The Citizenist Impasse: Contribution to a Critique of Citizenism

By Alain C:

By “citizenism” we mean an ideology of which the principal traits are 1) the belief in democracy as something capable of opposing capitalism, 2) the project of reinforcing the State (the States) so as to put this politics in place, [and] 3) the citizen as the active basis for this politics. The goal of citizenism is to humanize capitalism, to render it more just, in a certain way to give it a supplemental soul.

If the logic of false consciousness cannot truthfully know itself, the search for the critical truth of the spectacle must also be a true critique. It is necessary for it to struggle practically among the spectacle’s irreconciliable enemies, and to admit being absent where they are absent. These enemies obey the laws of the dominant truth, the point of view that excludes current conditions, that recognizes the abstract will of immediate efficacity, when they hurl themselves towards the compromises of reformism or the communal actions of pseudo-revolutionary debris. Because there the delirium is reconstituted in the very position that claims to combat it. On the contrary, the critique that goes beyond the spectacle must know how to wait.” — Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle.[1]

The theses gathered here do not have the pretension of pronouncing the last word on the subject that they treat. They are, rather, an ensemble of tracks, some of which can be followed or deepened, and others can simply be abandoned. If we manage to provide several points of reference (historical, among others) for a critique that still seeks itself, we will have fully attained our goal. We also think that neither this text, nor any other, can — through the sole force of theory — put an end to citizenism.[2] The real critique of citizenism will not be made on paper, but will be the work of a social movement that must inevitably contain this critique. which will not be — far from it — its only merit. Through citizenism, and because citizenism is contained in it, the entire current social order will be put into question. The moment seems good to us to begin this critique. If citizenism has, from its beginning, involved a certain confusion concerning what it really is, today it is constrained by its very success to advance more and more uncovered. In the more or less short term, it must show its true face. This texts aims at anticipating this unmasking, so that at least some people will not be caught up short by it and perhaps will know how to react in the appropriate manner when the time comes.

I. Preliminary definition.

Here we will only give a preliminary defintion of citizenism, that is to say, only propose what is the most obvious. The object of this text will be to begin to define it in the most precise fashion.

By “citizenism” we mean an ideology of which the principal traits are 1) the belief in democracy as something capable of opposing capitalism, 2) the project of reinforcing the State (the States) so as to put this politics in place, [and] 3) the citizen as the active basis for this politics.

The goal of citizenism is to humanize capitalism, to render it more just, in a certain way to give it a supplemental soul. Here the class struggle is replaced by the political participation of the citizenry, which not only elects representatives, but constantly acts to put pressure on them so that they apply themselves to what they were elected to do. Naturally, the citizens do not substitute themselves for the public authorities. From time to time, the citizens can practice what Ignacio Ramonet[3] calls “civic disobedience” (not “civil disobedience,” which unfortunately recalls “civil war”) so as to force the public authorities to change their politics.

The juridical status of the “citizen,” understood simply as falling under the jurisdiction of a State, here takes on a positive — even offensive — content. As an adjective, “citizen” in general describes all that is good and generous, careful and aware of one’s responsibilities, and, more generally, “social,” as one used to say. It is in this sense that one can speak of the “citizens’ enterprise,” “citizens’ debate,” “citizens’ cinema,” etc.

This ideology manifests itself across a nebula of associations, unions, press organs and political parties. In France, one has associations such as Attac, the friends of Le Monde Diplomatique, AC!, The Right to Housing, APOC (conscientious objectors), the League of Human Rights, the “Leave the Nuclear” network, etc. Note that the majority of the time, the people who militate at the heart of this movement belong to several associations at the same time. As for the unions, there is the CGT, SUD, the Peasants’ Confederation, UNEF, etc. The political parties are the Trotskyist parties and the Greens. The political parties have a separate status in citizenism, but we will return to this. At the extreme left of citizenism one finds the Anarchist Federation, the CNT and the anti-fascist anarchists who most among put themselves in tow of the citizenist movements so as to add their grains of libertarian salt, but in fact find themselves on the same terrain.

At the global level, there are movements such as Greenpeace, etc., and the unions, associations, lobbies, third-worlders, etc., that one saw in Seattle.[4]

A complete list would be tedious to provide. The important thing is that all these groups are ideologically on the same terrain, with local variants. Citizenism is thus a worldwide movement that rests upon a shared ideology. It rises from Seattle to Belgrade, from the Equator to Chiapas, and now it is thus a matter — for both it and us — of knowing what route it will take and how far it will go.

II. Premises and foundations.

The roots of citizenism are to be found in the dissolution of the old workers’ movement. The causes of this dissolution are the integration of the old workers’ community and the obvious failure of its historical project, which has been manifested under extremely diverse forms (from Marxism-Leninism to Councilism). In its diverse manifestations, this project comes down to a reprise of the capitalist mode of production by the proletarians, a mode of production of which they are the children and thus the inheritors. In this vision of the world, the accumulation of the productive forces was also the march towards the revolution, the real movement by which the proletariat constituted itself as the future dominant class (the dictatorship of the proletariat), the domination that would then (after a very problematic “transitional phase”) led to communism. The real failure of this project took place in the 1920s and between 1936-38 in Spain. The international movement of 1968 has often been called “the second proletarian assault against class society,”[5] following upon the assault of the first half of the 20th century.

With the crisis and the setting up of globalization in its modern form, the 1970s and then the 1980s marked the decline and disappearance of this historical project. This globalization was characterized by increasing automation, thus massive unemployment, and de-localization in the poorest countries, which threw the old industrial proletariat of the most developed countries outside of the factory. Here one observed a tendency of firms to “get rid of” (at least formally) a good part of their productive sector, so as to relegate it to sub-contractors and to only occupy themselves withmarketing[6] and speculation. This is what the citizenists call the “financialization of capital.” Today, a firm like Coca-Cola does not directly possess any production units, but is content with “managing the trademark,” with harvesting its stock-market capital and with “reinvesting” by buying up the smaller competitors that it also subjects to forced de-localization, etc. Here one has a double-movement of the concentration of capital and the breaking up of production. A car can be made of bumpers produced in Mexico and electronic components made in Taiwan, with the car itself assembled in Germany and the profits traveling through Wall Street.

