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Why Tim Clark Can't Kill the Leninist Party: a response to October circulated in March 1997
cc October, Tim Clark, Rod Mengham, Stewart Home, Pete Green, John Roberts, Greil Marcus, Bridget Penney/Invisible Books, Greil Marcus, Susan Buck-Morss, Alex Callinicos
In an art scene over-heated with unseamly critical self-aggrandisement over 'yBa' (young British assholism (1)), T.J. Clark and Donald Nicholson-Smith's reminder of the situationist legacy (2) hit like a draught of cool air. Clark and Nicholson-Smith's scepticism about the art market - and care for politics - are a reprimand to the craven sales-talk ubiquitous today. They revealed the hypocritical and premature nature of the spurt of obsequy triggered by Guy Debord's death. They also resuscitated his doctrine: the cause of Modern Art is bound to the cause of proletarian emancipation. Nonetheless, in its conclusion, their paper belied their intentions. This essay attempts to explain why. Clark and Nicholson-Smith evince patrician myopia towards the actualities of mass-produced culture. Alongside their text they reproduce a photograph from Vilnius. It shows a toppled statue of Lenin. The question I want to ask is: But why have the Vilnians now erected a statue of Frank Zappa? (3)
Patrician Myopia regarding the Ubiquity of Anti-Art
As Hans Richter pointed out in the subtitle of his book on Dada (4), only those who recognise anti-art can make sense of art in the twentieth-century. Although quick to trounce current gallery fashions, Clark and Nicholson-Smith fail to acknowledge the extent to which Dada's anti-art virus has penetrated mass culture. Music was always a blindspot for the situationists. (5) Clark and Nicholson-Smith's defence of the situationist legacy does not deign to deal with the question whether Punk consitituted commercial recuperation of SI ideas or the proletarian application Debord so ardently desired. As soon as the actuality of working-class access to culture is raised, the art-historian's eyes glaze over.
If commercial radio in London provides police-critical reports of shootings in Los Angeles the morning after they occur (6), then recycling the traditional situationist charge that 'the Left' undervalued the Watts riots begins to look mechanical. (7) In its eulogy of Gangsta Rap, drugs and laddism, the spectacle now enthusiastically promotes the urban delinquency Debord - along with William Burroughs - found so inspirationally 'subversive'. For those who inhabit crumbling housing estates, Leftbank nihilism is not such a laugh. (8) The use of situationist rhetoric by a cynical media requires return to the irreducible knuckle of an unrecuperable aesthetic. This can only be found in class politics: the objective understanding of an unjust state of affairs. A materialist analysis of the situation facing the working class means abandoning ivory-tower squirms of delight at riots on the other side of town. It demands an aesthetic less dependent on the paradoxes of middle-class guilt - if no less critical of a culture geared towards the realisation of profit.
Clark and Nicholson-Smith's political stand resembles one of the newly-maufactured lava-lamps available in Camden Lock market: a Seventies Diatribe (Brief Return). Their daring smack-in-the-face-to-public-taste is to lampoon Peter Wollen, a minor purveyor of structuralist film-studies obscurantism. The vilification of Wollen's report on student occupations in '68 is amusing, but this informed spleen evaporates in the coverage of subsequent decades. The choice of target shows a touching attachment to the 'structuralist' moment of the 1970s. Social being determines consciousness: academics must perforce rely on the last time they lived their ideas.
True, Clark and Nicholson-Smith also pan the 'intrepid dabbler' (9) Régis Debray for his weedy 'disagreements' with Debord, but this is truly the extermination of intellectual midges (theory as Vapona spray). Jean Baudrillard and Pierre Bourdieu are the real recuperators of the Situationist critique. Like the Western Marxists who only read chapter one of Capital (thus obsessing on commodity fetishism rather than on exploitation, extraction of surplus value and the decline in the rate of profit), Baudrillard has made an entire career by regurgitating the first twelve paragraphs of Society of the Spectacle: the real thrust of Debord's argument is ditched in favour of the tritest idealism. (10) Pierre Bourdieu's debunking concept of 'cultural capital' borrows its negative energies from the Situationist critique, but only to reduce its Marxism to the Neo-Kantian cretinism of sociology. Themselves complicit in the pomo-academico evasion of class realities peddled by Baudrillard and Bourdieu (11), Clark and Nicholson-Smith must remain content with squashing flies.
