The Society of the Spectacle
English Edition by Ron. Adams
Originally published in Paris, France as La Société du Spectacle by Éditions Buchet-Chastel (Paris) in 1967. It was reissued by Éditions Champ Libre (Paris) in 1971, and Éditions Gallimard (Paris) 1992.
This annotated English edition by Ron. Adams.
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In this book, Debord describes and critiques the way we live. The power of these ideas lies in their ability to question, identify, and name the common assumptions of the present. Debord develops the concept of The Spectacle, which describes the gaze of contemporary society. From its publication just before the May 1968 revolt in Paris, and ultimately influencing Occupy Wall Street, this book continues to transform a wide range of progressive philosophical and political movements, most notably anti-capitalism, postmodernism, marxism, and anarchism.
Debord’s work is not an ivory-tower philosophical treatise, it is a cold analysis of the history and development that leads directly to our present moment. He critiques various attempts to change society by comparing their advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, he makes it apparent that a way out is absurd, and points to only one path forward: a direct democratic movement of decentralized workers councils, a suggestion made only twice in the entire text. Most importantly, he emphasizes the importance of validating theory with practice, and as such, this book is a practical framework for revolutionaries who think and do.
Debord’s text is concise, economical, poetic, provocative, and difficult. As Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri describe it in their notes to Empire as “delirious”fnQuoting Hardt & Negri: “…Debord recognized this spectacle as the destiny of triumphant capitalism. Despite their important differences, such authors offer us real anticipations of the path of capitalist development.” And continuting in their notes: “[The Spectacle], which is perhaps the best articulation, in its own delirious way, of the contemporary consciousness of the triumph of capital.” See Hardt, M. & Negri, A., 2000 (Pp. 188/444). [Close]. His work contains many references to Hegel and Marx. He uses words and phrases defined in other Situationist texts, and expects the reader to be familiar with them. This is to be expected, as he demands much from the reader, and had written for a small audience of “fifty or sixty people”fn“fifty or sixty people”: In Debord’s Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, he describes his audience in the first paragraph thus: “These comments are sure to be welcomed by fifty or sixty people; a large number given the times in which we live and the gravity of the matters under discussion. But then, of course, in some circles I am considered to be an authority. It must also be borne in mind that a good half of this interested elite will consist of people who devote themselves to maintaining the spectacular system of domination, and the other half of people who persist in doing quite the opposite. Having, then, to take account of readers who are both attentive and diversely influential, I obviously cannot speak with complete freedom. Above all, I must take care not to give too much information to just anybody.” See Debord, G. & Imrie, M, 1998. Pp 1. [Close] who were well versed in the history of the western philosophical tradition.
Debord was concerned that these ideas themselves would be recuperated by capitalism (see thesis 203), so he wrote in a way to limit them to a small and curious audience. His concerns turned out to be warranted, when a few years later in the early 1970s, the French Socialist Party under François Mitterrand co-opted the Situationist phrase “Change Life” as his campaign slogan, and Situationism became the party’s unofficial ideology—much to the consternation of Debord. His ideas were difficult because they were abstract, but the abstraction meant that it continues to remain relevant, arguably even more relevant half a century later.
The very first time I read The Society of the Spectacle, I knew I’d need to re-read it, and possibly need to re-write it in my own words if I wanted to truly understand it. It was only once I had grasped the gist of the text, that I was then confronted with the task of understanding the philosophy behind it. Debord didn’t lay out his ideas using plain language, because his ideas are austere, terrifying, and extremely dangerous. He is the kind of philosopher whose ideas and observations of the world are so bleak that one fears these ideas reaching mass consciousness.
This book isn’t as much a straight translation as it is an elaboration, or ‘remix’ that attempts to reveal more under the text than existed in the original and its various translations. Debord hid some ideas. This is an attempt to contextualize and reveal abstract ideas by bringing in references and annotations in order to add relevance for our current time. I have added a few thoughts and examples to help elucidate difficult concepts. In the hope of making Debord’s work more accessible to those unfamiliar with Marx, Hegel, and the breadth of other works and concepts alluded to in his text, I’ve knowingly ossified my own translation. The reader is strongly encouraged to wander from these pages back to the timelessness of the original—and beyond.
Foreign languages are much like distant places, and the act of translation is to visit these places. We may recognize similarities, but these places are unique because they have distinct histories. With languages, words not only have semantic meaning, but attachments to the rich cultural narratives that tell their histories, and these words are attached to libraries of other texts within the same cultural milieu. When translating these words, the histories, narratives, and cultural aspects most relevant to the original text aren’t always translatable with words alone; words simply aren’t enough to capture the rich cultural depth that exists between the words. As such, I’ve tried to add notes where the text made implicit references. When translating, “plagiarism is necessary”, it demands embracing the author’s ideas, and making them semantically and culturally relevant, and if done well, it can create an entirely new work, a copy without an original.
This edition isn’t merely a translation of words, but a translation of time. Since Debord wrote this book, society hasn’t changed in kind, but by degree, everything is exactly the same, only more. Advertising is no longer prominent, but dominant. Facebook and Google aren’t merely the tech companies driving the economy, but have captured the entire advertising industry, monopolized it, and built the foundations of a new form of capital on the back of data tracking, profiling, and machine learning: surveillance capitalism. Urban development has increased separation and inequality to public goods like education and transportation. Technology is now ubiquitous and we’re all glued to personalized screens all day, mediating nearly all interactions, even the ways we find love. For Debord, none of this would be new, only more.
The book before you is my attempt to participate in the development of his ideas. I’ve tried to ground some of his more abstract ideas upon the terrain of the recent economic development of surveillance capitalism. The emergence of commercial social media, particularly, is the confluence of a few concepts described by Debord: celebrity culture, the perpetual present, and mass media that work to automate the commodification of personal identity backed by machine learning.
If you’re looking for a translation that aims to stay faithful to Debord’s classical French prose, this book is not that. There are editions perfectly suited for that purpose, I would direct you to the translations by Ken Knabb, Donald Nicholson-Smith, or Fredy Perlman—all of which I referenced extensively during the preparation of this book. I’d especially like to point out how valuable Ken Knabb’s annotated translation has been as a resource for this edition. His work handed me most of these references, and was instrumental in pointing me in the right direction for a few others. If you are looking for new insight and academic rigor, I would refer you to Russell, E., 2021 and Bunyard, T., 2018. All of these editions can be found in the bibliography and are well worth reading.
I’ve arranged the notes along the margins rather than as endnotes because they’re meant to be read alongside the main text. If you are reading this book for the first time, I would suggest reading it in a particular order, as the first few chapters can be discouraging. I agree with the preface to Ken Knabb’s 2014 translation, in which he suggests starting with chapter 4 and 5 because they provide relevant historical and revolutionary background that helps to contextualize the book. From there, read chapter 7 which covers the development of cities, urban development and social issues. Then move to chapter 8 which covers culture, the arts, and the history of artistic movements. Finally, read chapters 1, 2, 3, 6, and 9 which establishes his concept of The Spectacle and provides a comprehensive critique of contemporary society. Thus, my suggested chapter reading order is: 4, 5, 7, 8, then 1, 2, 3, 6, 9.
My hope is to make Debord’s ideas more accessible to first time readers and to show how much more relevant The Spectacle is today than when it was first written. I am optimistic that together we can make another world possible.
English edition by Ron. Adams
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The Society of the Spectacle was first published in November 1967 in Paris by Buchet-Chastel. The 1968 unrest made it famous. The book, of which I have never changed a single word, was republished in 1971 by Éditions Champ Libre, who changed their name to Gérard Lebovici in 1984, after the publisher’s assassination. A series of reprints continued there regularly until 1991. The present edition,fn“The present edition…”: This preface was written for the Third French Edition published in 1992, four years after he had published Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, and roughly a year after the final collapse of the USSR (1989-1991). Debord died by suicide two years later, on November 30, 1994. [Close] too, has remained rigorously identical to the 1967 edition. The same rule will naturally apply to the reprinting of all my books at Gallimard. I am not one who corrects myself.
Such a critical theory does not have to be changed; as long as the general conditions of this period of history (that this theory was first to define accurately) have not been destroyed. The continued development of this period has only verified and illustrated the theory of the spectacle, whose presentation, reiterated here, can also be considered historical in a more limited sense: it testifies to what the most extreme position was at the time of the quarrels of 1968, and therefore to the knowledge that was already possible to know in 1968. The worst dupes of that time have since learned, through the disappointments of their entire existence, what the
negation of life that has become visible; the
loss of quality linked to the commodity-form, and the
proletarianization of the world has meant.
Over time, I also added other observations concerning the most remarkable developments that the subsequent course of the same process was to bring about. In 1979, on the occasion of a preface for a new Italian translation, I dealt with the effective transformations in the very nature of industrial production, as well as in the techniques of government, which began an authorized use of spectacular force. In 1988, the Comments on the Society of the Spectacle clearly established that the previous
worldwide division of spectacular labor, between the rival reigns of the
concentrated spectacle and the
diffuse spectacle, had now endedfn“the rival reigns… had now ended”: Debord is pointing to the ideologic rivalry between the diffuse spectacle exemplified by U.S. capitalism and the concentrated spectacle exemplified by the communism of the USSR. Amazingly, two of Debord’s major works: The Society of the Spectacle and Comments on the Society of the Spectacle were each published one year prior to two major worldwide upheavals: Spectacle published a year before the civil unrest in Paris in May 1968, and Comments a year before the collapse of the USSR. [Close] in favor of their fusion, into the universal form of the
This fusion can be summarized summarily by correcting thesis 105 which, touching on what had happened before 1967, still distinguished the earlier forms according to some opposing practices. The Great Schism of class power having ended in reconciliation, it must be said that the unified practice of the integrated spectacle, today, has
economically transformed the world, at the same time that it has
used police methods to transform perceptions (The police in this case, are of a new specialized variety).
Only because this merger had already occurred in the economic and political realms of the entire world, could the world finally proclaim itself officially unified. It is also because of this situation that the universally separated power has reached such a predicament that this world needed to be reunited as soon as possible; to function as one block in the same consensual organization of the single global market, falsified and guaranteed by the spectacle. In the end it will not be unified.
The totalitarian bureaucracy, that
dominant substitute class for the market economy, had never believed much in its destiny. It knew itself to be an
underdeveloped form of dominant class, and it wanted to be better. Thesis 58 had long established the following axiom:
As the spectacle is founded upon an economy of abundance, the fruits of that economy tend to dominate the spectacular market within its sphere of influence.
It is this desire to modernize and unify the spectacle, combined with all other efforts to simplify society, that in 1989 led the Russian bureaucracy to suddenly convert itself, as one body, to the present ideology of democracy: that is, to the dictatorial freedom of the Market, tempered by the recognition of the Rights of Homo Spectator. No one in the West had ever once commented on the meaning and consequences of such an extraordinary media event. The progress of spectacular technology demonstrates this. Only the occurrence of a minor geologic tremor had been registered in the media. The phenomenon was dated, and is deemed to be sufficiently well understood, by simply repeating the very simple slogan-“the fall of the Berlin Wall”-which was just as indisputable as all other symbols of democracy.
In 1991, the first effects of modernization appeared with the complete collapse of Russia. There it is expressed, even more clearly than in the West, the disastrous result of the general development of the economy. This disorder reigning in the East is only one consequence of that development. Everywhere the same dreadful question will be asked, the one that has haunted the world for two centuries: how can we make the poor work, when illusion has disappointed and when force has been defeated?
Thesis 111, which recognized the first symptoms of a Russian decline, the final explosion of which we have already seen, and envisaged the forthcoming disappearance of a world society which, as we can say now, will be erased from the computer’s memory, formulated the following strategic judgment, the correctness of which should become obvious: “In the final analysis, the collapse and failure of global alliances founded on bureaucratic mystification is an unfavorable aspect of the development of capitalist society.”
This book should be read considering that it was knowingly written with the intention of damaging the spectacular society. It never said anything outrageous.
June 30, 1992
“But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence… illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness.”
—Feuerbach, Preface to the second edition of
The Essence of Christianity
In post-industrial societies where mass production and media predominate, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly experiencedfn“directly experienced”: A life experience in which an individual directly participates in the major events that make up the period of their life. Under the reign of the spectacle, all historical, political, cultural, and even typical events of one’s daily life are inaccessible—except for contemplation. A simple and concrete example of the replacement of direct experience with its representation is how the previously common practice of hunting animals which will be cooked and then eaten was first replaced with packaged meat bought at a grocery store—has finally given way to the proliferation of packaged pre-cooked meals, where the natural ingredients have been obfuscated and abstracted into food products. This experience is eventually mediated to its fullest extent by way of cooking shows on TV and ‘mukbang’ (먹방) videos on social media. [Close] has been replaced with its representation in the form of images.