The States accompany this globalization by getting rid of the public sector inherited from the war economy (de-nationalizations), by becoming “flexible” and by reducing the cost of work as much as possible. In France, this led to the passage of the 35-hour-a-week law, which — with a hue and cry — was supported by the very citizenist movement of the unemployed workers of 1998 (at least in their official demonstrations) and PARE.[7] The coming to power of the Left in 1981 and the movement of the students and railroad workers [1986] are the references that allow us to situate the progress of the dissolution and progressive replacement of the old workers’ movement by citizenism in the framework of globalization.

In France as in the rest of the world, the movement of 1968 was the “last assault against class society.” Its failure marks the historical liquidation of what had been the old dream of proletarian revolution, namely, the dream of the historical assumption of the proletariat as proletariat, that is to say, as the class of labor. Self-management and workers’ councils were the extreme limit of this movement. We do not miss it. A much larger and multiform social contestation was also liquidated at the beginning of that period, when the leaden cover of the ’80s fell upon the world.

Even if one still hears it at the demonstrations, the slogan “Everything is for us, nothing for them” is the exact opposite of reality and has always been so. Of course, today it alludes to an illusory “distribution of wealth” (and what “wealth” can one speak of today?), but it comes directly from the old workers’ movement, which intended to manage the capitalist world by itself. One sees in this slogan a resurgence, a continuation and a diversion of the ideals of the old workers’ movement (naturally what was revolutionary in it) by citizenism. It is what one calls the art of accommodating the remnants. We will return to this later on. The disappearance of class consciousness and its historical project — rendered decrepit by the explosion and fragmentation of work, by the progressive disappearance of the great “communitarian” factory and by the increasing precariousness of work (all of this resulting, not from a conspiracy that aims at muzzling the proletariat, but from the process of the accumulation of capital that has led to the current globalization) — have left the proletariat without a voice. It even comes to doubt its own existence, a doubt that has been encouraged by a number of intellectuals and by what [Guy] Debord defined as the “integrated spectacular,” which was the integration of the “spectacle.”[8]

Deprived of perspectives, the class struggle can only shut itself into defensive struggles, sometimes very violent, as in England. But this energy is especially the energy of despair. We can also note that this loss of positive perspectives is often manifested by a very real personal despair (sometimes pushed as far as its final consequences: suicide or terrorism) among the individuals who knew the 1960s and 1970s.

Citizenism inscribes itself in this framework. The funeral procession for the revolution having been made, and no force feeling itself able to undertake the radical transformation of the world, it was [nevertheless] quite necessary — because exploitation followed its course — to express some kind of contestation. Thus: citizenism.

Its official birth can be dated December 1995.[9] In the current situation, this movement — based upon an opposition to the privatization of the public sector, and thus the worsening of work conditions and the loss of meaning to work itself — could only manifest itself as a defense of the public sector and not as the questioning of capitalist logic in general and as it manifests itself in the [management of the] public sector. This defense of public services logically implied that one believed that public services operate or, rather, should operate beyond capitalist logic. It was unfair to reproach this movement for being a movement of privileged people or corporatist egotists. But one can ascertain that the most radical and generous actions of this movement were limited. To supply the nation’s foyers with free electricity is one thing, but to reflect upon the production and use of energy is quite another. One can see in these actions that the State was conceived of as a community upon which capital (inserted between the citizen-users and the State) fed in a parasitical fashion. Citizenism never conceives of things otherwise. One can ascertain that citizenism does not recuperate a movement that might be more radical than it. Such a [radical] movement is, for the moment, simply absent. Citizenism develops as the ideology that is necessarily produced by a society that no longer conceives of perspectives of supercession.

The other claim that one can make is that the movement of 1995 — the birth of citizenism — was a failure, even in its limited objectives. The privatization of the public sector continued apace, and it could even situate itself in the avant-garde of the ideology of the private, as participatory enterprise, as involvement in management, etc. One also washes oneself of [working-class] grease and creates precarious jobs, “jobs for young people.” One suppresses the post offices and overloads the general delivery system. The public sector is also first in line for the application of the law concerning the 35-hour work week and thus “flexibility.” One can see once more (as if there were need of more proof) that the logic of the State and the logic of capital are not at all opposed to each other: this is one of the internal limits of citizenism.

III. The relationship to the State, “reformism” and Keynesianism.

The relationship of citizenism to the State is at once a relationship of opposition and support; we might say critical support. Citizenism is opposed to the State but cannot do without the legitimation that it offers. Citizenist movements must set themselves up as interlocutors, and to do this they must sometimes undertake “radical actions,” that is to say, illegal or spectacular actions. It is a question here of setting oneself up as a victim, of blaming the State (that is to say, to oppose the ideal State to the real State), so as to arrive more quickly at the negotiating table. The arrival of the CRS[10] is the sign that one has been heard. Naturally, all this must take place under the eye of the camera. Repression is the birth of citizenist movements; repression is no longer (as before) the moment of confrontation in which one measures the relations of force, but that of a symbolic legitimation. From whence, for example, comes the misunderstanding between Rene Riesel and others in the Peasants’ Confederation who wanted to create this relation of force, and Jose Bove (and obviously the majority of the Confederation), who, through a spectacular action, intended to position this movement as an interlocutor with the State (an action in which the latter were partially successful).[11]

The State itself quite willingly ratified these practices, and today anyone can stage a small demonstration — for example, blocking the surrounding areas — and then be officially received to expose his or her grievances. Furthermore, the citizenists are indignant about this state of affairs that they themselves contributed to creating, because they have found that one cannot disturb the State over nothing. The privileged interlocutors take a dim view of the parasites, those who sponge off of democracy.