Clark and Nicholson-Smith roundly denounce the 'official Left' for its disregard for the 'utopian dimension' (12). It's as if Tony Blair's New Labour had never arisen. When the leader of the British Labour Party attempts to suppress mention of class, then surely the charge that 'traditional class politics' lacks 'utopianism' needs re-examination. In other words, the 'traditional class politics' of the reformist 'official Left' is in disarray, but you wouldn't notice this from Clark and Nicholson-Smith's breathless denunciations.
It needs to be stated clearly and simply that Debord's 'terroristic' certainty, the inspirational disregard that so upset establishment intellectuals in pre-68 Paris, was nothing more than revolutionary politics - Marxism conceived from the point of the working-class radical rather than the academic. That it was also a terrific standpoint from which to launch critiques of culture - existentialism, structuralism, Jean-Luc Godard, Art Brut, Pop Art and Fluxus - was the glory and tragedy of his oeuvre. Debord was operating in an eclipsed capital of the Avantgarde where apocalyptic wannabe-Artaudism was the lingua franca of literary skirmish. To his eternal credit, Debord played the strongest card of all: revolutionary Marxism. This is where Clark and Nicholson-Smith grow queasy. With intellectual tools contaminated by the gangrene of postmodernism, they cannot ascertain what is living in Guy Debord. By the conclusion of their essay, they are reduced to vaunting 'Art' versus 'the Left' - precisely the hypostatised categories any situationist claims to supersede.
Clark and Nicholson-Smith's concept of 'the Left' is the paper's most egregious flaw. Like their theoretical anguish, their politics is freeze-framed in the mid-70s, when the crisis of the Italian revolutionary movement made the Autonomista a rallying cry for disappointed 68ers. Last year T.J. Clark and J.H. Prynne spoke at a conference on Willem De Kooning at the Tate Gallery. (13) The fact neither mentioned the word 'postmodern' felt like a triumph for a materialist treatment of art. However, to talk about 'the Left' without mentioning postmodernism - as if class politics were not today ubiquitously condemned as 'modernist', 'essentialist' and 'old-fashioned' - is to refuse to face facts.
In order to establish their radical credentials, Clark and Nicholson-Smith bracket together postmodernist liberals, Stalinist hangovers and revolutionary socialists (14) as 'the Left'. In terms of what politics actually exist on the ground, this is bad nonsense. Clark and Nicholson-Smith tirade against the 'Leninist Party' - precisely at the time that Communist Parties worldwide have disbanded. East and west, the Nomenklatura have found new, 'postmodernist' ways of justifying class privilege: techno dynamism, cyber innovation, entrepreneurial vigour, internet sophistry. Whereas Debord was a heretic, cutting against the grain of left-establishment adulation of Russia, the anarcho-critique of 'totalising' political organisation is now a liberal cliche. Strive as they may for an 'oppositional' cachet, Clark and Nicholson-Smith's actual class position reveals itself in this mouthing of postmodern platitudes.
For Clark and Nicholson-Smith, a catalogue of 'the Left' would go from 'the Statist and workerist fringes of Social Democracy and Labourism to the para-academic journals and think tanks of latter-day Trotskyism, taking in the Stalinist and lightly post-Stalinist center'. This is an intimidating run-through of positions to adumbrate to an American art readership, but actually the expertise is hollow. This is not a description of real political forces, but of the positions taken by contributors to New Left Review. Clark and Nicholson-Smith complain that NLR never took the situationists seriously, yet lack the political experience to list what other ructions the journal has refused to succour since 1968: Rock Against Racism, the Anti-Nazi League, the Miners Strike, the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign, the Liverpool Dockers Strike.