Whereas directly lived experience is a continuum of emotion and sensation, the representational life is a stream of images detached from their living context. The original context of this directly lived reality cannot be reestablished. Living a representational life has a completely separate, but unified experience unto itself that exists purely in thought. As reality is increasingly represented as images to be experienced by sight alone, eventually a completely separate pseudo-world of images emerges—where the “actual” reality is only represented, but never actually experienced; merely performed and eventually simulated. The horizon of this representational reality is one in which individuals merely witness an image of the world in fully autonomous non-lived lives.fn“fully autonomous non-lived lives”: The original French is
est le mouvement autonome du non-vivant. or “the autonomous movement of the non-living.” C.f. Hegel, G., Harris, H. & Knox, T., 1979. The same reference is later made in thesis 215; the full quotation reads: “Need for labor, elevated into this universality, then form on their own account a monstrous system of community and mutual interdependence in a great people; the life of the dead body, that moves itself within itself, one which ebbs and flows in its motion blindly, like the elements, and which requires continual strict dominance and taming like a wild beast.” [Close]
The Spectacle presents itself as a universal way to provide representation of directly lived reality, the so-called “official language of generalized separation”. Additionally, it is a separate part of society that establishes common-ground between cultures and focuses all attention upon its spectacular images of representational reality.fn“spectacular images of representational reality”: This stream of images includes television, radio, advertising, academia, news media, social media, and devices streaming personalized perspectives on reality. To only consider the media however, would be to limit understanding of the spectacle to what Russell calls a nominal reading (Russell, 2021), one that focuses on the propaganda in the mass media that is ‘merely its most superficial manifestation.’ (Debord, 1983 §24) and ignores that his analysis is simultaneously part of society, the totality of society, and the means of unifying society all at once. Debord himself describes the spectacle as consisting of three stages: “mere technological and ideological appearances / the reality of the social organization of appearances / historical reality” (Russell, 2021/Debord, 2005). [Close] The stream of images provides individuals with common points of discussion and pseudo-connection.fn“common points of discussion and pseudo-connection”: E.g. the office water-cooler discussion “Did you see last night’s presidential debate?”; the banal talking points that offer no personal connection or relevance, but that act as mediator to relate to the spectacle rather than with other individuals. Facebook is the mediator par excellence in that it doesn’t actually connect people to each other, but connects people to Facebook. [Close] The stream of images simultaneously connects and separates individuals. The spectacle connects individuals to itself when oriented around the same topics, and atomizes individuals into niche interest-groups of one, where they become alienated from all those around them—trapped within an isolated pseudo-reality of personalized information. Ultimately the spectacle is the official language that separates individuals from one another.
The spectacle is not merely the apparatus of media, but the relations between individuals themselves, as mediated by the stream of images that represent their daily lived experience of this pseudo-reality.fnDebord’s critique of society isn’t merely a critique of technology and media; his concept of The Spectacle critiques the organization of society which includes a mediated experience of reality by technology the media. [Close]
The spectacle is not simply an overabundance of the media in everyday lived experience. It is an ideology that has become materialized. This ideology-materialized has replaced the lived experience of reality with a lived experience of a representational pseudo-reality, one accepted as objective truth.
The spectacle is both the product and producer of the contemporary form of reality. It is not a supplement to, or decoration of reality, but the very heart of pseudo-reality.fn“the very heart of pseudo-reality”: C.f. Hegel, G., Wood, A. & Nisbet, H., 1991. The complete quotation reads “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed, the heart of a heartless world, the spirit of spiritless conditions.” The original French here is
Il est le coeur de l’irréalisme de la société réelle or directly translated: “It is the heart of the unrealism of real society.” Debord uses different words to describe a fake reality, here choosing
unrealism. I have chosen to translate this as “pseudo-reality”. [Close] It comes in many forms, entertainment, academic discourse, education, news, advertisements, politics, dissent, and even common sense. It is the hegemonic social culture, a model for the prevailing way of life. The spectacle self-validates its continued existence with the continual affirmation of its mode of production. Because it is continually reproduced, it justifies its own creation and reaffirms its re-creation. This guarantees both its permanent presence and its monopoly on time spent outside the contemporary production process.
Social relationships are categorized into “real” social practice or an “image” of social practice.fn“real” social practice / an “image” of social practice: To illustrate an example. the former may be in-person, face to face relationships between individuals discussing the spectacle, while the latter may be an image or representation of a relationship such as “Liking” selfies of friends on social media. [Close] Both practices contain the spectacle, distorting these social activities to make the reproduction of the spectacle become the goal of all social activity. The language of these social activities consists of signs of the “ruling production” or the “indicators” of the most prestigious or popular ways individuals relate to one another. The creation, recreation, and adoption of these signs is the ultimate goal of this mode of production.
One cannot compare the directly lived experience of reality with the spectacle because contemporary society and spectacle are one and the same. Each side of this duality is the same and yet separate. The spectacle that invades reality is materialized by the contemplation of the spectacle. Directly lived reality produces and absorbs the spectacle such that directly lived reality is no longer accessible, it creates a totality in which reality exists on both sides. Each of the two notions, seemingly fixed, is actually its transition into its opposite: reality emerges in the spectacle, and the spectacle is reality.fn“Each of the two notions.. the spectacle is reality”: The original French is
Chaque notion ainsi fixée n’a pour fond que son passage dans l’opposé : la réalité surgit dans le spectacle, et le spectacle est réel. or as translated by Knabb: “Each of these seemingly fixed concepts has no other basis than its transformation into its opposite: reality emerges within the spectacle, and the spectacle is real.” [Close]
In the world that is really turned upside down,fn“turned upside down” a détournement of Marx: “This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world.” See Marx, K. (1844) [Close] the true is a moment of the false.fn“the true is a moment of the false”: C.f. the Preface to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, full quote: “The false (though no longer as false) is a moment of the true.” This quotation follows the French translation used by Debord. [Close]
The concept of “the spectacle” explains many diverse phenomena. The recognition of the spectacles ability to explain the diversity of this phenomenon is itself part of the spectacle, as it organizes and validates all social relations according to appearances. When studied by itself, the spectacle is the affirmation that all human relationships are merely an image of relationship.fn“an image of relationship”: This is to say, the superficial appearance of a relationship, but one devoid of any direct connection between individuals. For example, a Facebook or LinkedIn “friend” can be someone you’ve never met, nor even talked to. [Close] Any sufficient and total critique of the spectacle that grasps its underlying nature reveals it as a complete negation of lifefn“a complete negation of life”: The original French is
la négation visible de la vie. Life in the sense (and used elsewhere) of an individual’s participation-in, and experience-of directly lived events, as opposed to mere spectacing or participation in virtual or vicarious events. [Close] that presents an appearance of life.
In order to describe the spectacle, it is necessary to artificially separate and identify inseparable elements. When analyzing the spectacle, it is necessary to use the language of the spectacle in that we continue to operate within the methodological terrain of the society that is expressed by the spectacle. The spectacle is both the zeitgeist and the ultimate goal of this contemporary arrangement of social life. The spectacle is the historical period in which we are caught.
The spectacle presents itself as always positive, indisputable, and inaccessible. Because it is always recreating and regenerating itself, and is beyond dispute (generally accepted as common sense). It says nothing more than “what appears is good, what is good appears.”fn“what appears is good, what is good appears.”: C.f. Hegel, G., Wood, A. & Nisbet, H., 1991. The quote is: “What is rational is real, and what is real is rational.” [Close] The passive acceptance it demands is already imposed by its one-way dialog, a monopoly on the presentation of appearances, which presents reality as it is, as it must be.
The fundamentally indisputable, unchanging, and frozen nature of the spectacle stems from how its means are its ends. It is the sun that never sets over the empirefn“the sun that never sets over the empire…”: The phrase “the empire on which the sun never sets” was applied to the Spanish Empire of the sixteenth century and later to the British Empire. [Close] of modern passivity. It covers the entire surface of the world and bathes indefinitely in its own glory.
The society of modern industry is not accidentally or superficially spectacular by nature, it is fundamentally spectatorist. The spectacle is the image of the ruling economy. Its goal is nothing, its development everything.fn“Its goal is nothing, its development everything”: C.f. Bernstein, E., 1911. Full quote is “To me that which is generally called the ultimate aim of socialism is nothing, but the movement is everything.” [Close] It has no goal otherwise.
The spectacle presents itself as an endless parade of new products, as a repeating presentation of the systems self-validating rationale, and as an economic system that outputs an increasing multitude of image-objects. The spectacle is itself the leading product of contemporary society.
The spectacle is able to subjugate human beings to itself because the economy is its servant, having already subjugated them. The spectacle is the forcing function for the development of the economy for its own desires. The spectacle is a faithful reflection of the things produced opposed to a fictitious reflection of the objectification of the producers.fn“a fictitious reflection of the objectification of the producers” The original French is
et l’objectivation infidèle des producteurs. This is to say, the spectacle faithfully presents itself whilst it distorts and hides the alienation and objectification of the individuals involved. [Close]
The result of the industrial revolution was the dominance of the economy over all of social life, degrading life from a state of being to a state of having.fn“degrading life from a state of being to a state of having”: C.f. Marx, K. & Engels, F., 1988. Full quote: “Private property has made us so stupid and partial that an object is only ours when we have it, when it exists for us as capital or when it is directly eaten, drunk, worn, inhabited, etc., in short, utilized in some way. But private property itself only conceives these various forms of possession as means of life, and the life for which they serve as means is the life of private property-labor and creation of capital. Thus all the physical and mental senses have been replaced by the simple alienation of all these senses-the sense of having.” [Close] The contemporary phase of post-industrial society has again shifted from a state of having to one of appearing. All actual “having” must now draw its prestige and ultimate utility from appearances. All individual reality depends on and draws its power from social reality. Individual reality is only allowed to appear to the extent that it is not actually real.
When directly lived reality is replaced by a reality of representational images, the images become realfn“When directly lived reality is replaced by a reality of representational images, the images become real…”: The original French is
Là où le monde réel se change en simples images, les simples images deviennent des êtres réels C.f. Marx, K. & Engels, F., 2002 (Ch. VIII 3a), the full quote is: “For one to whom the sensuously perceptible world becomes a mere idea, for him mere ideas are transformed into sensuously perceptible beings…” [Close] and motivate new desires and hypnotic behaviors. Since the spectacle provides specific techniques of imagery to represent aspects of reality, directly lived reality can no longer be understood, appreciated, or even grasped. These images correspond to the human sense of sight, being the most general way for the spectacle to represent reality. The spectacle cannot be found by looking for it, nor even by listening for it. The spectacle escapes projects to evade it, wherever there is independent representation, the spectacle is reconstituted.
The spectacle is built upon the methodological traditions of western philosophy, one that analyses reality in the limited terms of our sense of vision, and the continual development of this observation-based form of rationality. Therefore, the spectacle inherits the weakness of those philosophical frameworks. As such, the spectacle transforms directly lived reality into the mere observation of realityfn“transforms directly lived reality into the mere observation of reality…”: The French here is
Il ne réalise pas la philosophie, il philosophie la réalité. Directly translated as “it does not realize philosophy, it philosophizes reality”. C.f. Marx, K., 1844 “you cannot supersede philosophy without realizing it”. It is here the spectacle reaches its apogee, the complete reification of reality, one in which we have fundamentally mistaken the map for its territory. [Close] (its image as a substitute for reality). The experience of directly lived reality has been degraded to a life of speculation.
Religion is the trend in which humanity attributes power and responsibility to a source outside ourselves. Spectacular technology has not disproved or diminished this trend, it only roots the source of power as centered upon Earth, recreating the misattribution of power to technology, such that even the most basic acts of daily life become abstract and alienated from directly lived reality. Philosophy, the act of thinking outside of context, and the power it entails; together with its contemplation of a power separate from humanity prevents it from full emancipation from theology.fn“full emancipation from theology”: In this context, theology is the study of how humanity places power in The Other, and thus absolve themselves of any responsibility to power. Similarly, the technological determinism apparent in Silicon Valley approaches a new form of Digital Theology, these technological utopians absolve themselves of responsibility and power by placing blind faith in big data and artificial intelligence. [Close] The development of the spectacle does not project a false paradise onto the heavens, instead offering the denial of life on Earth, a false material reality within ourselves but too sacred to participate in or directly access.
