Be Reasonable- Demand the Impossible; The Methodology of Situationist Theory and Practice Today
THEORY AND PRAXIS: two subjects whose relationship has been the primary question of all Marxist theory. It would seem, then, that a discussion of the relationship of theory and praxis would be either one of reiteration, expansion on basic concepts, or pedagogy, but the understanding of theory and praxis has been so butchered by modern leftism that the discussion is not one of reiteration or expansion, but one of clarification and reevaluation. Marx argued that theory and praxis must be intrinsically unified for revolution to succeed. Coming from the academic, Hegelian tradition, Marx denounced academe for its hermetically sealed philosophy in search of applicable theory that would exist, penetrate and change the material world. Thus, academic Marxism or Marxist theory with the implication that it is separate from praxis is oxymoronic because the Marxist dialectic is the strategy of praxis. Marx aimed to invert Hegelian idealism by inverting its application in both theory and praxis. Instead of theorizing that the future could be melded to a preexisting philosophical ideal, Marx theorized that the material present should be dialectically negated in order for the material future could be better for all of mankind. Thus, Marx did not conceive of a utopia. There was no Marxist utopian ideal. Marx was not a philosopher, he was a strategist. Strategy is the best synonym for the merge of theory and praxis—praxis is applied theory, theory is based on praxis; dialectics are the manipulation of the material, materialism is the product of the historical dialectic. Marx’s realization in The German Ideology was that the nature of humanity is to produce, and production itself is a combination of material and concept. Ideology is imbedded into everyday existence. Society is both material and ideological. Marx recognized the false dichotomy of theory and praxis in order to undermine the lofty pseudo-understandings of the university and to both reveal and undermine the ideological structure of the existing order and class society. I do not come before you today as an academe or as a worker—I do not work, either physically or intellectually; the construction of revolution is not a job, a career, a hobby, a pastime, a fashion, a specialization, or a result of working, it is a natural and necessary result of the modern era, it is the only sort of thinking that makes sense as a result of the dystopian machine of modern ideology: the both physical and ideological refusal of what exists. And what exists is physical ideology, as Guy Debord says, the materialization of ideology; everything is prescribed not only a value but also a brand and with that brand comes a specific mystique of its wonder, be it through the Americanism of Jim Beam or the ever-touristic tastes for French cognac. And yet this ideology, this pedagogy of the product, becomes invisible and naturalized through the fact that it is presented as material and not as dogma.
Before Marx, another revolutionary conception of the unity of theory and praxis was not only proposed but manifested by Maximilian Robespierre during the French Revolution. Robespierre called this unity Virtue and Terror. Robespierre argued that Virtue and Terror must exist together for revolution to function. Without Terror, Virtue is just dogma, without Virtue, Terror is just the same sort of bloody power play embodied by the monarchy and the court. Instead of aligning theory to the academic, Robespierre speaks in religious terms—Virtue. Academic theories and religious virtues have the same ideological origins. While once the Catholic Church had control over the production of ideas, that control has gradually shifted to its bastard child, the child it raised at former monasteries like Oxford. It is through their material application—praxis, terror—that the religious or academic hegemony over ideas becomes the necessary retaliation against that hegemony that reveals the reality of hegemony. Marxist theory is neither the realization of heavenly truths nor Rousseau’s natural truths. Rather, it was the realization of the truth of power, exploitation, and the weakness of its hegemony with the advent of revolution. The fact that this is a realization of material conditions is both a product of and a precondition of application.
Since ideology is imbedded into everyday life, everything is politicized. The political is not merely diplomacy, law, and borders, but rather everything that costs money is political, everything that advertises is political, everything that covers up destitution with representations of prosperity is political, everywhere that hires is political, and anything that distracts from the immediate realities of the political fact of poverty of everyday life is political in its escapism. In Debord’s Theses on the Paris Commune, Debord explains the political nature of the so-called apolitical. He says:
The various “irresponsible” acts of [the Commune] are precisely what is needed for the continuation of the revolutionary movement of our own time (even if the circumstances restricted almost all those acts to the purely destructive level — the most famous example being the rebel who, when a suspect bourgeois insisted that he had never had anything to do with politics, replied, “That’s precisely why I’m going to kill you”).”
Isaac Cronin makes a similar argument against nihilism in his critique of cynicism and nihilism (which was also a direct critique of Raoul Vangeiem’s The Revolution of Everyday Life). He writes:
Nihilists can’t, don’t and won’t conceive of the practical consequences of critical activity. They are negative without negating. Everything they do is defensive. They act in order to be able to stay in the same place.
A nihilist is someone who believes in nothing. Everything that is here is shit; but it’s all we’ve got. The nihilist gets used to that fact — it is his only comfort. There is nothing new under the sun. The nihilist prepares for the worst so that the banal will seem quite nice in comparison.
The nihilist is apolitical to a fault, a fault which he often parades. In fact he is the spectacular opposition to politics. Here he exhibits an almost moral purity which leaves him blind to the fact that what he often labels as “politics” really has nothing to do with separate power, hierarchy or specialized decision-making. The social question is reduced to its most vulgar representation in order to suit the nihilist’s archaic world view.
Cronin’s nihilist is castrated by a sense of the impossibility of praxis. The nihilist refuses to consider revolution as a possibility, refuses to see change for the future, because, even though all that exists is shit, changing it is impossible. Such thoughts are not merely bullet points illustrating the thoughts of one group of intellectuals, but rather the modern trend of the naturalization of alienation, which is the naturalization of banality. Ideology is not a grand or complicated set of ideas; its governance, rather, is through its simplicity. Economic exchange is not complicated, imperialism is not complicated, television is not complicated, sales are not complicated—they are all merely based on the expansion of power for one image, company, or nation over another. It is not genius or complexity that guarantees their power, it is brute force and the annihilation of other options to the point that everyday life is overwhelmed by their presence to the point that it necessitates it. Jobs require universities, proficiency with Microsoft Word, then various other databases. The universal requirements of such supposed skills create a market for skill-producing products like Associates Degrees and Rosetta Stone software. Outside of jobs, everyday consumerism first necessitates buying food, then gas, then professional clothing for interviews, then caffeine, then more caffeine to feed the caffeine addiction, then cigarettes to forget, then cigarettes to feed the accumulation of past cigarettes, then surgery. The whole structure of everyday life, both at work and at home, is a network of petty purchases and sales, many of which were deemed necessary. We live in constant states of debt, be it student loans, mortgages, car payments, or medical bills. Unless we look to the fringes of this world for a place where we can have enough room to upset the existing rather than to dedicate continued subservience to it.
The construction of situations is not a series of events but rather a life dedicated to retaliation, to negation, by instigating what is truly upsetting to the system of capitalism. Trotskyist organizations are not upsetting to the system of capitalism, they are in tune with it. However, the Marquis de Sade was not imprisoned for thirty years merely because he committed the same petty sex crimes the aristocracy was already regularly committing—he was imprisioned for the political content of his writing, the desacralization of the monarch, a rage against the hypocrisies of priests. Without politically and ideologically upsetting content, situations amount to petty burps in the system which no one would note. Writing an inflammatory political slogan on a wall will get someone in more trouble than so-called street art, and furthermore, putting an image on a wall that pays for the space will promote the individual who put it there. The unification of theory and praxis finding exactly the incorrect space, time (as in era), and politics; it is only in the wrong space at the wrong time that the right kind of upsetting of the system can take place. A person who chooses to be a contradiction, a negation, of their society, era, and surrounding ideology is the only sort of existence one can strategically lead in capitalist society, for it is those paragons of negation that herald a future outside of what currently exists.