Clark and Nicholson-Smith are welcome to rubbish NLR, but the sad truth is their own concept of 'the Left' is restricted to the various shades of reformism to be found in its pages. Anyone who has no truck with the privileges of the theoretical spectacle - who gauges the possibility of opposition to capitalism, not by scanning the NLR, but by looking at the political options available to the working class - would have to take cognisance of the Socialist Workers Party. It was true for a situationist punk in 1977, and it's still truer today. British TV-viewers are regularly greeted by the sight of Socialist Worker placards on news-footage of pickets and demos. No-one so blind as full-time intellectuals heads-down in the fleshpots of American academia. (15)
Clark and Nicholson-Smith: Closer to Robin Blackburn than Tony Cliff
Since the demise of Communism in 1989, postmodernism has swept the board amongst the progressive intelligentsia, leaving many unsure whether to describe themselves as 'the Left' at all. Much of the academic Left - previously associated with the Communist and Labour Parties and ever eager to write for NLR - has deserted Marxism wholesale, convinced by the news from Paris that Marx is 'totalising' (16). Because their own Marxism is half-baked and impractical, Clark and Nicholson-Smith and Clark are themselves tempted by these retreats.
By making 'the Left' their object of obloquy, Clark and Nicholson-Smith fail to register how deeply unfashionable Marxism - and any mention of the working class - has become for a 'postmodern' intelligentsia. The structuralist project may now be declared complete, a theoretical complement to a rejigged political map: Stalinized Marxism becomes laissez-faire liberalism, so Althusser is binned in favour of Baudrillard. Clark and Nicholson-Smith cannot trace this transformation because they have no measure of the class-compromises that explain it. This is because they rule out the one mechanism that can challenge compromise - explicit commitment to Marxist politics, which can only be achieved by membership of a Leninist party. Clark and Nicholson-Smith's concluding premonition of some intangible and sinister 'new project of resistance' (17) abuses the revolutionary critique of left reformism by dressing it up as an aesthetic mystery. What should be plain politics becomes an art-terrorist motif. Their situationist sneer masks contemptible (pseudo-transcendent, 'beyond Left and Right') involvement in the academic alchemy that turns basic concepts into professorial gold.
Those who accepted the state-capitalist analysis of Russia (18) did not find the intellectual 'transformation' of structuralists into postmodernists surprising. The 'velvet' revolutions in the eastern block represented a ruling class altering its ideology. (19) No wonder their western camp-followers followed suit. People with positions in class society cannot be expected to adhere to a politics whose principles are not enshrined in any regime on earth. In this sense, the SWP, with its history of radical criticism of state 'socialisms' in Russia, China, Cuba, Ghana, Albania, Nicaragua etc is as 'utopian' as any situationist could wish.
The 'state-capitalist' analysis enabled the SWP to reach political poitions that eluded those who were tainted by Stalinism. It applauded Solidarnosc, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the shooting of Ceaucescu and the break-up of the Soviet Empire - all without doubting for a minute its commitment to Marxism and world proletarian revolution. When Clark and Nicholson-Smith talk of 'the utter failure of the Left' to understand what the fall of the Berlin wall 'might mean for it, what it might say about its fifty-year collaboration with Stalinist counterrevolution' (20) they are as guilty as any issue of NLR of suppressing the legacy of Tony Cliff (21).
Clark and Nicholson insist quite correctly that Debord's theory is essentially an attack on Stalinism, but since they are unsure of the relationship of Stalin to Lenin and of Lenin to Marx, their Marxism starts to wobble. Their politics boils down to the familiar tepid stew favoured by 'molecular' Foucauldians (22):
Struggles with the late-capitalist state are at present local and multi-form ('identity' and 'ecological' politics being merely those forms that the spectacle chooses for now to (mis)represent them ...). (23)
Although decked out with voguish brackets ('(mis)represent' (24)), Clark and Nicholson-Smith's politics are actually plain old liberalism: working-class politics should be abandoned for 'local' initiatives. Don't try to overthrow capitalism, set up a neighbourhood centre: Herbert Marcuse made safe for the Democratic Party by Jesse Jackson. Nothing could be further from the politics of Guy Debord: all his thought was directed towards the revolutionary potential of the united, unseparated proletariat.