As long as our desires are socially dreamed pseudo-needs, dreaming will remain necessary. The spectacle is the nightmare of contemporary reality in which the only way to achieve our dreams is to remain asleep. The spectacle is the Ambien® that maintains that sleep.fn“The spectacle is the Ambien® that maintains that sleep”: Original French here is
Le spectacle est le gardien de ce sommeil. or “The spectacle is the guardian of that sleep.” C.f. Freud, S. & Brill, A., 1994 (Ch. 5, Section C), which contends that dreams reflect “the wish for sleep” and that “dreams are the guardians of sleep.” Ambien is a sleep aid sold at most pharmacies. [Close]
Those in positions of practical power within contemporary society have detached themselves from directly lived reality in order to focus on building practical power in the new empire of the spectacle. This can be explained by their continued lack of cohesion and the contradictions inherent in the exercise of that power.fn“the contradictions inherent in the exercise of that power”: C.f. Marx, K. & Engels, F., 1998. Full quotation is “But the fact that the secular basis detaches itself from itself and establishes itself as an independent realm in the clouds can only be explained by the divisions and contradictions within this secular basis.” This is to say, the ruling classes have a purely ideological and oversimplified understanding of reality, and have shifted the exercise of power to the falsified realm of the spectacle. This idea is explored in depth in the 2016 documentary HyperNormalisation: “politicians, financiers and technological utopians, rather than face up to the real complexities of the world, retreated. Instead, they constructed a simpler version of the world in order to hang on to power.” see Curtis, A., 2016. Quite literally, companies like Facebook and Google have established themselves in ‘The Cloud’. They resist moderation on their platforms because they’ve absolved their moral decision making to AI systems. [Close]
The oldest social specialization is that of an individual in control of power.fn“an individual in control of power”: With the development from hunter-gatherers to agrarian societies emerged the first specialization: the tribal chieftain. [Close] This specialization is at the root of the spectacle and acts as the representative and decision-maker for all other activities in society. It has banned all other acts of expression unless it is presented by the spectacle. The most modern specialization is simultaneously the most ancient.fn“most modern specialization is simultaneously the most archaic”: C.f. Marx, K., 2005. Full quotation “[Some] determinations will be shared by the most modern epoch and the most ancient.” [Close]
The spectacle is a self-congratulatory monologue with itself, describing its own totalitarian management of the very conditions of existence. The seemingly objective relationshipsfn“The seemingly objective relationships… conceal the fact that these are spectacular relationships between classes and people.”: C.f. Lukács, G., 1971. Full quotation is “The fetishistic illusions enveloping all phenomena in capitalist society… conceal the fact that they are the categories of the relations of men with each other. Instead they appear as things and the relations of things with each other.” [Close] between television, radio, advertisements, and social media networks to the individuals who consume that media conceal the fact that these are relationships between people, but appear as relationships between classes. Humanity continually destroys our irrational yet actually existing relationships and replaces them with a synthetic copy, a poor model built upon the same deadly irrationalities as before.fn“Humanity continually destroys… the same deadly irrationalities as before”: The original French is
une seconde nature paraît dominer notre environnement de ses lois fatales or “a second nature seems to dominate our environment with its fatal laws.” C.f. Lukács, G., 1971. Full quotation is “a kind of second nature which evolves with exactly the same inexorable necessity as was the case earlier on with irrational forces of nature.” [Close] The spectacle is not a natural or inevitable result of technological determinism, on the contrary, the spectacle is a configuration of society that develops technology for its own sake. Limiting the consideration of the spectacle to its most apparent and superficial manifestation of the “mass media”, it would seem to be imposed upon society as a mere technical apparatus. It must be understood that this apparatus is not neutral and that its development has progressed with respect to the demands of the spectacle. If the social relationships of contemporary times can only be facilitated by the mediation of instantaneous communication technologies, then the administration of these technologies becomes a form of power; as such, this “communication” is a unilateral one-way dialog. The continual consolidation and accumulation of these technologies results is the accumulation of this power.fn“The continual consolidation… results in the accumulation of this power”: To elaborate: these media conglomerates are not neutral in their relationships to people, they are unilateral communications, a one-way dialog that goes from the authority of the spectacle to the passive consumer. Communication never goes in the reverse direction. The systems that control these mediums control the dissemination of a worldview that expands their control of this power. [Close] The control of communication in a one-way dialog to the passive consumer reflects the division of social labor between the state and the passive citizen.fn“…the division of social labor between the state and the passive citizen”: Since this book was first written, the emergence of the Internet and companies like Facebook and Google, combined with ubiquitous tracking and machine learning, have exploited a new division of labor in society, and thus a new form of power: the division of learning under Surveillance Capitalism. This is named and described by Zuboff thus: “Who knows? This is a question about the distribution of knowledge and whether one is included or excluded from the opportunity to learn… Who decides? This is a question of authority: which people, institutions, or processes determine who is included in learning, what they are able to learn, and how they are able to act on that knowledge. What is the legitimate basis of that authority? Who decides who decides? This is a question about power. What is the source of power that undergirds the authority to share or withhold knowledge?” See Zuboff, S., 2019. [Close] These divisions are the primary tools of class domination, and provide the model for a continual separation of all social relationships.
The spectacles primary power is its ability to separate. With the shift to permanent agrarian societies came the institutionalization of the social division of labor in the form of a permanent ruling class. This class was legitimated by a form of thought borrowed from the earlier hunter-gatherer period, namely the legitimization of power as bestowed by mythical power, the same source from which every subsequent power has camouflaged itself. Religion justifies the power of those in the ruling class as sacred, and excuses their failures by corresponding them to the ontological order of the heavens. In this sense, all power bestowed by a social division of labor has been spectacular. The adherence to a belief in this separate and frozen ruling class was largely due to a general lack of regular, actual daily participation in social activity.fn“The adherence to a belief in this separate ruling class… actual daily participation in social activity.”: It wasn’t until the emergence of cities, and the breakdown of serfdom where the peasant class could move into the cities, making it possible for the actual daily participation in social life. [Close] Contrary to the frozen order bestowed by the heavens, the spectacle promotes a subset of real social activity,fn“a subset of real social activity”: E.g. protest in its undirected, symbolic, and mostly pointless form, the promotion of various forms of non-violence. [Close] creating a false opposition between that which is socially possible against that which is socially permitted. The spectacle maintains an unconsciousness about the real changes to the conditions of daily life. The spectacle is self-perpetuating, it makes its own rules: It is the contemporary pseudo-God. The spectacle makes no secret about what it is, namely, a hierarchical power developing for its own sake. The spectacle drives the division of labor into smaller, more specialized and efficient tasks until these tasks can be automated by machines. This increasing specialization creates the efficiencies required to sustain an ever-increasing global market. This specialization is so niche that workers cannot see the context or even the product of their labor, nor can they relate to other equally specialized workers who attend to similar tasks. Due to this alienation between worker and task, worker and worker, and worker to community, any and all shared sense of purpose are eliminated, without a clear path to reunite either in solidarity or power.
The acceleration of the division of labor and the depth of specialization increases the distance between the producer and the final product. This simultaneously reduces communication between producers, and eliminates any sense of accomplishment for the final product. As production processes are specialized (and aspects of the labor are outsourced to even deeper specialists) the organizer of labor continues to concentrate control over the entire production process. The abstract vision and control over the organization of all aspects of communication between vertical specialists becomes the only task of management. The measure and goal of this system of alienation is the proletarianization of the entire world.fn“the proletarianization of the entire world.”: This is to say, the global economic system is structured to shift the monopolization of the understanding of the productive process to the ruling class, and to alienate the working class; first from their labor, the products of their labor, from each other, and finally from their community. [Close]
The success of division of labor and automation becomes the primary goal—the production of the division of labor and automation—is the ends. In what was previously associated with one’s primary work, those whose jobs are on the leading edge of elimination by automation are finding this time associated with, and replaced with inactivity. This inactivity, however, is not free from productive power. The inactivity of the jobless is dependent on the productive output of the automated systems of production—namely in the form of consumption. The necessity of maximum efficiency rationalizes the existence of a jobless class, although it is recognized as an uneasy relationship. Individuals are either directly contributing to the spectacle, or partaking in consuming its output, but the spectacle has no space for real activity outside this arrangement. There is no “liberation from labor” or “increase in leisure” when at any time an individual is either contributing-to or consuming-from the system of production. None of the productive energy that was appropriated by the spectacle can be regained by the consumption of the spectacle, it all contributes to the development of the spectacle.
An economic system based on divisibility of labor continues to produce more division in a vicious cycle of isolation. The technology based on the isolation of concerns creates processes that further isolate. The automobile, television—technologiesfn“automobile, television…”: Even more applicable is how the smartphone and the increasingly personalized nature of internet media contributes to increasingly isolating islands of perspective. [Close] selected by the spectacle are also the weapons that perpetuate the isolation that creates our “lonely crowd”.fn“lonely crowd”: An allusion to David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd, see Riesman, D., Glazer, N., Denney, R. & Gitlin, T., 2001. [Close] Each technology recreates the basis of the spectacle in ever more concrete terms.
The spectacle originates from the alienation as a result of the division of labor. The enormous growth of the spectacle expresses the total loss of a unified perspective shared amongst individuals. All labor, specific techniques, jobs, and skills are abstracted along with increasing abstraction of the overall production process to the point where the idea of being concrete is itself an abstraction. The spectacle represents itself as a perfect image of the world, a map or model of the world where the world is merely an instance of this map.fn“The spectacle represents itself as a perfect image of the world… an instance of this map”: The original French is
Dans le spectacle, une partie du monde se représente devant le monde, et lui est supérieure or “It thus tends to divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.” C.f. Marx, K. & Engels, F., 1998. [Close] Spectators are connected no longer to one another, but solely by a one-way relationship to the spectacle at the center. The spectacle connects the separated, but it connects them only in their separateness.fn“The spectacle connects the separated, but it connects them only in their separateness.” C.f. Hegel, G., Knox, T. & Kroner, R., 1975. Full quotation “In love the separate does still remain, but as something united and no longer as something separate;” [Close]
The spectator of the spectacle cannot escape alienation by unconscious or conscious thinking. The more they contemplate the spectacle and their place within it, the less they livefn“The more they contemplate… the less they live”: C.f. Marx, K. & Engels, F., 1988. Full quotation: “The more the worker exerts himself in his work, the more powerful becomes the world of objects that he brings into being over against himself, and the poorer his inner world becomes, and the less he belongs to himself … The greater his activity, the less he possesses” [Close] in reality. Conversely, the more they passively accept living in a spectacular reality the less they understand of real existence and the source of their desire. The individual no longer performs their own actions, but sees them performed by another.fn“but sees them performed by another” Performance can take the form of spectating upon celebrities playing sports, actors enacting love in film, or his/her own video game avatar performing their actions vicariously in a virtual environment. [Close] This is why the spectator no longer feels like they participate directly in lived reality, and feels at home nowhere, as the spectacle is everywhere.
Workers do not produce their own circumstances, they produce an autonomous force of alienation independent of themselves.fn“Workers do not produce their own circumstances… independent of themselves”: C.f. Marx, K. & Engels, F., 1988, full quotation is “The alienation of the worker in his product means not only that his labor becomes an object, an external existence, but that it exists outside him, independently of him and alien to him, and begins to confront him as an autonomous power; that the life he has bestowed on the object confronts him as a hostile and alien force.” [Close] The success of this production, and the abundance of autonomous power it generates, is experienced as an abundance of dispossession. Under the regime of the spectacle, workers earn wages in order to buy more products that further dispossess them of lived experience and instead substitute it with objects that make lived experience foreign to them. The spectacle is a map of this alienated reality, one which is identical to and yet obscures the real world.fn“The spectacle is a map of this alienated reality, one which is identical to and yet obscures the real world.” An allusion to Alfred Korzybski’s phrase: “The map is not the territory.” [Close] The map shows us what we’ve missed in high definition detail.
The spectacle is a concrete manufacturer of alienation. Economic expansion is the product of the increased demand for alienation-production. What grows with the growth of the economy is the very alienation that exists as its basis.
As systems of production specialize, and each worker is more alienated from the final product, and while they produce ever finer details of things in that world, they increasingly find themselves separated from participation in daily life. The closer their life seems to be at their own direction, the more they find themselves alienated from that life.fn“The closer their life seems to be at their own direction… alienated from that life”: This thesis is more relevant with the recent development of “social media influencers”, those individuals who curate an image of their lives online, only to find themselves forced to continually reproduce an image of a life they no longer actually live: commodifying themselves in a process that alienates themselves from lived experience. Their lives are a labor of self-alienation. [Close]
The spectacle is capital extended to such an accumulation that it becomes a substitute for reality itself.fn“a substitute for reality itself”: Original French
qu’il devient image. or “where it becomes image.” [Close]
“The commodity can be understood in its undistorted essence only when it becomes the universal category of society as a whole. Only in this context does the reification produced by commodity relations assume decisive importance both for the objective evolution of society and for the attitudes that people adopt toward it, as it subjugates their consciousness to the forms in which this reification finds expression …. As labor is increasingly rationalized and mechanized, this subjugation is reinforced by the fact that people’s activity becomes less and less active and more and more contemplative.”
