The Ideology of Dialogue
The situationists practice of concretely breaking with apologists for any aspect of the present social order (particularly visible with regard to the leading representatives of the culture and politics of submission, and including as its extreme case the exclusion of certain members of the SI) has been subject to the greatest misunderstanding, although it follows quite directly from our basic positions. Certain commentators have propagated the most hostile interpretations of this practice, thereby causing concern among semi-informed people. The reality in this particular case is quite simple. Those who accept one or more variants of the prevailing pseudodialogue become the advocates of a new type of free exchange in the name of an abstract right to dialogue at any price (payable in avowed concessions to falsehood), and they reproach us for interrupting this fake dialogue. It is, however, only in this way that we are able to be the bearers of the reality of dialogue. On the question of exclusion, we believe that through experimentation we have made an advance in determining the requirements for the nonhierarchical organization of joint projects, which projects can be sustained only by the self-discipline of individuals proving themselves in the coherence of the theories and acts through which each member strives to merit his joint responsibility with all the others. The one-sidedness of Stirners notions on the relations of the egoist with the organization that he enters or leaves at whim (though it does contain a kernel of truth regarding that aspect of freedom) does not allow any independent basis for his passive and defenseless ghost of an organization. Such an incoherent and undisciplined organization is at the mercy of any individual egoist, who can cynically exploit it for his own ends while disdaining any social aims it might have (and in fact the Stirnerian individual can just as well enter the most reactionary association for his own personal profit). But a free association a bond, not a power(1) in which several individuals meet on a common basis cannot be passively subject to someones individual whim. Those who wish neither to judge nor to command must be able to reject any person whose conduct would implicate them. When the SI excludes someone, we are calling him to account not for his life but for ours, for the common project that he would falsify (whether out of hostile intentions or through mere lack of discernment). Each side remains individually free (the fact that this freedom is generally impoverished is another problem, without which there would be no need for undertakings like the SI), and by throwing back on his own an individual who has always remained autonomous we are only expressing the fact that this autonomy was not able to fulfill itself within our common project. In rejecting someone in accordance with the rules of the game that he thought he had accepted, or had pretended to accept, it is our own resignation that we are rejecting.
It may be helpful to elucidate these remarks with excerpts from two letters recently addressed to one of our correspondents in East Europe.(2)
(First letter.) Our theoretical positions (on play, language, etc.) would not only risk becoming mendacious and valueless, they would already be without value if we held them in coexistence with some doctrinal dogmatism, whatever it might be. All of us believe, as you do, that the freedom to travel all the unaccustomed paths must be absolute (and not only on the artistic or theoretical plane, but in all aspects of practical life). For a thousand reasons, of which the experience of the Eastern bloc is the most obvious, we know that an ideology in power turns any partial truth into an absolute lie. . . . We are not a power in society, and thus our exclusions only express our freedom to distinguish ourselves from the confusionism around us or even among us, which confusionism is much closer to the actual social power and partakes of all its benefits. We have never wished to prevent anyone from expressing their ideas or doing what they want (and we have never sought to be in a position to exert such pressure). We merely refuse to be ourselves mixed up with ideas and acts that run contrary to our convictions and tastes. Note that this is all the more vital in that we have hardly any freedom to express our own convictions and tastes, due to their going so sharply against the mainstream. Our intolerance is nothing but a very limited response to the very strict intolerance and exclusion that we run into everywhere, particularly among the intellectual establishment (considerably more intense than the hostility the surrealists had to endure), and which we scarcely find surprising. Just as we are in no degree a controlling power in society, we refuse to become one one day by means of some political reshuffling (we are in this regard partisans of radical self-management, of workers councils abolishing all separate state power or even separate theoretical power); and we are refusing to transform ourselves into any power whatsoever, even on the small scale that we would be allowed, when we refuse to enlist disciples, who would give us, along with the right of control and direction over themselves, a greater recognized social standing as representatives of one more artistic or political ideology. . . . One should not confuse the practical conditions of free thought here and in the East or in Spain, for example. In countries where nothing can be openly expressed, it is obviously necessary to support the right of everyone to express themselves. But in places where everyone can express themselves (though under conditions of enormous inequality) any radical thought without of course wishing to suppress this practical freedom must first of all clear the way for its own unaccustomed path, must assert its own right to exist without being coopted and distorted by the social order which manifestly reigns behind this visible confusion and complexity and which ultimately possesses the monopoly of appearances (cf. our critique of the spectacle in the consumer society of commodity abundance). Finally, the reigning tolerance is one-way, and this on a global scale in spite of the antagonisms and complexity of the different types of exploitive societies. What the tolerant people who are in a position to express themselves tolerate, fundamentally, is the established power everywhere. You tell us that you live in X... If you were in Paris you would see how many of these tolerant leftist intellectuals turn out to be undecided, understanding and tolerant toward the established conditions in X... or in Beijing. What they call the sense of history is their Hegelian adherence to what they read in the daily papers.
(Second letter.) A radically different point of departure in fact first of all restores the truth of the liberatory endeavors of the past. It is necessary to break clearly with the old confusion, and therefore with its partisans, whether they be open, cunning or simply unconscious. We obviously have to bear the negative consequences of the attitude we have chosen, and we have to acknowledge this negativity. . . . We are in complete agreement with you on the interrelation of all aspects of the problem of the present avant-garde. We are in fact trying to initiate dialogue everywhere that that state of mind manifests itself in a radical direction. For that state of mind is itself divided by a struggle between its truth and its organized cooption by the ruling powers.
1. “a bond, not a power”: Marx’s characterization of the First International.
2. The correspondent was Branko Vucicovic in Prague. The full text of the two letters can now be found in Guy Debords Correspondance (Volume 3, pp. 89-92, 115-117)./p>
Lidéologie du dialogue originally appeared in Internationale Situationniste #10 (Paris, March 1966). This translation by Ken Knabb is from the Situationist International Anthology (Revised and Expanded Edition, 2006). No copyright.