Lecture 5: The Situationist Model of Media Freedom

Situationist Model of Media Freedom video

Situationism = media freedom of the workers’ councils.

August 1914: outbreak of First World War = implosion of British imperial system -> collapse of Second International Marxism and anarcho-syndicalism.
Inevitable victory of democracy, socialism and internationalism -> irrational impulses of fascism, war and xenophobia.
October 1917 Russian Revolution: Marxist parliamentary parties and trade unions -> Leninist revolutionary dictatorship of workers’ councils.
1918 dissolution of Constituent Assembly -> 1921 crushing of Kronstadt Soviet.
1921 and 1922 Congresses of Third International: Leninist totalitarian state v. Council Communism.
1924 death of Lenin -> 1925 downfall of Trotsky -> 1928 Stalin as Red Tsar.

Eric Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes.
V.I. Lenin, State and Revolution.
Anton Pannekoek, Workers’ Councils.
Bertil Hessel, Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of the Third International.

Leninism: radical politics = communist truth v. bourgeois ideology.
Surrealism: radical art = disturbing imagery v. cultural conformity.
French avant-garde art movements: Jacques-Louis David and Commune des Arts -> Gustave Courbet and 1871 Paris Commune -> André Breton and French Communist Party.
1934 Kharkov Congress ending Russian avant-garde experimentation = Constructivist artist-engineers -> Socialist Realist artist-propagandists.
1950 Congress for Cultural Freedom = mobilisation of avant-garde art for American side in Cold War.
Jackson Pollock: 1930s Trotskyist muralist -> 1950s CIA Abstract Expressionist.

Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde.
Helena Lewis, Dada Turns Red: the politics of Surrealism.
Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?: the CIA and the cultural Cold War.

French Avant-Garde Art Movements diagram

1957 founding of Situationist International = new avant-garde art movement v. recuperation of Constructivism and Surrealism within American empire.
Four avant-garde art tactics of Situationism: provocation; detournement; psychogeography; participatory creativity.
Provocation: 9th April 1950 Lettrist sermon at Notre-Dame cathedral, Paris.
Detournement: text in cartoon speech bubbles replaced by Situationist slogans.
Psychogeography: Abdelhafid Khatib’s 1958 dérive of les Halles, Paris.
Participatory creativity: Situationist non-competitive games.

Ken Knabb, Situationist Anthology.
McKenzie Wark, The Beach Beneath the Streets.
Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces: a secret history of the twentieth century.

Radical art as cultural participation -> radical politics as social participation.
1956 Hungarian Revolution: ‘We fought the Communists because they weren’t communists.’ – Attila Kotanyi.
French New Left: 1920s Council Communism -> 1950s Socialisme ou Barbarie.
Henri Lefebvre’s critique of Fordist society = managerial tyranny of factory and office -> bureaucratic control over everyday life.
Post-war boom: welfare spending, housing estates, consumer goods and motor cars.
TV watching in France = 1950s luxury for few -> 1960s most popular activity after work and sleep.
Métro-boulot-tv-dodo: daily life cycle of atomised workers only connected by passive consumption of media and advertising.
TV programmes = one-way flow of communications from elite -> masses.
Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française: ‘The government in every Frenchman’s dining-room.’ – Alain Peyrefitte 1964.
Guy Debord: spectacle = social relationships between people mediated by images.
Tyranny of representation on both sides of Cold War = geopolitical rivalry of two historical stages of spectacular domination.
Concentrated Spectacle = totalitarian politics and media of Russian empire.
Insistent monologue of ruling party and state propaganda under Stalinism.
Diffuse Spectacle = corporate politics and media of American empire.
False choice of competing parliamentary parties and TV channels under Fordism.

Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life.
Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle.
Andy Anderson, Hungary ’56.
Arthur Hirsh, The French Left.

Situationist politics: 19th century revolution = abolishing poverty -> 20th century revolution = abolishing boredom.
Proletarian revolution: passive consumerism of Fordist capitalism -> participatory democracy of Council Communism.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau = direct democracy and artisans’ festivals -> Situationist International = workers’ councils and electronic agora.
Situationist detournement of media = two-way communications between workers.
1871 Paris Commune = proletarian revolution as popular festival ->
May ’68 French Revolution = proletarian revolution as anti-spectacular rebellion. Situationist slogans; ex-École des Beaux Arts posters; Radio Sorbonne; and the Committee for the Maintenance of the Occupations.
Individual proletarians -> local workers’ councils -> global electronic agora.
Defeat of May ’68 = reimposition of tyranny of representation: de Gaulle’s TV speech -> Stalinist compromises -> ‘elections = treason’.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Gabriel Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism.
René Viénet, Enragés and Situationists in the Occupation Movement.
Len Bracken, Guy Debord – Revolutionary.
Jean Barrot, What is Situationism?

Situationist Media Freedom diagram

Debord’s 1972 auto-destruction of Situationist International = refusing recuperation as New Left vanguard party.
Exile in Auvergne = writing books, making films and inventing The Game of War.
End of Cold War = concentrated and diffuse spectacles -> integrated spectacle of late-20th century information society.
1970s terrorism in Italy = spectacular manoeuvre to disorientate New Left.
Tate Modern avant-garde art timeline = Post-Modernist recuperation of Debord as intransigent prophet in wilderness.
AK Press catalogue = anarchist appropriation of Debord as anti-statist ideologue.
Situationism in the UK: 1970s punk rock -> 1980s rave scene -> 1990s DIY culture -> 2000s Net activism -> 2010s social media.

Guy Debord, Comments on Society of the Spectacle.
Richard Barbrook and Fabian Tompsett, Class Wargames Presents Guy Debord’s The Game of War.
Ilze Black, Class Wargames Presents Guy Debord’s The Game of War.
Gianfranco Sanguinetti, On Terrorism and the State.
Sadie Plant, The Most Radical Gesture.

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