Het jaarlijkse spektakel vond deze week weer plaats, het spektakel van een vorst in een gouden koets, die een tekst gaat voorlezen wat de regering van plan is te doen, zogenaamd ten dienste van volk en staat. Je kunt het folklore noemen, maar het is bittere ernst met een duidelijke rolverdeling.
Het hoogtepunt van wat heet een manifestatie te zijn van de constitutionele monarchie kwam dit keer een dag later tijdens de algemene beschouwingen. Ze werd zeer specifiek toegesneden op een persoon, de minister van financiën die impliciet in verband gebracht werd met “cultuurmarxisme”, “globalisme” en geheime diensten, als gevolg van studie aan een als zodanig omschreven marxistische universiteit.
Communisme… Van zowel spreker als de kop van jut mogen we veronderstellen dat ze nauwelijks of geen kennis hebben van de geschriften van Marx. Was dat wel het geval dan zouden ze zich beslist anders uiten. Om beiden een beetje op weg te helpen met daarbij de gedachte dat je nooit de moed moet verliezen, laat ik nu een bespreking over werk van Guy Debord volgen.
GUY DEBORD – MARX-HEGEL
The following sentence may ring familiar: ‘The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an “immense collection of commodities.”’ Let us read another passage: ‘In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles.’ If you are astonished with the similarity between these two passages, the first from the opening sentence of Marx’s Capital Vol. 1 and the second from Guy Debord’s The Society of Spectacle, by the end of the book under review, you will realise that there is nothing coincidental about their similarities.
For those interested to deeply delve into the genesis of the thought of a profound thinker, it is fruitful to see how those thoughts are generated in their laboratory before visibly taking shape in mature forms. For this, preparatory reading notes are invaluable. Guy Debord’s Marx-Hegel collects together in one volume his reading notes he originally filed under Hegel and Marxisme, along with several files. It is the third volume of his published notes – preceded by Stratégie and Poésie, etc. – and part of a long-term project headed by Laurence La Bras from the Département des manuscrits at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. An expected fourth volume – Histoire – is scheduled for October 2022. As one might imagine, the editors have retained impressive attention to detail. The reader will not miss even the colour of the pen used, and where on the page Debord added marginalia. But not only that. They corrected erroneous references, sentences and words, added passages to make the references – already clear in Debord’s thought – equally clear for the reader, adopted a vibrant strategy to ease the reader through the fragments, not intended for publication.
In addition to the sources of Marx and Engels, several thinkers are given attention by Debord who their thinking (for example, Hegel, Feuerbach, Bauer), and an incredible amount of those who were in turn influenced by them. In this way, the title of the collection falls short from what lies therein. The two most noteworthy dimensions of the book are the choices of the readings and Debord’s comments. As for the first aspect, the engagement with the readings in general is highly impressive. In the Marx section, which comes first, the texts do not proceed in a linear fashion, and several points are repeated, more so than in the second part on Hegel. Additionally, it is very difficult to find a significant writer of the secondary literature that Debord did not read! The scope is fascinating: along with well-known figures such as Rosa Luxemburg, Georg Lukács and Georgi Plekhanov, you will read passages from an incredibly large number of lesser known figures including, but not limited to, Charles Andler, Anton Ciliga, Jean-Pierre Carrasso, Michel Collinet and Auguste Cornu. Although the notes in the Marx section are mostly without comments, on a few occasions they are insightful. In his comment on a passage from The German Ideology, for example, Debord demonstrates the need for updating certain thoughts so that they correspond more adequately to new circumstances: in comparison with the time Marx and Engels wrote the book, ‘[t]he workers are no longer starving’ (97), or at least not in the same fashion as before, it might be added. Another equally insightful comment comes later, in which Debord writes: ‘where there is a shortage of commodities […] one does not have to consume the ideology of the commodity, but only its essence: the commodity of ideology.’ He equates the ideology of passive consumption with the ideology of the commodity, that is to say, the spectacle (148). The reader interested in one of the likely origins of the concept of the spectacle by Debord will realise that he does not miss Lukács’ reference to Goethe’s Faust: ‘What a spectacle, but alas, just a spectacle!’ (217). In his comment on Karl Korsch’s Marxism and Philosophy, while Debord recognises the vulgarisation of Marxism in the Second International, he emphasises the importance of searching for roots beyond the individuals involved, and to try and find the more profound reasons (151) for Marxism’s vulgarisation.