Citizenist practices are also directly promoted by the State, as is shown by the “citizens’ conferences” and “citizens’ gatherings” through which the State “gives speech [back] to the citizens.” The State is interested in ascertaining at what point the citizenists are content with ersatz dialogues and want to admit everything that one would like them to admit, provided that one has heard them and that the experts have “responded to their worries.” Here the State plays the role of mediator between “civil society” and the economic powers, just as the citizenists would be the mediators between the State’s program (which is only the accompaniment of capital’s dynamic) — revised in critical fashion — and to “civil society.” One has seen this with the law concerning the 35-hour work-week. Here, he citizenists play the role that had classically been played by the unions in the world of work, concerning all that one called “the problems of society.” The extent of the mystification also shows the extent of the field of contestation, which extends to all aspects of society. In their rapport with the State, the citizenists also begin — in France, in any case — to become sick from their victory. The movement more and more divides and recomposes itself among those who tend to put their trust in power (Leftist power) and those, more radical, who intend to continue the fight. But the essential problem remains. Since the Left is in power,[12] for whom should one vote? Is it necessary to have more Greens in the government or, on the contrary, showed the Greens withdraw from power so as to better play their oppositional role? But what good is a political party, if it does not enter into the democratic arena?

Citizenism is constitutionally [constitutivement] incapable of concentrating itself in a [single] party, in any case [not] in the societies that are already democratic. Citizenism requires a dictatorship or an authoritarian democracy for the aspirations of the small and medium bourgeoisie to resonate with a vaster contestation and to become concentrated into a democratic party of radical opposition. This can be seen in Belgrade or Venezuela with the populist-nationalist [Hugo] Chavez. But everywhere that democracy already exists, the parties somehow or other correspond to the aspirations of the small and modern bourgeoisie that already exist and it is exactly this party system that a large part of the citizenists mistrust. In the modern advanced countries, citizenism essentially concentrates itself around a desire for more direct, “participatory” democracy — a democracy of “citizens.” They naturally do not propose any means of attaining it and the desire for direct democracy ends up, as always, in front of a ballot box or impotent abstention.

The Greens are interesting in this regard, because they manifest this limit of citizenism. Issued from the ecologist movements of the 1970s, they made the turn of the 1980s perfectly. But they also remained within the old model of a Party, a concentrated form that is antinomical to the nebulous nature of the living forces of citizenism. Thus by their very nature they run the risk of again finding themselves faced with the real exercise of power, and this is precisely what has happened. Here in fact is the last political risk that the “reformists” run: that of governing. Militating in this framework is not without consequences, as the Greens have found out at their own expense. The lobbies never directly exercise power. One cannot impute the “failures” of the State to them. The militantism of the lobby is endless, in all senses of the term. This is what is very satisfying for the individuals who desire to become involved without running this political risk. In a lobby, one is among one’s own, and it isn’t necessary to seek out a social base, as in a classical party, through more or less demagogical means. In complete security one can show oneself to be “radical.” One can tranquilly set oneself up as a critical counselor to a Prince without confronting the difficulties of governing. One can eternally lament the lack of “political will” in matters of nuclear power, immigration or public health without hardly considering what a State can actually do in the capitalist context.

One of the most delirious examples of this state of affairs is ATTAC,[13] an association that is too funny for words. It is publicly notorious that the very idea of a taxation on exchange-rate transactions makes even the stupidest economist contort with hilarity. It is also obvious that the application in a single State of such taxation would immediately plunge it into a black crisis, and it is manifestly impossible to globally apply such a measure. It is clear that, even in the case that — stricken by madness — an organization such as the OMC[14] would want to advocate such a measure, the global outcry would be such that it could no longer put in back in the bag. To go as far as the absurd: even if such a measure was applied, there would automatically ensue a global worsening of exploitation so as to recoup the losses.

All this does not prevent the economists of ATTAC from holding forth on this subject, with curves and graphs, to the amused indifference of those who really exercise power. One also wants to receive them from time to time so as to laugh a little, and especially to show the degree to which the State is attentive to all of the propositions that the citizens would like to make to it. It is nevertheless necessary to recognize in ATTAC the merit of having introduced into a discipline as sinister as the economy an element of comedy, which nevertheless does not keep it from failing.

Here we see that citizenism’s powerlessness is not a problem for the citizenists. Almost no one still dreams of judging citizenism on its results, since the urgency of obtaining results still has not made itself felt. When this happens on a vast scale, it is not doubtful that it will not last for a very long time.

At this stage of our remarks, we are naturally led to raise the question of citizenist “reformism.” One knows that the citizenists willingly apply this description to themselves. One understands that they want to suggest that they are more pragmatic and more realistic than those damned idealistic revolutionaries. And indeed one can see where their pragmatism and realism goes in an association such as ATTAC. We, the poor revolutionaries, compensate for our lack of pragmatism by the bad habit of often judging things in terms of history, that is to say, in terms of what has actually been done until now. And so we ascertain that reformism always arises in the moments of crisis for the capitalist system. For example, the Popular Front[15] was reformist. At the moment when worker insurrection was everywhere, when the factories were occupied, the response (among others) of the Popular Front was to give the workers paid vacations, which was something they had never demanded. [John Maynard] Keynes was also a reformist and the crisis of 1929 had something to do with it. But today there are no insurrectional strikes, no fall-offs in investment, no significant decline in consumption. Even the recent and relative rise in interest rates, after a decade of continuous decline, and the very foreseeable debacle of “technological values,” are perceived more as a consolidation of the markets than as a possible crisis. At the moment, there is no real crisis of capital. Thus, capital does not need reformists.

Besides, all of the reforms undertaken by capitalism hve only been made to save capitalism itself. There are no anti-capitalist reforms. Keynes did not hide the facts that he was a liberal and that he wanted to save the liberal system endangered by the crisis of 1929.

We must dwell for a moment on Keynes, who is presented by citizenism as a miracle-economist, a remedy for all of our troubles. One must at first say that Keynes knew the capitalism of his times quite well, because he amassed a personal fortune of $500,000 by devoting himself for only an hour and a half each day to international transactions in currencies and goods while he worked for the English government. One knows that the Crash of 1929 did not leave him indifferent.