—Lukács, History and Class Consciousness
The Spectacle’s basic operation is the incorporation of all the transient, directly experienced activities of human life into itself so as to regenerate them as commodities in frozen form. The spectacle is a process of the inversion of the values of daily life into purely abstract values.fn“the inversion of the values of daily life into purely abstract values”: From Bunyard "The passage from The Society of the Spectacle describes the ossification of the fluidity and flux of living activity… Where revolution and historical agency constitute the flowing force that underlies fixed social forms, the ‘essential movement of the spectacle’ is the opposite of that force. See Bunyard, 2018 (Pp. 293-294). [Close] In these abstract values we recognize our old enemyfn“we recognize our old enemy”: C.f. Marx, K., 1856. Full quotation “In the signs that bewilder the middle class, the aristocracy and the poor prophets of regression, we do recognise our brave friend, Robin Goodfellow…” [Close] the commodity, which seems trivial and obvious at first, but which is full of complexity and metaphysical subtleties.fn“full of complexity and metaphysical subtleties.”: C.f. Marx, K., Mandel, E., Fowkes, B. & Fernbach, D. 1978 (Vol I, Ch. 1, Section 4). Full quotation: “A commodity appears at first glance to be something very trivial and obvious. Analysis reveals that it is in reality a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological abstrusities” [Close]
The transformation of human life into commodities is the apex of commodity fetishism: a domination of society by “imperceptible as well as perceptible things”,fn“imperceptible as well as perceptible things”: C.f. Marx, K., Mandel, E., Fowkes, B. & Fernbach, D., 1978. Full quotation: “A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labor appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labor; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labor is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labor. This is the reason why the products of labor become commodities, social things whose qualities are at the same time perceptible and imperceptible by the senses.” [Close] which is to say, the very objects created by the labor of the working class. This results in a reality in which life is no longer directly experienced, but instead represented by images of experience. These images present themselves as the best possible version of reality.
The spectacle presents an image of reality in which the commodity dominates all living experience, this image is understood to be reality itself. The development of this image, the world of the commodity, is presented plainly as its rationale directly correlates with individuals alienationfn“the world of the commodity… directly correlates with individuals alienation”: The spectacle produces alienation as its predominant product, and alienation is the underlying ideology of the spectacle (accepted as common sense by society.) As such, the spectacle need not hide its alienating character, and can instead promote alienation since its underlying premise has already been accepted as truth. [Close] from each other and from the collective products of their labor.
The spectacle produces an increasing quantity of language that specifically describes the commodities it promotes and the behaviors it encourages. The resulting language gradually loses its ability to describe actual reality. This stems from a system of production that shuns reality. What remains is a large quantity of language describing its own corrupt production. A language increasingly capable of describing quantity and unable to describe quality.fn“A language increasingly capable of describing quantity and unable to describe quality”: In effect, language is a shattering mirror, increasingly able to describe the quantity of its own shards, but with a diminished ability to reflect reality. The language in advertising typically describes the production process but never the qualitative aspects of the final product. More often the language explicitly describes what the product is not, e.g. “fat-free”, “BPA-free”, exploitation-free but fails to describe what the product is. [Close]
The increased quantity of language describing the spectacle lacks any qualitative aspects,fn“The increased quantity of language describing the spectacle lacks any qualitative aspects”: The dynamic between mythical societies and quality versus ideologic societies and quantity is well established in Situationist texts, “The myth is based on quality, ideology on quantity” see Vaneigem, R., 2010. This is all to say, in the realm of ideology, culture tends to shed its content and embrace pure quantity; the less content the media has, the more it is repeated (e.g. Retweeted), the more it distracts people from their real problems‒a meme based society. [Close] but it is subject to qualitative change. The contemporary inability of the language to adequately describe the spectacle is itself evidence of the enormous development of the spectacle. While this development may not yet be evenly distributed across all localities, this change has progressed to such an extent that it is verified by the existence of a globalized marketplace.
The unconscious history of human society is the history of the development of production systems. This history has created the material conditions of society in the pursuit of survivalfn“the pursuit of survival/obfuscated version of survival”: The Situationists made sharp distinctions between mere “survival” and a life of participation and direct experience. For more on this distinction see Vaneigem, R., 2010. [Close]; it has become the economic basis of all human activity, and expands these conditions. The expansion of these conditions relies on the improvement of the underlying economic basis these developments rely on, thus creating a surplus of survival. When commodity exchange is limited to exchange between individuals, it will remain for a long time simply individual small-scale artisanal trade. The ends are still “the production of a craft” in which its quantitative aspect was limited and largely hidden. When trade conditions develop to include corporate and state size trades and the accumulation of capital—the entire economy switches to a process of pure quantitative development. This transforms craft into commodity, and craftsmanship into wage labor as all things produced by craft will become banalized as utility value demands equality and exchangeability across all commodities produced. The producer is freed from the natural pressure that demanded the struggle of survival, but they are in no way liberated from their liberator. The drive for survival is replaced with a drive for labor that transforms the world of survival into a world of economics. It is at this juncture where labor is alienated from craft. It is in this falsified pseudo-state within which human labor has become alienated, all human activity must remain forever in the service of the production of banal commodities that contribute to the expansion of this system of production. The abundance of these commodities, and the relationships of the individuals who both produce and consume them amounts to nothing more than a developed form of survival.fn“nothing more than a developed form of survival”: The original French is
ne peut être plus que la survie augmentée or “can be no more than augmented survival”, which is to say, a form of survival not in service towards the continuation of the experience of life, but the continuation of labor in service to the dominant mode of production. [Close]
The domination of the commodity, and the hidden way the world of economics became the material basis of social life remained misunderstood and unnoticed because it seemed so familiar.fn“unnoticed because it seemed so familiar”: C.f. Hegel, G., 2013 (January 31). Full quotation is “What is ‘familiarly known’ is not properly known, just for the reason that it is ‘familiar’.” [Close] In societies where commodities are scarce, money is the dominating force that acts as an emissary representing the voice of the unknown power.fn“the voice of the unknown power”: A concrete example is how money is used as leverage over developing nations, in the form of IMF loans, to enact socially conservative fiscal policies. These are essentially “unknown powers”, or more literally, foreign power exerted over local populations. [Close] It was with the industrial revolution, and the fordist mode of production that increased the division of labor and began production for the global market that the commodity became the colonizing principle of social life. It was at this moment that the political economy established itself as the dominant science and the science of domination.
The spectacle is the form society takes when the commodity colonizes all of social life. The total commodification of social life is not only visible, we no longer see anything else as all of reality is mediated by our relationship to commodities. Contemporary economic production extends its dictatorship of the commodity both broadly and intensively. In the least industrialized places, imperialism imposed by advanced societies forces the production of a few “star commodities” upon the colonized. The alienated production of abstract commodities becomes secondary to commodity consumption. With the arrival of the “Information Revolution”, alienated consumption has become as much a duty for the working class as alienated production. The sum total of industrial production and consumer consumption is then sold as a complete commodity,fn“complete commodity”: I interpret this idea as the continual reproduction of the spectacle as the total and predominant product of all spectacular labor. According to Russell “the historical specificity of the spectacle unfolding in accordance with the development of the autonomy of the commodity can thereby be witnessed through a greater absorption of labour into the circulation sphere, an effort devoted strictly to the realization of surplus value, rather than to its creation.” See Russell, E., 2021 (Pp. 203). [Close] whose production must continue at all costs—the reproduction of the spectacle. In order to accomplish this reproduction, the spectacle must be fragmented, reimagined, and regurgitatedfn“regurgitated”: A similar and more relevant term today would be “retweeted”. [Close] in slightly new form for consumption by individuals who are completely alienated from its production. To serve the purpose of this alienation, the science of the division of labor (i.e. specialization) further breaks down the reproduction of the spectacle into fields such as sociology, psychotechnology, cybernetics, and even semiology; which oversee the operation of this process.
In the primitive phase of capitalism, the political economy only considers the labor-output of the worker, who only needs to be allocated the minimum amount to sustain his labor contributions, without considering his leisure or humanity.fn“the political economy only considers the labor-output… without considering his leisure or humanity”: C.f. Marx, K. & Engels, F., 1988. Full quotation: “political economy regards the proletarian… as nothing more than a worker. It can therefore advance the proposition that, like a horse, he must receive just enough to enable him to work. It does not consider him when he is not working, as a human being.” [Close] The ruling class is forced to reconsider this once the production of commodities reaches an abundance accessible to the general population. At this point, the ruling class must collaborate with the working class, the worker is no longer contempted for a lack of labor, but treated with politeness for being a consumer. In this way, the commodity takes on a humane approach, attending to the workers “leisure and humanity” for the simple reason that the political economy must expand from the realm of production to the realm of consumption. Thus the totality of human existence falls under the regime of the “total denial of man”.fn“total denial of man”: C.f. Marx, K. & Engels, F., 1988. Full quotation: “Thus, although political economy, whose principle is labor, appears to recognize man, it is in fact nothing more than the denial of man carried to its logical conclusion.” Where the worker was first alienated from the fruits of his labor, he is now equally alienated from his leisure as well. [Close]
The spectacle gradually leads individuals to identify personal satisfaction with survival itself. This transforms satisfaction into a commodity, and transitively, survival itself becomes a commodity. Survival must always increase, thus creating a continuation of lack. There must never be enough satisfaction, as satisfaction begets additional lack. The accumulation of satisfaction becomes a gilded poverty, but it cannot transcend it.
The technical practice of automation is the vanguard of the economy. Automation of labor creates a contradiction in the development of society: the technical apparatus which eliminates manual labor must simultaneously preserve labor as a commodity. If society doesn’t want the time involved in manual labor to decrease due to automation, then new labor must be created. Those jobs eliminated by automation will move a reserve army of the unemployed into “services” and tertiary sectors of the economy. This reserve army acts as the supply lines for the troops deployed to the production and consumption of the latest commodities at a time when increasingly excessive advertising campaigns are necessary to convince individuals to buy increasingly unnecessary commodities.fn“increasingly unnecessary commodities”: These are the pseudo-necessities of daily survival (E.g. an iPhone and a Netflix subscription). [Close]
Exchange value is contingent upon, but exists merely as a proxy for a commodities use value. Exchange value won its victory over use value, utilizing the weaponization of capital to create the preconditions necessary to become an autonomous power beyond use value. Exchange value has taken precedence over use value, monopolizing all aspects of human satisfaction, thus controlling a commodities use. The process of exchange tightly binds itself to every possible use, subjugating use to a secondary concern to exchange. Thus, exchange value becomes the condottierefn“condottiere”: The Condottiere were the mercenary leaders fighting for the wealthy landlords during Renaissance Italy who often ended up taking over the states they were fighting for. [Close] of use value, waging war for predominance in the ideology of the market, for its own sake.
The use value of commodities gradually declines as the spectacle continually generates new pseudo-necessities. This creates a new form of poverty alongside the older poverty: a poverty of dispossession from spectacular pseudo-necessities. As such, wage workers are continually going after an endless attainment of money as it loses value; a sisyphean task indeed. The worker labors under the false belief that they must attain more wealth or die, when survival itself is not actually in danger.fn“survival itself is not actually in danger”: See note to thesis 40 on “the pursuit of survival”. [Close] This is a sort of blackmail in which the worker only achieves an illusory wealth, in the form of increased commodity consumption but no real increase to the quality of their directly lived experience. The blackmailed are in fear of an illusion, and the commodity is the materialized illusion made manifest by the spectacle.
Exchange value was previously understood as derived from use value. Now, however, within the inverted reality of the spectacle, use value must be explicitly (and with great pretension) advertised, as the actual use value of the commodity has been diminished as its connection to directly lived reality has been gradually eroded. The commodities relevance has been made obsolete by the continual development of the market economy. Thus, the pseudo-necessity of these commodities require pseudo-justifications.