Regarding Hegel, eight folders of reading notes are collected: not only well-known works like Phenomenology of Spirit, Elements of the Philosophy of Right and parts of The Science of Logic, but also less consulted works written in his youth, such as The Difference Between Fichte’s and Schelling’s Systems of Philosophy and the theological writings. One of Hegel’s key concepts critically adopted by Debord is ‘representation.’ As Debord writes in the opening passage of The Society of Spectacle: ‘Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation.’ We may say that Debord further socialises this Hegelian concept and recognises it as one of the characteristics of the capitalist mode of social life. He gives credit to Hegel in recognising the beginning of the nineteenth century as an epoch ‘characterised by the Spirits of people separated in space and time at the moment when the unity of the world affirms itself’ (413). Jean Hyppolite and Kostas Papaïoannu are the two Hegel scholars whose books compose the last part of Debord’s notes on Hegel.
If this collection were regarded as thorough evidence, it would still be a matter of pure speculation to ask how different Debord’s output might have been had he fully read the Grundrisse or Hegel’s The Science of Logic. But regarding the readings covered by him here, some remarks are nevertheless noteworthy. The first relates to Hegel’s well-known dictum in the introduction to his Elements of the Philosophy of Right: ‘what is rational is actual, and what is actual is rational.’ Debord, who considered himself ‘a Hegelian of the extreme left’ (374) and as part of the legacy of revolutionary theory and practice, along with Marx, Bakunin and others, seems to have fallen into the pitfall of erroneous interpretation given by some leftist thinkers. In this way, he, along with them, overlooks Hegel’s emphasis that the actual becomes rational, rather than a stagnant identity, or even that Hegel’s remark can be understood such that ‘everything that is rational, must be!’ Had Debord been privy to these subtleties, he might have recognised, even more deeply than he already had, the revolutionary kernel of Hegel’s thought, as did both Marx and Lenin.
Another point regards the concept of transformation. First, the reader might be surprised to find that notes or comments on Marx’s ‘Theses on Feuerbach’ are nowhere to be found. That said, in a comment on Maximilian Rubel, we read from Debord: under capitalism, ‘the réel is more knowable and transformable (because it is already in transformation).’ (250) It might here be added that if under capitalism the réel is more knowable, it is because under this mode of social life individuals find it possible to grasp the réel in its totality. But more importantly, Debord seems to confuse two concepts of transformation. Yes, the réel under capitalism is indeed in constant transformation, but that transformation is not the particular transformation of world revolution intended in Marx’s eleventh thesis on Feuerbach: ‘The philosophers have just interpreted the world in different ways, the point is to change it’. A comment from Debord on those theses might have helped clarify his perspective.
Studies on Hegel, Marx and Engels have exponentially increased since the time Debord took his notes. We now have anthologies on Luxemburg, Lukács and Henri Lefebvre, among others. Numerous conferences are held on the thinkers given focus in this collection, and sometimes on only a single aspect of their thought. Nonetheless, Marx-Hegel remains an extremely valuable resource for those interested in better understanding Debord’s works of social critique, what he picks from other authors and how he tries to actualise those themes in the recognition of a world undergoing rapid change. Those readers patient enough to reread The Society of Spectacle after looking through these notes will bear witness to how this genuine thinker chose his readings in order to synthesise his own thought.
Guy Debord: Marx-Hegel – La Libraire de Guy Debord, Éditions L’échapée, Paris, 2021, 528 pp., 24 € pb
Kaveh Boveiri – Kaveh Boveiri’s research focuses on Hegelian and Marxist philosophy. He is a lecturer in the sociology department at the University of Montreal. He has also translated works of Marxist thinkers from English, French and German into Persian. His monograph, Marxian Totality, is forthcoming with Brill.
Bron uitgelichte foto: NOS