they think of them.

The power of the spectacle, which is so fundamentally unitary, a centralizer by the very weight of things, and entirely despotic in spirit, frequently rails at seeing the constitution under its rule of a politics-spectacle, a justice-spectacle, a medicine-spectacle and all the other similarly surprising examples of "mediatic excess." Thus the spectacle would be nothing other than the excesses of the mediatic,[5] whose nature, unquestionably good since it facilitates communication, is sometimes driven to extremes. Often enough society's bosses declare themselves ill-served by their media employees: more often they blame the plebian spectators for the common, almost bestial manner in which they indulge in mediatic pleasures. A virtually infinite number of supposed mediatic differences thus serve to dissimulate what is, on the contrary, the result of a spectacular convergence, pursued with remarkable tenacity. Just as the logic of the commodity reigns over capitalists' competing ambitions, or the logic of war always dominates the frequent modifications in weaponry, so the harsh logic of the spectacle controls the abundant diversity of mediatic extravagances.

In all that has happened in the last twenty years, the most important change lies in the very continuity of the spectacle. This has nothing to do with the perfecting of its mediatic instrumentation, which had already reached a highly advanced stage of development; it means quite simply that the spectacle's domination has succeeded in raising a whole generation molded to its laws. The extraordinary new conditions in which this entire generation has effectively lived constitute a precise and sufficient summary of all that, henceforth, the spectacle will forbid; and also all that it will permit.


On the theoretical level, I only need add a single detail to my earlier formulations, albeit one which has far-reaching consequences. In 1967 I distinguished two rival and successive forms of spectacular power, the concentrated and the diffuse. Both of them floated above real society, as its goal and its lie. The former, placing in the fore the ideology grouped around a dictatorial personality, had accompanied the totalitarian counter-revolution, Nazi as well as Stalinist. The latter, driving salaried workers to freely operate their choice upon the great variety of new commodities that confront them, had represented the Americanization of the world, a process which in some respects frightened but also successfully seduced those countries where it had been possible to maintain traditional forms of bourgeois democracy. Since then a third form has been established, through the rational combination of these two, and on the basis of a victory of the form which had showed itself stronger: the diffuse. This is the integrated spectacular,[6] which has since tended to impose itself globally.

Whereas Russia and Germany were largely responsible for the formation of the concentrated spectacular, and the United States for the diffuse form, the integrated spectacular seems to have been pioneered in France and Italy by the play of a series of shared historical features, namely, the important role of the Stalinist party and unions in political and intellectual life, a weak democratic tradition, the long monopoly of power enjoyed by a single party of government, and the necessity to eliminate an unexpected upsurge in revolutionary activity [since 1968].

The integrated spectacular shows itself to be simultaneously concentrated and diffuse, and ever since the fruitful union of the two has learned to employ both these qualities on a grander scale. Their former mode of application has changed considerably. As regards the concentrated side, the controlling center has now become occult, never to be occupied by a known leader, or clear ideology. And on the diffuse side, the spectacular influence has never before put its mark to such a degree on almost the totality of socially produced behavior and objects. For the final sense of the integrated spectacular is that it integrates itself into reality to the same extent that it speaks of it, and that it reconstructs it as it speaks. As a result, this reality no longer confronts the integrated spectacular as something alien. When the spectacular was concentrated, the greater part of peripheral society escaped it; when it was diffuse, a small part; today, no part. The spectacle is mixed into all reality and irradiates it. As one could easily foresee in theory, practical experience of the unbridled accomplishment of commodity rationality has quickly and without exception shown that the becoming-world of the falsification was also the falsification of the world. Beyond a still important heritage of old books and old buildings, but destined to continual reduction and, moreover, increasingly selected and put into perspective according to the spectacle's requirements, there remains nothing, in culture or in nature, which has not been transformed, and polluted, according to the means and interests of modern industry. Even genetics has become readily accessible to the dominant social forces.

The government of the spectacle, which now possesses all the means to falsify the whole of production and perception, is the absolute master of memories just as it is the unfettered master of projects that will shape the most distant future. It reigns unchecked; it executes its summary judgments.

It is in these conditions that a parodic end of the division of labor suddenly appears, with carnivalesque gaiety, all the more welcome because it coincides with the generalized disappearance of all true competence. A financier can be a singer, a lawyer a police spy, a baker can parade his literary tastes, an actor can be president, a chef can philosophize on the movements of baking as if they were landmarks in universal history. Each can join the spectacle, in order publicly to adopt, or sometimes secretly practice, an entirely different activity from whatever specialty first made their name. Where the possession of "mediatic status" has acquired infinitely more importance than the value of anything one might actually be capable of doing, it is normal for this status to be easily transferable and to confer the right to shine in the same fashion to anyone anywhere. Most often these accelerated media particles pursue their simple orbit of statutorily guaranteed admiration. But it happens that the mediatic transition provides the cover for many enterprises, officially independent but in fact secretly linked by various ad hoc networks. With the result that occasionally the social division of labor, along with the easily foreseeable solidarity of its use, reappears in quite new forms: for example, one can now publish a novel in order to arrange an assassination. Such picturesque examples also go to show that one should never trust someone because of their job.

But the highest ambition of the integrated spectacular is still that secret agents become revolutionaries, and that revolutionaries become secret agents.


The society modernized to the stage of the integrated spectacular is characterized by the combined effect of five principal features: incessant technological renewal; fusion of State and economy; generalized secrecy, forgeries without reply; a perpetual present.

The movement of technological innovation has a long history, and is a constituent of capitalist society, sometimes described as industrial or post-industrial. But since its most recent acceleration (in the aftermath of the Second World War) it has greatly reinforced spectacular authority, by completely surrendering everybody to the ensemble of specialists, to their calculations and their judgments, which always depend on their calculations. The fusion of State and economy is the most evident trend of the century; it has at the very least become the motor of the most recent economic development. The defensive and offensive pact concluded between these two powers, the economy and the State, has assured them of the greatest common advantages in every field: each may be said to own the other; it is absurd to oppose them, or to distinguish between their rationalities and irrationalities. This union has also proved to be extremely favorable to the development of spectacular domination, which, precisely, from its formation, hasn't been anything else. The other three features are direct effects of this domination, in its integrated stage.

Generalised secrecy stands behind the spectacle, as the decisive complement of all it displays and, in the last analysis, as its most important operation.

The simple fact of being without reply has given to the false an entirely new quality. At a stroke it is truth which has almost everywhere ceased to exist or, at best, has been reduced to the status of pure hypothesis that can never be demonstrated. The false without reply has succeeded in making public opinion disappear: first it found itself incapable of making itself heard and then very quickly dissolved altogether. This evidently has significant consequences for politics, the applied sciences, the justice system and artistic knowledge.

The construction of a present where fashion itself, from clothes to music, has come to a halt, which wants to forget the past and no longer seems to believe in a future, is achieved by the ceaseless circular passage of information, always returning to the same short list of trivialities, passionately proclaimed as major discoveries. Meanwhile news of what is genuinely important, of what is actually changing, comes rarely, and then in fits and starts. It always concerns this world's apparent condemnation of its own existence, the stages in its programmed self-destruction.


Spectacular domination's first priority was to make historical knowledge in general disappear; beginning with just about all rational information and commentary on the most recent past. The evidence for this is so glaring it hardly needs further explanation. With mastery the spectacle organizes ignorance of what is about to happen and, immediately afterwards, the forgetting of whatever has nonetheless been understood. The most important is the most hidden. Nothing in the last twenty years has been so thoroughly coated in obedient lies as the history of May 1968. Some useful lessons have been learned from certain demystifying studies of those days and their origins; these, however, are State secrets.

In France, it is a dozen years now since a president of the republic, long since forgotten but at the time still floating on the spectacle's surface, naively expressed his delight at "knowing that henceforth we will live in a world without memory, where images chase each other, like reflections on the water." Convenient indeed for those in business, and who know how to stay there. The end of history gives current-day power a pleasant break. Success is absolutely guaranteed in all of power's undertakings, or at least the rumor of success.

How drastically any absolute power will suppress history depends on the extent of its imperious interests or obligations, and especially on its practical capacity to execute its aims. Ts'in Che Hoang Ti had books burned, but he never managed to get rid of all of them. In our own century Stalin went further, yet despite the various accomplices he managed to find outside his empire's borders, there remained a vast area of the world beyond the reach of his police, where his impostures could be laughed at. The integrated spectacular has done much better with very new procedures and this time operates globally. Ineptitude compels universal respect; it is no longer permitted to laugh at it; in any case, it has become impossible to show that one is laughing.

History's domain was the memorable, the totality of events whose consequences would be lastingly apparent. Inseparably, history was knowledge that must endure and aid in understanding, at least in part, what was to come: "an everlasting possession," according to Thucydides. In this way history was the measure of genuine novelty; and those who sell novelty at any price have made the means of measuring it disappear. When the important makes itself socially recognized as what is instantaneous, and will still be the other and the same the instant afterwards, and will always replace another instantaneous importance, one can say that the means employed guarantee a sort of eternity of non-importance that speaks loudly.

The precious advantage that the spectacle has drawn from the outlawing of history, from having condemned the recent past to clandestinity, and from having made everyone forget the spirit of history within society, is above all the ability to cover its own history of the movement of its recent world conquest. Its power already seems familiar, as if it had always been there. All usurpers have wanted to make us forget that they have only just arrived.


With the destruction of history, contemporary events themselves retreat into a fabulous distance, among its unverifiable stories, uncheckable statistics, unlikely explanations and untenable reasoning. For every imbecile who has advanced spectacularly, there are only the mediatics who can respond with a few respectful rectifications or remonstrations, and they are miserly, for besides their extreme ignorance, their personal and professional solidarity with the spectacle's general authority and the society it expresses, makes it their duty, and their pleasure, never to diverge from that authority whose majesty must not be damaged. It must not be forgotten that all mediatics, through wages and other rewards and recompenses, has a master, and sometimes several; and that every one of them knows he is dispensable.

All experts are mediatics -- Statists -- and only in that way are they recognized as experts. Every expert follows his master, because all former possibilities for independence have almost been reduced to nil by present society's conditions of organization. The most useful expert, of course, is the one who lies. Those who need experts are, for different reasons, falsifiers and ignoramuses. Whenever individuals lose the capacity to see things for themselves, the expert is there to offer a formal reassurance. Once there were experts in Etruscan art, and competent ones, for Etruscan art was not for sale. But a period which, for example, finds it profitable to fake by chemical means various famous wines, can only sell them if it has created wine experts able to con connoisseurs into admiring their new, more recognizable flavors. [7] Cervantes remarks that "under a poor cloak you often find a good drinker." [8] Someone who knows his wine may often understand nothing about the rules of the nuclear industry, but spectacular domination calculates that if one expert can make a fool of him with nuclear industry, another can easily do the same with wine. And it is well known, for example, that experts in mediatic meteorology, forecasting temperature or rainfall for the next forty-eight hours, are severely limited in what they say by the obligation to maintain certain economic, touristic and regional balances, when so many people make so many journeys on so many roads, between so many equally desolate places; thus they can only try to make their names as entertainers.

One aspect of the disappearance of all objective historical knowledge manifests itself concerning any personal reputation, which has become malleable and correctable at will by those who control all information, those who collect it and also those -- an entirely different matter -- who diffuse it. Their license to falsify is thus unlimited. Historical evidence, of which, in the spectacle, one does not want to know, is no longer evidence. When the only fame is that bestowed as a favor by the grace of a spectacular Court, disgrace may instantaneously follow. An anti-spectacular notoriety is becoming something extremely rare. I myself am one of the last people to possess one, having never had any other. But it has also become extraordinarily suspect. Society has officially declared itself to be spectacular. To be known outside spectacular relations is already to be known as an enemy of society.

It is permitted to change a person's whole past, radically modify it, recreate it in the manner of the Moscow trials -- and without even having recourse to the clumsiness of a trial. One can kill at less cost.[9] Those who govern the integrated spectacular, or their friends, surely have no lack of false witnesses -- though they may be unskilled -- but what capacity to detect this clumsiness can remain among the spectators who will be witnesses to the exploits of the false witnesses or false documents, which are always highly effective? Thus it is no longer possible to believe anything about anyone that you have not learned for yourself, directly. But in fact false accusations are rarely necessary. Once one controls the mechanism that operates the only form of social verification to be fully and universally recognized, one can say what one likes. The movement of the spectacular demonstration proves itself simply by going round in circles: by coming back to the start, by repetition, by constant reaffirmation on the unique terrain where anything can be publicly affirmed, and be made believed, precisely because that is the only thing to which everyone is witness. Spectacular authority can similarly deny whatever it likes, once, or three times over, and say that it will no longer speak of it and speak of something else instead, knowing full well there is no danger of any other riposte, on its own terrain or any other.

