Situationist International

international organization of social revolutionaries

The Situationist International (SI) was a small group of international political and artistic agitators with roots in Marxism, Lettrism and the early 20th century European artistic and political avant-gardes. It was greatly influential in the origins of May 68.



  1. Francesco Poli (1991) p. 63. Quote:

    Nel 1972, quindici anni dopo la sua fondazione [...] l'Internazionale Situazionista si scioglie in quanto organizzazione. Durante questi anni, il movimento, caratterizzato da un'ideologia dell'estetico e del politico di matrice marxista e surrealista, produce una quantita' consistente di scritti teorici, opuscoli, libri, film e lavori artistici nel campo della pittura e della progettazione di interventi nella dimensione urbana. Di grande rilievo e' il ruolo degli artisti, tra cui in particolare Asger Jorn, Constant e Pinot Gallizio;

  2. Bandini (1977), quote:

    Per la prima volta dopo il surrealismo, arte e politica vengono affrontate insieme in termini rivoluzionari. [...] L'idea chiave e' quella della 'costruzione di situazioni' [...] L'urbanesimo unitario [...] Fondamentale e' la 'ricerca psicogeografica': studio delle leggi esatte e degli effetti precisi che l'ambiente geografico, coscientemente disposto o no, attua direttamente sul comportamento affettivo degli individui.

  3. Debord, G. (1957) Report on the Construction of Situations. Quote:

    We are going through a crucial historical crisis in which each year poses more acutely the global problem of rationally mastering the new productive forces and creating a new civilization. Yet the international working-class movement, on which depends the prerequisite overthrow of the economic infrastructure of exploitation, has registered only a few partial local successes. Capitalism has invented new forms of struggle (state intervention in the economy, expansion of the consumer sector, fascist governments) while camouflaging class oppositions through various reformist tactics and exploiting the degenerations of working-class leaderships. In this way it has succeeded in maintaining the old social relations in the great majority of the highly industrialized countries, thereby depriving a socialist society of its indispensable material base. In contrast, the underdeveloped or colonized countries, which over the last decade have engaged in the most direct and massive battles against imperialism, have begun to win some very significant victories. These victories are aggravating the contradictions of the capitalist economy and (particularly in the case of the Chinese revolution) could be a contributing factor toward a renewal of the whole revolutionary movement. Such a renewal cannot limit itself to reforms within the capitalist or anticapitalist countries, but must develop conflicts posing the question of power everywhere.

    The shattering of modern culture is the result, on the plane of ideological struggle, of the chaotic crisis of these antagonisms. The new desires that are taking shape are presented in distorted form: present-day resources could enable them to be fulfilled, but the anachronistic economic structure is incapable of developing these resources to such ends. Ruling-class ideology has meanwhile lost all coherence because of the depreciation of its successive conceptions of the world (a depreciation which leads the ruling class to historical indecision and uncertainty); because of the coexistence of a range of mutually contradictory reactionary ideologies (such as Christianity and social-democracy); and because of the mixing into contemporary Western culture of a number of only recently appreciated features of several foreign civilizations. The main goal of ruling-class ideology is therefore to maintain this confusion.
    Our Immediate Tasks
    We must call attention, among the workers parties or the extremist tendencies within those parties, to the need to undertake an effective ideological action in order to combat the emotional influence of advanced capitalist methods of propaganda. On every occasion, by every hyper-political means, we must publicize desirable alternatives to the spectacle of the capitalist way of life, so as to destroy the bourgeois idea of happiness. At the same time, taking into account the existence, within the various ruling classes, of elements that have always tended (out of boredom and thirst for novelty) toward things that lead to the disappearance of their societies, we should incite the persons who control some of the vast resources that we lack to provide us with the means to carry out our experiments, out of the same motives of potential profit as they do with scientific research.

  4. Debord (1957) Report .... Quote:

    So far, the ruling class has succeeded in using the leisure the revolutionary proletariat wrested from it by developing a vast industrial sector of leisure activities that is an incomparable instrument for stupefying the proletariat with by-products of mystifying ideology and bourgeois tastes. The abundance of televised imbecilities is probably one of the reasons for the American working class’s inability to develop any political consciousness.

  5. Luttazzi (2008)

    Question: "Le profezie di Guy Debord a proposito della Società dello spettacolo si avverano sotto i nostri occhi: il governo si occupa della «percezione» delle cose da parte dei cittadini più che della sostanza materiale, dei bisogni, dei fatti. L’invenzione dell’«emergenza sicurezza» è un caso lampante. Come pensi ci si debba muovere in questo scenario?"
    Answer: "Come suggeriva Debord: con pratiche di vita alternative."

  6. Debord (1957) Report .... Quote:

    Toward a Situationist International

    Our central idea is the construction of situations, that is to say, the concrete construction of momentary ambiences of life and their transformation into a superior passional quality.
  7. Debord harshly denounced the degradation in the quality of life under capitalism, also in his 1957 Report. Francesco Poli (1991) said on Debord's Report:

    Con il suo Rapporto... del 1957, Debord definisce programmaticamente le basi teoriche del situazionismo. [...]
    Nel Rapporto di Debord si legge inoltre una durissima critica allo sfruttamento capitalistico delle masse anche nel tempo libero attraverso l'industria del divertimento che abbrutisce la gente con sottoprodotti dell'ideologia mistificata della borghesia.

