About Guy Debord

Wassily Kandinsky, Saint Margaret, 1906


Mafia capitalism and the state as a manager of criminality

The expression “society of the spectacle” emerged from the pen of Guy Debord in 1967. The result of a militant experience at the same time, that is, inextricably political and artistic-cultural within the Situationist International, a movement of synthesis and overcoming the role of the artistic vanguards in the middle of the XNUMXth century. As a brilliant theoretical-critical creation, the concept emerged as a diagnosis of time and revelation of its substantive trends, both superficial and deep, in the dialectics of the ongoing historical process. In its public and mundane sequence, the term underwent a process of trivialization, in a way already foreseen by the theory itself.

Guy Debord's refusal to participate in the post-1968 media spectacle, in the subsequent consolidation of neoliberal society, a society of systematized narcissism, of desublimated "self-love", fueled, in the period of reflux of the energies of contestation, the construction of the myth of the subversive “hero” as a “poet” of the negative. Thus, the vigorous denunciation of the moral and substantial misery of his time can also, through the process of general falsification typical of life made into a spectacle, play the role of an “aromatic-spiritualized” complement (according to Marx's critique of religion as the “spirituality” of a world without spirit) of reality, that is, to be attached to the specific domain of ideology in the particular sense of the term as an anesthetic that helps to withstand the unbearable of life in the society of universal commodification.

On the other hand, the theses of The Society of the Spectacle (Counterpoint) dismembered and academically redesigned or deliberately falsified in diverse and conflicting perspectives, provided some, or even several authors, a fertile source of critical or “critical”, uncritical, “aesthetic”, formal, revamped, desubstantiated, etc. , for the general market of ideas in contemporary society.

A global effort of recovery and neutralization, an “unconscious” effort in the best cases, marked from the beginning the reception of the theses and the figure of the subversive militant, avant-garde artist, thinker, “master” of the literary form, among many other characterizations of their own or unbecoming of the character to prove the impact of the ideas and the individual Guy Debord in his environment and in his time.

Exhaustively repeated, the expression “society of the spectacle” served epigones, misguided critics, journalists and so many other semi-literates to empty the concept of its own dimension and theoretical effectiveness.

And, however, the “Debord device” persisted and still persists as an original perspective and in several aspects productive also for our time, insofar as the 60s and 70s of the last century can be properly characterized as the “pre- history” of our present period.

The period of action and initial impact of the French theorist and militant were the decades of birth of the ideology and practice of neoliberalism as a reaction and adaptation to advances in the global class struggle expressed in student struggles, movements, conflicts and achievements of the working classes advanced industrial societies, anti-colonial struggles, popular struggles against the threats of atomic war, racial conflict in the post-war central power, conflicts and cultural changes that marked ruptures in established forms of domination and control in the period called capitalism late.

In 1988, Debord published his Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, an updated, retrospective and prospective analysis of his theses and the object of his theses, an analysis of the processes of deepening and updating of the spectacle in the world and of the contemporary world as the soil of the spectacle, of the spectacle as a “world-form” that reproduces itself and deepens into the false transparency of the realm of the universalized commodity, of the form and mercantile processes made form and substance of human doing, of life formalized and subsumed in the autonomized circuit of the commodity, the “finished” commodification of life as a means and end of domination .

The “society of the spectacle”, that is to say: “the autocratic reign of the mercantile economy ascending to the stage of irresponsible sovereignty and the set of new techniques of domination that accompany such a reign” (Debord, G. – Comments on the Society of the Spectacle), as the author explains, developed and deepened in the post-May 1968 period following technological developments driven by and having repercussions in the spheres of mercantile production and its forms of appropriation of general wealth, in ways of life and the new related forms of social control as a response to the capitalist crisis and a response to the globalized contestation at the time.

The society of the spectacle deepened and, in this truly totalitarian process, that is, methodical, without truce and, by design, without alternatives, it reached a paradoxical dimension of “transparency”: by establishing itself as a universal medium, the spectacle withdraws itself from knowledge. of its historical construction, that is, contingent, the result of human actions and decisions within existing power structures and processes, of its conflicts, the result of impositions, that is, explicit or implicit violence, therefore the result of certain choices and initiatives, and thus subject to critical analysis, opposition and practical contestation.

In yours Comments, Debord describes the society that emerges in the period after the May 1968 rebellion, a fruitless revolt with regard to the essential tendencies of the continued development of the spectacle, a society that then presents the following basic characteristics: continuous technological renewal, fusion between economy and state , the generalized secrecy and its concomitant: universal surveillance, the false without reply, a perpetual present.