For the agora, the general community, no longer exists, nor even communities restricted to intermediary bodies or to autonomous institutions, to salons or cafes, or to workers in a single company; no place where people can discuss the realities which concern them, because they can never lastingly free themselves from the crushing presence of mediatic discourse and of the various forces organized to relay it. Nothing remains of the guaranteed relatively independent judgment of those who once made up the world of learning; of those, for example, who used to base their pride on their ability to verify, to come close to what one called an impartial history of facts, or at least to believe that such a history deserved to be known. There is no longer even any incontestable bibliographical truth, and the computerized catalogues of national libraries are well-equipped to better suppress the traces. It is disorienting to consider what it meant to be a judge, a doctor or a historian not so long ago, and to recall the imperative obligations they often recognized, within the limits of their competence: men resemble their times more than their fathers. [10]

When the spectacle stops talking about something for three days, it is as if it did not exist. For it has then gone on to talk about something else, and it is that which henceforth, in short, exists. The practical consequences, as we see, are enormous.

We believe we know that in Greece, history and democracy appeared at the same time. We can prove that their disappearances have also been simultaneous.

To this list of the triumphs of power we should, however, add one result which has proven negative for it: a State, in which one has durably installed a great deficit of historical knowledge so as to manage it, can no longer be governed strategically.


Once it attains the stage of the integrated spectacular, self-proclaimed democratic society seems to be generally accepted as the realization of a fragile perfection. So that it must no longer be exposed to attacks, being fragile; and indeed is no longer attackable, being perfect, which no other society has been. It is a fragile society because it has great difficulty managing its dangerous technological expansion. But it is a perfect society to be governed; and the proof is that all those who aspire to govern want to govern this one, in the same way, maintaining it almost exactly as it is. For the first time in contemporary Europe, no party or fraction of a party even tries to pretend that they wish to change something important. The commodity can no longer be criticized by anyone: as a general system or even as the particular forms of junk which heads of industry choose to put on the market at any given time.

Wherever the spectacle rules, the only organized forces are those that want the spectacle. No one can any longer be the enemy of what exists, nor transgress the omerta that concerns everything. We have finished with that disturbing conception, which was dominant for over two hundred years, according to which society was criticizable or transformable, reformed or revolutionized. And this has not been obtained by the appearance of new arguments, but quite simply because all argument has become useless. From this result we can measure not universal happiness, but the redoubtable strength of the networks of tyranny.

Never has censorship been more perfect. Never has the opinion of those who are still led to believe, in several countries, that they remain free citizens, been less authorized to make themselves known, whenever it is a matter of choices affecting their real lives. Never has it been possible to lie to them with a perfect absence of consequences. The spectator is simply supposed to know nothing, and deserve nothing. Those who are always watching to see what happens next will never act: such must be the spectator's condition. People often cite the United States as an exception because there Nixon came to an end due to a series of denials whose clumsiness was too cynical: but this entirely local exception, for which there were some old historical causes, clearly no longer holds true, since Reagan has recently been able to do the same thing with impunity. All that is never sanctioned is veritably permitted. Talk of scandal is thus archaic. The most profound summing up of the period that the whole world entered shortly after Italy and the United States can be found in the words of a senior Italian statesman, a member, simultaneously, of both the official government and the parallel government called P2, Potere Due: "Once there were scandals, but not any more." [11]

In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx described the State's encroachment upon Second Empire France, then rich with half a million bureaucrats: "Everything became a subject for governmental activity, whether it was a bridge, a schoolhouse, the communal property of a village community, or the railways, the national property and the provincial universities." The famous question of the funding of political parties was already being posed, for Marx noted that, "The parties that struggled in turn for supremacy regarded the taking of possession of this immense State edifice as the main booty for the victor." Yet this may nonetheless sound somewhat bucolic and, as one says, surpassed, at a time when the State's speculations today concern new towns and highways, underground traffic and the production of electro-nuclear energy, oil drilling and computers, the administration of banks and socio-cultural centers, the modification of the 'audiovisual landscape' and secret arms exports, property speculation and the pharmaceutical industry, agribusiness and the management of hospitals, military credits and the secret funds of the ever-expanding departments charged with running society's numerous defense services. But Marx unfortunately remains all too up to date when in the same book he evokes this government, which "rather than deciding by night, and striking by day, decides by day and strikes by night."


This perfect democracy fabricates its own inconceivable enemy, terrorism. It wants, actually, to be judged by its enemies rather than by its results. The history of terrorism is written by the State and it is thus instructive. The spectating populations must certainly never know everything about terrorism, but they must always know enough to convince them that, compared with terrorism, everything else seems rather acceptable, in any case more rational and democratic.

The modernization of repression has succeeded in perfecting -- first in the Italian pilot-project under the name of pentiti [12] -- sworn professional accusers; a phenomenon first seen in the seventeenth century after the Fronde, when such people were called 'certified witnesses.' This spectacular progress of Justice has filled Italy's prisons with thousands of people condemned[13] to do penance for a civil war which did not take place, a kind of mass armed insurrection which, by chance, never actually happened, a putsch woven of such stuff as dreams are made of.

One can remark that interpretations of the mysteries of terrorism appear to have introduced a symmetry between contradictory views, as if there were two schools of philosophy professing absolutely incompatible metaphysical systems. Some would see terrorism as only several blatant manipulations by the secret services; others, on the contrary, estimate that it is only necessary to reproach the terrorists for their total lack of historical understanding. [14] The use of a little historical logic permits us to quite quickly conclude that there is nothing contradictory in recognizing that people who lack all historical sense can easily be manipulated; even more easily than others. It is much easier to lead someone to 'repent' when it can be shown that everything he thought he did freely was actually known in advance. It is an inevitable effect of clandestine forms of organization of the military type that it suffices to infiltrate a few people at certain points of the network to make many march and fall. Critique, when evaluating armed struggles, must sometimes analyze one of these particular operations without being led astray by the general resemblance that all will possibly share.[15] We should expect, as a logical possibility, that the State's security services intend to use all the advantages they find on the terrain of the spectacle, which has exactly been organized with that in mind for some time: on the contrary, it is the difficulty of glimpsing this which is astonishing, and does not ring true.

Judicial repression's current objective here, of course, is to generalize matters as fast as possible. What is important in this sort of commodity is the packaging, or the labeling: the price codes. One enemy of spectacular democracy is the same as another, just like spectacular democracies themselves. Thus there must be no more right of asylum for terrorists, and even those who have not yet been accused of being terrorists can certainly become so, with extradition being imposed. In November 1978, in the case of a young print worker, Gabor Winter, wanted by the West German government mainly for having drafted certain revolutionary leaflets, Mlle Nicole Pradain, representing the Department of Public Prosecution in the Appeal Court of Paris, quickly showed that the 'political motives' that could be the only grounds for refusing extradition under the Franco-German agreement of 29 November 1951, could not be invoked: "Gabor Winter is a social criminal, not a political one. He refuses social constraints. A true political criminal doesn't reject society. He attacks political structures and not, like Gabor Winter, social structures." The notion of acceptable political crime only became recognized in Europe once the bourgeoisie had successfully attacked previously established social structures. The nature of political crime could not be separated from the diverse intentions of social critique. This was true for Blanqui, Varlin, Durruti. Nowadays there is a pretense of wishing to preserve a purely political crime, like some inexpensive luxury, a crime which doubtless no one will ever have the occasion to commit, since no one is interested in the subject any more; except for the professional politicians themselves, whose crimes are rarely pursued, nor for that matter no longer called political. All crimes and offenses are effectively social. But of all social crimes, none must be seen as worse than the impertinent pretension to still want to change something in this society, which thinks that it has only been only too kind and patient, but which no longer wants to be blamed.


According to the basic interests of the new system of domination, the dissolution of logic has been pursued by different, but mutually supportive, means. Some of these means involve the technical instrumentation that has experienced and popularized the spectacle; but others are more linked to the mass psychology of submission.

At the technological level, when the image constructed and chosen by someone has become the individual's principal connection to the world he formerly observed for himself at each place that he could go, one certainly knows that the image supports everything; because within the same image anything can be juxtaposed without contradiction. The flow of images carries everything and it is similarly someone else who governs at will this simplified summary of the perceptible world; he who chooses where the flow will lead, and the rhythm of what should be shown, as a perpetual, arbitrary surprise, doesn't want to leave any time for reflection, and entirely independent of what the spectator might understand or think of it. In this concrete experience of permanent submission, one finds the psychological origin of the general adhesion to what is; an adhesion that the spectator recognizes ipso facto as a sufficient value. Beyond what is properly secret, spectacular discourse obviously silences anything it finds inconvenient. It isolates what it shows from its context, its past, the intentions and the consequences. It is thus completely illogical. Since no one can contradict it, the spectacle has the right to contradict itself, to correct its own past. The arrogant attitude of its servants, when they have to make known some new, and perhaps still more dishonest version of certain facts, is to harshly correct the ignorance and bad interpretations they attribute to their public, while the day before they themselves were busily disseminating the error, with their customary assurance. Thus the spectacle's instruction and the spectators' ignorance are wrongly seen as antagonistic factors when in fact they give birth to each other. In the same way, the computer's binary language is an irresistible inducement to the continual and unreserved acceptance of what has been programmed according to the wishes of someone else and passes for the timeless source of a superior, impartial and total logic. Such increased speed and a vocabulary to judge everything! Political? Social? You must choose. You cannot have both. My choice is inescapable. They are jeering at us, and we know whom these structures are for. [16] Thus it is not surprising that children should glibly start their education at an early age with the Absolute Knowledge of computer science; while they still do not know how to read, for reading demands making veritable judgments at every line; and is the only access to the vast areas of pre-spectacular human experience. Because conversation is almost dead, and soon so too will be many of those who knew how to speak.

On the level of the means of thought of contemporary populations, the primary cause of decadence clearly derives from the fact that all discourse shown in the spectacle leaves no place for response; and logic is only socially formed in dialogue. Furthermore, when respect for those who speak in the spectacle is so widespread, when they are supposed to be rich, important, prestigious, to be authority itself, the spectators tend to want to be just as illogical as the spectacle, so as to display an individual reflection of this authority. And finally, logic is not easy, and no one has desired to teach it to them. Drug addicts do not study logic, because they no longer need it, because they no longer have the possibility. The spectator's laziness is also that of any intellectual cadre or overnight specialist, who do their best to conceal the narrow limits of their knowledge by the dogmatic repetition of arguments with illogical authority.


It is generally believed that those who have displayed the greatest incapacity in matters of logic are precisely those who proclaim themselves revolutionaries. This unjustified reproach dates from an age when almost everyone thought with a minimum of logic, with the striking exception of cretins and militants; and in the case of the latter bad faith played its part, intentionally, because it was held to be effective. But today there is no escaping the fact that intense use of the spectacle has, as we should have expected, turned most of our contemporaries into ideologues, if only in fits and starts, bits and pieces. Absence of logic, that is to say, loss of the ability to perceive immediately what is important and what is insignificant or irrelevant, what is incompatible or, inversely, what could well be complementary; all that a particular consequence implies and at the same time all that it excludes -- high doses of this disease have been intentionally injected into the population by the spectacle's anaesthetists/resuscitators. Protesters have not been any more irrational than submissive people. It is simply that in the former one sees a more intense manifestation of the general irrationality, because while displaying their project, they have actually tried to carry out a practical operation -- even if it is only to read certain texts and show that they know what they mean. They have given themselves diverse obligations to dominate logic, even strategy, which is precisely the entire field of the deployment of the dialectical logic of conflicts; but, like everyone else, they are greatly deprived of the basic ability to orient themselves by the old, imperfect tools of formal logic. No one worries about them; and hardly anyone thinks about the others.

The individual who has been marked by impoverished spectacular thought more deeply than by any other aspect of his experience puts himself at the service of the established order right from the start, even though subjectively he may have had quite the opposite intention. He will essentially follow the language of the spectacle, for it is the only one he is familiar with; the one in which he learned to speak. No doubt he would like to show himself as an enemy of its rhetoric; but he will use its syntax. This is one of the most important aspects of the success obtained by spectacular domination.

The swift disappearance of our former vocabulary is merely one moment in this operation. It serves it.


The erasure of the personality is the fatal accompaniment to the conditions of existence that is concretely submissive to spectacular norms, and thus more separated from the possibilities of knowing experiences that are authentic and thus from the discovery of individual preferences. Paradoxically, the individual must permanently repudiate them if he wants to be respected a little in such a society. This existence postulates a fluid fidelity, a succession of continually disappointing commitments to false products. It is a matter of running quickly behind the inflation of devalued signs of life. Drugs help one to conform to this organization of things; madness allows one to flee it.

In all sorts of affairs in this society, where the distribution of goods is centralized in such a way that it becomes master -- both notoriously and secretly -- of the very definition of what could be the good, it happens that certain people are attributed with qualities, knowledge or even vices, all perfectly imaginary, in order to explain in such cases the satisfactory development of particular enterprises; and this with the only aim of hiding, or at least dissimulating as much as possible, the function of various agreements that decide everything.