Clark and Nicholson-Smith want a New New Left that 'begins to think the problem of contesting the enemy in terms not borrowed from Marxism-Leninism'. The revolutionary forces they 'discern' are, predictably enough, those of 'identity' and the 'ecology': blacks, women, gays and greens. Far from misrepresenting such struggles, bourgeois representational politics revel in such fractional demands. Because they do not suggest the unity of the exploited, they fail to challenge capital and are hence deemed safe. They are all part of the push-and-pull of democratic pluralism. Clark and Nicholson-Smith surrender to the most divisive slurs of Feminist and Black Nationalist careerists when they denounce 'unite and fight' slogans as 'phony-communitarian' (25). This repulsive remark - which could only be coined by prattlers who have never tried to smash a Fascist mobilisation - shows Clark and Nicholson-Smith to be as scared by proletarian solidarity as any boss.
The Society of the Spectacle
Clark and Nicholson-Smith describe Debord's Society of the Spectacle as a 'forced conversation with the early Marx and with the shades of Feuerbach and Hegel' (26). This is true, but only in so far as any attempt to argue for a working-class politics will force this conversation - or collapse into a variety of historical errors. As they point out, in 1967 Guy Debord faced the 'overwhelming reality' (27) of Stalinism. Not only a dictatorial form of state-capitalism in Russia and China that called itself 'Marxist', but a French Communist Party that claimed to represent the working class, but actually served a trade-union bureaucracy benefitting from compromises with capitalism and the state. Faced with this caricature of Marxism, Debord improvised a critique.
Although sympathetic towards working-class militants whose Trotskyism denied them the support of Parisian intellectuals (28), Debord was not deeply versed in working-class politics. However, like André Breton before him, he was a superb critic and polemicist. The tragedy of Society of the Spectacle was that its brilliant aphorisms on the superstructure were meshed with a flawed 'critique' of the Communist Party. Debord recirculated anarchist and liberal slurs on Lenin and stooped to raising the ghost of Bakunin. His thought was developed during a time of unprecedented boom, and his intent was to produce a critique of capitalism that would operate even in such a time of abundance. What point the accumulation of material things when the subject is denied a role in history? Debord relaunched the revolutionary idea as an absurdist refusal of contemporary values. After the slumps of the mid-70s - along with the return of first-world mass unemployment and Fascism - Debord's theory looks threadbare. It lacked the empirical study of economics that allowed revolutionary Marxists to predict the return of economic crisis.
Artistic praxis has also left Debord high-and-dry. The punk interpretation of situationist principles - radical subjectivity, contempt for bourgeois ideology and parliamentary democracy, hatred of the military and the cops, proletarian pride and humour - has become part of the armoury of working-class revolt. To reach the working class, punk used commercial channels (precisely those routinely denounced by the mandarins of Western Marxism). Punk provided such a paradoxical reply to Debordian denunciations of the spectacle - spectacular anti-spectaculism - that his terms were superseded. Only a return to traditional Marxist class analysis - for which the key is people's relationship to the means of production - can cleave the reactionary consumerism of buying records from Punk's Reichian rearmament of the proletarian psyche. The issue cannot be resolved by the inane 'theories of culture' published by NLR, each of which attempts to label different areas of the culture as holy or profane. These are simply aspects of modern reality a revolutionary must learn to use. Only action is capable of splitting apart the contradictions of capitalism.
Distinguishing Debord's cultural theory from his anti-Leninism may sound like reinstating the separation between aesthetics from politics. However, this is not done in order to convert Debord's good side into an apolitical art 'theory'. It is to point out that Debord's art criticism had the virtues of immanent critique; when he dissed Breton his words had the energies of a disciple betrayed. His condemnation of Marxist organisation, on the other hand, lacked the knowledge to point out that Communist hacks and Trotskyist sectarians fail to understand the lessons of Lenin and Trotsky. His criticism of revolutionary politics is not Marxist, but abuse hurled from the sidelines by a bohemian and aesthete. This explains his partiality to the intellectual sloughs of Bakunin and anarchism.
Without an understanding of what went wrong with the Russian Revolution there can be no politics that speaks for the dispossessed. Debord argues that Stalinism arose because the Bolshevik Party was 'organised according to the bourgeois model of separation' (29). Debord's animus against 'separation' is as trendy and abstract - as ungrounded in a materialist understanding of history - as John Lennon's 'Come Together' (30) (if no less charming). It may indeed be the case that the neoplatonic One prefigured the dialectical emphasis on totality, but Debord's application here leapfrogs attention to actualities.