Historical consciousness is relegated to “clandestine” (Debord), historical imagination is degraded and the historical horizon fades. A present without historical dimension is a time without alternatives, of “automated” reproduction of its conditions and processes, in which technological renewal itself, in its tireless dynamism, starts to serve the reproduction and deepening of established structures of domination.

Important in this process is the role of communication monopolies. The role of the media is to make people appreciate the decisions already taken by the dominant instances in the life of contemporary societies. Promoting not only after-the-fact acceptance of what is imposed, but the “want”, that is, the modern citizen must internalize other people’s decisions as their own, take what is already arranged as the result of an “intimate” choice, “opt” for what is already it is given and decided, in short, to “accept orders”: orders disguised as free, reasonable and necessary information coming from a political and social order whose public face hides private and confidential decision-making spheres by nature.

Debord's observations help us to analyze the issue of public power, the state, in the neoliberal era. Contemporary neoliberal ideology (and practice) promotes the selective “demonization” of spheres of the state structure: eliminating everything that concerns the “collective interest” (however contradictory this may be in capitalist society), in fact concentrating decision-making instances (eliminating historically constituted democracy), which requires coordination and de facto centralization of power, and developing to the limit, that is, in an excessive way, that is, in fact without limits, the forms of control, symbolic violence and violence material as necessary for the enforcement of related policies of intensified exclusion and exploitation. A practice neoliberalism, unfaithful to its own “liberalizing” theory, reinforces the repressive state structure to the extent that the commodity form is at the same time, contradictorily, a factor of abstract unification and real disintegration in society and, consequently, in the “mercantilized” state.

The “secret” (of Polichinelo?) of neoliberalism is the de facto fusion of State and economy and its “denial” in the ideology of the “free market” as a market of autonomous and self-sufficient processes. This can be considered one of the keys to the real and imaginary dilemmas of our time, the context of the generalized crisis of politics and the forms and practices related to it, the crisis of the historical imagination, the crisis of political identities and, in the concentrationary universe of merchandise -world, the “recreation” or reduction of politics as a technical sphere of domination.

Life mediated by the spectacular information system transforms social processes into so many mirrors of the spectacle, reproducing its logic. This also includes, according to Debord, the spectacular critique of the spectacle in which the logic of competition that presides over the mercantile economy with its delimited “renovations” is expressed in the universal ideological market, that is, adaptations necessary to preserve the substantial continuity of the same processes. Under the appearances of diversity and conflicts, the regulatory and despotic unity of spectacular power is imposed.

And yet, the unity of the society of the spectacle is itself a contradictory unity, that is, structured on the basis of a fundamental split: that which separates the actor from his action, where the producer cannot recognize himself in his activity, in that which it produces, where the subject's activity is given not as his own, but as that of any other. In the inverted world of the spectacle, the call to participation is at the same time an imposition of passivity. The spectacle is a broken life, life contemplated as a kind of gallery of insubstantial, fleeting images, like reflections, out-of-date gestures multiplied in a hall of mirrors.

The fundamental split is also inscribed and manifested in the processes of power, in the amalgamation between public and private instances and in the consequent competition between different groups and factions within and behind state institutions. A capitalism of competing mafias corresponds to a state as the general manager of crime. The state itself, as a reflected unit of a shattered world, disintegrates into power groups and immediately reproduces in its nucleus the divisions and disputes of interests of sectors, groups, criminal associations, illicit instances, monopolies, oligopolies, etc. In this context, the abstract and targeted “denial” of “politics in general” that prevails today, the “moralizing” critique of the so-called public power, is itself inscribed in the circuit of the spectacle, the “aromatic” complement of the structures and processes of autonomized power in the face of the mass of its casual voters. The world of the spectacle is, in fact, a divided, torn world, whose only possible unity is given, according to Debord, by the spectacle itself.

Em Considerations on the society of the spectacle”, Debord analyzes the period between the 1960s and 1980s and the transformations of the spectacular-mercantile system in Europe, which presents a kind of fusion between the initial models of the diffuse spectacle (USA) and the concentrated spectacle (the Stalinist Soviet Union), the first distributed in society, the second requiring centralized coordination, on the one hand a society that is responsible for lying to itself in its various instances, on the other hand a society that receives the lies provided by its central instances.

European “originality”, in the exemplary cases of France and Italy according to Debord, the creation of the integrated spectacle, has to do with the intensified commodification of social life, popular and working class resistance to the process, and the political context of the post -68 with the reactionary offensive against workers' organizations, small parties of the radical left, revolutionary groups, against the autonomous initiatives of the working class and the various initiatives of contestation of the capitalist order.