Nevertheless, despite its frequent intentions and its clumsy means to highlight the full stature of supposedly remarkable personalities, current society more often shows quite the opposite, and not merely in what has today replaced the arts, or discussion of the arts: one total incompetent will collide with another; panic ensues and it is then simply a matter of who will fall apart first. A lawyer, for example, forgetting that he is supposed to represent one side in a trial, will be sincerely influenced by the arguments of his opposite number, even when these arguments are as lacking in rigor as his own. It can also happen that an innocent suspect temporarily confesses to a crime he did not commit, simply because he is impressed by the logic of the hypothesis of an informer who wanted him to believe he was guilty (see the case of Dr. Archambeau in Poitiers, in 1984). [17]

McLuhan himself, the spectacle's first apologist, who had seemed to be the most convinced imbecile of the century, changed his mind when he finally discovered in 1976 that "the pressure of the mass media leads to irrationality," and that it was becoming urgent to modify their usage. The thinker of Toronto had formerly spent several decades marveling at the numerous freedoms created by a 'global village' instantly and effortlessly accessible to all. Villages, unlike towns, have always been dominated by conformism, isolation, petty surveillance, boredom and repetitive malicious gossip about the same families. And this also presents the vulgarity of this spectacular planet, where it is no longer possible to distinguish the Grimaldi-Monaco or Bourbon-Franco dynasties from those who succeeded the Stuarts. However, McLuhan's ungrateful disciples are now trying to make people forget him, so as to rejuvenate his early works and, in their turn, develop a career in mediatic eulogy for all these new freedoms to 'choose' at random from ephemera. And probably they will retract their claims even faster than the man who inspired them.


The spectacle doesn't hide the fact that certain dangers surround the marvelous order it has established. Ocean pollution and the destruction of equatorial forests threaten the Earth's oxygen renewal; its ozone layer is menaced by industrial growth; radiation of nuclear origin accumulates irreversibly. The spectacle merely concludes that none of these things matter. It only wants to talk about dates and doses. And on these alone, it succedes at reassuring -- something which a pre-spectacular mind would have thought impossible.

The methods of spectacular democracy are of great subtlety, contrary to the brutality of the totalitarian diktat. It can keep the original name when the thing has been secretly changed (beer, beef or philosophers). And it can just as easily change the name when the thing itself has been secretly continued. In England, for example, the nuclear waste reprocessing plant at Windscale was renamed Sellafield in order to better allay suspicions, after a disastrous fire in 1957, but this toponymic reprocessing did nothing to prevent the rise in local mortality rates from cancer and leukemia. The British government, as the population democratically learned thirty years later, had decided to suppress a report on the catastrophe which it judged, not without reason, would probably shake public confidence in nuclear power.

Nuclear practices, both military and civil, necessitate a far higher dose of secrecy than in other fields -- which already have plenty, as we already know. To make life -- that is to say, lying -- easier for the sages chosen by the system's masters, it has discovered the utility of changing measurements, to vary them according to a large number of points of view, and refine them, finally juggle them, according to the case, with several figures that are hard to convert. Hence, to measure radioactivity levels, one can choose from a range of units of measurement: curies, becquerels, roentgens, rads alias centigrays, and rems, not forgetting the humble millirads, and sieverts which are worth 100 rems. [18] This evokes the memory of the subdivisions of British currency, the complexity of which foreigners could not quickly master, back in the days when Sellafield was still called Windscale.

One can imagine the rigor and precision which would have been achieved in the nineteenth century by military history, and consequently by theorists of strategy, if, so as not to give too much confidential information to neutral commentators or enemy historians, one habitually reported a campaign in these terms:

"The preliminary phase involved a series of engagements in which, from our side, a strong advance force made up of four generals and the units under their command, met an enemy force of 13,000 bayonets. In the subsequent phase, a fiercely disputed pitched battle developed, in which our entire army advanced, with 290 canons and a heavy cavalry of 18,000 sabers; the confronting enemy alignment comprised no less than 3,600 infantry lieutenants, 40 captains of hussars and 24 of cuirassiers. Following alternate failures and successes on both sides, the battle can finally be considered inconclusive. Our losses, somewhat lower than the average figure one habitually cerified in combats of comparable duration and intensity, were perceptibly superior to those of the Greeks at Marathon, but remained inferior to those of the Prussians at Jena."

After this example, it is not impossible for a specialist to gather some vague idea of the forces engaged. But the conduct of operations is assured of remaining below all judgment.

In June 1987, Pierre Bacher, deputy director of installations at Electricite de France, revealed the latest safety doctrine for nuclear power stations. By installing valves and filters, it becomes much easier to avoid major catastrophes, like cracks or explosions in the reactors, which would affect the entirety of a 'region.' Such catastrophes are produced by excessive containment. Whenever the machine looks like its going to blow, it is better to decompress gently, showering only a restricted area of a few kilometers, an area which on each occasion will be differently and haphazardly extended depending on the wind. He discloses that in the past two years, discreet experiments carried out at Cadarache, in the Drome, "have concretely showed that the rejected matter -- waste gas essentially -- doesn't surpass several units per thousand, at worst one per cent of the radioactivity in the power station itself." Thus a very moderate worst case: one per cent. Formerly, we were assured there was no risk at all, except in the case of accidents, which were logically impossible. The experience of the first few years changed this reasoning as follows: since accidents are always possible, what must be avoided is their reaching a catastrophic threshold, and that is easy. All that is necessary is to contaminate little by little, in moderation. Who would not agree that it is infinitely healthier to limit yourself to an intake of 140 centilitres of vodka per day for several years, rather than getting drunk right away like the Poles?

It is indeed a shame that human society should encounter such burning problems just when it has become materially impossible to make heard the least objection to commodity discourse, just when domination -- quite rightly because it is shielded by the spectacle from any response to its fragmentary and delirious decisions and justifications -- believes that it no longer needs to think; and truly no longer knows how to think. Would not even the democrat have preferred to have chosen more intelligent masters?

At the international conference of experts held in Geneva in December 1986, the question was quite simply whether to introduce a worldwide ban on the production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the gases which have recently and rapidly made disappear the thin layer of ozone that protects this planet -- one will remember -- from the harmful effects of solar rays. Daniel Verilhe, representing Elf-Aquitaine's chemicals subsidiary, and in this capacity part of a French delegation firmly opposed to this ban, made a sensible point: 'it will take at least three years to develop substitutes and the costs will be quadrupled.' As we know, this fugitive ozone layer, so high up, belongs to no one and has no market value. This industrial strategist could thus show his opponents the extent of their inexplicable disregard for economics by an appeal to reality: "It is highly dangerous to base an industrial strategy on environmental imperatives."

Those who long ago began the critique of political economy by defining it as "the final denial of humanity" were not deceived. [19] One still recognizes this trait in it.


It is sometimes said that science today is subservient to the imperatives of economic profitability, but that has always been true. What is new is that the economy has now come to openly make war on human beings, not only on our possibilities for life, but also those of survival. Against a great part of its own anti-slavery past, scientific thought has chosen to serve spectacular domination. Until it got to this point, science possessed a relative autonomy. It thus knew how to understand its own portion of reality and thus it made an immense contribution to increasing the means of the economy. When the all-powerful economy became mad -- and these spectacular times are nothing other than that -- it suppressed the last traces of scientific autonomy, both in methodology and, by the same token, in the practical conditions of activity of its 'researchers.' No longer is science asked to understand the world, or to improve any part of it. It is asked to instantaneously justify everything that happens. As stupid in this field, which it exploits with the most ruinous thoughtlessness, as it is everywhere else, spectacular domination has cut down the gigantic tree of scientific knowledge in order to make itself a truncheon. So as to obey this ultimate social demand for a manifestly impossible justification, it is better not to be able to think too much, but rather, on the contrary, to be well trained in the comforts of spectacular discourse. And it is actually in this career that the prostituted science of these despicable times has, with much good will, deftly found its most recent specialization.

The science of lying justifications naturally appeared with the first symptoms of bourgeois society's decadence, with the cancerous proliferation of the pseudo-sciences called 'human'; yet modern medicine, for example, had once been able to pass for useful, and those who eradicated smallpox or leprosy were other than those who basely capitulated in the face of nuclear radiation or chemical farming. One quickly remarks that medicine today, of course, no longer has the right to defend the health of the population against a pathogenic environment, for that would be to oppose the State, or at least the pharmaceuticals industry.

But it is not only by what it is obliged to keep quiet that current-day scientific activity avows what it has become. It is also by what it has the simplicity to say very often. In November 1985, professors Even and Andrieu at Laennec hospital announced that they had perhaps found an effective cure for AIDS, following an experiment on four patients which had lasted a week. Two days later, the patients having died, several other doctors, less advanced or perhaps jealous, expressed several reservations as to the professors' precipitate haste in registering what was only the misleading appearance of victory -- a few hours before the collapse. Even and Andrieu defended themselves nonchalantly, affirming that "after all, false hopes are better than no hope at all." Their ignorance was too great for them to recognize this argument was a complete denial of the spirit of science and had historically always served to cover up the profitable daydreams of charlatans and sorcerers, long before such people were put in charge of hospitals.

When official science has come to such a pass, like all the rest of the social spectacle that, beneath its materially modernized and enhanced presentation, has only revived the ancient techniques of fairground mountebanks -- illusionists, barkers and stool-pigeons [20] -- it is not surprising to see which great authority takes up Magi and sects, vacuum-packed Zen or Mormon theology. Ignorance, which has served the established authorities well, has also always been exploited by ingenious ventures on the fringes of the law. And what better moment than one where illiteracy has become so widespread? But this reality in its turn is denied by another display of sorcery. From its inception, UNESCO had adopted a very precise scientific definition of the illiteracy that it strove to combat in backward countries. When the same phenomenon was unexpectedly seen to be returning, but this time in the so-called advanced nations, rather in the way that the one who was waiting for Grouchy instead saw Blucher join the battle [21], it sufficed to bring on the Guard of experts; they carried the day with a single, irresistable assault, replacing the term illiteracy [analphabetisme] by illettrisme [unlettered-ism]: just as a 'false patriot' can opportunely appear to support a good national cause. And to ensure that the pertinence of this neologism was, among pedagogues, carved in stone, a new definition was quickly passed -- as if it had always been accepted -- according to which, while the illiterate was, one knew, someone who had never learned to read, the unlettered in the modern sense is, on the contrary, someone who had learned to read (and had even learned better than before, the more gifted official theorists and historians of pedagogy coolly testified), but who had by chance immediately forgotten. This surprising explanation might have risked being more disturbing than reassuring, if, by ignoring the fact that it was deliberately missing the point, it didn't have the cleverness to avoid the first consequence that would have come to anyone's mind in more scientific eras: the recognition that this new phenomenon merited being explained and combated, since it had never been observed, nor even imagined, anywhere, before the recent progress of damaged thought, where explanatory and practical decadence go hand in hand.


More than a century ago, A.-L. Sardou's New Dictionary of French Synonyms defined the nuances which must be grasped between fallacious, deceptive, impostrous, seductive, insidious, captious; and which taken together constitute today a kind of palette of colors with which to paint a portrait of the society of the spectacle. It was beyond the scope of his time, and his experience as a specialist, for Sardou to distinguish with equal clarity the related, but very different, perils normally expected to be faced by any group devoted to subversion, following, for example, this progression: misled, provoked, infiltrated, manipulated, usurped, inverted. These important nuances have never appeared to the doctrinaires of 'armed struggle.' [22]

Fallacious [fallacieux], from the Latin fallaciosus, skillful at or accustomed to deception, full of deceit: the termination of this adjective is equivalent to the superlative of deceptive [trompeur]. That which deceives or leads into error in any way is deceptive: that which is done in order to deceive, abuse, throw into error by a design intended to deceive with artifice and imposed display most fitting to abuse, is fallacious. Deceptive is a generic and vague word; all the genres of signs and uncertain appearances are deceptive: fallacious designates falsity, deceit, studied imposture; sophistic speech, protests or reasoning are fallacious. The word has affinities with impostrous [imposteur], seductive [seducteur], insidious [insidieux] and captious [captieux], but without equivalence. Impostrous designates all forms of false appearances, or conspiracies to abuse or injure; for example, hypocrisy, calumny, etc. Seductive expresses action calculated to take hold of someone, to lead them astray by artful and insinuating means. Insidious only indicates the act of artfully laying traps and making people fall into them. Captious is restricted to the subtle act of surprising someone and making him fall into error. Fallacious encompasses most of these characters.


The relatively new concept of disinformation was recently imported from Russia, along with many other inventions useful in the management of modern states. It is always openly employed by a power, or, consequently, by the people who hold a fragment of economic or political authority, in order to maintain what is established; and always in a counter-offensive role. Whatever can oppose a single official truth must necessarily be disinformation emanating from hostile or at least rival powers, and must have been intentionally falsified by malevolence. Disinformation would not be simple negation of a fact which suits the authorities, or the simple affirmation of a fact which does not suit them: that is called psychosis. Unlike the pure lie, disinformation -- and here is why the concept is interesting to the defenders of the dominant society -- must inevitably contain a degree of truth but deliberately manipulated by a skillful enemy. The power that speaks of disinformation does not believe itself to be absolutely faultless, but knows that it can attribute to any precise criticism the excessive insignificance which is in the nature of disinformation, and of the sort that it will never have to admit to a particular fault.