The spectacle is the complement of money. Money represents the equivalent exchange of individual goods whose use value cannot be directly compared. The spectacle is the contemporary development transcending the equivalent exchange of individual goods towards a representation of the totality of the commodity market as the equivalent of what the whole of society can be and do. The first abstraction—money, useful commodities are represented for exchange, yields to the next layer of abstraction—the spectacle, in which money is merely gazed upon, because all use value has already been exchanged for the first abstraction. Thus, the spectacle is not only an abstraction of pseudo-use value, but an abstraction of the totality of the system of production of pseudo-necessities.fn“Thus, the spectacle… production of pseudo-necessities”: I’ve significantly reworded the original French in hopes of making Debords argument more clear. Original French is
Le spectacle n’est pas seulement le serviteur du pseudo-usage, il est déjà en lui-même le pseudo-usage de la vie. or as translated by Nicholson-Smith “The spectacle is not just the servant of pseudo-use—it is already, in itself, the pseudo-use of life.” This is to say, the consumer is at first separated from their labor through the dissatisfied consumption of those pseudo-needs generated by the spectacle. Second, the consumer is passively separated from the spectacle by their passive gaze upon the spectacle which no longer needs their labor, nor which creates products they need, yet produces false necessities they cannot afford. [Close]
When society reaches the level of generalized economic abundance, the result of all social labor becomes visible, transforming directly lived reality into the spectacle that is the product of this society’s system of production. Capital is no longer the invisible authority directing the system of production; as capital accumulates, it spreads to the ends of the earth in the form of commodities.fn“[capital] spreads to the ends of the earth in the form of commodities.”: Capital, the once secret fuel of the system of production, now becomes an outward symbol for this system. With the hegemony of globalization, it is now possible to travel anywhere in the world and buy products that are the same everywhere, each literally printed with the name of the company that created it, a dedication to the owners of capital. [Close] The entirety of society becomes a portrait of the capital who is its patron.
The financialization of the economyfn“financialization of the economy”: The original French is
La victoire de l’économie autonome… which is “The victory of the autonomous economy…” I’ve changed this text to refer to the hegemony of exchange value over use value, and how that has produced a self-perpetuating (autonomous) power. [Close] emerged victorious as an autonomous power for its own sake, simultaneously underwriting its own demise. The forces unleashed by the autonomous power of the financial economy undermine the efforts of ancient societies that put the material needs of humans (e.g. food, clothing, shelter) at the center of its economy. These needs are replaced by boundless financial economic growth itself, and society demands the necessity of infinite growth. The satisfaction of basic human needs is therefore replaced with the increasing growth of the generation of new pseudo-needs, and the abstract pseudo-need for this economic arrangement to continue indefinitely. Society then refocuses its basis to the maintenance and growth of these pseudo-needs at the expense of authentic needs, a result of a social unconsciousness dependent upon the economy of pseudo-needs. This is called the “autonomous economy”—the economy which has shifted from the satisfaction of basic social needs to the generation of pseudo-needs for its own sake. “Whatever is conscious wears out.fn"Whatever is conscious wears out…": Quote not found, but attributed to Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the founder of psychoanalysis. [Close] What is unconscious remains unalterable. But once it is freed, does it not fall to ruin in its turn?”
At the moment society discovers that it depends on the autonomous economy, the economy depends on society.fn“the economy depends on society”: Society is conscious that its way of life depends on the consumption of pseudo-needs lest it collapse. [Close] This formerly secret power, which has developed to such an extent that it became visible and autonomous, has lost its power.fn“[secret power] has lost its power.”: At this point, an autonomous economy is necessary in that it has become sovereign, while simultaneously fragile with its dependence upon society to continually consume the pseudo-needs it continues to generate, a parasitic symbiosis. Once this symbiosis is realized, society must internalize the autonomous economy as an intrinsic part of itself, not something external to itself, i.e. the economy is society, and society is the economy. [Close] The economic Id must be replaced by the I.fn“The economic Id must be replaced by the I.”: An allusion to The Ego and the Id, See Freud, S. & Strachey, J., 1989. Debord uses détournement with his replacement of Ego with “I”, perhaps interpreted as an allusion to the emergence of the individual in late-capitalism. The advent of the individual as the locus of self-determination, responsibility, and personal choice is a result of individuation: a social life determined less by geography, ethnicity, race, blood, kin, rank, and religion, and instead focusing on the emergence of the human as individual consumer separated from traditional norms, meaning, and rules. This life becomes a reality of self-choice to be discovered within the context of the global economy rather than a received destiny inherited at birth. To service this social shift, there must be an equal economic shift that organizes production around the individual, offering products and services customized and distributed to meet individualized wants and (pseudo-)needs. For more on this topic see Zuboff, S. & Maxmin, J., 2002. [Close] The individual, the subject of the autonomous economy can only emerge from the society that has organized itself for the production of the individualized pseudo-necessities of the individual—the general class struggle of each individual to create a self-determined reality against an economy prepared to create reality for its own sake. The existence of the autonomous economy is contingent upon the results of this struggle, the manifestation of which is the product and producer (i.e. the individual vs economic production) creating the economic and material basis of history.
Under the struggle of capitalism, the worker seeks to abolish all classes and control the means of production, the consumer desires to understand the nature of their desire for pseudo-necessities, while desiring the need to be conscious of this desire; which is to say, a consumer-worker in possession of complete control over their investments of time into both consumption and production. The opposite of this is the society of the spectacle, in which the commodity contemplates itself in a reality of its own making.fn“the commodity contemplates itself in a reality of its own making”: C.f. Marx, K. & Engels, F., 1988. “He contemplates himself in a world that he himself has created.” In the spectacle, the product (i.e. the commodity) exists for its own sake, external to any human desire, or even society itself, organizing reality in order to reproduce itself. This is what Debord means with the term the “autonomous economy.” [Close]
“An intense new polemic is unfolding on the philosophical front in this country, focusing on the concepts ‘one divides into two’ and ‘two fuse into one’. This debate is a struggle between those who are for and those who are against the materialist dialectic, a struggle between two conceptions of the world: the proletarian conception and the bourgeois conception. Those who maintain that ‘one divides into two’ is the fundamental law of things are on the side of the materialist dialectic; those who maintain that the fundamental law of things is that ‘two fuse into one’ are against the materialist dialectic. The two sides have drawn a clear line of demarcation between them, and their arguments are diametrically opposed. This polemic is a reflection, on the ideological level, of the acute and complex class struggle taking place in China and in the world.”
—Red FlagfnThe Red Flag (红旗) was a theoretical political journal published by the Chinese Communist Party, published from 1958 until 1988. [Close] (Beijing), September 21, 1964
The spectacle is simultaneously perceived as united and divided, it builds unity upon disjunction.fn“unity upon disjunction”: For example, Americans are unified around the concept of a two-party system, whereby Democrats and Republicans only exist in order to be opposed to one another. Similarly, when the individual sees wealth inequality, they are both disgusted and yet subsumed by the fact that the spectacle and society itself would cease to function without it. The spectacle is “A unifying force that separates”, or “to put it in terms of Hegel’s speculative, the identity of identity and non-identity.” (Russell, E. 2021 Pp. 12, 67), which is to say, a force that separates people in order to create separate separating identities. [Close] The unity of each is contingent upon violent divisions against the other. When this contradiction is portrayed by the spectacle, its meaning is reversed: the divisions it portrays are unitary, while the unity it presents is divided.
The power struggle between nations internationally, political groups, and parties within each nationfn“parties within each nation”: These parties differ only in the style of the theatrics they present to a willing audience of spectators. There is no distinction between parties when it comes to an alternative to the spectacle. [Close] all present themselves as legitimate contestants opposed to one another as the ones better equipped to manage society—but in fact are united in the representation and maintenance of the spectacle. In practice they only offer the continuation of the status quo.
The falsified struggle between power groupsfn“The struggle between power groups…”: Nominally a struggle akin to Coke vs Pepsi, while both offering mere sugar water. [Close] (despite being theatrical), is real in that the struggle defines their identities in relation to the spectacular society. The struggle is to define the dominant characteristics as well as the form and boundaries of these characteristicsfn“form and boundaries of these characteristics…”: As political groups, each group attempts to hold a monopoly on particular political opinions, e.g. ‘we’re the party of free public healthcare’. These typically take the form: we believe in ‘x’, we are against ‘y’, we do not ‘z’, we are ‘a’. [Close] in order to construct a cohesive social identity that stands apart from other identities. The difference between power groups is determined by their level of economic development or the contradictory interests of the classes that attempt to construct their social identities within these groups. The definition of these priorities are decided by the ruling group, to the detriment of, and in opposition to the minority. This impacts individuals within the nation as well as those in colonized regions inside the sphere of influence of the nation. The spectacle presents these differences as absolutely distinct forms of social organization, but in fact they are all different styles of localized capitalismfn“different styles of localized capitalism.”: E.g. social-democratic capitalism as in Europe, authoritarian capitalism as in China and Singapore, even Russia is a form of bureaucratic state-controlled totalitarian capitalism. [Close] that contribute to the transformation of the world into a globalized field of spectacular capitalism.
Where the economic form of the spectacle hasn’t yet dominated undeveloped colonized countries, they are instead dominated by its theatrical aspects in media, and the desire for pseudo-necessities: as the society of the spectacle. Cultural developments influence the indigenous ruling classes and limit their agendas. These cultural dominations, just like the pseudo-necessities that never satisfy, also provide false models of revolutionary behavior to local dissidents. At the national level, the spectacle presents local and national specializations,fn“local and national specializations”: E.g. the US has become the worldwide police & surveillance force, China the worldwide mass-manufacturer, and India a supplier of low-cost knowledge workers. [Close] but when looking from a global scale we see a global division of spectacular labor.
The division of spectacular labor primarily reinforces the dominance of the spectacle as a whole worldwide system, but it primarily focuses on the development of its most advanced economic sectors. As the spectacle is founded upon an economy of abundance, the fruits of that economy tend to dominate the spectacular market within its sphere of influencefn“the fruits of that economy”: The original French is phrased beautifully:
les fruits qui tendent finalement à dominer le marché spectaculaire. or “the fruits eventually tend to dominate the spectacular market”. [Close], despite any local authoritarian police protections or ideologies that grant the locality the appearance of independence.
As the spectacle increasingly produces new products to maintain our attention, it simultaneously increases the banalization of life, as the limitless choice of equivalent pseudo-necessities becomes meaningless when all of these objects fail to satisfy actual necessity. The relics of the class struggle that persist to the present day are religion and family.fn“The relics of the class struggle… family”: The family continues to be the primary mechanism of transferral of class status, wealth, and power from one generation to the next. [Close] These two institutions continue to tout the value of moral-oppression and conservatism as the solution to the spectacular excesses of our contemporary period. The result of economic abundance is both an apathetic smugnessfn“apathetic smugness”: This smugness comes in a few varieties: complacent acceptance e.g. “lets just face the facts, we can’t change anything!” or delusional technocratic reformism: “we can reform capitalism by increasing taxation and providing universal basic income.” [Close] and a new spectacular rebellionfn“spectacular rebellion”: Recently emergent examples of this type of rebellion take the form of religious fundamentalism, terrorism, cultural resistance, aimless protest, and culture jamming. [Close] that presents an image of opposition, but cannot exist without the spectacle it opposes. This is because dissatisfaction has become a commodity recreated by the spectacle, as dissatisfaction is the raw material for spectacular society.
The celebrity is a relatable living representative of the spectacle, each offering the individual a possible role for the spectacles portrayal of an actually lived life. The individual compensates for a life of narrow specialization in work and shallow participation in life by identifying with the celebrities they perceive as living an actually lived life—a life of complete participation that is both broad and deep. This is an identification with mere appearances. These celebrities act out various styles of living that a single individual could never live, in a totally free manner. The celebrity embodies the social labor made possible by individual specialists, but that the specialist can never realize themselves; namely the exercise of power, the enjoyment of leisure, taking vacations, making life-changing decisions, and the consumption of a wide variety of products and services. The celebrity is able to see and do what the individual is not—participate in both the beginning and endfn“participate in both the beginning and end…”: The celebrity represents the idealized form of life under the spectacle: a life in which the individual needs not make decisions that may foreclose other paths through life; but can live every life possible with full participation in all aspects of life. This is, of course, an image of life presented as life. In witnessing the ideal form of living as performed by a celebrity, the individual can themselves feel they have lived those lives. [Close] of the system of production. In the case of the exercise of power, the national government assumes the form of a celebrity personified, in the case of the celebrity consumption of leisure, travel, and products that present the star with the influential power over the experience of life. Ultimately, as these pseudo-lives are not representative of the totality of human lives, they offer no actual choice between real lives.