The Crash of 1929 marked the entrance of capitalism into its modern period. It was the result of the formidable expansion of the 19th century, which did not seem to have any limits, especially in America. The American Dream was in full swing and it ended up as a nightmare. This dream rested upon the spirit of enterprise, on the entrepreneurial audacity of the inheritors of the conquest of the West, and it was stopped by the reality of capitalism, in which investments are not made due to a taste for risk or the spirit of enterprise, but so as to realize profits. Capitalism reached its stagnant maturity, and one began to perceive that indefinite growth was not established as a natural law. Investments fell or, rather, collapsed. Classical economic theories postulated that, since there are always supplies, there would always be demand, which neglected the fact that companies do not produce so as to furnish goods, but to extract the surplus-value from this production. Keynes intervened in this context. Investment was necessary to create new markets, to invent new products, to enter into the world of mass consumption. In the context of the crisis, the State had to “prime the pump,” that is to say, to put people to work somehow, to establish an inflationary monetary policy and create basic infrastructures in which private capital could reinvest. Who will buy automobiles, Keynes asked, if there are not enough roads?

Moreover, President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt had already begun to put this policy into practice without the precious theoretical support that Keynes would provide him with later on. One must not forget that the crisis of 1929 had also thrown several million unemployed workers on to the sidewalks and streets, and that the “grapes of wrath” were ripening dangerously.

In any case, one sees that Keynesianism was essentially liberal. It simply said that liberalism cannot regulate itself, that the simple play of supply and demand is not the motor that allows capital to grow indefinitely, and thus the State must (re)construct the conditions for growth and then give way to private investors. In 1934, Keynes wrote in a letter to the New York Times: “I see the problem of recovery in the following fashion: how much time do ordinary enterprises need before coming to the rescue? At what level, by which means and over how long a period of time will the non-normal expenses of the government be increased by waiting?” We emphasize “non-normal.” One sees that Keynes’ ideas did not involve the permanent and continuous control of private capital by the State or any international authorities. Keynes was not a socialist.

He was so little a socialist that, speaking of Communism in 1931, he wrote: “How could I adopt a doctrine that, preferring the mud to the fish, exalts the crass proletariat to the detriment of the bourgeoisie and the intelligentsia that, despite all of their faults, are the quintessence of humanity and are certainly at the origin of all human works?” It is true that the bourgeoisie was quite different from what it has since become, and that it still does not feel the need of lamenting — along with Viviane Forrester[16] — what has been worthy of calling “the economic horror.”

It is necessary to conclude that the theories of Keynes had their limits and that capitalism has had other methods to “re-start investment”: ten years after the crisis of 1929, the war that would ravage the whole world began, gave an unexpected stimulus to technological progress, and ushered the industrialized world enter into the blessed age of mass consumption. Furthermore, Keynes himself would provide his own contribution to this “re-starting of investment” by writing a work entitled How to Finance the War.

The citizenists claim that they critique liberalism, and they refer to Keynes. As they have never claimed to be anti-capitalists, one thus deduces that they are against liberalism by remaining pro-capitalists, that they are for what one used to call “socialism,” that is to say, State capitalism. Thus one better understands the presence of Trotskyists in their ranks. But, of course, they also defend themselves against this fact. One has difficulty knowing what it is that the citizenists want.

We affirm that there currently is no capitalist crisis and naturally they affirm the contrary. Actually, it is quite necessary for there to be a crisis; otherwise, one would not appeal to them. Crisis is the natural element of the reformist. One thought one found a [financial] crisis in Southeast Asia, but this crisis was, instead, the proof that capitalism has learned Keynes’ lessons and that it no longer believes that liberalism can regulate itself. The Asian crisis was thus quite rapidly stopped; nevertheless there were “social consequences.” But capitalism mocks “social consequences” as long as capitalism itself is not centrally put into question. There is no longer a social Keynesianism, nor a post-War boom [Trente Glorieuses].[17] All this is behind us.

If the citizenists want to speak of a crisis, it is because the State has spoken of it first. It would seem that, for 30 years, France has been in crisis. This “crisis,” which was quite real at the beginning, has since then become a way of justifying exploitation. Today, it is the “recovery” that plays this role, and the reformists are quite annoyed. The “recovery” has forced them to readjust their discourse, which still slavishly follows that of the State, and those who — six months ago — were speaking of a generalized, global crisis today speak to us of “distributing the fruits of the growth.” Where is the coherence?

Where are they, these anti-liberal Keynesians, these reformists without reform, these Statists who cannot participate in a State, these citizenists?

The response is simple: they are at an impasse.

It can appear absurd to affirm that a movement that so clearly occupies the entire terrain of contestation finds itself at an impasse.

Some people will see in this a gratuitous affirmation, dictated by one doesn’t know what resentment. We, nevertheless, evoked a little while ago the decomposition and disappearance of a much older movement that provided an infinitely larger and more combative social base, without for all this having taken particular oratory precautions, as this disappearance seems obvious today. In the same manner, we think that another social movement is possible, on bases that are still new.

IV. Citizenism and citizens.

When Ignacio Ramonet speaks of “civic” disobedience and no longer refers to “civil” disobedience, he marks a revealing distinction in the relationship of citizenism to its base. The word “civil” objectively refers (in a neutral fashion) to a citizen of a State who not born within its confines. “Civic” is what is proper to the good citizen, that is to say, the one who actively manifests his or her belonging to that State. One sees here that the distinction is essentially one of moral order.[18]

And, indeed, one of the strengths of citizenism is that it is an essentially moral, if not moralizing, movement. One sees the ease with which it passes beyond facts and doesn’t trouble itself with anlaysis when it is a question of passing from the denunciation of the “crisis” to the “distribution of the fruits of the growth.” It is question of each time having the most “civic” position, that is to say, the most generous, the most moral position. And, indeed, everyone is for peace, against war, against “junk food,” for “good food,” against povery, [and] for wealth. In sum, it is better to live richly and in good health in times of peace than to live poorly and in sickness in times of war.