In short, disinformation would be the bad usage of the truth. Whoever issued it is culpable, whoever believes it is stupid. But who precisely would this artful enemy be? In this case, it cannot be terrorism, which is in no danger of 'disinforming' anyone, since it is charged with ontologically representing the grossest and least acceptable error. Thanks to its etymology and to contemporary memories of those limited confrontations which, around mid-century, briefly opposed East and West, concentrated spectacular and diffuse spectacular, today the capitalism of the integrated spectacular still pretends to believe that the capitalism of totalitarian bureaucracy -- sometimes even presented as the terrorists' base camp or inspiration -- remains its fundamental enemy, just as the other would say the same thing about it, despite the innumerable proofs of their alliance and profound solidarity. In fact, all the established powers, despite several genuine local rivalries, and without ever wanting to spell it out, continually remember what one of the rare German internationalists after the outbreak of the war of 1914 managed to recall from the side of subversion and without great immediate success: "The principal enemy is in our country." In the end, disinformation is the equivalent of what was represented in the discourse of social war in the nineteenth-century as 'dangerous passions.' It is all that is obscure and threatens to oppose the unprecedented happiness that this society offers to those who trust it, a happiness that is worth more than various insignificant risks and disappointments. And all those who see this happiness in the spectacle agree that one should not haggle over the price; everyone else is a disinformer.

The other advantage derived from denouncing a particular instance of disinformation by explaining it in this way is that there is no suspicion that the global discourse of the spectacle might contain the same thing, since it can designate, with the most scientific assurance, the terrain where one recognizes the only disinformation: all that can be said and that will displease it.

It is doubtless by mistake -- if it isn't a deliberate decoy -- that a project was recently set in motion in France to officially place a label on mediatics 'guaranteed free of disinformation': this wounded certain professionals of the media, who still like to believe, or more modestly would like it to be believed, that until now they had not actually been censored. But the concept of disinformation must obviously not be used defensively, still less in a static defense, strengthening a Great Wall or a Maginot Line, that must absolutely cover a space from which disinformation is supposedly prohibited. There must be disinformation, and it must be something fluid and potentially ubiquitous. Where spectacular discourse is not under attack, it would be stupid to defend it; and the concept would wear out extremely fast if one were to try to defend it against all the evidence on points which ought on the contrary to be kept from mobilizing public opinion. Moreover the authorities have no real need to guarantee that any particular information does not contain disinformation. And they do not have the means to do so: they are not respected to that extent, and would only draw suspicion on the information concerned. The concept of disinformation is only good for counter-attack. It must be kept in reserve, then instantaneously thrown into the fray to drive back any truth which has managed to arise.

If sometimes a kind of disorderly disinformation threatens to appear, in the service of particular interests temporarily in conflict, and threatens to be believed, becoming uncontrollable and thus opposing itself to the concerted work of a less irresponsible disinformation, there is no reason to fear that in this one finds other manipulators who are more expert or more skilled: it is simply because disinformation now deploys itself in a world where there is no longer room for any verification.

The confusionist concept of disinformation is pushed into the limelight instantaneously to refute, by the very noise of its name, all critique that has not been sufficiently made to disappear by the diverse agencies of the organization of silence. For example, it could one day be said, should this appear desirable, that this text is a disinformation campaign against the spectacle; or indeed, since it is the same thing, a piece of disinformation harmful to democracy.

Contrary to what is affirmed by its inverted spectacular concept, the practice of disinformation can only serve the State here and now, under its direct command, or at the initiative of those who defend the same values. In fact, disinformation resides in all existing information and as its principal characteristic. It is only named where passivity must be maintained by intimidation. Where disinformation is named it does not exist. Where it exists, it is not named.

When there were still conflicting ideologies, which claimed to be for or against some recognized aspect of reality, there were fanatics, and liars, but there were no 'disinformers.'

When it is no longer permitted, out of respect for spectacular consensus, or at least for a wish for spectacular glory, to say truly what someone is against, or equally what one wholeheartedly approves; and when one often meets the obligation to dissimulate a side of what one is supposed to admit that one nevertheless finds to be dangerous for some reason; then one practices disinformation, as if by thoughtlessness or forgetfulness or by allegedly false reasoning. And, by example, on the terrain of contestation after 1968, the incapable recuperators who were called 'pro-situs' were the first disinformers, because they dissimulated as much as possible the practical manifestations through which the critique that they flattered themselves to have adopted were confirmed: and, not embarassed by weakening the expression of this critique, they never referred to anything or anyone, in order to suggest that they themselves had actually discovered something.


Reversing a famous maxim of Hegel, I already noted in 1967 that "in a world really inverted, the truth is a moment of the false." The years since then have shown the progress of this principle in each specific domain, without exception.

Thus, in an era when contemporary art can no longer exist, it becomes difficult to judge the classical arts. Here as elsewhere, ignorance is only produced in order to be exploited. At the same time the meaning of history and taste are lost, one organizes networks of falsification. It suffices to hold onto the experts and appraisers, which is easy enough, to get things to go through, since in affairs of this kind, as in the others, it is the sale which authenticates all value. Afterwards, it is the collectors and museums, particularly in America, which, gorged on falsehood, will have an interest in upholding its good reputation, just as the International Monetary Fund maintains the fiction of a positive value in the huge debts of a hundred nations.

The false form of taste, and support of the false, deliberately make the possibility of reference to the authentic disappear. One even remakes the true as soon as possible to resemble the false. Being the richest and the most modern, the Americans have been the principal dupes of this commerce of the false in art. And they are exactly the same people who pay for restoration work at Versailles or in the Sistine Chapel. This is why Michelangelo's frescoes will acquire the bright colors of a cartoon strip, and the authentic furniture at Versailles acquire the brilliant quickness of gilt that will make them resemble the fake Louis XIV suites imported by Texans at such great expense.

Feuerbach's judgment on the fact that his time preferred "the image to the thing, the copy to the original, represenation to reality," has been entirely confirmed by the century of the spectacle, and in several domains where the nineteenth century preferred to keep its distance from what was already its fundamental nature: industrial capitalist production. Thus it was that the bourgeoisie had widely spread the rigorous spirit of the museum, the original object, precise historical criticism, the authentic document. But today, the artificial tends to replace the true everywhere. At this point, it is fortuitous that pollution due to automobile traffic has necessitated the replacement of the Marly Horses in place de la Concorde, or the Roman statues in the doorway of Saint-Trophime in Arles, by plastic replicas. In short, everything will be more beautiful than before, so as to be photographed by tourists.

The highest point has without doubt been reached by the Chinese bureaucracy's laughable fake of the great statues of the industrial army of the First Emperor, which so many visiting statesmen have been taken to admire in situ. Since one could mock them so cruelly, this thus proves that in all the masses of their advisors, there was not a single individual who knew the history of art, in China or anywhere else. One knows that their instructions were quite different: 'Your Excellency's computers have not been informed.' This confirmation that, for the first time, it is possible to govern without any artistic knowledge, nor any sense of the authentic or the impossible, could alone suffice to make us conjecture that the naive dupes of the economy and the administration will probably lead the world to some great catastrophe; if their actual practice had not already demonstrated that fact.


Our society is built on the secret, from the 'screen companies' that shelter from all light the concentrated wealth of their members, to the 'defense secrets' that today cover an immense domain of full extra-judicial liberty of the State; from the often frightening secrets of shoddy production, which are hidden by advertising, to the projections of variants in an extrapolated future, in which domination alone reads the most probable routes of things that it affirms have no existence, calculating the responses it will mysteriously make. One can make several observations.

There are always more places, in the great cities as in the spaces reserved in countryside, which remain inaccessible, that is to say, guarded and protected from all gazes; which are out of bounds to innocent curiousity, and well-guarded against espionage. Without all being properly military, they are on this model placed beyond all risk of inspection by passers-by and inhabitants; or even by the police, whose functions have long been reduced to surveillance and repression of the most commonplace forms of delinquency. And it was thus in Italy, when Aldo Moro was a prisoner of Potere Due [23], he was not held in a building more or less unfindable, but simply impenetrable.

There is always a large number of men trained to act in secret; instructed and practiced only for that. There are special detachments armed with confidential archives, that is to say, with secret data and analysis. And others armed with diverse techniques for the exploitation and manipulation of these secret affairs. Finally, when it is a question of their 'action' branches, they can equally be equipped with other means to simplify the problems studied.

While the means attributed to these men specialized in surveillance and influence continue to increase, they also encounter general circumstances that favor them more each year. When, for example, the new conditions of the society of the integrated spectacular have forced its critique to remain really clandestine, not because it hides itself but because it is hidden by the heavy stage-management of the thought of diversion, those who are nonetheless charged with surveilling this critique and, if necessary, for denying it, can now employ traditional methods in the milieu of clandestinity: provocation, infiltrations, and various forms of elimination of authentic critique to the profit of a false one which will have been put in place for this purpose. [24] When the general imposture of the spectacle is enriched with the possibility of recourse to a thousand individual impostures, uncertainty grows at every turn. An unexplained crime can also be called suicide [25], in prison as elsewhere; the dissolution of logic allows inquiries and trials that soar vertically into irrationality, and which are frequently false, right from the start, through absurd autopsies, performed by singular experts. [26]

One has long been accustomed to seeing summary executions of all kinds of people. Known terrorists, or those considered as such, are openly fought in a terrorist manner. Mossad can kill Abou Jihad[27] from afar, the English SAS can do the same with Irish people, [28] and the parallel police of GAL with Basques. [29] Those whose killings are arranged by supposed terrorists are not chosen without reason; but it is generally impossible to be sure of knowing these reasons. One can know that the Bologna railway station was blown up to ensure that Italy continued to be well governed [30]; and what the 'death squads' in Brazil are; and that the Mafia can burn down a hotel in the United States to facilitate a racket [English in original]. But how can we know what purpose was ultimately served by the 'mad killers of Brabant'? [31] It is hard to apply the principle Cui prodest?[32] in a world where so many active interests are so well hidden. The result is that, under the integrated spectacular, we live and die at the confluence of a very great number of mysteries.

Media/police rumors instantly, or at worst after three or four repetitions, acquire the unquestionable weight of secular historical proofs. According to the legendary authority of the spectacle of the day, strange characters eliminated in silence can reappear as fictive survivors, whose return can always be evoked or calculated, and proved by the mere say-so of specialists. They are somewhere between the Acheron and the Lethe, these dead people whom the spectacle has not properly buried[33], supposedly slumbering while awaiting the summons which will awake them all: the terrorist once again come down from the hills, the pirate from the sea; and the thief who no longer needs to steal.[34]

Thus is uncertainty organized everywhere. The protection of domination very often procedes by false attacks, of which the mediatic treatment will lose from view the true operation: such was the case with the bizarre assault by Tejero and his civil guards on the Cortes in 1981, whose failure hid another more modern, that is to say, more disguised pronunciamiento, which succeeded.[35] Equally showy, the failure of the French secret services' sabotage attempt in New Zealand in 1985 has sometimes been seen as a stratagem, perhaps designed to divert attention from the numerous new uses of these services, by making people believe in their caricatural clumsiness both in their choice of target and in their modalities of operation. [36] And more assuredly, it has been almost universally accepted that the geological explorations for oil-beds in the subsoil of the city of Paris, so noisily conducted in the autumn of 1986, had no other serious purpose than to measure the inhabitants' current level of stupefaction and submission: by showing them supposed research so absolutely contradicted on the economic level.

Power is becoming so mysterious that after the affair of the illegal arms sales to Iran by the US presidency [36], one might wonder who was really commanding the United States, the strongest power in the so-called democratic world. And which devil could thus command the democratic world?

More profoundly, in this world which is officially so full of respect for economic necessities, no one ever knows the real cost of anything which is produced: actually, the most important part of the real cost is never calculated; and the rest is kept secret.


At the beginning of 1988, General Noriega suddenly became known world-wide. He was the unofficial dictator of Panama, a country without an army, where he commanded the National Guard. Panama is not really a sovereign state: it was dug out for its canal, rather than the reverse. Its currency is the dollar, and the true army which is stationed there is similarly foreign. Noriega had thus devoted his entire career -- precisely like that of [General] Jaruzelski in Poland -- to serving the occupying power as its chief of police. He imported drugs into the United States, since Panama was not bringing him sufficient revenue, and exported his 'Panamanian' capital to Switzerland. He had worked with the CIA against Cuba and, to provide adequate cover for his economic activities, had also denounced some of his rivals in the import trade to the US authorities, obsessed as they are with this problem. To the jealousy of Washington, his chief security advisor was the best on the market: Michael Harari, a former officer with Mossad, the Israeli secret service. When the Americans finally decided to get rid of this person [Noriega], some of their courts having imprudently condemned him, Noriega declared that he was ready to defend himself for a thousand years, for Panamanian patriotism and, at the same time, against his own people in revolt and foreigners; in the name of anti-imperialism, he quickly received public approval from the more austere bureaucratic dictators in Cuba and Nicaragua.