The celebrity is the opposite of the individual; in assuming the role of the celebrity, they must accept the public identifying with them and renouncing their own unique identities. The celebrity is as much an enemy of their own individuality as to the individuality of others. Each celebrity represents an aspect of identity to be consumed by the public. In doing so, each of their unique characteristics is up for sale and is no longer their own. With each performance, the celebrity outwardly expresses different modes of living and unique personalities, demonstrating happiness across the entire realm of consumable lifestyles. These stars, across multiple roles, possess a full range of admirable human characteristics, the contradictory differences between these roles is cancelled out by the presentation of excellence in each one. KhrushchevfnKhrushchev: Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev (Ники́та Серге́евич Хрущёв). In July 1943 near Kursk, the largest tank battle in history pitted roughly four thousand Soviet tanks against roughly three thousand German tanks. Khrushchev claims to have told Stalin (over his commanding officer) “Our defensive positions are solid,… we’ll be able to hold our ground.” See Taubman, W., 2003. He later became the Chairman of the Council of Ministers (or premier) of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. After Stalin’s death, he took power and attempted to end the purges and enact more liberal civil policies. [Close] had to be retroactively promoted to general in order to be given credit for the battle of Kursk, twenty years later. John F. Kennedy, the great orator, survived himself when his speech writer Theodore Sorenson penned his own funeral oration in the same style that created the dead man’s public persona. The most admirable celebrities who personify the spectacle are those who are known for being fake: they become famous by stooping below anything an acceptable individual would dofn“they become famous by stooping below anything an acceptable individual would do”: C.f. Hegel, G., Hoffmeister, J., Nisbet, H. & Forbes, D., 1975. Full quotation is “Thus, the great individuals of history can only be understood within their own context; and they are admirable simply because they have made themselves the instruments of substantial spirit.” Ex-Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi and ex-US President Donald J. Trump are perfect examples of the celebrity politician who played themselves while in office. [Close]—and everyone knows it.
The spectacle offers an abundance of choice, expressed as loyalties to one side of a false dichotomy.fn“loyalty to false dichotomies…”: e.g. Democrats vs. Republicans, Coke vs. Pepsi; which is to say, alternatives which aren’t significantly different. [Close] These loyalties are aligned between competing & complementary spectacles or the juxtaposition of rules within the spectacle. These false dichotomies develop into struggles between opposing teams who claim fierce allegiance to what are otherwise trivial differences. This resurrects long-dormant racism and regionalism, creating irrational and unnecessary ontological superiorities. All this sets the stage for trivial confrontations—sporting events, theatrical elections, and the like. The presence of abundundant consumption pits the adults against the youth, but “real adults”, those people who are responsible for the destiny of their own lives—are in fact nowhere to be found. Furthermore, it is not the youth that makes change, but the spectacle.fn“it is not the youth that makes change, but the spectacle.”: The difference and confrontation between adult and youth culture is merely the difference between the commodities they consume, and their modes of consumption. Baby Boomers may tend to consume the spectacular media via television, while Millennials consumed the spectacular media by an ever-changing sequence of social media apps: MySpace, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, TicTok, etc. They both consume the spectacular media. [Close] It is the new commodities of the spectacle which are young and changing. At its core, the commodities are what are directly confronting and replacing one another.
Beneath the abundance of false dichotomies lies a unity of poverty, this is the struggle for dominance of trivial differences in form, maintained within the continuation of alienation. In making either choice, individuals become united in opposition to each other—engaged in a pointless struggle,fn“pointless struggle”: Revealing this truth will present the triviality of the false opposition—revealing the perception of total agency and free will as a superficial free will, one limited to decisions that reinforce the spectacle. Behind every choice we perceive to be based upon our free will and responsible choice, is a series of prior decisions based on experiences occurring in the spectacular society which shapes these experiences and choices in ways that are hidden to us. On both sides of spectacular opposition, the spectacle is the unity both sides share in their spectacular struggle against each other, a struggle that defines their identities (in part). [Close] where only the spectacle benefits from the continual regeneration of this false opposition while real contradictions are repressed. The spectacle, at its most abstract level, presents itself in one of two possible forms: the concentrated form or the diffuse form.fn“the concentrated form or the diffuse form”: Debord has since updated his analysis: “In 1967 I distinguished two rival and successive forms of spectacular power, the concentrated and the diffuse… The former, presenting an ideology concentrated around a dictatorial personality, had accompanied the Nazi and Stalinist totalitarian counterrevolutions. The latter, inciting wage-earners to apply their freedom of choice to the vast range of new commodities now on offer, had represented the Americanisation of the world… Since then a third form has been established, through the rational combination of these two, and on the basis of a general victory of the form that had shown itself stronger: the diffuse. This is the integrated spectacle, which has since tended to impose itself globally.” See Debord, G. & Imrie, M., 1998. [Close] One form comes to the forefront depending on the needs of the particular stage of poverty it needs to maintain and regenerate. In either form, it results in the happy harmony around false dichotomies and spectacular oppositions that generates desolation and horror at the calm center of misery.fn“happy harmony… calm center of misery”: A detournément from Moby Dick, full quote is “And thus, though surrounded by circle upon circle of consternations and affrights, did these inscrutable creatures at the centre freely and fearlessly indulge in all peaceful concernments; yea, serenely revelled in dalliance and delight. But even so, amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still for ever centrally disport in mute calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy.” See Melville, H., 1991 (Ch. 87). [Close]
The concentrated spectacle is primarily associated with bureaucratic capitalism, but is also the primary form used by both undeveloped economies or advanced economies to reinforce state power during moments of crisis.fn“bureaucratic capitalism… during moments of crisis”: The bureaucratic capitalist states use a centralized state power dictated by a supreme leader, or a central party with absolute power; for example, the former socialist USSR, contemporary China, and North Korea. In Western “neoliberal” or “free market” capitalism, absolute powers are given to the ruling class during moments of crisis such as natural disasters, popular protests, pandemics, and terrorist attacks. This approach to emergency powers was named “Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein in a book with the same title that describes the use of crisis to push through policies that grant additional powers to the state that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise, see: Klein, N., 2007. Although Western capitalism has also become increasingly bureaucratized, when Debord uses the terms “the bureaucracy,” “bureaucratic capitalism,” “bureaucratic class,” etc., he is referring to the “Communist” party’s evolution into a new type of totalitarian bureaucratic ruling class. See also theses 103 to 113. [Close] Bureaucratic ownership, which is to say, the ownership of the economy by the bureaucratic class is also concentrated, in that any individual bureaucrat maintains ownership only as a member of the bureaucratic community. Commodity production, while less developed under bureaucratic capitalism, takes on a concentrated form: the total control of social labor. What it controls in labor it sells back as exclusive access to the basic means of survival. As such, the dictatorship of bureaucratic economy cannot leave the exploited classes any margin of choice, all consumption is carefully chosen by bureaucratic capitalism because it has to make all choices itself and independently of demand, whether regarding food, music, or anything else. This amounts to a declaration of war against any independent choice outside of itself. Whatever is produced must also be consumed, and nothing outside this system officially exists. The masses cannot have any margin of choice, because choice ultimately leads to the choice to destroy bureaucratic capitalism itself. This dictatorship enforces itself with the exclusive control of the monopoly on violence. The concentrated spectacle imposes an image of the good which encompasses everything that officially exists, and typically reflects back upon the work of a single individual, who is the guarantor of its totalitarian cohesion. Everyone must magically identify with this star individual or they will disappear. This individual is the master of his non-consumption, the heroic image that explains and justifies the absolute exploitation that is in fact primitive accumulation accelerated by official terrorism. If every Chinese must learn Mao, and thus have to be Mao, it is because he or she has nothing else to be. Wherever the concentrated spectacle dominates, the police also dominate.
The diffuse spectacle is primarily associated with a society producing an abundance of commodities, one pursuing the fulfillment of capitalism—the production of commodities for the sake of increasing production, and the need for constant economic growth. The spectacle is its self-congratulatory mouthpiece. The star commodities argue with each other in contradictory ways, promoting conflicting social policies but allowing individuals to identify with them accordingly. The automobile achieves more efficient travel and empowers individuals to be autonomous, while destroying the environment and the organic feel of older cities that operate on a human-scale. This creates a tension between the desire for organic-feeling old cities and the tourism they attract at the expense of vehicle ownership. These tensions create a gap of satisfaction, where the consumer is unable to satisfy the whole of what society has to offer due to contradictions between its parts. Due to this contradiction, the whole is absent at every aspect of society.
Contradictory commodities struggle for themselves, and cannot acknowledge others. Each seeks to become predominant as if it existed alone. The spectacle is the heroic poem of this struggle, one in which the fall of Troyfn“the fall of Troy…”: An allusion to Homer’s Iliad. [Close] would not bring about its conclusion. The spectacle doesn’t sing of men and their wars,fn“The spectacle doesn’t sing of men and their wars…”: C.f. the opening line of Virgil’s Aeneid, full quotation: “Wars and a man I sing…” see Virgil. & Fagles, R., 2006. [Close] but of commodities and their passions. It is in this blind struggle that each commodity, following its passion, in fact unconsciously materializes something beyond itself: the globalization of the commodity, and thus, the commodification of the globe.fn“the globalization of the commodity, and thus, the commodification of the globe”: C.f. Engels, F., Marx, K., 1975. Full quotation: “As the world becomes philosophical, philosophy also becomes worldly.” [Close] Thus, by a deception of the commodity rationale, the individual commodity wears itself out in battle, while the commodity-form goes towards its absolute victory in the war of self-realization.fn“…this blind struggle that each commodity … self-realization.”: C.f. Hegel, G., Hoffmeister, J., Nisbet, H. & Forbes, D., 1975. Full quotation: “Particular interests contend with one another, and some are destroyed in the process. But it is from this very conflict and destruction of particular things that the universal emerges. The universal Idea does not itself enter into conflict and danger; it remains in the background, untouched and unharmed, and sends forth the particular interests of passion to fight and wear themselves out in its stead. With what we may call the cunning of reason, it sets the passions to work in its service, so that the agents by which it gives itself existence must pay the penalty and suffer the loss.” [Close]
The tension produced between commodities in opposition reduces the satisfaction of using these abundant commodities. The individual consumer exhibits religious fervor for having as commodity, where having is an end in itself.fn“having as commodity, where having is an end in itself”: For example, “sneakerheads”, those who collect hundreds of pairs of expensive sneakers, keeping them boxed and in perfect condition, never actually wearing them. The satisfaction comes purely from having them; Apple fans will wait in line for the latest Apple iPhone, while the phone in their pocket continues to work perfectly, and is nearly indistinguishable to the newer model. [Close] All forms of media engage in the promotion of waves of fervor for having these commodities. A new style of fashion emerges from a film, nightlife magazines publicizes new night clubs, which in turn launch new products. The proliferation of trendy gadgets expresses the fact that when the mass of commodities slides into absurdity, the absurd itself becomes a star commodity. Gimmicks such as key-chains, for example, which are no longer bought but are additional gifts that accompany luxury commodities, or which are traded back and forth as collectibles in their own right, reflecting a mysterious surrender to the predominance of the commodity. These commodities are then manufactured specifically to be collected. Collectors prove their position amongst their cohort of the faithful by showcasing their obedience to the maintenance of accumulation, an accumulation of commodity indulgences—glorious tokens exemplifying the commodities physical presence among the most faithful.fn“an accumulation of commodity indulgences-glorious tokens exemplifying the commodities physical presence among the faithful”: This whole thesis plays on associations with classic religious delusions, in this case the “indulgences” for forgiveness of sins peddled by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages and the doctrine of the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharist. [Close] These commodified people proudly display the proof of their intimacy with the commodity. The fetishism of the commodity reaches similar moments of fervent exaltation as old religious fetishism, with its convulsionary raptures and miraculous cures. The only usage that remains within this relationship is the usage of submission to the commodity on the part of the faithful.
Undoubtedly, the pseudo-needs imposed by contemporary consumerism cannot be contrasted against any genuine material need or desire that is not itself shaped by society and history. The economy of commodity abundance represents a total break from the organic development of social needs. The mechanical accumulation of commodities unleashes a limitless demand for pseudo-necessities which overwhelms all material needs and desires. The cumulative power of this autonomous artificiality ends up falsifying the needs and desires of directly lived life.
Society presents an image of general unification around blissful consumption, yet this is merely postponing consumers awareness of the actual contradictions until their dissatisfactionfn“blissful consumption… dissatisfaction”: This sequence is institutionalized by the system of production as planned obsolescence. Society appears happiest when the newest object/product is released. In between, we just wait for the new release (occasionally quite literally, some wait in line for the next Apple product or Star Wars film.) [Close] with the next commodity. Every new product release presents itself as the solution to our unified pseudo-need: the desire to resolve the tension between contradictory commodities. But as with parents giving seemingly unique first names to their children which end up being given to virtually all individuals of the same age, the commodities that promise to solve all consumers dissatisfaction can only be mass-consumed if it has been mass-produced. This commodity acquires prestige if it is placed at the center of social life, however briefly, as the ultimate goal of the system of production. This commodity becomes vulgar as soon as it is brought home, revealing the poor quality of its mass production, but luckily, by then another product will soon be released, again promising to resolve the tension between commodities. The new release demands a new spectacle to tout its potential success.