Debord quite correctly points out that Trotsky failed to recognise the emergence of the Russian bureaucracy as a class, but wrong to conclude that this was due to his commitment to the idea of the Leninist party. (31) Debord's criticism of third-world Communism is powerful (32), but nothing the state-capitalist critique had not already achieved. The compromised monolith of the French Communist Party in 1967 made evaluation of Lenin and Trotsky difficult. In 1997, Clark and Nicholson-Smith's repetition of Debord's anti-Leninism simply aligns them with the liberals of postmodernism. (33)
They say 'the Left' refuses 'to pose the problems of revolutionary organisation ... and come to terms with the disaster of its Leninist and Trotskyite past' (34) - yet they show no signs of having read any Lenin or Trotsky. They have no inkling of the 'leaps' that C.L.R. James admired in Lenin. (35) Lenin and Trotsky were polemicists in opposition to the inertness of bureaucracies and party structures, continually attempting to make contact with the radicalism of the proletariat.
In 1926 Trotsky and Natalia Sedova were in Berlin during the celebrations for May Day.
Weimar democracy was still in full flower. The policies of the German Communist Party had long since left the Marxist rails - if it can be said that they had ever been fully on them - but the party itself still represented an inpressive force. Incognito, we attended the May Day demonstrations on the Alexanderplatz. An enormous mass of people, a multitude of banners, confident speeches. My feeling was: it will be hard to manoeuvre that unwieldy bulk ... (36)
As it turned out, Trotsky's advice on how to fight National Socialism failed to penetrate 'that unwieldy bulk'. Seven years later Hitler took power. Trotsky's arguments proved invaluable to the Anti-Nazi League in Britain forty years later. In today's political climate, Clark and Nicholson's condemnation of the Trotskyist tradition smacks of an anti-organisational scepticism that is as academic as it is well-heeled.
The postmodern scarecrow of a 'dictatorial Marx' only frightens those who have not broken through to the historical reality. Marx's star waxed and waned with the revolutionary fortunes of the international working class. For example, Karl Marx's crucial Critique of the Gotha Programme was written at a time of reaction: the German Social-Democracy was turning to the right, and he was constrained by political opportunity to circulating his critique to a handful of people. (37) This is omitted from both Stalinist accounts of the 'triumph' of Marxism and postmodern diatribes versus the totalizing devil. Like the Rainbow Coalitions and liberal applause for nice (ie powerless) 'local' initiatives, the Stalinised Communist Parties had a second-internationalist ideology of 'gradual improvement'. Marx, Lenin and Trotsky fought this tooth and nail: as well as a realistic appraisal of the barbarism inflicted by a victorious reaction, they knew that revolutionary politics requires a grasp of the concrete possibility, the moment. Anyone who has taken practical measures to win strikes or oppose Fascists (38) will appreciate Trotsky's incomparable distinction between the united front (unity in action) and the popular front (sitting still for bishops).
The idea of the united front allows Marxists to bridge the gap between revolutionary intent and contingent politics - without making compromises with bourgeois power structures. Debord's ignorance of Trotsky's united front meant that instead of initiating a new form of politics, he ended up supplying abuse for art-historians to hurl at socialist agitators.
T.J. Clark's Saving Grace (Perhaps Not Graceful Enough)
T.J. Clark's saving grace is that he is one of the few writers who articulate the social meaning of art. (39) He can do so because he adheres to the lessons in revolutionary Marxism he learned from Debord: he places art before the tribunal of history rather than upon the auction-rack of value, something few art historians (let alone 'critics') have the gall to do. However, 'Why Art Can't Kill the Situationist International' remains an article to be written. The promise of the title - a denunciation of the current gallery charade by rousing the buried monsters of the historical Avantgarde - was thrown away in a blur of postmodern calls for a pie-in-the-sky politics. William Burroughs has a more materialist grasp of the mechanics of capitalism than this!