Nothing sells better than morality in this world that — a century after Nietzsche — resolutely situates itself beyond good and evil. But the need for consolation is impossible to satisfy.

One can, for example, see the difficulties that the sad affair of Givers[19] has caused in the ranks of the citizenists. This revolt had the particularity of being both an archaic resurgence of worker-activity and the manifestation of a quite modern despair. During this affair, a citizenist wondered in the pages of Le Monde if one could designate the workers’ actions at CELLATEX “citizens’ action.” e can respond to him. The salaried workers at Givers — with the knife at their throats, absolutely lost and without recourse to the careful optimism proper to the readers of Le Monde Diplomatique — were not citizens, and they did not act as such. The powerlessness of the citizenists to react in this circumstance shows what type of reactions they might have in other circumstances, at a much greater level. Naturally, they will not wait to appeal — in the name of democracy, the State of Rights and morality — for the repression of the bad citizens. Moreover, this was the remark of the citizenist who wrote for Le Monde, who — through his insidious questioning (completely objective, of course) — intended to pull the rug out from beneath the feet of a growing sympathy [for the CELLATEX workers], so as to prepare for the inevitable repression that naturally did not take place, since, in the current situation, the salaried workers could only negotiate. In any case, it is interesting to note how, in this mini-crisis, this citizenist hastened to propose to the State the use of his services as mediator. Citizenism is potentially a counter-revolutionary movement.

This example also shows the inability of citizenism to react when faced with a movement that it has not created.

It is also necessary to emphasize that the social base of citizenism is considerably larger and hazier than that of the associational and unionist militants. Citizenism is the expression of the preoccupations of a certain cultivated middle-class and a small bourgeoisie that has seen its privileges and political influence melt like snow in the sun, at the same time that the old working class has disappeared. The restructuring of capitalism at the global level has left old national capital out of the running, and thus the bourgeoisie that held it and the middle classes that the bourgeoisie employed. The old bourgeois society of the 19th century (as well as the persistent musty smells of [remnants of] the Ancien Regime) have truly disappeared. Here the consolidation of the State and the critique of globalization seem like nostalgia for old national capital and bourgeois society, [and] the critique of the multinationals seems like nostalgia for the family business. Once more, they lament a lost world.

Twice lost, as a matter of fact, because the term “citizen” also refers to the old republican appellation, no doubt more to the bourgeois revolution than to the Paris Commune (the fact that an interminable and deliberately anachronistic film was recently made on this subject seems to indicate that one would like to recuperate this as well). But this revolution did in fact take place and we live in the world that it created. The poor [les sans-culottes] would no doubt be astonished to see what has become of the Republic that they contributed to the establishment of, but the dead will not return, just as one cannot bathe twice in the same river. But it is not impossible that the future sans-culottes in their Nikes will walk upon the parking lot of a very modern city.

In citizenism, the escheated middle classes reconstitute for themselves an identity as a lost class. An “organic” salon can thus declare itself “the showcase of citizenly modes of life and thought.” Those who do not eat “organics” are thus not “citizens.” young citizenist can thus synthesize in a vivid fashion his doubts about the proletariat: “What do you expect from them? They shop at Auchun.” [20] In any case, he citizenists cannot — on the bases that they currently occupy — recuperate a more radical social movement from which they are viscerally cut [off]. At this moment, they can only offer to the State the fact that they provide moral surety to repression. The pseudo-solutions that they will advance when faced with a real crisis will appear as what they [really] are, namely, a means of maintaining the existing order of things. One cannot content oneself with abstractly opposing (and thus losing sight of) the State to capital, “true” democracy to democracy such as it is, [and] the “interdependent economy” to liberalism when the masses of people begin to seek responses to their concrete situations. A movement born from a major crisis, that is to say, from the questioning of the very conditions of existence, cannot durably be satisfied with such trifles.

Nevertheless, the citizenists — since they are here — can momentarily do something with the revolt, which can also reveal itself through an exacerbated nationalism, which they have contributed to and developed (one can see it in the anti-American premises developed by [Jose] Bove and others). But the critique of globalized capital has not confronted it with the alternative of a return to national capital that is defended by the State. If this highly improbable alternative is put into play, one would have war instead.

Here we see that nothing guarantees that the next social movement will be revolutionary. In any case, it will contribute to the definitive unmasking of citizenism, and perhaps it will leave the field free for a putting into play of the very old project of transforming the world, beyond the State and capital.

V. Citizenism and revolution.

All of the old revolutionary movement rested upon the workers taking back the capitalist mode of production, of which they felt themselves to be the virtual possessors because of the crucial [effective] place that they occupied in production. This crucial place, this real connection of the proletariat to production was covered over in the 1970s by automation and the precariousness of employment. Some radicals — like those of the Encyclopedia of Nuisances and Camatte (Invariance[21] — felt or theorized this transformation, but they could not get beyond the old conception of the revolution without abandoning the revolution itself, and this was in fact what happened. After all, the SI [Situationist International] only advocated a “better use of the productive forces,” the creation of situations in the perspective [biais] of the workers’ councils. They did not see (but who could at that moment?) how the capitalist mode of production was capitalist, how the automation that they praised[22] was not a means to liberate time and to “live without dead time and enjoy life without hindrances,” but a means by which capital extracted profit. And, after the “counter-revolution” of the 1970s and ’80s, they[23] simply identified this very production, which the workers failed to take back, as the source of all evils.