Far from being a peculiarly Panamanian strangeness, this General Noriega, who sells and simulates everything, in a world which everywhere does the same thing, was altogether a perfect representative of the integrated spectacular, and of the successes that it allows the most varied managers of its internal and international politics: a sort of man of a sort of state, a sort of general, a capitalist. He is the very model of the prince of our times[38] and, of those destined to come to power and remain there, the most able to resemble him closely. It is not Panama which produces such marvels, it is our era.


For any intelligence service [service de renseignements], on this point in accord with the exact Clausewitzian theory of war, knowledge must become power. From this these services draw their prestige, their species of special poetry. Whilst intelligence [intelligence] has been absolutely chased from the spectacle, which does not permit action and does not say much of the truth about the actions of others, it almost seems to have taken refuge among those who analyze and secretly act on realities. The recent revelations that Margaret Thatcher had done everything to suppress, but in vain, and authenticated by the attempt, have shown that in Britain these services have already been capable of bringing down a minister whom they judged politically dangerous. [39] The general scorn aroused by the spectacle thus, for new reasons, restored the attraction of what in Kipling's day was called 'the great game.'

'The police conception of history' was, in the nineteenth century, a reactionary and ridiculous explanation, at a time when so many powerful social movements agitated the masses. Today's pseudo-opponents are well aware of this, thanks to hearsay or some books, and believe that this conclusion remains true for eternity; they never want to see the real praxis of their time; because it is too sad for their cold hopes. The State isn't ignorant of this, and plays on it.

At the moment when almost every aspect of international political life and a growing number of those aspects that count in internal politics are conducted and displayed in the style of the secret services, with decoys, disinformation and double explanations (one might conceal another, or may only seem to), the spectacle confines itself to making known a wearisome world of obligatory incomprehensibility, a boring series of lifeless, inconclusive crime novels. It is true that the realistic direction of a fight between negroes, at night, in a tunnel, must pass for a sufficiently dramatic motive.

Imbecility believes that all is clear when television has shown a beautiful image and commented on it with a brazen lie. The demi-elite is content to know that almost everything is obscure, ambivalent, 'mounted' by unknown codes. A more exclusive elite would like to know the true, hard as it is to distinguish in each singular case, despite all the reserved information and confidences of which it can dispose. This is why this elite would love to know the method of truth, though their love usually remains unlucky.


The secret dominates this world, and first and foremost as the secret of domination. According to the spectacle, the secret would only be a necessary exception to the rule of abundant information offered on the entire surface of society, just as domination in the 'free world' of the integrated spectacular would be restricted to only an executive department in the service of democracy. But no one really believes the spectacle. How then do the spectators accept the existence of the secret that alone guarantees that they cannot manage a world, the principal realities of which they know nothing about, if one were to truly ask them for their opinions on the manner of managing it? It is a fact that the secret doesn't appear to hardly anyone in its inaccessible purity and its functional universality. Everyone accepts that there is inevitably a small zone of secrecy reserved for specialists; as for the generality of things, many believe that they are in on the secret.

In the Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, La Boetie showed how the power of a tyrant must encounter many supports among the concentric circles of individuals who find, or believe to find, their advantage in it. Likewise, many politicians and mediatics who are flattered that no one can suspect them of being irresponsible, know many things through their connections and confidences. Someone who is happy to be taken into confidence is hardly likely to criticize it; nor to remark that in all the confidences, the principal part of reality will always be hidden from him. Thanks to the benevolent protection of the cheaters, he knows a few more of the cards, but they can be false; and he never knows the method that directs and explains the game. Thus he immediately identifies himself with the manipulators and scorns the ignorance which in fact he shares. Because the scraps of information offered to the familiars of a lying tyranny are normally infected with lies, manipulated and uncheckable. [40] They are, however, pleased to get these scraps, for they feel themselves superior to those who know nothing. They only know better than the rest so as to better approve of domination and never to actually comprehend it. They constitute the privilege of first-class spectators: those who have the stupidity to believe they can understand something, not by making use of what is hidden from them, but by believing what is revealed to them!

Domination is at least lucid in that it expects that its free and unhindered management will very shortly lead to a quite large number of major catastrophes of the highest grandeur; and this as much as on ecological terrains (chemical, for example) as on economic terrains (in banking, for example). It has for some time already been in a position to treat these exceptional misfortunes by other means than its habitual handling of soft disinformation.


As to the rising number of assassinations over the last two decades, which have remained entirely unexplained -- because, if one has sometimes sacrificed some nobody, it has never been a question of going back to the sponsors -- their character of production in series has its mark: patent and changing lies in the official declarations; Kennedy, Aldo Moro, Olaf Palme, ministers and bankers, a pope or two, some others who were worth more than all of them.[41] This syndrome of a recently acquired social disease has quickly spread all over, as if, following the first documented cases, it descended from the summits of the State (the traditional sphere for this type of attack) and, at the same time, ascended from the underworld, the traditional place for illegal trafficking and protection rackets, where this kind of war has always gone on, among professionals. These activities tend to meet each other in the middle of the affairs of society, as if the State didn't disdain from mixing itself up in it and the Mafia elevated itself by attaining it; thus a kind of junction operates there.[42]

One has heard the occurrence of accidents used to explain this new genre of mystery: police incompetence, stupid magistrates, untimely press revelations, crisis of growth in the secret services, malevolent witnesses, or categorical strikes by informers. But Edgar Allan Poe had already found the certain path to truth, in his celebrated reasoning in The Murders in the Rue Morgue:

"It appears to me that this mystery is considered insoluble, for the very reason which should cause it to be regarded as easy of solution -- I mean for the outre character of its features. . . . In investigations such as we are now pursuing, it should not be so much asked 'what has occurred,' as 'what has occurred that has never occurred before.'"


In January 1988 the Colombian drug Mafia issued a communique aimed at correcting public opinion about its supposed existence. The greatest requirement of any Mafia, wherever it may be constitued, is naturally to establish that it does not exist, or that it has been the victim of unscientific calumnies; and that is its first point of resemblance with capitalism. But in this particular circumstance, this Mafia was so irritated at being the only one placed in the spotlight that it went so far as to evoke the other groupings that wanted to make themselves forgotten by abusively using it as a scapegoat. It declared: 'We ourselves don't belong to the Mafia of politicians and bureaucrats, nor that of bankers and financiers, nor that of millionaires, nor to the Mafia of great fraudulent contracts, to that of monopolies or oil, nor to the great means of communication.'

One can without doubt estimate that the authors of this declaration have, like all the rest, an interest in emptying their own practices into that vast river of troubled water of criminality and more banal illegalities, which irrigates the whole of present society; but it is also just to agree that here we have people who by their very profession know better than the others what they are talking about. The Mafia flourishes in the soil of modern society. Its growth is as rapid as that of all the other products of the labor by which the society of the integrated spectacular fashions its world. The Mafia grows along with the immense progress of computers and industrial food processing,[43] with complete urban reconstruction and shanty-towns, secret services and illiteracy.


When it began to manifest itself at the beginning of the century in the United States, with the immigration of Sicilian workers, the Mafia was only a transplanted archaism; at the same time, there appeared on the West Coast the gang wars between Chinese secret societies. Founded on obscurantism and poverty, the Mafia at that time was not even able to implant itself in Northern Italy. It seemed condemned to vanish before the modern State. It was a form of organized crime that could only prosper through the 'protection' of backward minorities, outside the world of the towns, where the laws of the bourgeoisie and the control of a rational police force could not penetrate. The defensive tactics of the Mafia could only suppress witnesses, neutralize the police and judiciary, and install as ruler in its sphere of activity the secret that is necessary to it. Subsequently it found a new field in the new obscurantism of the society of the diffuse spectacular, then in its integrated form: with the total victory of the secret, the general resignation of citizens, the complete loss of logic, and universal cowardice, all the favorable conditions were united for it to become a modern and offensive power.

Prohibition in America -- a great example of the pretensions of this century's States to the authoritarian control of everything, and of the results that ensue -- left to organized crime the management of commerce in alcohol. The Mafia, enriched and experienced, moved into electoral politics, commerce, the development of the market in professional killers, and certain details of international politics. Thus, during the Second World War, it was favored by the US government, and helped with the invasion of Sicily.[44] Legalized alcohol was replaced by drugs, which then constituted the star commodity in illegal consumption. Then the Mafia took considerable importance in property dealing, in banking and in high-level politics and the great affairs of state, and then in the industries of the spectacle: television, films and publishing. In the United States at least, it is already in the recording industry, as in every other activity where publicity of a product depends on a quite concentrated number of people. It is easy to apply pressure to them, with bribes and intimidation, since there is obviously quite a great deal of capital and hitmen who can not be recognized nor punished. By corrupting the disc-jockeys, one thus decides what will succeed, from equally wretched commodities.

It is undoubtedly in Italy that the Mafia, in the wake of its experiences and conquests in America, has acquired the greatest strength: since the period of its historic compromise with the parallel government[45], it has found itself in a position to kill magistrates and police chiefs:[46] a practice it inaugurated through its participation in the setting up of political 'terrorism.' The similar evolution of the Mafia's Japanese equivalent, in relatively independent conditions, proves the unity of the epoch.

One deceives oneself every time one wants to explain something by opposing the Mafia and the State: they are never rivals. Theory easily verifies what all the rumors in practical life have all too easily shown. The Mafia is not an outsider in this world; it is perfectly at home in it. At the moment of the integrated spectacular, it in fact reigns as the model for all advanced commercial enterprises.


With the new conditions that now predominate in the society crushed under the iron heel of the spectacle, one knows, for example, that a political assassination finds itself placed in another light; can in a sense be sifted. Everywhere the mad are more numerous than before, but what is infinitely more convenient is that they can be talked about madly. And it is not some kind of reign of terror that imposes such mediatic explanations. On the contrary, it is the peaceful existence of such explanations which should cause terror.

When in 1914, the war being imminent, Villain assassinated Jaures, no one doubted that Villain, though without doubt a somewhat unbalanced man, had believed he had to kill Jaures, because in the eyes of the extremists of the patriotic right who had deeply influenced him, Jaures seemed to be someone who would certainly be harmful to the country's defense. These extremists had only underestimated the tremendous strength of patriotic consent within the Socialist Party, which would immediately push it into "the sacred union," whether or not Jaures was assassinated or allowed the occasion to hold to his internationalist position in rejecting the war. Today, in the presence of such an event, journalists/police officers and well-known experts on the 'facts of society' and 'terrorism' would immediately explain that Villain was well known for having several times sketched out attempted murders, the impulse each time seeing men who, despite the variety of their political opinions, all by chance looked and dressed rather like Jaures. Psychiatrists would attest to this, and the media, only attesting to what the psychiatrists had said, would thus attest to, by the same fact, their own competence and impartiality as incomparably authorized experts. The next day, the official police investigation would establish that one discovered several honorable people ready to bear witness to the fact that this same Villain, considering he had been rudely served at the 'Chope du Croissant,' had, in their presence, loudly threatened to take revenge on its proprietor by murdering, in front of everyone and on the premises, one of his best customers. [47]

This is not to say that, in the past, the truth often or quickly imposed itself, for Villain was eventually acquitted by the French courts. He was not shot until 1936, at the start of the Spanish revolution, because he had committed the imprudence of residing at the Balearic Islands.


It is because of the new conditions of a profitable handling of economic affairs, at the moment when the State holds a hegemonic part in the orientation of production and when the demand for all of the commodities depends strictly on the centralization achieved by spectacular information/promotion, to which all forms of distribution must also adapt, that one sees the imperative demand that networks of influence or secret societies constitute themselves everywhere. It is thus only a natural product of the movement of concentration of capital, production and distribution. Whatever does not spread must disappear; and businesses can only spread with the values, techniques and means of today's industry, spectacle and State. It is, in the final analysis, the particular development that has been chosen by the economy of our era, which imposes everywhere the formation of new personal links of dependency and protection.

It is precisely here that resides the profound truth of this formula, so well appreciated throughout Italy, used by the Sicilian Mafia: "When you've got money and friends, you can laugh at Justice." In the integrated spectacular, the laws are asleep; because they were not made for the new production techniques, and because they are outflanked in distribution by new types of agreement. What the public thinks, or prefers, is no longer of importance. This is what is hidden by the spectacle of so many opinion polls, elections, modernizing restructurings. No matter who the winners are, the amiable clientele will get what's inferior, because that is exactly what has been produced for it.

One only continually speaks of a "State of rights" since the moment that the modern, so-called democratic State generally ceased to be one: it is not by chance that the expression was only popularized shortly after 1970 and exactly in Italy. In many domains, laws are even made precisely so that they may be outflanked by exactly those who have all the means to do so. Illegality in some circumstances -- for example, around the global trade in all sorts of weaponry, most often concerning the products of the highest technology -- is only a kind of back-up for the economic operation, which will find itself all the more profitable. Today many business deals are necessarily as dishonest as the century, and not like those once made within a strictly limited range by people who had chosen the paths of dishonesty.