When Clark is explaining Abstract Expressionism in a manner that seems to make the paint-strokes figure world-historical decisions, you want this insight to be cast on the world outside the museum. However, in order to do so, Clark must abandon the self-justifications of his fossilised situationism (40). In the absence of the SI and its concrete proposals for action, the 'situationist critique of the Left' decays to mere 'defence of subjectivity', and hence chimes with any common-or-garden sentimentalism about the wonders of art and 'the inner life'. Until Clark recognises the dispersal of anti-art into the culture industry - the meaning of Punk and the meaning of the Vilnius monument to Frank Zappa - his defence of the SI remains a defence of bourgeois privilege. The proletariat is not the corollary of a theoretical distress, but the actual reality that art and theory stumble over. The proletariat's take-up of the key features of 60s anti-art - the spiritual concentrate of the social struggles of the period - shows that the only 'subjectivity' abandoned by the revolutionary socialist is the nightmare of a privatised aestheticism.
Critical truth ... must struggle in practice among the irreconcilable enemies of the spectacle. (41)
The Great Art-historical Mistake
Instead of using their forum in an art journal to challenge the assumptions of its readers, Clark and Nicholson-Smith ended up flattering them. What should have been denunciation - demolition of the fantasy that the singleton production of objects for private ownership can any longer connect to the spirit of history - turned out to be an attack on 'the Left'. This 'Left' is conceived, not in terms of the possibilities for working-class action during another crisis of capitalism, but in terms of the self-regard of the otiose NLR. What conventional postmodern will not applaud an art-journal which attacks 'the bonehard philistinism of the Left' (42) in favour of 'art'? Despite his failure to grasp the revolutionary Marxism of Lenin and Trotsky, this was a blow for the bourgeoisie Guy Debord would never have struck.
(1) This refers to Stewart Home, Disputations: On Art, Anarchy and Assholism, London: Sabotage, 1997. Home's comedy-store reincarnation of Thomas Nashe is just the prick required for the critical flatulence surrounding the Hirst 'Generation'. His insistence on Punk's quotidian anti-art provided a key idea for this essay (even if he will be indignant at its presence in a Leninist 'apology').
(2) T.J. Clark and Donald Nicholson-Smith, 'Why Art Can't Kill the Situationist International', October, no 79, Winter 1997, pp. 15-31.
(3) Frank Zappa - who died in 1993 - is a rock 'legend'. His records were inspirational for opponents of the communist regimes in eastern Europe. Vaclav Havel gave him an official reception in Prague in January 1990. My attempts to make a case for mass-produced Modern Art - Duke Ellington, Sun Ra, John Coltrane, R. Crumb, the Sex Pistols - culminated in Frank Zappa The Negative Dialectics Of Poodle Play, London: Quartet, 1994. On publication, I discovered that it was easier to create a debate about Modern Art among the 'bone-hard philistines' of the Left than it was to raise interest in mass culture among the doyens of 'Marxist' art criticism.
(4) Hans Richter, Dada: Art and Anti-Art, translated David Brett, London: Thames & Hudson, 1965.
(5) Debord's translator Lucy Forsyth contends that he worshipped John Coltrane and Black Free Jazz - interesting facts to set against the negative attitude towards jazz in Potlatch and Internationale Situationniste. See 'Addendum to the Call for Unity: the Story of a Situationist Conference at the Hacienda, Manchester, 27-28 January 1996', in my Art, Class & Cleavage: a Quantulumcunque concerning Materialist Esthetix, London: Quartet, 1997.
(6) This refers to Kiss FM's reporting of weekend shootings in LA on the morning of Monday 10 March 1996. The politics and contacts caused by the commercial success of Rap have produced opportunities undreamt of by Parisian intellectuals who modelled their idea of the pop spectacle on Brigitte Bardot.
(7) This hoary brickbat appears not once, but twice: Clark and Donald Nicholson-Smith, Op. Cit., p. 17, pp. 20-21. Socialist Worker regularly applauds riots - from the British ones of the early 80s to the Rodney King uprising in 1992 - but this does not prevent Clark and Nicholson trotting out situationist denunciations of the inability of 'Leninists' to respond to lumpen 'spontaneity'. How spontaneous is it to recite the sins of the French Communist Party in 1965 as a condemnation of Leninism in the 1990s?