Instead of perceiving the disappearance of the old workers’ movement as the new condition of the revolutionary movement to come, and especially as an opportunity [chance] for this movement, they [sic] perceived it as a catastrophe. And this was indeed a catastrophe for the old workers’ movement, its death sentence. The largest part of the post-1968 generation was thus engulfed in the emptiness left behind by this defeat. And we would certainly not dream of reproaching them for it; a century-old conception is not forgotten in a day, nor even in twenty years. Today, this balancing out can begin to take place. Since 1995, we have had the dubious privilege of seeing an ideology rebuild itself on the ruins of the revolution. If we quickly identified what is new in it, we have taken much larger to perceive what is archaic in it, that is to say, historically determined. We have indicated that this ideology, citizenism, practices the art of “accommodating the remnants” of the old revolutionary movement. This is because, at bottom, the old revolutionary movement did not constitute a surpassing of capitalism, but rather the management of it by the “ascending class” that was supposed to be the proletariat (today citizenism wants to “reform” this management). Today, the workers’ management of capital is simply transformed into the “distribution of wealth,” the “taxation of capital,” with production disappearing behind profit, financial capital and money. A slogan says, “There is money in the pockets of the management.” Certainly, but in the name of what can this money land in the pockets of the proletarians, excuse me, the “citizens”?

Having not ended up in a human community, the old workers’ movement — in an obscene and revealing fashion — changed into a simple interest in capitalist profits (nevertheless, it is necessary to note that if one “only” demanded money from capitalism, this was because one knew that nothing else could be expected from it). Here there is certainly something to dishearten an old revolutionary, one of those who think one can construct a better world. But if it was already illusory to think one could construct such a world through the workers’ management of capital, the old revolutionaries also had to believe that one could force capitalism to share its profits for the happiness of all “citizens” and that capitalism’s money could in fact make us happy. Citizenism touches upon the central point of an old illusion, and this illusion (already dead in fact) is on the verge of being destroyed.

The citizenists obstinately chant “Everything is for us, nothing is for them” during their demonstrations. But capital, this mass of money that only aims at accumulation through the domination of human activity, and thus through the transformation of this activity according to its own norms, has created a world in which “everything is for it, nothing is for us.” And it is not only a question of the private ownership of the means of production, but also its nature and goals. Capital has not simply appropriated what is necessary for the survival of humanity, which was only the first moment of its transformation; it has also transformed it — through industrialization and technology — in such a way that, today, almost nothing is produced to be consumed, but simply to be sold. To produce for our needs cannot be the purpose [le fait] of capitalism. Almost nothing remains of pre-capitalist human activity. The world has truly become a commodity.

To avoid any confusion, we must set ourselves against the slightly paranoid idea propagated by certain “radicals,” according to whom — following the schema of the “fire-setting fireman” — capital pollutes to create a market in de-pollution or, in any case, that each injury caused by capitalism produces markets for the repair of this damage. There is damage, and a great deal of it, that no one wants to repair simply because such repairs do not constitute a market. The proof is that, in the majority of cases, the States must (on their own) assume the costs of de-pollution, and the conflict is situated between the States and the polluting companies, and all of the debate concerning the “paying polluters” is the demonstration. To limit the junk [la casse] and especially the expenses — without making the investors flee — such is the squaring of the circle that “ecological capitalism” must resolve; such are the real stakes of “ecological regulations.”

In any case, it is never a question of not polluting, but of knowing who must pay in cases in which pollution is too catastrophic and visible. Unlike recycling, the so-called “market in de-pollution” does not really exist, because it produces no profits in return, except for the very limited profit of being in conformity with certain regulations, and thus it is only a pure burden upon the companies, a burden that they have an interest in limiting as much as possible. No one wants to de-pollute, and one has seen this at the most recent conference at the Hague.

We could develop all this much further, but it would extend beyond the scope of our remarks. In any case, one can see that here it cannot be a question of the “human” management of capitalist production and still less of taking back this production as is. Everything must be reconstructed. The revolution would thus be the moment of the “great dismantling,” and the resumption on new bases of human activity, which today is almost entirely dominated by capital.

The old workers’ movement manifested the link that united capitalism and the proletariat. The most exploited workers, through their labor, felt themselves to be the depository of a future world in which work would dominate capital. The Party would be both a family and a workers’ State in gestation; each union leader felt himself tied to the workers’ community that was both present and to come. Th transformation of the capitalist mode of production over the last 20 years has covered over all this, generalizing the separation of individuals.

In its period of expansion, capitalism destroyed the old communities of peasant stock [souche paysanne] so as to create the working class that was necessary for it to have. Soon after this working class was created, capitalism had to destroy it, and find itself confronted with the problem of integrating millions of individuals into its world.

The citizenists provide a derisory response by attempting to reconstitute the link that previously united the “working class” with one that would unite the “citizens,” that is to say, the State. This search for the reconstitution of the link through the State manifests itself in the latent nationalism of the citizenists. An abstract and faceless capital is replaced by national figures, by Jose Bove’s [trademark] mustache, or the rehabilitation of the Czarist hymn in Russia (here it is no longer a question of citizenism, of course, but the manifestation of a much more general — and equally exitless — nationalism). But the State only offers symbols, ersatz links, because it is itself “saturated” by capital, and the State can only make these symbols work according to the meanings dictated to it by capitalist logic, to which the State belongs.

The “citizen” as link is the manifestation of an emptiness or rather the fact that, today, capitalism and capitalism alone must integrate the billions of people who are deprived of community. And we are obliged to observe that it has done so, until now, somehow.

Meanwhile, capitalism is still confusedly perceived as an external force, hostile to humanity, whether it deprives humanity of bread or of “sense.” In the advanced capitalist societies, this is manifested by the flight of separated individuals into what the sociologists call the “private sphere”: entertainment, the family or, rather, what remains of it, the bond of being in a couple, etc. This situation quite logically develops a market in separation, which manifests itself through the tools of communication-consumption, but this consumption of “being together” finally resolves — in the world of the commodity — into a “having to oneself” [avoir tout seul] that again plunges into separation what this consumption was supposed to mitigate.

Work itself, which is still the principal integrating force of capital, is more and more perceived as an external constraint and it is only marginally what describes the identity of individuals, who are always more leveled in the masses. And, at the moment of the disappearance of the trades and their replacement by functions that claim no particular competence, there is nothing surprising about this. This dynamic of de-qualification is perceived by some as a decadence (and the dynamic of integration by capital has created its own “barbarians” on the inside of society), but it is equally a demoralization of work, in which work appears to each person as empty of meaning, pure arbitrariness, external constraint, [and] exploitation. The morality of work, previously divided equally between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, is in the process of being dissolved in the movement of capitalist integration.

