The Elite and the Backward
The situationists are undoubtedly very criticizable. So far, unfortunately, almost no one has made any of these critiques that is, the intelligent and precise critiques, made without bad faith, that revolutionaries could make and will one day easily be capable of making regarding many of our theses and many aspects of our activity. But the manner in which many present-day revolutionaries spread inept objections or accusations, as if to repress the problem with the lamentable reflexes acquired during their previous period of defeats and nonexistence, only reveals a persistent leftist sectarian poverty, or even miserable ulterior motives.
Let us say first of all that, just as we find it quite natural that bourgeois, bureaucrats and intellectual coopters hate us, we recognize that would-be revolutionaries who claim to be opposed on principle to any form of organization based on a precise platform, entailing the practical co-responsibility of its participants, will naturally condemn us completely since we manifestly have a contrary opinion and practice. But all the others? It is a clear demonstration of dishonesty and an implicit avowal of aims of domination to accuse the SI of constituting a dominating organization when we have gone to great lengths to make it almost impossible to become a member of the SI(1) (which seems to us to destroy at the roots any concrete risk of our becoming a leadership vis-à-vis even the slightest fraction of the masses); and considering, in addition, that it is quite clear that we have never exploited our intellectual prestige, either by frequenting any bourgeois or intellectual circles (much less by accepting any of their honors or remunerations), or by competing with the multitude of little leftist sects for the control or admiration of the miserable student public, or by trying to exert the slightest secret influence, or even the slightest direct or indirect presence, in the autonomous revolutionary organizations whose existence we and a few others have predicted, and which are now beginning to take shape.
Those who have never accomplished anything apparently feel that they have to attribute the scandalous fact that we have been able to accomplish something to imaginary goals and means. In reality, it is because we shock certain people by refusing contact with them, or even their requests for admission to the SI, that we are accused of being an elite and of aspiring to dominate those whom we dont even want to know! But what elitist role are we supposed to have reserved for ourselves? A theoretical one? We have said that the workers must become dialecticians and themselves take care of all their theoretical and practical problems.(2) Those who are concerned with running their own affairs need only appropriate our methods, instead of lapping up the latest rumors about us, and they will become that much more independent from us. [...]
1. Although the situationists could easily have accumulated numerous members had they been so inclined, the SIs membership was rarely much more than a dozen. In all, 63 men and 7 women from 16 different countries were members at one time or another. Most were from various west European countries; three were from the United States, two from Algeria, and one each from Congo, Hungary, Israel, Rumania, Tunisia, and Venezuela.
2. “Proletarian revolution depends entirely on the condition that, for the first time, theory as understanding of human practice be recognized and lived by the masses. It requires that workers become dialecticians and put their thought into practice” (The Society of the Spectacle #123).
Lélite et le retard originally appeared in Internationale Situationniste #12 (Paris, September 1969). This translation by Ken Knabb is from the Situationist International Anthology (Revised and Expanded Edition, 2006). No copyright.