To the extent that the networks of promotion/control grow so as to mark and hold on to exploitable sectors of the market, there is also an increase in the number of personal services which can not be refused to those in the know and who have not refused their help; and these are not always the police or guardians of the interests and security of the State. Functional complicities communicate at a distance and for a very long time, because their networks dispose of all the means to impose those sentiments of recognition and fidelity that, unfortunately, have always been so rare in the free activity of bourgeois times.

One always learns something from one's adversary. It is necessary to believe that the people of the State have also read the young Lukacs' remarks on the concepts of legality and illegality; at the moment that they had to deal with the brief passage of a new generation of the negative[48] -- Homer said that "A generation of men passes as quickly as a generation of leaves." Since then, the people of the State have, like us, ceased to trouble themselves with any kind of ideology on the question; and it is true that the practices of spectacular society no longer favor ideological illusions of this kind. Finally, concerning us all, one could conclude that what has often prevented us from enclosing ourselves in a single illegal activity is the fact that we have had several.


In book VIII, chapter 5 of The Peloponnesian War, Thucydides said, concerning the operations of another oligarchic conspiracy, something that has relevance to the situation in which we find ourselves:

Those who took the floor were of the conspiracy and the speeches that they pronounced had been submitted in advance to the examination of their friends. No opposition manifested itself among the remainder of the citizens, who were frightened by the number of conspirators. When someone tried, despite everything, to contradict them, one soon found a convenient way of making him die. The murderers weren't found and no pursuit was made of those one suspected. The people didn't react and were so terrorized that they estimated themselves happy, even in remaining mute, if they escaped the violence. Believing the conspirators much more numerous than they were, the people felt completely impotent. The town was too large and they didn't quite know each other, so that it was not possible for them to discover what it really was. In these conditions, so shameful were the people that they could not confide their grief to anyone. Thus, one had to renounce engaging in an action against the guilty ones, because it would have been necessary to address oneself either to an unknown person or a person of knowledge in whom one didn't have confidence. In the democratic party, personal relations were everywhere stamped with scorn, and one always asked oneself if he with whom one had business wasn't coniving with the conspirators. There were actually among the conspirators men whom one could never believe that they had rallied themselves to the oligarchy.

If history should return to us after this eclipse, which depends on factors still in struggle and thus on an outcome which no one can exclude with certainty, these Comments may one day serve in the writing of a history of the spectacle; without any doubt the most important event to have occurred this century, and also the event that one least ventures to explain. In different circumstances, I believe I could have considered myself greatly satisfied with my first work on this subject, and left it to others to consider subsequent developments. But in the moment at which we are, it seemed to me that no one else would do it.


From the networks of promotion/control one slides imperceptibly into networks of surveillance/disinformation. Formerly, one only ever conspired against an established order. Today, conspiring in its favor is a new and rapidly developing trade. Under spectacular domination, one conspires to maintain it, and to guarantee what it alone would call its progress. This conspiracy is a part of its very functioning.

One has already begun to put in place several means for a kind of preventive civil war, adapted to different projections of the calculated future. These are the 'specific organizations' charged with intervening at several points, according to the needs of the integrated spectacular.[49] One has thus foreseen, for the worst possibilities, a tactic that, in a pleasantry, has been called 'Three Cultures,' an evocation of a square in Mexico City in the summer of 1968,[50] though this time the gloves will be off and the tactic will be applied before the day of the revolt. And beyond such extreme cases, it is not necessary, so as to to be a good means of government, that the unexplained assassination touches much of the world or returns quite frequently: the sole fact that one knows that its possibility exists immediately complicates calculations in a very large number of domains. It no longer needs to be intelligently selective, ad hominem. The use of the procedure in a purely aleatory fashion would perhaps be more productive.

One is also placed in a position to compose fragments of a social critique of rearing, which would no longer be entrusted to academics or mediatics, whom it is henceforth better to keep apart from the excessively traditional lies in this debate; but a better critique, advanced and exploited in a new way, handled by another, better trained species of professional. In a quite confidential manner, lucid texts are beginning to appear, anonymously, or signed by unknown authors -- a tactic moreover facilliated by the concentration of the attentions of all on the clowns of the spectacle, which makes unknown people appear exactly the most admirable -- not only on subjects never approached in the spectacle but also with arguments of which the justness is rendered more striking by the calculable species of originality, which comes from the fact that they are never used, despite being quite evident. This practice can serve at least as a first stage in initiation to recruit more alert minds, who will later be told a much larger share of the possible consequences, if they seem suitable. And what for certain people will be the first step in a career, will be for others with a lower ranking the first degree of a trap in which one takes them.

In certain cases, on questions that threaten to become controversial, it will be a matter of creating another pseudo-critique; and between the two opinions which will thus arise -- both foreign to impoverished spectacular conventions -- naive judgment can oscillate indefinitely, and the discussion weighing upon them can be renewed each time that it is fitting. Most often this concerns a general discourse on what is mediatically hidden, and this discussion can be strongly critical, and on some points obviously intelligent, yet remaining curiously decentered. The themes and words have been artificially selected, with the aid of computers informed in critical thought. These texts contain certain gaps, quite hard to spot but nonetheless remarkable: the vanishing point of perspective is always abnormally absent. They resemble those facsimiles of a famous weapon, which only lacks the firing-pin. This is necessarily a lateral critique, which perceives several things with much frankness and exactness, but places itself to the side. Not because it affects some sort of impartiality, because on the contrary it must seem to find much fault, but without ever apparently feeling the need to reveal its cause, thus to state, even implicitly, where it is coming from and where it wants to go.

To this kind of counter-journalistic false critique can be joined the organized practice of the rumor, which one knows to be originally a sort of wild ransom of spectacular information, since everyone, however vaguely, perceives a deceptive character in the latter and trusts it as little as it deserves. Rumor was at the origin superstitious, naive, self-poisoning. More recently, however, surveillance has begun introducing into the population people susceptible of immediately starting rumors that suit it. Here one has decided to apply in practice the observations of a theory formulated some thirty years ago, and of which the origins lie in American sociology of advertising: the theory of individuals known as 'trend-setters,' that is, those whom others in their milieu come to follow and imitate; but in passing this time from spontaneity to well-rehearsed. Budgetary, or extrabudgetary means have also been released to maintain numerous auxiliaries, besides the former academic and mediatic specialists, the sociologists and police of the recent past. To believe that models known in the past are still mechanically applied is as misleading as a general ignorance of the past. "Rome is no longer in Rome," [51] and the Mafia is no longer the underworld. And the surveillance and disinformation services as little resemble the works of the police and informers of former times -- for example, the roussins and mouchards of the Second Empire -- as current-day special services in all countries resemble the activities of the officers of the Second Bureau of the army's headquarters in 1914.

Since art is dead, it has become extremely easy to disguise police as artists. When the latest imitations of an inverted neo-Dadaism are authorized to pontificate gloriously in the media, and thus also to slightly modify the decor of official palaces, like court jesters to the kings of junk, one sees that by the same movement a cultural cover is guaranteed for all the agents or auxiliaries of the State's networks of influence.[52] Empty pseudo-museums, or pseudo-research centers on the complete works of nonexistent personalities, can be opened just as fast as reputations are made for journalist-cops, historian-cops, or novelist-cops. No doubt Arthur Cravan foresaw this world when he wrote in Maintenant: "Soon we will only see artists in the streets, and it will take all the troubles of the world to find a single man." This is indeed the sense of the revived form of an old quip of Parisian hoodlums: "Hi, artists! So much the worse if I deceive myself."[53]

Things having become what they are, one can now see the use of collective authorship by the most modern publishing house, that is to say, the one with the best commercial distribution. Since the authenticity of pseudonyms are only assured by the newspapers, they can swap them around, collaborate, replace each other, enlist new artificial brains. Their task is to express the lifestyles and thought of the era, not by virtue of their personalities, but because they are ordered to. Those who believe that they are veritably individual, literary entrepeneurs can thus vouch for the fact that Ducasse has had a row with the Comte de Lautreamont, that Dumas isn't Maquet and that we must especially not confuse Erckmann with Chatrian; that Censier and Daubenton are no longer on speaking terms. [54] It might be best to say that this type of modern author was a follower of Rimbaud, at least in so far as "I is another."

The whole history of spectacular society called for the secret services to play the pivotal role; because it is in them that the characteristics and means of execution of such a society are concentrated to the highest degree. They are always further tasked with arbitrating the general interests of this society, despite their modest title of 'services.' There is no abuse here, for they faithfully express the ordinary morals of the century of the spectacle. And it is thus that surveillers and those surveilled set forth on a boundless ocean. The spectacle has made the secret triumph, and must always be in the hands of specialists in the secret, who of course are not all of the functionaries who have to different degrees made themselves autonomous with respect to State control; who are not all of the functionaries.


A general law of the functioning of the integrated spectacular, at least for those who manage its administration, is that, in this framework, everything which can be done, must be done. This is to say that every new instrument must be employed, whatever the cost. New equipment becomes the goal and the driving force of the entire system, and will be the only thing which can notably modify its progress, each time its use is imposed without further reflection. Society's owners indeed want above all to maintain a certain 'social relation between people,' but they must also pursue incessant technological innovation; because such was one of the obligations that they accepted with their inheritance. This law thus applies equally to the services that safeguard domination. The instrument that has been completed must be used, and its use will reinforce the very conditions that favor this use. It is thus that emergency procedures become permanent.

The coherence of the society of the spectacle proves revolutionaries right, since it has become clear that one cannot reform the poorest detail without taking the whole thing apart. But, at the same time, this coherence has suppressed every organized revolutionary tendency by suppressing the social terrains where they had more or less expressed themselves: from trade unions to newspapers, towns to books. In the same movement, one has highlighted the incompetence and thoughtlessness of which this tendency was quite naturally the bearer. And on the individual level, the reigning coherence is quite capable of eliminating, or buying off certain possible exceptions.


Surveillance would be much more dangerous had it not been pushed along the path of absolute control of everyone, to the point where it encounters difficulties created by its own progress. There is a contradiction between the mass of information collected on a growing number of individuals, and the time and intelligence available to analyze it, or simply its actual interest. The abundance of material demands summarizing at each stage: much of it will disappear and what remains will still be too long to be read. Management of surveillance and manipulation is not unified. Indeed there is a widespread struggle for a share of the profits, and thus also for the priority of the development of this or that potential in the existing society, to the detriment of the other potentials, which nonetheless, so long as they are all part of the same mix, are considered equally respectable.

One also struggles through play. Each officer is led to over-value his agents, as well as the opponents' agents with whom he occupies himself. Each country, not to mention the numerous supranational alliances, currently possesses an undetermined number of police and counter-espionage services, along with secret services, both State and para-State. There are also many private companies dealing in surveillance, security and investigation. The large multinationals naturally have their own services; but so do nationalized companies, even those of modest scale, which no less pursue independent policies at a national and sometimes an international level. One can see that an industrial nuclear group will fight against an oil group, even though both are the property of the same State and, what is more, are dialectically united by their attachment to maintaining high oil prices on the world market. Each particular industry's security service combats sabotage, and needs to organize it against their rivals: a company with important interests in undersea tunnels will be favorably disposed to the insecurity of ferry-boats [English in original] and may bribe newspapers in financial trouble to ensure they mention it on the first possible occasion and without too much reflection; a company competing with Sandoz will be indifferent to ground water in the Rhine valley. One secretly surveills what is secret. Thus each of these organizations, confederated with flexibility around those who are in charge of the reason of the State, aspires, for its own account, to a species of private hegemony of meaning. Because meaning has been lost along with the knowable center.

Modern society, which, up to 1968, went from success to success, and was persuaded that it was loved, has since then had to renounce these dreams; it prefers to be feared. It knows full well that "its innocent air will no longer return." [55]

Thus, a thousand of conspiracies in favor of the established order tangle and clash almost everywhere, with the overlapping of networks and secret questions or actions always pushed harder; and the process of rapid integration is pushed into each branch of the economy, politics and culture. The degree of intermingling in surveillance, disinformation and special activities continually grows in all areas of social life. The general conspiracy has become so dense that it is almost out in the open, each of its branches starts to hinder or trouble the others, because all these professional conspirators are spying on each other without exactly knowing why, or encounter each other by chance, yet without recognizing each other with certainty. Who is observing whom? On whose behalf, apparently? And actually? The real influences remain hidden, and the ultimate intentions can only be suspected with great difficulty and almost never understood. So that while no one can say he is not deluded or manipulated, it is only in rare instances that the manipulator himself can know he has succeeded. And, besides, finding oneself on the winning side of manipulation does not mean that one has justly chosen the strategic perspective. It is thus that tactical successes can get great forces stuck on bad paths.