Capitalist integration (a central problem to which we will return) makes itself more and more felt as artificial; in any case, it is very problematic and introduces what one might call a mass neurosis, tied to the feeling of no longer having any hold on life. The next revolutionary movement cannot retain it, because this powerlessness, which is what one previously called alienation, is an integral part of our connection to the capitalist world.

VI. “Proletarians of all countries, I have no advice to give you!”

We will not make ourselves ridiculous here by presenting what we think the next revolutionary movement should be. No one can say so with certainty, that is, without falling into an ideology of change. Nevertheless, we can imagine — based upon what already exists — what this movement might be, that is to say, what in the current situation is the seed for a future situation.

The globalization of capital and the dissolution of national capital implies that it will be a question of a global movement, and not in the caricature of an action against the WTO or the UNCTD.[24] It will not be a question of setting fire to Frankfurt or Brussels, but of acting against capitalism such as it presents itself here, where we are, because here, where we are, is where globalization really takes place. The globalization of capital is also the globalization of the struggle and, when one decides in New York what is to be produced in Mexico and packaged in Pas-de-Calais, any local attack will have global repercussions.

The consequences of the dissolution of class consciousness and the old workers’ movement also include the fact that each person finds him- or herself — in his or her life — alone with respect to all the aspects of domination and exploitation, simultaneously. There is no longer any refuge, nor any community to retreat into. The identity that one constructs through work tends to dissolve, to the profit of an attempt to recompose oneself within the private sphere, the bond of being in a couple or a member of a family, [and] entertainment. But in mass entertainment, the decomposition of the family and the brutality of social relations, the particular each time finds itself expelled once again towards the general. Modern man is a public man.

Never in the history of humanity have individuals been forced to think in a global way, as humanity, at the level of the world-wide. This is both a form of suffering (and here one understands better what draws some people to [John] Zerzan and [Theodore] Kaczyinski, among other regressions) and the very condition of liberation. The primitivists want to be liberated from humanity, to return to the anterior harmony of the isolated, limited community. But this return is impossible. There is nothing outside of capitalism.

In 1860, in Capital, [Karl] Marx could still write: “To encounter communal labor, that is to say, immediate association, we do not need to return to its natural, primitive form, such as it appears o us at the beginning of the history of all civilized peoples. We have an example very close to us in the rural and patriarchal industry of a family of peasants who produce for their own needs.” This “example” has disappeared.[25]

All or almost all human activity has become ruled by capitalism, which pushes some people — like Zerzan and Kaczyinski, and many others, as well — to long for the “good old days,” whether these days are primitive-fusional or patriarchal-artisanal in nature. But these forms of social organization were not able to resist capitalism, and one does not see how they could be capitalism’s future unless one postulates a human nature of which these forms would be the manifestation and also the catastrophic self-destruction of capitalism (that is to say, the self-destruction of the world), after which these forms would quite naturally relocate their momentarily usurped places. But this “self-destruction” of capitalism would also be ours, and it is thus from capitalism that we must envision the future, whether this pleases us or not.

One has seen that the globalization of individuals greatly exceeds the limits of salaried work. Every aspect of life is subjected to this globalization, and thus every aspect of life demands to be transformed, unitarily. In simpler terms, today one cannot change anything without, finally, changing everything. This will be the principle condition of the revolution to come.

Very concretely, each problem that capitalism bequeaths to us can only be solved at the level of the entire society. Nuclear wastes, transportation, agriculture — all this leads us to choices and methods of organization that must be carried out globally, beyond private property and the hierarchical division of labor. And it will not simply be a question of labor.

The “world without frontiers” that capitalism has created for the commodity will truly be a world without frontiers for humanity. There will be no customs duties.

We will put off until later developing what all this implies. We could also evoke what could be the organizational methods that people will adopt, but it seems to us that the immensity of the practical problems that will then be posed will be such that new solutions must be put to work, and no doubt with urgency. Individual initiatives will perhaps be as necessary as general efforts, and one will never replace the other. The debate remains open, and it is also concerning all of these questions that we must “know how to wait.”

VII. Provisional conclusion.

Here we have tried hard to evoke the principle limits and weaknesses of citizenism, and one sees that these are not simply “theoretical” limits and weaknesses, but are quite real and will surely be fatal to it in the more or less short-term.

It is not a question of remaining seated, with our arms crossed, “waiting” for citizenism to collapse, and magically give way to the revolution. This movement still has resources, and it is no doubt capable of adapting to new conditions. Nevertheless, here we have specified which “conditions” it cannot adapt to. In any case, we have hardly begun this critique, which can be pursued by others. The question to which we have wanted to try to respond is the manner in which it seems to us that it is fitting to approach this critique. Too often revolutionaries critique those whom they claim to be “reformists,” under the simple pretext that these people are not revolutionaries. This is to present things as if it was, at bottom, a question of a simple debate between opinions, basically equal, that is to say, equally empty, hollow words confronting the all-powerful objectivity of the world. In this accounting, one could defend anything at all, and thus prefer Zerzan’s Indians to Kaczyinski’s cowboys,[26] the Renaissance to industrial society, or proletarians in caps to young rappers in Nikes.

The next revolutionary movement must find its own language. It will surely not express itself in the terms that we have employed here, which are are those of a certain theoretical tradition. The theoretical language that we have employed is a tool to understand the revolution to come; it is not this revolution itself. Nevertheless, we must draw upon [sortir de] the magical-affective use of language, which is the language of contemporary alienation, the language of those who have no practical grasp upon the world and thus can only dream of it. Only those who have no power over the world can say whatever they want, without fear of ever being contradicted, since they know that their remarks are without any consequences.

