BUREAU OF PUBLIC SECRETS


 

 

The Return of the Durruti Column

 

           

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English translation:

Page 1:

THE RETURN OF THE DURRUTI COLUMN

What had shocked them most as they were growing up was not so much the fact that things were as they were with a tendency to petrify, but that other people were clueless enough to suppose that they would refrain from reacting with violence.

That day they were once again in the process of playing out their lives according to the chances of circumstances.

Voices in the dark:

“What if we took over the Student Union?”

“If it’s for fun, okay. But I don’t want to have to deal with all those unionist jerks.”

“Yeah, that would be like taking A. Moles’s courses seriously!”

“And besides, we don’t have UNEF cards.”

“And if we stole some of those cards?”

Little girl: “Some delinquents, by stealing commodities so they can give them away, reproduce at a higher level the practice of gift that prevailed in primitive societies (a practice that was ended by the trade economy based on a weak development of productive forces). In this way they are discovering a form of action perfectly appropriate within a society that hails itself as a ‘society of abundance,’ and are thereby beginning its supersession.”

In such a society, a passion for theft provokes even the most indecisive people to do the most unthinkable and impossible things. Life becomes a game and that game makes life more playful. In any case, they had to extend their terrain of experimentation, to seize new powers to fight this power society.

From inside the Trojan horse:

“How can we keep from laughing too loud?”

“As a precaution, we made sure to totally antagonize priests, militants, and all the old political forces.”

Woman: “Two thousand years of Christianity have fostered the masochism of all these intellectuals. This is our lucky break, and it won’t stop here.”

 

Page 2:

Their constant revelry and dionysian excesses wrecked whatever reputation they might still have had among a rather small number of people.

[Copy of an outraged letter from a landlord, complaining about their nonstop partying, urinating from a balcony of their apartment, etc.]

Sign: “Struggle Is Possible”

The general crisis of old union and leftist bureaucracies was obvious to everyone, especially among the students, where activism had for a long time had no other outlet than the most sordid devotion to the most stale ideologies and the most unrealistic ambitions. The last cohort of professionals that elected our heroes didn’t even have the excuse of having been duped. They placed their hope for a renewal on a group who didn’t hide their intention to sabotage as quickly as possible all this archaic militantism.

Young couple making out:

“Maybe they think that responsibilities will settle us down and that we’ll stop telling academics to eat shit!”

“These union jerks will probably take us for some avant-garde version of their own senility, some new version of their own impotence!”

Lenin (reaching for the woman’s ass): “As far as I’m concerned, the JCR can go fuck themselves!”

Having heard about the lifestyle of our charming adventurers, the entrenched liars demanded that they follow the rules of inequality that had for so long validated their own impostures.

[Copy of Student Union regulations stating the rights and duties of the president and the treasurer, including their access to union funds.]

Our friends had a good laugh about that.

“We’ve heard that one before! It’ll take more than that to stop us. Let’s play poker — the loser has to be the president!”

 

Page 3:

So much for the presidency, but the treasury was a different matter. They convinced a woman who happened to pass their way to take on the more compromising role of treasurer.

Little boy: “Money is the root of all conflict, all hatred, all ambition. In short, it is the creator of all property. If we were no longer obliged to give something in exchange for what we need for our existence, gold would lose its value and no one would seek or be able to enrich themselves, since nothing they accumulated would enable them to obtain a greater well-being than anyone else. Thus, no need for laws, no need for masters.”

JCR = dumb jerks
JCR = dumb jerks
JCR = dumb jerks
etc.

Their knowledge of life owed nothing to their sporadic presence in the university departments, nor to the few diplomas they had managed to obtain in the most diverse and least avowable ways.

Cowboys:

“What’s your scene, man?”

“Investigating reification.”

“Yeah? That sounds like serious work with thick books and stacks of papers on a big desk.”

“Nope. I drift. Mostly I just drift.”

Ravachol: “Since I was a child my happiness has sprung from my principles and my tastes. They were always the sole basis for my attitudes and actions. I might possibly go further, but I’ll never go back. I have too great a horror of the prejudices of men; I hate their civilizations and their virtues and their gods too intensely to ever sacrifice anything to them.”

Jules Ravachol, a.k.a. Francisque Koenigstein. Born October 11, 1859. Height: 5´5. Occupation: dyer. Frequents revolutionary circles. Reasons for detention: destruction of buildings and possession of bombs.