In the same network, apparently pursuing the same goal, those who only constitute a part of the network are obliged to be ignorant of the hypotheses and conclusions of the other parts, and especially of their ruling nucleus. The quite well known fact that all information on whatever subject under observation may well be entirely imaginary, or in large part false, or very inadequately interpreted, complicates and renders unsure to a great degree the calculations of the inquisitors; because what is sufficient to condemn someone is not sufficient when it comes to recognizing or using him. Since sources of information are in competition, so are falsifications.

It is in these conditions of its existence that we can speak of a tendency to the falling profitability of control, to the extent that it approaches the totality of social space and consequently increases its personnel and its means. Because here each means aspires and labors to become an end. Surveillance spies on and conspires against itself.

Its principal present contradiction, finally, is that it is surveilling, infiltrating and influencing an absent party: that which is supposed to want the subversion of the social order. But where can it be seen at work? Because conditions certainly have never been so seriously revolutionary, but it is only governments that think so. Negation has been so thoroughly deprived of its thought that it was dispersed long ago. Because of this, it is only a vague, yet very worrisome threat, and surveillance in its turn has been deprived of the best field of its activity. These powers of surveillance and intervention are exactly led by current necessities, which command their terms of engagement, to operate on the very terrain of this threat in order to combat it in advance. [56] This is why surveillance has an interest in organizing poles of negation itself, which it will instruct with more than the discredited means of the spectacle, so as to influence, not terrorists this time, but theories. [57]


Baltasar Gracian, that great connoisseur of historical time, tells us with much pertinency in El Oraculo manual y Arte de Prudencia: "Governing, discoursing, everything must be done with purpose. Love when you can, because neither the season nor time wait for anyone."[58]

But Omar Khayyam was less of an optimist. "So as to speak clearly and without parables -- We are the pieces of the game that plays the sky; -- We amuse ourselves with ourselves on the chessboard of Being, -- and then we are returned, one by one, to the box of Nothingness."


The French Revolution involved great changes in the art of war. It was after this experience that Clausewitz could establish the distinction according to which tactics are the use of forces in battle so as to obtain victory, whereas strategy is the use of victories to attain the goals of a war. Europe was subjugated, immediatelt and lastingly, by the results. But the theory was not established until later, and was developed unequally. First to be appreciated were the positive features directly brought about by a profound social transformation: the enthusiasm and mobility that lived off the land in rendering itself relatively independent of stores and supply trains, the multiplication of numerical strength. These practical elements found themselves counterbalanced by the appearance on the enemy side of similar elements: in Spain, the French armies encountered another popular enthusiasm; in the vast spaces of Russia, a land they could not live off; after the rising in Germany, numerically far superior forces. However, the effect of a total break in the new French tactics, which was the simple basis on which Bonaparte founded his strategy -- which consisted of using victories in advance, as if acquired on credit: conceiving manoeuvers and their diverse variants from the start as consequences of a victory that was not yet obtained, but would certainly be at the first onslaught -- derived also from the forced abandonment of false ideas. This tactic brusquely obliged an abrupt break with false ideas and, at the same time, by the concomitant play of the other innovations outlined above, found the means to achieve such a break. The newly levied French soldiers were incapable of fighting in line, that is, of keeping ranks and firing on command. They would thus be deployed as sharpshooters and practiced firing at will as they advanced on the enemy. Therefore, firing at will found itself exactly to be the only effective kind, which really operated a destructive use of musketry, which proved the most decisive factor in military engagements of the period. Yet military thinking had universally rejected this conclusion in the century that was ending, and the discussion on the question continued through most of the new century, despite constant examples from the practice of combat and the ceaseless progress in range and rate of fire.

The establishment of spectacular domination is seemingly a social transformation so profound that it has radically altered the art of government. This simplification, which has quickly borne such fruit in practice, has not been fully comprehended theoretically. Old prejudices everywhere contradicted, precautions become useless, and even the traces of scruples from other times still hinder this comprehension, which practice establishes and confirms every single day, in the thinking of quite a number of rulers. Not only are the subjugated made to believe that, essentially, they are still living in a world which in fact disappeared, but the rulers themselves sometimes suffer from the thoughtlessness of still believing in it. They come to believe in a part of what they have suppressed, as if it remained a reality and had still to be included in their calculations. This delay will not last long. Those who have achieved so much so easily must necessarily go further. One must not believe that those who have not quickly understood the pliability of the new rules of their game and its form of barbaric grandeur will durably maintain themselves like an archaism in the surroundings of real power. The destiny of the spectacle is certainly not to end in enlightened despotism.

We must conclude that a change is imminent and ineluctable in the co-opted cast who manage the domination and, notably, those who direct the protection of that domination. In such an affair, the novelty of course will never be displayed on the stage of the spectacle. It will only appear like lightning, which we know only when it strikes. This change, which will decisively complete the work of these spectacular times, will occur discreetly and, although it concerns those already installed in the sphere of power, conspiratorially. It will select those who will take part part in it on this central requirement: that they clearly know what obstacles they have overcome, and of what they are capable. [59]


The same Sardou also wrote:

Vainly relates to the subject; in vain to the object; uselessly without use for anyone. One has worked vainly when one has done so without success, so that one has wasted one's time and effort: one has worked in vain when one has done so without attaining the intended goal, because of the defectiveness of the work. If I cannot complete my task, I work vainly; I am uselessly wasting my time and effort. If the task I have done does not have the effect I was expecting, if I have not attained my goal, I have worked in vain; that is to say, I have done something useless. . . .

It is also said that someone has worked vainly when he has not been rewarded for his work, or when this work has not been accepted; because in this case the worker has wasted his time and effort, without this at all prejudicing the value of his work, which can be very good.

-- Paris, February-April 1988.

Publication history: first published in French by Editions Gerard Lebovici, 1988. Translated into English by NOT BORED! August 2005. Two corrections made in July 2007 (footnotes #1 and #58). All footnotes by NOT BORED! except where noted.

[1] For more on the assassination of Gerard Lebovici, see Jean-Francois Martos, Words and Bullets: the Condemned of the Lebovici Affair (1984), and Guy Debord, Considerations on the Assassination of Gerard Lebovici (1985). Note that in his letter to Editions Anagrama dated 7 June 1989, Debord explains that "ambush" is not the word he would use to translate un guet-apens because "I have employed the word that evokes banditry, the style of the hampa," that is to say "the underworld." If one could be trapped in such a thing, one might use the word "hit": Lebovici was assassinated in a (gangland) hit.

[2] Guy Debord's epigraph is taken from the first European translation of The Art of War, by the Jesuit JJ.L. Amiot (1782). The best available English translation, by Samuel B. Griffith (Oxford 1963), does not include this passage. [Malcolm Imrie] And so we have translated directly from Debord's French.

[3] This might sound meglomaniacal, but it is a fact that, in the early 1970s, the French "Socialist" Party used the situationist demand "Change Life" as one of his campaign slogans. (See Theses on the SI and Its Time, thesis 37.) For more on the "Socialist" Party's recuperation of the situationists, see NOT BORED! review of Jacques Attali's Noise.

[4] In the initial agreement that formed the the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949, there was a secret clause that required that, before a nation could join NATO, it must establish its own national security service capable of "Civil Emergency Planning," that is, of "intervening effectively [...] in the event of external socialist aggression or internal political upheavals." Sometimes called "Operation Stay Behind," this massive network consisted of secret bases, arms caches, recruitment centers and paramilitary cadres drawn from trusted anti-communists (mostly neo-Nazis, mafiosi and right-wing special operatives). The French branch of this network was called Rose des Vents ("Rose of the Winds"). Up until 1974, when the conspiracy was revealed, the same name (La Rosa Dei Venti) was used in Italy; after 1974, the Italian part of the network was called Glaudio (a two-sided Roman sword) and worked out of the "P2" Masonic Lodge. See footnotes [11] and [23].

[5] The French here is le mediatique. Though "mediatic" is not commonly used in English, we have consistently employed it because Debord's text is so insistent on its use: a different meaning from the standard and relatively limited meaning of "media" is clearly intended.

[6] The French here is spectaculaire integre. We have consistently translated spectaculaire as "spectacular" because Debord's text carefully distinguishes it from "spectacle." It would appear that the author's intention in his Comments on the Society of the Spectacle is to "detourn" the theory he originally presented in The Society of the Spectacle.

[7] The French here is des experts en vins qui entra'neront les caves a aimer leurs nouveaux parfums, plus reconnaissables. Debord's pun on the two meanings of caves -- wine-cellars (fem.) and hopeless dupes or suckers (masc.) -- is unfortunately lost in English. The word's underworld etymology is instructive. It originally referred to anyone who worked in a legitimate job; hence to someone who did not know how to live; and hence to any kind of dupe. [Malcolm Imrie]

[8] The proverb is from Don Quixote, quoted by the Duchess in her conversation with Sancho Panza (vol. II, book 3, ch. 1). The Spanish is, Debajo de mala capa, suele haber buen bebedor. [Malcolm Imrie]

[9] On the rewriting of a person's past, after he or she has been assassinated, see Guy Debord, Considerations on the Assassination of Gerard Lebovici, and Jean-Francois Martos, Words and Bullets: the Condemned of the Lebovici Affair.

[10] An Arab proverb, dating from the fourteenth century. [Malcolm Imrie]

[11] Although Debord says that the "P" in P2 stands for Potere (Power), while other writers say that it stands for Propaganda (same in Italian and English), one is definitely speaking of the same organization. Founded in the 19th century, P2 was a "covered" masonic lodge: the identities of its members were not known by anyone, even the Grand Lodge. In 1964, General Licio Gelli -- a fascist from the Mussolini days who had been sheltered in Argentina by its dictator Juan Peron -- returned to Italy, took charge of P2 and used his extensive connections to establish a network of the various drug mafias and neo-Nazi extremists in Latin America and Southern Europe. After the exposure of "The Rose of the Winds" group in 1974 (footnote [4]), P2 took up the burden of maintaining NATO's "Operation Stay Behind" in Italy. In 1982, the existence of P2 itself was discovered. At the time, the lodge counted among its members more than 2,400 people, including former-Prime Minister Giulo Andreotti, the "senior Italian statesman" to whom Debord refers. In 1990, Andreotti was charged with ordering the assassination of journalist Mino Pecorelli; in his defense, Andreotti confirmed and deferred to the existence of Operation Gladio.

[12] A relevant example of an alleged accomplice who "repents" and -- in exchange for favorable treatment -- turns state's evidence (becomes a "supergrass") would be Aldo Tisei, a member of the Palladin organization (see footnote [46]) who murdered Judge Vittorio Occorsio (see footnote [48]).

[13] On 7 April 1979, the Italian authorities arrested more than 20 left-wing intellectuals, including Antonio Negri. Many more arrests followed.

[14] Among those who "see terrorism as simply a number of acts of blatant manipulation on the part of the secret services," Debord would include Gianfranco Sanguinetti, author of On Terrorism and the State, which Debord criticized in his 23 February 1981 letter to Jaap Kloosterman. Among those who "reproach the terrorists for their total lack of historical understanding," Debord would include Antonio Negri, Oreste Scalzone and other "doctrinaires of 'armed struggle.'" See footnote [22].

[15] Another reference to Debord's critique of Sanguinetti's On Terrorism and the State. Among those "particular operations" to be analyzed, Debord would include those conducted by "Blanqui, Varlan, [and] Durruti," to whom he refers in the context of the inseparability of "political crime" and "social critique." See also Debord's 1980 comments concerning armed struggle in the Basque Country.

[16] "They are jeering at us, and we know whom these programmes are for." The French here is, On nous siffle, et l'on sait pour qui sont ces structures. Debord is playing on a famous line from Racine's Andromache, Act V, Scene 3: Pour qui sont ces serpents qui sifflent sur vos tetes? [Malcolm Imrie] That last French phrase means, "Who are those serpents jeering at your heads?"

[17] In 1984, seemingly motivated by professional jealousy, certain colleagues of a Dr Archambeau at a hospital in Poitiers caused the death of some of his patients in the operating-theater by reversing the oxygen and nitrogen supplies during resuscitation. Archambeau was eventually acquitted of any blame, but the real culprits were never discovered. [Malcolm Imrie]

[18] See the following passage in Abyss, an unsigned essay that appeared in French the August 1986 issue of L'Encyclopedie des Nuisances and was translated into English by the ex-situationist Donald Nicholson-Smith:

How many curies, how many becquerels, were now thrust upon us in order to satisfy our hunger and thirst for knowledge! Not a day would pass without the authorities producing figures purporting to show that the (formerly nonexistent) radioactivity level had dropped considerably and was now "insignificant." They also worried about how difficult it probably was for us to calculate our chances of survival in so many different units of measurement, and suggested "standardizing the definition of the level at which radioactivity begins to present a threat to human beings" -- in other words, pushing that danger level high enough to spare us all those endless calculations.