  8. Anselm Jappe, 1999, p. 65 quote:

    For the first four years of the SI's existence, the pivot of the group was the collaboration between Debord and Asger Jorn, who complemented each other well precisely because they were so different.

  9. Guy Atkins, 1977. Quote:

    Jorn’s role in the Situationist movement (as in COBRA) was that of a catalyst and team leader. Guy Debord on his own lacked the personal warmth and persuasiveness to draw people of different nationalities and talents into an active working partnership. As a prototype Marxist intellectual Debord needed an ally who could patch up the petty egoisms and squabbles of the members. Their quarrels came into the open the moment Jorn’s leadership was withdrawn in 1961. . . . Finally, 1966-8 saw the vindication of Debord’s policy, sustained against every kind of opposition, of adhering rigidly to the uncompromising pursuit of a singleminded plan. When the time came — in Strasbourg in November 1966 and in Paris in May 1968 — Debord was ready, with his two or three remaining supporters, to take over the revolutionary role for which he had been preparing during the last ten years. Incredible as it may seem, the active ideologists (“enragés” and Situationists) behind the revolutionary events in Strasbourg, Nanterre and Paris, numbered only about ten persons.

  10. Tom McDonough (2002) p. 4, quote:

    There has been a tendency recently to view Debord as the sole motivating figure behind the S.I., but while the latter's role was indisputably central, that of Jorn should not be underestimated. In his four years of activity with the group he not only continued to make paintings (some of his best expressionist works as well as the first series of "Modifications"), he also cooperated in the editing of the movement's review, joined in its congresses and scandals, authored two books of essays (In Favor of Form, 1958; and Critique of Political Economy, 1960), and produced an experimental film by Debord. Even after resigning from the S.I., as his activity as painter made his role therein less and less tenable, his friendship with (and his financial assistance to) Debord continued.

  11. Bandini (1977) quotes:

    On S.I.: “non [ e' ] ancora storicizzabile la vicenda dell’I.S. per la radicale politicizzazione della sua proposta artistica” [...] On Debord: “L’attualità della sua riflessione, che alla prova dei fatti assume tutti i tratti di una vera predizione, deriva dalla capacità di Debord di superare l’opposizione manichea che allora ingabbiava il pensiero europeo tra un bene (l’Occidente liberal-borghese) e un male (il bolscevismo) e viceversa. Per Debord il processo è dentro la Storia. La teoria Situazionista non è mai stata smentita dai fatti: nel suo isolamento tattico Debord, con la sua prosa classica, fredda, visionaria, contrappuntata di citazioni da famosi strateghi della guerra, Karl von Clausewitz, Sun Tze, de Gondi cardinale di Retz, o da teorici etico-politici Tucidide o Baltasar Graciàn, ha saputo mantenere il senso di rivolta in questa fine secolo, denunciando il disastroso naufragio del nostro mondo e guidando un movimento che secondo le sue parole era il solo che, inglobando la sopravvivenza dell’arte nell’arte di vivere, poteva rispondere al progetto dell’artista autentico.”

  12. Ken Knabb (1996) On Guy Debord’s Film The Society of the Spectacle "Bureau of Public Secrets" website May 1996. Later published in book Public Secrets - Collected Skirmishes of Ken Knabb (1997) ISBN 0-939682-03-6 quote:

    "Guy Debord (1931-1994) was the most influential figure in the Situationist International"

  13. Giorgio Agamben (1990) quote:

    On book Society of Spectacle: ”l’analisi più lucida e severa delle miserie e della servitù di una società - quella dello spettacolo, in cui noi viviamo - che ha esteso oggi il suo dominio su tutto il pianeta”

  14. Das Kapital, entry sentence, p. 125: "The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an 'immense collection of commodities'"
  15. "The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles." Debord G.E. (1967), thesis 1st.
  16. "The real unity the spectacle proclaims masks the class division on which the real unity of the capitalist mode of production is based." Debord G.E. (1967) : thesis 72.
  17. Anselm Jappe, 1999, p. 81 quote:

    … the group sustained an often underground agitation whose significance has now been widely acknowledged in studies of the period. The very least one can say is that no one anticipated the liberatory content of the events of 1968 as well as the Situationists, and this must be granted quite independently of the questions of the extent to which they may have "influenced" the protagonists of those events and the extent to which those protagonists may have been conscious of such an influence. Thirty years later, now that Althusserianism, Maoism, workerism, and Freudo-Marxism have all disappeared into historical oblivion, it is clear that the Situationists were the only people at that time to develop a theory, and to a lesser extent a practice, whose interest is not merely historiographical but retains a potential relevance today.

  18. Rivarol (magazine), 16 March 1984, quote:

    the Situationist International, the political and revolutionary movement that was at the origin of the events of May 68

  19. Présent, 10 March 1984, quote:

    ...the enrage Guy Debord, the leader of the situationists, the most nihilistic, the most destructive of the anarcho-surrealist movements, probably the principal promoter of subversion of 1968.

  20. Babronski, Lamy, Brigouleix, France-Soir, 9 and 10 March 1984, quote:

    the situationists, a movement of libertarian tendency that was one of the detonators of the May '68 events.

  21. The monthly magazine 20 Ans, June 1968 issue, quote:

    [The Situationist International is the] vanguard of the student movement.

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