Every commodity expresses its own inability to satisfy both real need and pseudo-need when the commodity is eventually replaced, proving both the fraud of satisfaction and the inability of the entire production process to satisfy any needs. The commodity, continually announcing its excellence in advertising campaigns, but having failed to satisfy, results in a new commodity which takes its place—perpetuating and regenerating the process of spectacular production. Stalin,fnStalin: Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), totalitarian leader of the USSR from the late 1920s till his death in 1953. Following his death, his successors, who had slavishly followed him for decades, undertook a “de-Stalinization” campaign, denouncing the “excesses” of his reign. [Close] like any other outmoded commodity, is denounced by the very forces that originally promoted him. Every lie of advertising is an admission of their previous lie, revealing the advertiser as someone who knows they produce lies. Each downfall of a figure of totalitarian power reveals the deceitful community that unanimously approved of them, which was nothing more than an assembly of solitudes without illusion.
The only constant within the spectacle is change. It is dogmatic only in that it has no dogma. Nothing remains constant for the spectacle, it constantly shifts and changes, and yet it presents itself as a permanent condition that has no historical events and creates an eternal present. This instability is the spectacle’s natural condition, but it is completely contrary to its natural inclination.fn“Nothing remains constant… it is completely contrary to its natural inclination”: C.f. Pascal, B. & Ariew, R., 2005. Full quotation: “When we try to anchor ourselves to any point, it wavers and leaves us; and if we pursue it, it continually eludes our grasp. Nothing stands still for us. This is our natural condition, yet it is completely contrary to our inclination.” [Close]
The spectacle rests on the class divisions of a capitalist mode of production. This is hidden by the projection of an image of unity within spectacular opposition.fn“unity within spectacular opposition”: The spectacle creates an illusion that everyone is involved in the same struggle of Republican vs Democrat, working class vs capital; when in reality there are grey areas between the two, as well as individuals and groups operating completely outside these false dichotomies—and yet these groups operate within a force of unity based upon spectacular separation. [Close] These class divisions must be maintained to keep the spectacle going. Capitalism motivates producers to create commodities that promise to break class distinctions, but this causes a finer stratification between the lower classes. That which connects individuals who are freed from their local and national limitations is that which alienates them. New hyper-rationalities require continually new oversimplifications of reality, creating new irrationalities of hierarchical exploitation and oppression. That which creates new abstract powers in society generate its concrete lack of freedom.
“Equal right to all the goods and pleasures of this world the destruction of all authority, the negation of all moral restraints—in the final analysis, these are the aims behind the March 18th insurrectionfnThe insurrection of March 18th refers to the Paris Commune, the radical socialist and revolutionary government that ruled Paris from March 18 until May 28th 1871. The national government continued to have authority in rural France during this time, but Paris became briefly independent, with aims of gaining control nationally. [Close] and the charter of the fearsome organizationfn"the fearsome organization…": The parliamentary committee of the national government characterized the First International, the Executive Committee of the Commune as fearsome because of their strong influence with the National Guard and among soldiers embedded in the army. [Close] that furnished it with an army.”
—Parliamentary Report on the Insurrection of March 18
The spectacle began when the bourgeoisie won the economy, and became visible when the bourgeois politicians put their interests into action within politics. The real movement that dissolves existing conditionsfn“The real movement that dissolves existing conditions”: C.f. Marx, K. & Engels, F., 1998 (Part 1, Ch. 2, Section 5.) Full quotation: “Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. What we call communism is the real movement that is dissolving existing conditions.” [Close]—the continual progression of capitalism destroying the old way of life in which individuals created goods as craft,fn“individuals created goods as craft…”: In its place is a thoughtless production of items bankrupt of craft, only to be consumed not for its use, but in order to satisfy an unsatisfiable pseudo-need. [Close] and their relation to the goods as an item with use value, the old static order crumbled into dust.fn“the old static order crumbled into dust.”: C.f. Marx, K., Engels, F. & Jones, G., 2002 (Part 1). Full quotation: “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind, in a clear and disabused manner.” [Close] Everything that had been directly lived has been relegated to history.
When individuals can relate to the products they produce and consume, they understand it as direct participation in a historically cohesive context generated by their own labor and struggle, in a clear and disabused manner.fn“in a clear and disabused manner.”: See previous quote from C.f. Marx, K., Engels, F. & Jones, G., 2002 (Part 1). [Close] This is the creation of a history that has no ends other than whatever final unconscious metaphysical vision emergesfn“whatever final unconscious metaphysical vision emerges…”: One such vision of metaphysical history is The Philosophy of History, see Hegel, G. & Sibree, J., 2004. [Close] from the procession of events that make it up. The subject of history can only be the living, participating, and regeneration of themselves, becoming owner and master of their world—that very thing which is history, becoming conscious of their own adventures.
The class struggles of the long era of revolutionsfn“the long era of revolutions”: The period from approximately 1774 to 1849 in which a number of significant revolutionary movements occurred in most of Europe and the Americas. The period is noted for the change from absolutist monarchies to representative governments with a written constitution, and the creation of nation states. Arguably includes the Russian Revolution which would extend its end until 1923. [Close] that was initiated by the ascendance of the bourgeoisie, arrived with historical thought. This is the dialectic—a line of reasoning that doesn’t conclude at the definition of meaning of what exists, but aspires to understand the dissolution of everything that is—and in the process dissolve all separation.fn“dissolve all separation”: The role of human labor has shifted from manual labor to knowledge labor, and most recently, pure contemplation which is sufficient to call “labor.” Within this regime, class distinctions seem to dissolve, but will be (in reality) ascribed by ownership of power, capital, and signifiers of class membership. The potential for a revolution of the proletariat is then to ignore meaning in the contemporary moment, and instead create new meaning through direct action that seeks to eliminate all existing meaning and all forms of alienation. Pure contemplation can take an active form such as automation and computation (software engineering), and machine learning. The passive form includes individuals who exchange their time for television, social media, etc; their attention becomes labor in itself. For more on this see Beller, J., 2006. [Close]
The philosophy of HegelfnHegel: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), German philosopher. Although it is possible to understand most of The Society of the Spectacle without knowing anything about Hegel, some familiarity with his work is useful to engage in the dialectical type of radical practice initiated by Marx and further developed by the Situationists. The dialectical method cuts through traditional logic, expressing the dynamic manner in which things interact, how they divide, merge, grow, decay, and transform; sometimes even into their opposites. Because most of Hegel’s work is quite difficult, commentaries and other secondary readings are essential. A good starting place might be Peter Singer’s Hegel: A Very Short Introduction. [Close] only examined the transformation of history through processes (but never examined the process or results of change itself.) He limited himself to the mere interpretation of the transformation after the event. His work represents the philosophical culmination of philosophy. He sought to understand a reality that generated itself. His historical thinking are justifications that have arrived too late,fn“his justifications are too late…”: C.f. Hegel, G., Wood, A. & Nisbet, H., 1991. Full quotation: “As for trying to teach the world what it ought to be, for this purpose philosophy always arrives too late. As the thought of the world, it appears only when actuality is already there.” [Close] as the meaning of reality depends on the historical completion of events—his analysis occurred in thought only, and as such was able to escape separation.fn“his analysis… was able to escape separation”: His work was able to cross specialized academic fields in order to articulate a line of integrated understanding. [Close] Hegel’s paradoxical intellectual position—the subjugation of the meaning of all reality to the material conditions and events that have culminated up to that point, while at the same time revealing that very meaning as the culmination of those conditions, arises because this great thinker of the bourgeois revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuriesfn“the bourgeois revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries”: Most notably in England (1640-1660, 1688), America (1775-1788) and France (1789-1799). [Close] desired a way to reconcile the results of these revolutions to the specific conditions and events he was attempting to understand. “Even as a philosophy of the bourgeois revolution, it does not reflect the entire process of that revolution, but only its concluding phase. It is thus a philosophy not of the revolution, but of the restoration.” (Korsch, K., 2014) Hegel performed the task of the philosopher—“the glorification of existing conditions”—for the last time; but what already existed for him could be nothing less than the entire movement of history. Since his position rested upon the external position of thought (external to conditions and events), this position could only be maintained by identifying that thought with the apriori existence of Spirit—that heroic force that does what it willed and willed what it has done,fn“that heroic force that does what it willed and willed what it has done…”: C.f. Hegel, G. W. F., 2019, (Vol. 1, §140). Full quotation: “great men willed what they did, and did what they willed.” [Close] that same force whose achievement has created the present. Philosophy, in the process of being superseded by truly historical thinking, has thus arrived at the point where it can glorify its world only by denying it,fn“Philosophy… can glorify its world only by denying it.”: According to Debord, Hegel’s analysis glorified only the heroes whose work contributed directly to the conditions of the present, and ignores the work of those who contributed to the precursors & processes not existent in the conclusion. This philosophy can only be written once the conclusion is available, and its logic is only valuable when it can write judgement when the full scope of history is visible to draw upon. [Close] since it must presuppose that the totality of history to which it credits all present conditions has already come to its conclusion, and the only court where truth can be judged has been adjourned.fn“the only court where truth can be judged has been adjourned”: C.f. Hegel, G., Wood, A. & Nisbet, H., 1991. Full quotation: “over finite spirits in world history as the world’s court of judgement.” [Close]
When the working class exert their power & presence through actions, they demonstrate how they have not forgotten historical thought.fn“they have not forgotten historical thought”: C.f. Hegel, G., Hoffmeister, J., Nisbet, H. & Forbes, D., 1975. Full quotation: “Spirit often seems to have forgotten and lost itself, but inwardly opposed to itself, it is inwardly working ever forward as Hamlet says of the ghost of his father, ‘Well done, old mole’-until grown strong in itself it bursts asunder the crust of earth which divided it from its sun, its Notion, so that the earth crumbles away.” [Close] Their actions demonstrate the denial of the endsfn“the ends/new ends”: Ends as in ‘the ultimate goal’ or ‘ultimate purpose’. This language comes directly from Hegel: ‘End of history’ meaning the final form of human society, or the ultimate goal of the process of human social development. It does not imply that nothing more will ever happen. This is a denial of Hegel’s idealized philosophical conclusion. [Close] of historical thought, demonstrating the very real possibility of new ends that they themselves will materialize. These actions will simultaneously be a validation of their methods.fn“their methods”: Hegel’s dialectical methods. [Close]
Historical thought can only be salvaged by taking these theories of the contemporary social order and transforming them into practical thought. The actions of the working class as a revolutionary force can be nothing less than a newly emergent historical consciousness operating over the entire world. The theory powering previous revolutionary workers movements: Stirner,fnStirner: Max Stirner (1806-1856) a German individualist anarchist philosopher, and author of The Ego and His Own. [Close] Bakunin,fnBakunin: Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876), Russian anarchist revolutionary. collaborator and then later opponent of Marx within the First International. [Close] and MarxfnMarx: Karl Marx (1818- 1883), German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist, and socialist revolutionary. [Close]— grew out of a critical confrontation with Hegelian thought.
Marx’s theory is just as inseparable from the Hegelian method as it is inseparable from that theory’s revolutionary nature, that is, from its truth. The strong ties between Marxist theory & Hegelian action was first misunderstood, later ignored, and later denounced as a weakness—which was mistakenly developing into a “Marxist” dogma. Bernstein, in Evolutionary SocialismfnEduard Bernstein’s book Evolutionary Socialism: A Criticism and Affirmation was published in 1899. It was translated in 1911 and more recently as The Preconditions of Socialism in 1993. Shortly after The Communist Manifesto was published, both Paris and Germany erupted into the Revolutions of 1848. See Bernstein, E., 1911. [Close] affirmed this inseparability when he implicitly reveals the connection between the dialectical method of Hegel and historical partisanship in his analysis of Marx, he condemned the unscientific predictions of The Communist Manifesto (1847) which proclaimed the imminence of a working class revolution in Germany (and wider Europe): “This historical self-deception, so erroneous that the most naive political visionary could hardly have done any worse, would be incomprehensible in a Marx who at that time had already seriously studied economics if we did not recognize that it reflected the lingering influence of the antithetical Hegelian dialectic, from which Marx, like Engels, could never completely free himself. In those times of general effervescence this influence was all the more fatal to him.”