[19] It was Marx who defined political economy as "the final denial of humanity." [Malcolm Imrie]

[20] The French here is illusionnistes, aboyeurs et barons. Baron, a word still in common use, refers to a trickster's accomplice, planted in the crowd, who helps to dupe others either by raising objections which the trickster can easily refute, or by pretending to buy whatever is on offer. This was also the nineteenth-century meaning of "stool-pigeon," although the word is now used in a different sense. I cannot find a modern English equivalent, though some American meanings of "stooge" might be adequate. [Malcolm Imrie]

[21] The battle is Waterloo, the "one," Napoleon. The allusion is to Victor Hugo's description of Waterloo in his poem "L'Expiation": seeing the battle was going badly for the French, Napoleon summoned the Imperial Guard to enter the fray. [Malcolm Imrie]

[22] A reference to Italian writers such as Antonio Negri, Oreste Scalzone, Franco Piperno, Lanfranco Pace, and Paolo Virno, among others.

[23] Strictly speaking, the ex-Premier of Italy, Aldo Moro, wasn't held prisoner by Potere Due, but by the Italian State itself. And so, Debord appears to be making a sarcastic remark, to the effect that there's no difference between the "parallel" and official governments of the country.

[23] In the summer of 1968, an Italian neo-Nazi and agent provocateur named Mario Merlino succeded in infiltrating Roman anarchist circles by forming the "XXII March Group," whose name was a close echo of the "22d March Movement," the French group from Nanterre that included Daniel Cohn-Bendit and several enrages who later joined the Situationist International. One of the first actions taken by the XXII March Group was the destruction of several cars after a demonstration in front of the French Embassy in Rome. The Italian press quickly blamed the violence on the Italian Communist Party.

[25] A reference to the 15 December 1969 "suicide" of the anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli, who was murdered by Italian police officers during their investigation into his non-existent role in the December 1969 bombing of the Piazza Fontana in Milan. Pinelli later became the protagonist of Dario Fo's famous play, The Accidental Death of an Anarchist.

[26] A reference to the investigation into the 1972 death of the Italian left-wing publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, who supposedly blew himself up while trying to destroy an electricity pylon.

[27] In early 1988, Abou Jihad, a Palestinian leader, was assassinated in Tunisia by the Mossad, an Israeli secret service.

[28] Formed during World War II, England's "Special Air Service" (SAS) became a paramilitary "anti-terrorist" unit in the post-war years. All through the 1970s and 1980s, the SAS conducted a "dirty war" against the Irish Republican Army.

[29] Grupo Anti-Terrorista de Liberacion. [Malcolm Imrie] The "Antiterrorist Liberation Group" was a group of hired killers who, under the direction of Spain's "security" forces and the Ministry of the Interior, hunted down and assassinated suspected ETA terrorists who had fled to or were based in France. Between 1983 and 1987, nearly 30 people were killed, reputedly with the help of the French Civil Guard.

[30] On 2 August 1980 -- the first day of an Italian national holiday -- a bomb exploded at the Bologna railway station, killing 85 and wounding over 200 people. Among those eventually implicated in the execution of the massacre was the neo-Nazi Stefano Delle Chiaie.

[31] Les tueurs fous de Brabant was the media's name for the perpetrators of a series of murders in Belgium in the 1980s. The murders were carried out during a number of raids on supermarkets: on each occasion the gang, armed with military weapons, shot six or seven people, apparently at random, and stole very small amounts of money. Recent newspaper revelations have suggested that the choice of victims may not have been entirely random, and that the murderers may have been linked to right-wing organizations. [Malcolm Imrie] Between 30 September 1982 and 9 November 1985, the "mad killers of Brabant" murdered a total of 28 people. No arrests were ever made. Something similar seems to have taken place in Italy, beginning in June 1976.

[32] Latin for "who profits?"

[33] A reference to the hundreds of striking students who were killed by the Mexican army in Tlatelolco, Mexico City, on 2 October 1968. It is thought by some that the bodies were dropped by airplane into the Gulf of Mexico.

[34] The allusion is to Robert Louis Stevenson's "Requiem." But some of the references here are more specific. Debord has pointed out that "the thief who no longer needs to steal," for example, was Francois Besse, the former accomplice of Jacques Mesrine, who has disappeared without trace. [Malcolm Imrie] Jacques Mesrine was a notorious French bank-robber who was killed by the police in 1979. Gerard Lebovici re-printed his autobiography, L'instinct de mort -- which had been banned by the Ministry of Justice -- shortly thereafter. For more on Lebovici, see footnote [1].

[35] On 23 February 1981, Lieutenant-Colonel Antonio Tejero -- together with an armed group of 200 officers from the Civilian Guard -- stormed into the Spanish Congress of Deputies, which was the lower house of the Cortes. Several hours later, King Juan Carlos held a nationally televised speech, during which he proclaimed his condemnation of the coup and his belief that Spain's "democratic" process (the election of a new Prime Minister) should continue peacefully. At noon, Tejero and his men surrendered without harming anyone. It is thought that the King himself ordered the phony coup as a way of increasing his dwindling power and popularity.

[36] On 7 July 1985, the French secret services blew up the "Rainbow Warrior," the flagship of the Greenpeace Organisation, while it was docked in Auckland Harbour, New Zealand. At the time, Greenpeace was conducting protests against the testing of nuclear weapons by the French government in the South Pacific.

[37] President Ronald Reagan didn't simply arrange for the secret sales of arms to Iran (which was then engaged in a prolonged struggle with Iraq, which was also -- but openly -- receiving arms from the USA). Reagan and his team of political criminals (CIA Director William Casey, National Security Council "advisor" Lt. Colonel Oliver North, et al) took the proceeds from these illegal sales and used them to finance the "Contras," who were engaged in terrorist activities against the lawfully elected "communist" government of Nicaragua (the Sandinistas).

[38] A reference to Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince, written in Italian in 1512. The following passage from this classic work is clearly relevant to Debord's discussion of Noriega's relationship with the CIA:

I shall remind princes who have seized a new state for themselves by encouraging subversion that they should carefully reflect on the motives of those who helped him. If these were not based on a natural affection for the new prince, but rather on discontent with the existing government, he will retain their friendship only with considerable difficulty and exertion, because it will be impossible for him in his turn to satisfy them.

[39] A reference to British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who was forced to resign on 16 March 1976, three years before the next scheduled election.

[40] For example: the relationship between the Bundesnachrichtendienst (Federal Intelligence Service, founded after World War II by Richard Gehlen), and the CIA: "The Pentagon absorbed [Gehlen's] organization in its entirety in the belief Gehlen had an efficient intelligence network stretching right into the Kremlin itself. As early as 1949, an informer in one of the emigre organizations used by Gehlen reckoned that about ninety percent of all intelligence reaching the Americans was false [...] False intelligence from the Gehlen organization to the Americans was a major factor in the rise of the Cold War." Stuart Christie, Stephano Delle Chiaie: Portrait of a Black Terrorist (London, 1984). See recently declassified documents for more information.

[41] The American President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, supposedly by Lee Harvey Oswald, on 22 November 1963. The former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro was executed, supposedly by the Red Brigades, on 9 May 1978. (For more on Moro, see footnotes [23] and [44].) The Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme was assassinated by an unknown gunman on 28 February 1986. Pope John Paul I died of a very mysterious heart attack on 28 September 1978, only 33 days after his election. Among "some others who were worth more than all of them," Debord would surely include his friend and publisher, Gerard Lebovici (see footnote [1]).

[42] The precise beginning of this confluence might be set in 1942, when -- in the aftermath of the mafia's destruction of a luxury cruise ship (the Normandie) that, while docked in New York's harbor, was being renovated to serve as a troop-carrier -- the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) sought out and received assistance from the imprisoned mob boss Charles ("Lucky") Luciano. Eventually granted early release from prison, Luciano also helped the ONI negotiate an agreement with the Mafia concerning the invasion of Sicily. On 9 July 1943, the Allies landed on the Italian island flying Mafia colors.

[43] In 1981, Debord devoted an essay to this subject.

[44] See footnote [42].

[45] Here Debord makes sarcastic use of the phrase "historic compromise," which was first used to describe the highly publicized and ultimately unsuccessful efforts of Prime Minister Aldo Moro to bring the Italian Communist Party into Italy's ruling coalition. Upon this first "compromise," Debord has superimposed another one: the secret and very successful compromise reached between the Mafia and the Italian state, which is once again identified with or reduced to "the parallel government" (see footnote [23]). The intent of this superimposition is itself doubled: to underline the point made about false attacks (see footnote [35]), and to suggest the degree of collusion between apparently unrelated and even opposing forces active in the spectacle.

[46] To pick two examples among many: Luigi Calabresi, the Police Inspector in charge of investigating various terrorist bombings that took place in 1969, was killed on 17 May 1972; and Vittorio Occorsio, the judge investigating the Italicus train bombing of 1974, was killed on 14 June 1976.

[47] Jaures was assassinated in the Chope du Croissant (now the Cafe Chope du Croissant), 146 rue Montmartre, on 31, July 1914. [Malcolm Imrie]

[48] The "new generation of the negative" to which Debord refers included the Dadaists.

[49] One example would be the "Palladin" organization (also known as "The Guerillas of Christ the King"), which was founded in Spain by ex-Nazi Otto Skorzeny in the late 1960s. Like the GAL (footnote [29]), Palladin was involved in the assassination of ETA separatists who had escaped to France. Other "special [death] squads" include the Bolivian group of ex-Nazis called "The Fiances of Death," and Stefano Delle Chiaie's international network, "The Black Orchestra."

[50] On 2 October 1968, police opened fire on student demonstrators in Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Mexico City, killing many. During the preceding fortnight, at least fifty more students had been killed during police attacks on strike meetings and the university campus. [Malcolm Imrie] See footnote [33].

[51] "Rome is no longer in Rome." The quotation is from a line in Racine's Mithridate: Rome n'est plus dans Rome; elle est toute ou je suis. [Malcolm Imrie] That last phrase in French means, "It [Rome] is everywhere I am."

[52] It is said that one of the reasons why Donald Nicholson-Smith's 1994 translation of The Society of the Spectacle was not "authorized" by Debord was the fact that he believed that Zone Books (distributed by the Massacusetts Institute of Technology) was funded by the Central Intelligence Agency.

[53] The French is, Salut, les artistes! Tant pis si je me trompes. The old low-life greeting was, Salut, les hommes. Debord has substituted "artists" for "men." [Malcolm Imrie]

[54] Isidor Ducasse was of course the Comte de Lautreamont. Auguste Macquet (or Maquet), a historian, was one of Dumas Pere's chief literary collaborators. Emile Erckmann and Alexandre Chatrian (1822-99 and 1826-90) wrote several novels and plays together over some forty years, many of them set in their native Alsace. Censier-Daubenton is a Paris Metro station. [Malcolm Imrie] Debord was greatly influenced by Lautreamont, especially his Poesies (1870), from which The Society of the Spectacle (1967) plagiarized the following famous passage:

Ideas improve. The meaning of words has a part in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. Plagiarism takes an author's phrase, uses his expressions, erases a false idea, replaces it with the correct one.

[55] Debord is quoting from his film, In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni. [Malcolm Imrie]

[56] According to Luis Manuel Gonzales Mata, a spy in the employ of the Franco regime: "Agents, when they have no further information to report, invent some; when there are no more outrages to be prevented, they provoke some; when there is no longer any extremist organization to infiltrate, they set some up."

[57] Likely candidates for manipulated theories would have to include those advanced by the "doctrinaires of 'armed struggle'" (see footnote [22]); and such "new philosophers" as Bernard-Henri Levy. Note as well that, in his 1975 film, Refutation of All the Judgments, Pro or Con, Thus Far Rendered on the Film "The Society of the Spectacle," Debord refers to "the desolate walls of Vincennes University," and goes on to say: "Within living memory no Vincennes student has ever come up with a single theory. This is no doubt why we are currently seeing some of them advocate 'anti-theory.' What else could they parlay into an assistant professorship in that neo-university?" Debord's dislike of Vincennes theorists was in part a response to their theories, but also to their means of supporting themselves. Michel Foucault "undertook a number of research projects for the Ministere de l'Equipment in the 1970s [...] Many well known sociologists and philosophers participated in research financed by this Ministry, such as Deleuze and Guattari who also undertook contract research [...] Lefebvre points out that recuperation has taken a specific form in the years after 1968 in that technocrats got the critics themselves to work out what would be applicable out of the radical critique. Many Marxists sociologists at this time accepted contracts from State ministries." Eleonore Kofman and Elizabeth Lebas, translators' introduction to Henri Lefebvre, Writings on Cities (Blackwell, 1996). As for "cadrist," it refers to cadres, business executives.

[58] Following Debord's letter to Editions Anagrama dated 7 June 1989, we have translated this passage directly from the Spanish.

[59] Because of Debord's use of a series of predictions to conclude his Comments, one feels comfortable in mentioning that, just four years after his book was published and in the aftermath of the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, some of the people who would later go on to form the "Project for a New American Century" were trying to convince then-President George H. Bush that the time was right for the USA to take over the world. Though these people (Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld, among them) failed to convince him, they eventually succeded with his son, George W. Bush, who was the self-avowed President of the country on 11 September 2001. Ever since then -- with and through America's military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Haiti -- the efforts to create a New American Empire have been going full-steam.