(8) In 1994, Chronos - anarchists who place pamphlets on the shelves of Compendium and Housman's Books in London's Camden Town - published the document written by the English wing of the Situationist International (the exclusion of the English wing prevented its publication at the time). The blurb distances itself from the 'crass eulogy of the violence of juvenile delinquents', T.J. Clark/Christopher Gray/Charles Radcliffe/Donald Nicholson-Smith, The Revolution of Modern Art & the Modern Art of Revolution, 1967, London: Chronos, 1994, back-cover.
(9) Clark and Donald Nicholson-Smith, 'Why Art Can't Kill the Situationist International', Ed. Cit., p. 15.
(10) A point well made by Sadie Plant, The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International in a Postmodern Age, London: Routledge, 1992, p. 154.
(11) A flawed - but nevertheless unanswered - exposition of the material basis of postmodernism was provided by Alex Callinicos, Against Postmodernism: A Marxist Critique, Cambridge: Polity, 1989.
(12) Clark and Donald Nicholson-Smith, Op. Cit., p. 30.
(13) De Kooning Symposium, Tate Gallery, London, Friday 5 May 1995. See J.H. Prynne, 'A Discourse on Willem de Kooning's Rosy-Fingered Dawn at Louse Point', editor Juliet Steyn, ACT 2: Beautiful Translations, London: Pluto, 1996, pp. 44-73.
(14) As a member of the Socialist Workers Party (not to be confused with the orthodox-Trotskyist SWP in the USA - our 'state-cap' equivalents Stateside are the International Socialist Organisation), this is where I stand.
(15) The issue of political visibility is intriguing. The situationist concept of the spectacle is reduced to sophistry as soon as practical involvement in working-class action is relinquished. Armchair situationists will be quick to declare that the sight of placards on TV is 'only spectacular' - however, since such moments are spontaneous, improvised and possible for powerless proletarians such as myself, they do not appear 'only spectacular' to me. When deployed to denigrate the achievements of a workers party that has not rescinded on any part of Marx's programme, scorn for the 'spectacle' descends to art-for-art's-sake denial of actuality.
(16) The fact that they derived their 'Marxism' from Louis Althusser - whose scholastic confusionism around Capital was designed to remove its revolutionary sting - is now merely skeletal evidence in postmodernism's unfunky closet.
(17) T.J. Clark and Donald Nicholson-Smith 'Why Art Can't Kill the Situationist International', October, no 79, Winter 1997, p. 30.
(18) Tony Cliff's State Capitalism In Russia, 1948, London: Pluto, 1974, laid out the world-historical analysis that became the basis for the formation of the SWP.
(19) Clark and Nicholson-Smith quote Debord pointing this out, Op. Cit., p. 30.
(21) See note 8.
(22) The most convenient - and influential - summary of Foucault's 'molecular' politics is probably his 'Introduction to the Non-Fascist life', Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia, 1972, translated Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane, 1977, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. xi-xiv.
(23) Clark and Nicolson-Smith, Op. Cit., p. 16, n. 4.
(24) This affectation - the pretence that blatant contradiction is more intelligent than direct statement - shows that Clark and Nicholson-Smith's situationist moment failed to innoculate them against the fatuities of Deconstruction. The academic recuperation of lettrist poetics requires critique rather than emulation.
(25) Ibid. Far from being 'phony' - a word coined to describe telephone-sales duplicity - the slogan 'unite and fight' invariably arises at moments of class confrontation that are the opposite of commercial virtuality. 'Phony-communitarian' describes the ingratiating tones of identity politics and the race-relations industry rather than the confrontational politics of 'unite and fight'.
(26) Ibid, p. 25.
(27) Ibid, p. 24.