The radical synthesis achieved by Marx and his branch of scientific socialism was his ability to “salvage” the Hegelian method of dialectical thinking by transplantingfn“his ability to ‘salvage’… by transplanting”: C.f. Korsch, K., 1931. Full quotation: “The attempt made by the founders of scientific socialism to salvage the high art of dialectical thinking by transplanting it from the German idealist philosophy to the materialist conception of nature and history, from the bourgeois to the proletarian theory of revolution, appears, both historically and theoretically, as a transitory step only. What has been achieved is a theory not of the proletarian revolution developing on its own basis, but of a proletarian revolution that has just emerged from the bourgeois revolution; a theory which therefore in every respect, in content and in method, is still tainted with the birthmarks of Jacobinism, that is, of the revolutionary theory of the bourgeoisie.” [Close] it from its roots in German idealist philosophy to his materialist conception of nature and history; from the bourgeois revolution to the working class theory of revolution. This work did not consist trivially of swapping the development of the materialist system of production towards its historical ends—with the development of the Hegelian Spirit moving towards its ultimate encounter with itself, the Spirit whose objectification is identical to its alienation and whose historical injuries leave no scars.fn“historical injuries leave no scars”: C.f. Hegel, G., Miller, A. & Findlay, J., 1977. A détournement from Hegel, original quotation: “The wounds of the Spirit heal, and leave no scars behind.” [Close] For once history becomes real, it no longer has an end.fn“For once history becomes real, it no longer has an end.”: The original French is
L’histoire devenue réelle n’a plus de fin. Debord uses ‘real’
réelle in the metaphysical sense. In more contemporary philosophy, the term used is ‘Real’ (see Baudrillard, J., 1994) which refers to the metaphysical condition of reality as presented in the media and inscribed into history, while actual physical reality is the ‘real’. The ‘real’ is obscured by the metaphysical conditions presented by the media, while the ‘Real’ is portrayed as an increasing onslaught of mini-crises that play out in the daily media. Thus, once the pseudo-events of the Real are inscribed into history, the autonomous nature of the spectacle (here called history) no longer has any ultimate purpose (or ends), other than the reproduction of itself. [Close] Marx’s theory destroyed Hegel’s stance on detachment, that events which occur during the revolutionary event always exist in some form in its conclusion, and eliminates the contemplation of a supreme external agent—only the events themselves exist. Thus, theory needs only know those events which occur, those actions that are not part of the swing of the dialectic as described by Hegel: revolutionary actions without theory or a perspective on reality, immanent revolutionary action that physically transcends and refutes theory.fn“Marx’s theory destroyed… transcends and refutes theory.”: When Marx proposes a theory of a working class seizing the means of production, it must be done with practical action in addition to theory and law. It must be done in actions that change the zeitgeist—the common sense and spirit of the times must change to reflect these actions in order for the revolution to succeed. When revolutionary actions occur simultaneously with theory and practice—history and imagination work together to materialize an open trajectory for the emergence of a new society. [Close] In contrast, contemporary society’s passive analysis of the economy is a stagnant vestige from the undialectical aspect from Hegel’s attempt to create a self-referential system. It never attempts to rationalize any higher-order aspect of society, and remains satisfied with a mere self-validation of its own methods, and doesn’t need Hegelianism to justify itself or the sector of the economy it justifies. It simply validates the financialized sector of the economy where thought no longer has any place, an autonomous sector whose development dominates all others. Marx’s project is that of a conscious history. The quantitative that occurs in the unthinking development of merely economic productive forces must change into qualitative historical appropriation. This is to say that the task of revolution is to reappropriate history in its actions by redefining history, both by revolutionary & productive force of action. The critique of political economy is the first act of the end of prehistory: “Of all the instruments of production, the greatest productive power is the revolutionary class itself.”fn“Of all the instruments… class itself”’: C.f. Marx, K., 1995, (Ch. 2). [Close]
Marx’s thought is scientific where it understands and analyses the forces that operate in society, but his thought supersedes science in its drive to understand the struggles throughout history (of the proletariat striving to achieve real power) and not merely its laws. “We know only a single science: the science of history.”fn“We recognize… the science of history.”: See Marx, K. & Engels, F., 1998. (Part I, Ch. 1, Section 1). [Close]
The bourgeois period wishes to explain history with science, but this science is limited to the economy, so it can only ever become a history of economics. The scientific and limited perspective of economics overlooks history’s effect on the economy, a process that continually modifies its own scientific premises to prove its own conclusionsfn“a process that continually modifies its own scientific premises to prove its own conclusions”: This is the same type of ideological reasoning used by doomsday cults who continually push their predictions of the End Times into the future. Thus, The End Times are always just around the corner, and have been for the last two thousand years. [Close] —best exemplified by the socialist states who thought they had calculated the exact periodicity of economic crises. These crises are only mitigated by the constant intervention of the state. The project of transcending the economy, and appropriating history must indeed grasp and incorporate the science of society, but it cannot be a merely scientific project. The revolutionary movement will remain merely bourgeois if it limits itself to mastering the economy,fn“The revolutionary movement will remain merely bourgeois if it limits itself to mastering the economy”: Debord’s critique contends that existing class distinctions rely on a division of labor that continually creates separation between theorists and practicioners. Namely, there are the designer/theorists: those who know and do not act—technocrats and economists by another name. Then there are the builders/laymen: those who act and do not know. The task of the revolutionary movement is not to merely master the redesign of the economy, but to design and build a new society with both theory and practice that transcends a mere reformation of the economy. [Close] and economic history by means of a merely scientific approach.
Utopian SocialismfnUtopian Socialism was the first current of socialist thought as exemplified by the work of Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825), Charles Fourier (1772-1837), Étienne Cabet (1788-1856), Robert Owen (1771-1858), and Henry George (1839-1897). Their theories were contrasted with the “scientific socialism” of Marx and Engels. [Close] offered a vision of socialism that was a critique of capitalism, but one that didn’t go far enough, which is to say that their vision remained constrained by the limitations of purely economic science. Their utopian vision ignores history, the actual struggles of daily life, and ignores the more recent developments of society that have moved beyond the conditions that originally generated their now-dated utopian imagination of a happy society. On the contrary, they want to continue the application of rationality and science to lend social credibility to the control of power with purely scientific methods that are now centuries old. These technocrats do not consider themselves unarmed missionaries,fn“unarmed missionaries”: C.f. Machiavelli (see Machiavelli, N., Bull, G. & Grafton, A., 2003) Machiavelli compares “armed prophets” to “unarmed prophets” in Ch. 6 of The Prince, here I instead found missionaries and warrior-monks a cleaner comparison. [Close] but as warrior-monks, for they are faithful to the social power of scientific proof; or in the case of Saint-Simonism and the other utopian socialists, in the seizure of power by science. Sombart asked “How can anything that is to be accomplished by intellectual illumination, or at most by example, be achieved through strife?” (Sombart, W., 1896). But the utopians’ scientific understanding did not include the awareness that the wealthy have vested interests in maintaining the status quo, a monopoly on force, and control the media to promote a false consciousness.fn“the wealthy have vested interests in maintaining the status quo… and control the media to promote a false consciousness.” C.f. Sombart, W., 1896. Full quotation is “So far as his [Owen’s] followers assume that the present order of things is nothing other than a mistake, that only for this reason men find themselves in their present position, that misery rules in the world only because man has not known thus far how to make it better—that is false. The utopists fail to see, in their optimism, that a part of this society looks upon the status quo as thoroughly satisfactory and desires no change, that this part also has an interest in sustaining it, and that a specific condition of society always obtains because those persons who are interested in it have the power to sustain it.” [Close] Their limited perspective thus obscured the recent developments of the economic sciences itself, which were at that time largely driven by the wealthy classes who determined both which areas were scientifically acceptable to study, as well as which of those areas were worthy of funding. The Utopian Socialists thus remained prisoners to the scientific method of exposing the truth, conceiving this truth as a purely abstract model—although one that had been imposed by an earlier stage of the development of society. Their model is an abstract image which doesn’t include enough context, or resolution to be adequate or sufficient. As Sorel remarked, their science is based upon the model of astronomy, which they think they can use to discover and demonstrate the laws of society. The balance they aim for, which is hostile to, and disregards history, is the result of an attempt to apply the least historically dependent science of economics to the understanding of society. They described this balance as if they were Newton discovering universal scientific laws, and the happy understanding they continually promote “[that they] believed that he had found a ‘social dynamic’ which often compared to celestial mechanics.” (Sorel, G., 2018)
The gap in Marx’s work between practice and scientific theory is the weakness into which the wedge of ideologyfn“the wedge of ideology”: The original French is
laquelle pénétra le processus d’‹idéologisation›., or “into which penetrated the process of ‘ideologization’.” In this sense both Debord and Marx consider ‘ideology’ to be a rigid and increasingly dogmatic interpretation of the purely scientific aspects of Marxism at the expense of the practical. [Close] was forced, both during his own lifetime and even more so in the theoretical heritage left to interpretation by the workers movement. The acceptance of the individual as subject to the events and material basis of history remains postponed, and instead a dogmatic faith in historical economics dominates understanding, which only increases the oversimplification, contradiction, and misunderstanding that guarantee its eventual obsolescence. This faith ignores the theoretical vision offered by revolutionary practice, which is the only means of attaining truth. This faith sees it as essential to study purely economic development, to quietly accept with Hegelian tranquility the suffering this development imposes. Into this gap, new scientific economic models are pushed while real revolutionary actions are ignored such that actions become “a graveyard of good intentions.” According to this blind faith, the self-described “science of revolutions”, concludes that consciousness always comes too soon,fn“consciousness always comes too soon”: C.f. Hegel, G., Wood, A. & Nisbet, H., 1991. A détournement from the original quote, which reads: “philosophy, at any rate, always comes too late to perform this function.” [Close] and therefore requires a misguided education of the working class. “History has shown that we, and all who thought like us, were wrong” (Engels, F., 1903) Engels wrote in 1895, continuing “It has made it plain that the condition of economic development on the continent at that time was not yet ripe enough by far for the abolition of capitalist production…” (ibid). Marx maintained a consistent perspective on his theory throughout his life, but his expression of this theory changed as it often took place on the terrain of the dominant thought of the times—taking the form of critiques of specific areas of discourse, most notably the critique of the political economy, the realm of bourgeois society. It was this constrained form of Marx’s work that was gradually reinterpreted into a simplified and dogmatic “Marxism”—which ignored on-the-ground reality, instead merely reading the tea leaves of the economic sciences—which can never reveal when the ground is ripe for revolutionary action.
Weakened and dogmatic “Marxism” is linked to the fundamental weakness of the revolutionary proletariat of his times. The German working class failed to initiate a permanent revolution in 1848fn“The German working class… 1848”: See Engels, F., Marx, K., 1907. [Close]; the Paris Commune was defeatedfn“The Paris Commune was defeated…”: See Marx, K., Kemp, A., 1968. See also Theses on the Paris Commune Knabb, K., 2006 (Pp. 398-401). [Close] in isolation. As a result, revolutionary theory could not yet be fully realized. The dogmatic steadfastness to Marxist theory leaves the movement vulnerable to a state of inflexibility when unanticipated conditions arise from the activity on the ground. While in exile in England, Marx was reduced to refining his theory under isolated conditions working at the British Museum; the conclusions he arrived at later became obstacles and dogmatic fixtures that obscure the theory of his work for later proletarian revolutionaries.
The purely scientific theoretical defense of the proletarian revolution, is insufficiently theorized in both content and form; namely in that it misidentifies the proletariat with the bourgeoisie as those responsible for the revolutionary seizure of power.
Marx’s continual effort to demonstrate the scientific basis of a legitimate proletarian power can be seen as early as The Communist Manifesto, in which he cites a repetitive sequence of experimental precedents, leading him to support an oversimplified linear progression of the development of the modes of production. Furthermore, his analysis stipulated that this progression was brought on by a class struggle that results in “either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”fnRelated: “its political power must be broken; that the individual bourgeois can continue to exploit the other classes and enjoy undisturbed property, family, religion and order only on the condition that their class be condemned to the same political nullity as all the other classes; that in order to save its purse, it must forfeit the crown” Marx, K. (1963). [Close] (Marx, K., Engels, F. & Jones, G., 2002. Pp. 219) In reality, it is seen that in Asia (i.e. China with the “Asiatic mode of production” that Marx had noted elsewhere) these struggles resulted in neither outcome, and in spite of all the class conflicts through historical times; nor did any serf revolt overthrow the lords during feudalism, nor did the slave revolts of ancient times result in the rule of free men. This framewor