In this context, all weapons were employed in the offensive to safeguard and intensify established power, coordinating legal and illegal, official and unofficial initiatives, close collaboration (and co-option) between the repressive apparatus of the states and their official and clandestine services with the extreme right clandestine and organized crime. The judicial and even physical elimination of opponents, police infiltration of militant circles and various initiatives of provocation involving radical armed militancy or simulacra of it. Mediated terrorism emerges as an alibi for the unconditional defense of the State.

Now, in this realm of shadows, the “ghosts of the revolution” (such as, for example, among the most notorious, the Moro case and the Red Brigades in Italy) are conjured up to serve the process of destroying the autonomous political initiatives of the popular classes and social groups. marginalized, the dismantling of the radicalized labor movement and, subsequently, the offensive against the historical organizations of the working class (the mass parties already submitted to liberal democracy) , a kind of historical “prelude” preceding the last overthrow of the so-called communist regimes of the Union Soviet and associated states and their partners in Western Europe, among them the communist parties of relevance in the political life of France and Italy in the post-war period. The co-option of the communist parties by the power structures of the European liberal democracy revealed itself with the consolidation of the society of the spectacle as one of the main ways for their extinction.

A society of surveillance and control taken to a paroxysm, as attested by the formally totalitarian experiences of the XNUMXth century, ends in a structural impasse, in universal mistrust, in the consequent conflict of direction and in the uncertainties of legitimacy, and in the resulting paralysis of initiatives, also demonstrating the impossibility of sectoral solutions to problems where the general disposition, and the resulting solidarity of its multiple instances, becomes the essential issue.

The society of the spectacle, as Guy Debord observes, is a profound transformation that obliges leaders and those led to an almost infinite plasticity insofar as forms of consciousness and action that prevailed yesterday, today lose their effectiveness and raison d'être. In this process, excess comes to characterize the power of the spectacle (everything that can be materially done will be done to consolidate domination) concomitant with the mystification of the legitimacy and effectiveness of traditional forms of thought and action (for example: democracy, sovereignty national, etc.).

Revolutionary action itself is compromised to the extent that its conditions of possibility, its roots in society, are affected by the ongoing transformations. And yet, the revolutionary perspective is confirmed in what it points out to the solidarity of the various instances and processes of the spectacle and the need, the urgency of global contestation. The division that the show promotes in the subjects ends up being externalized in society, dialectically, the spectacular domination ends up generating its own negative.

Debord's great merit was to have maintained coherence and lucidity in his analyses, the revolutionary, militant inspiration, that is, of unveiling and possible overcoming of the commodity-subject world, allied to the rigorous examination and description of the period of ebb from the upstream of the neoliberalism, objective description, without illusions but equally without concessions.

In this sense, his works give us elements to reflect, beyond appearances and the narcissism of the present, of the present as cause about, beyond the misery of a time that wants to be identical to itself, tautological, without dimensions, to think about the dynamics of its constitution and identify in it the foreshadowings of its conscious destitution in collective action. Considering that Brazil is located on planet Earth and in contemporaneity, although peripheral and heteronomic, the analysis of the developments of globalized capitalism concerns us equally.

To think about Brazilian peripheral “postmodernity” is to try to unravel the impasses and ongoing transformations in view of the determining contexts of neoliberal globalization and its refracted effects by the structures and processes of bourgeois autocracy in the country’s modern history, whose current summary is the Bolsonaro's (mis)government and its reactionary and regressive utopia, and whose initial successes masked the difficulties and rising costs of maintaining or renewing the multicentennial subordinated integration of the nation to the centers of power of capitalism in a new world context.

The depth of the crisis we are experiencing is proportional to the real challenges to class power, to the intrinsic and extrinsic difficulties that the Brazilian ruling class tries to face with the so often used resource of manipulation, coup d'état, the threat of state terror in which the violence exercised ordinarily against marginalized and subordinated classes extends to society as a whole. In this process, the structure of domination sheds its “civilized” clothes and opens up the foundation of bourgeois power in the global periphery, as well as the structural solidarity of its various aspects and dimensions, internal and external. Bolsonaro represents the naked face of bourgeois power in Brazil, a repulsive image, for being too revealing, even for segments of the traditionally reactionary and coup-mongering ruling class.

With Bolsonaro, the spectacle of Brazilian neoliberal postmodernity is degraded into farcical, grotesque, obscene and vulgar representation, thus charging an ideological and practical cost that may ultimately prove to be excessive for the renewal of class domination. In modern societies, domination cannot do without the balance (relative and, however, indispensable) between persuasion and material violence. In this sense, the Bolsonaro “enigma” (recourse to neo-fascism) confronts not only the progressive opposition, but also the Brazilian ruling class as a decisive “sphinx challenge” for the continuity of the “post-democracy” regime inaugurated with the 2016 coup .

*Marcelo Guimaraes Lima is an artist, researcher, writer and teacher.


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