(28) When the secretary of the Trotskyist Fourth International, Pierre Frank, and several comrades were given a jail sentence in Fresnes in May 1956, Guy Debord used Potlatch to point out that there was not a squeak of protest from the liberal or communist press. Potlatch, #26, 7 May 1956, Potlatch 1954-1957, Paris: Éditions Gérard Lebovici, 1985, pp. 207-208. Ludwik Haas, the Polish Trotskyist who spent eight years in the gulags, wrote a letter to Ozjasz Szechter, a Communist Party bureaucrat who in 1977 'turned' towards a liberal position: 'There was no shooting of demonstrators in 1968 [Warsaw students attacked by security police for protesting dismissal of colleagues] because this was a quarrel within the family, but there was in December 1970 [police fired on Gdansk workers protesting food price increases]. You are treated in the same way as the old aristocracy treated its own hereditary 'oppositionists'. Their wrists were slapped, but they were still considered 'their people'. For on a class basis everything unites you with those whose actions the 'Statement' criticises, but criticises impersonally. You are linked with them by the interests of this layer, and you only differ in your view about which methods will be the most effective to keep it in power.', Ludwik Haas, 'Open Letter to Ozjasz Szechter', Revolutionary History, Vol 6, No 1, Winter 1995-6, p. 117. The chilling class realism of this statement catches precisely the tone of Debord at his best; theoretical differences with 'Trotskyism' should not obscure the fact that Debord found a similar place to speak from.
(29) Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 1967, Detroit: Black & Red, 1983, §104.
(30) 'Come Together', the B-side of 'Something', was by McCartney/Lennon and released on the Apple label in 1969. It entered the US charts at No 20 and was No 1 for five weeks. It also appears on Abbey Road.
(31) C.L.R. James (Notes on Dialectics: Hegel, Marx, Lenin, 1948, London: Allison & Busby, 1980, p. 50) and Donny Gluckstein (The Tragedy of Bukharin, London: Pluto, 1994, p. 229) also make this critique - but by explaining that Trotsky was not Leninist enough in his analysis.
(32) Ibid, §113.
(33) To argue that all Leninist parties by their nature are destined to fulfill the despicable role of the Communist Party during the événements of 1968 neglects to look at the class position of its leading members and adumbrates the paranoia of anarchist cretinism. The PCF was stuffed with parliamentary politicians, trade-union bureaucrats and city mayors.
(34) Ibid, p. 20.
(35) This refers to a famous passage in C.L.R. James, Notes on Dialectics: Hegel, Marx, Lenin, 1948, London: Allison & Busby, 1980, p. 99.
(36) Leon Trotsy, Trotsky's Diary in Exile 1935, translated Elena Zarudnaya, London: Faber and Faber, 1959, p. 94.
(37) According to Engels' forword to its posthumous publication, a manuscript was circulated to Bracke, Geib, Auer, Bebel and Liebknecht in 1875. Even when its moment had passed, Engels had to 'moderate some of the more incisive passages' in order to gain publication in the Social-Democratic Party's Neue Zeit in 1891. A party led by trade-union bureaucrats making compromises with their national bourgeoisie had no wish to be reminded of the insurrectionary internationalism of the philosopher whose banner they carried and whose 'ism' they claimed.
(38) Steps that T.J. Clark was too lordly to take in a Leeds scene where he is retro-eulogised as the godfather of those 'antifascist' angels, The Mekons. For a particularly tawdry example of cashing in situationist politics as art, see Terry Atkinson, Greil Marcus, Kathy Acker et. al., Mekons United, Lakeland, Florida: Polk Museum of Art, 1996; my response to this sub-situ bootsale appeared in The Wire, no 153, November 1996, pp. 74-75.
(39) Although tainted by CP Stalinism and bourgie infatuation with the peasantry, John Berger does not deserve the sneer he receives from Clark and Nicholson-Smith as the art-critic of choice for the 'bone-hard philistines' of the Left (Op. Cit., p. 20). My own introduction to the SI and revolutionary politics owes a debt to Berger (I bought Christopher Gray's collection of SI texts from a bookstall at the Bath Festival of Alternative Technology in 1976 because it had a sticker on the back that read: '"One of the most lucid and pure political formulations of the 60s", John Berger, New Society').
(40) The situationists insisted that they did not intend to promote a new art 'ism'. Not to use the word 'situationism' is one of the secret handshakes of the cult. However, since I am accusing Clark and Nicholson-Smith of creating an ideology of class justification from situationist ideas, the ism fits.
(41) Guy Debord, Op. Cit., §220.
(42) Clark and Nicolson-Smith, Op. Cit., p. 20.
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