The brilliance of this theoretical knowledge called for an appropriate practice. They had gradually discovered those with whom wrecking the social machine would be a pitiless game. Thus it was that they entered into preliminary discussions with the “Occult International.”

 

Page 4:

It was time to act.

Toothbrushes:

“Who makes you laugh most, the fascists, the Gaullists, the Union of Communist Students, the Revolutionary Communist Youth, or the anarchists of Le Monde Libertaire?”

“You’re right. All those people, consciously or not, are in solidarity with the old world we now have to attack.”

They also hastened to carry out the small chores necessary for the defense of student interests . . .

Sardanapalus (in Delacroix’s painting “The Death of Sardanapalus”): “Yes, Marx’s thought really is a critique of everyday life.”

. . . because it is this exclusive concentration on the real world that will produce a new life and new great persons of great character and great actions.

As a result of this victory, you will soon be able to get a copy, published by the Strasbourg Student Union, of the most scandalous pamphlet of the century. On the Poverty of Student Life Considered in Its Economic, Political, Psychological, Sexual, and Especially Intellectual Aspects, With a Modest Proposal for Doing Away With It, is a cardiogram of everyday reality that will enable you to choose which side you’re on — for or against the current misery, for or against the powers which, by robbing you of your own history, prevent you from living.

IT’S YOUR TURN TO PLAY

Strasbourg “Student” Union, October 1966

 


 

TRANSLATOR’S NOTES

Created by André Bertrand in October 1966 in order to publicize the forthcoming appearance of the pamphlet On the Poverty of Student Life, this comic is to a great extent a self-description of the lives and attitudes of the dozen or so students who enlisted the collaboration of the Situationist International and carried out what became known all over Europe as the “Strasbourg scandal.”

With a few minor revisions, this translation is based on the translation of the portions of the comic that were included in the British edition of On the Poverty of Student Life (translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith and T.J. Clark and retitled Ten Days That Shook the University). The translations of both the comic and the pamphlet were sometimes rather free, but they well conveyed the tone of the original texts.

The Durruti Column was an anarchist militia unit led by Buenaventura Durruti during the Spanish civil war. The title of the comic was inspired by this sentence near the end of Raoul Vaneigem’s article Basic Banalities: “Our guiding image could be the Durruti Column, moving from town to village, liquidating the bourgeois elements and leaving the workers to see to their own self-organization.” (The name was misspelled “Durutti” in both the original Vaneigem article and in the comic.)

Student Union: literally, “the A.G.E.” (short for A.F.G.E.S. = Association Fédérative Générale des Étudiants de Strasbourg = the Strasbourg Student Union).

UNEF = Union Nationale des Étudiants de France = the French National Student Union.

A. Moles = a cybernetic professor critiqued by the SI. His classes were disrupted by some of the Strasbourg students.

JCR = Jeunesse Communiste Revolutionnaire (Revolutionary Communist Youth), a Trotskyist group.

Cowboy dialogue. This dialogue is based on a scene from Michèle Bernstein’s novel Tous les chevaux du roi (All the King’s Horses). In that book, which presents a fictionalized account of Bernstein’s life with Guy Debord in the 1950s, Debord is talking with a young woman he has recently met. She is intrigued by him, but is not quite sure just what sort of things he and Michèle are up to. She asks him: “De quoi t’occupes-tu exactement?” (“Just what is it that you are involved with?”). He replies: “De la réification.” When she says that sounds like a lot of serious work with books, etc., he says that his project does not involve so much bookish research, but that he spends most of his time walking, drifting, wandering the city (as described in his article Theory of the Dérive). I have adopted the British translation of the first question: “What’s your scene, man?” which gives a good idiomatic sense of the tone and meaning. (Another possibility might have been “Just what is this strange trip that you’re into?”) But I’ve changed the reply to “Investigating reification,” which makes the sense clearer. The meaning is not that he specializes in reifying things (which would of course be the total opposite of his aim), but that he is exploring or investigating reification (in order to destroy it).

“Occult International”: A term by which some journalists referred to the seemingly mysterious Situationist International.

 


October 1966 comic by André Bertrand, one of the key documents of the “Strasbourg scandal.” See the Situationist International’s article Our Goals and Methods in the Strasbourg Scandal and the pamphlet On the Poverty of Student Life. If you read French, there is also an excellent and much more detailed account by two of the perpetrators, André Bertrand and André Schneider: Le Scandale de Strasbourg mis à nu par ses célibataires, mêmes (L’Insomnique Éditeur, 2018).

Translated 2023 by Ken Knabb. No copyright.

 

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