In the world of capitalist integration, there is no longer truth nor lie, just ephemeral sensations; we must cease being afraid of the truth. So often we see in the claim of saying the truth domination, “fascism,” a will to hegemony in discourse: in the capitalist world, only those who dominate can claim to say the “truth” since they have created it themselves, and hold a monopoly on “true speech.” But this “truth” is so manifestly false, and our powerlessness to respond to it is so crushing, that we end up being disgusted by any attempt to seek the truth, and we doubt the possibility that one can say what is true, that is to say, rendering intelligible the world in which we live.

In the arbitrariness of the spectacle, everything is a question of “point of view.” Each person, “from his point of view,” can be both wrong and right, and the liberal indifference to others manifests itself in the respect for all “opinions.”

The “revolutionary” appeal to subjectivity, a residue of Surrealism and Vaneigemist situationism,[27] is more than ever reactionary, at the moment when capitalism itself appeals to pleasurable separation: “Dream, we will do the rest.” On the contrary, it is a shared language that we must recover. Our very subjectivity can only really construct itself if we are capable, along with others, of grasping the objectivity of the world that we share. To comprehend is to dominate, and thus be able to change the world. To begin to try to comprehend is to re-establish communication with those who surround us, to shatter the ice of separation.

Here we have not critiqued the citizenists because we do not have the same tastes, the same values, the same subjectivity. Furthermore, we have not critiqued the citizenists as people, but [we have critiqued] citizenism as false consciousness and as a reactionary movement, as one used to say; that is to say, [we have critiqued citizenism] as an attempt to suffocate what is still only a seed. We have critiqued it historically, or at least we have tried to do so.

Furthermore, we do not doubt that many individuals who today are trapped in the contradictions of citizenism as the result of the praiseworthy desire to act upon the world will one day come to join those who really desire to transform it.

We are neither more nor less “radical” than the moment in which we are.[28]

[1] Thesis 220, which is the second to last thesis in Debord’s book. Note well how (badly) this thesis is translated by Ken Knabb: “In contrast to the logic of false consciousness, which cannot truly know itself, the search for critical truth about the spectacle must also be a true critique. It must struggle in practice among the irreconcilable enemies of the spectacle, and admit that it is nothing without them. By rushing into sordid reformist compromises or pseudo-revolutionary collective actions, those driven by an abstract desire for immediate effectiveness are in reality obeying the ruling laws of thought, adopting a perspective that can see nothing but the latest news. In this way delirium reappears in the camp that claims to be opposing it. A critique seeking to go beyond the spectacle must know how to wait.” Donald Nicholson-Smith (Zone Books, 1994) renders it this way: “Whereas the logic of false consciousness cannot accede to any genuine self-knowledge, the quest for the critical truth of the spectacle must also be a true critique. This quest calls for commitment to a practical struggle alongside the spectacle’s irreconcilable enemies, as well as a readiness to withhold commitment where those enemies are not active. By eagerly embracing the machinations of reformism or making common cause with pseudo-revolutionary dregs, those driven by the abstract wish for immediate efficacity obey only the laws of the dominant forms of thought, and adopt the exclusive viewpoint of actuality. In this way delusion is able to reemerge within the camp of its erstwhile opponents. The fact is that a critique capable of surpassing the spectacle must know how to bide its time.

[2] The French here is citoyennisme. Note well that the “citizenism” under consideration here is not to be confused with the ideology promulgated by Steve Sailor, who wishes that people put aside their racial and ethnic animosities so that nationalistic pride (and xenophobia) can be strengthened.

[3] A Spanish journalist (1943 – ) who is the editor-in-chief of Le Monde diplomatique.

[4] That is to say, at the anti-World Trade Organization demonstrations in Seattle, November 1999.

[5] See “The Beginning of An Era,” Internationale Situationniste #12, September 1969.

[6] English in original.

[7] Plan d’aide au retour a l’emploi (Assistance Plan for the Return to Work).

[8] See Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1988).

[9] In December 1995, French railway workers went out on strike against the Juppe Plan (named after Prime Minister Alain Juppe), which intended to reduce the national budget deficit by severely curtailing retirement benefits. These strikes were supported by many other French unionized workers and spread from Paris to the entire country.

[10] The national riot police.

[11] See Riesel’s letters to Bove dated 3 September 1999 and 2 November 1999.

[12] Between 1997 and 2002, Lionel Jospin (a member of the Socialist Party) was the Prime Minister of France. Since 2002, France has been governed by conservatives, a fact that (it has been suggested) weakens the relevance of this critique of citizenism.

[13] The Association pour la Taxation des Transactions pour l’aide aux citoyens (the Association for the Taxation of Transactions for the Help of Citizens), founded in 1998.

[14] The Organisation Mondiale du Commerce (the World Trade Organization).

[15] Active in France in the 1930s.

[16] A French writer, born in 1927; author of L’horreur economique(1996).

[17] “The glorious thirty” is a phrase that Jean Fourastic has used to refer to the economically prosperous thirty years that followed World War II in France.

[18] The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben — the author of, among other works, The State of Exception (2002) — has pointed out that something much more basic is at stake here: namely, the distinction between “bare life” (zoe in Greek) and life in the polis (bios), which is the distinction between “inalienable” human rights and revokable socio-political rights.

[19] On 5 July 2000, one-hundred-fifty-three salaried workers went out on strike, occupied and threatened to blow up the Cellatex chemical plant (due to close down due to bankruptcy) that is located in Givers, a small town in the Ardennes. To show that they were serious about their demands for larger buy-out payments, the workers dumped sulphuric acid in a feeder to the Meuse River.

[20] A large chain of retailers.

[21] Founded by Jaime Semprun and the ex-situationist Christian Sebastiani in 1984, the Encyclopedia of Nuisances was both a group and the name of the journal that this group published. Jacques Camatte was originally a member of the Internationalist Communist Party, which was a “Left communist” organization influenced by Amadeo Bordiga. In 1966, he left the ICP and started the journal Invariance.

[22] See Les situationnistes et l’automation, published in Internationale Situationniste (#1, June 1958). The author either doesn’t realize or needs to hide the facts that this text 1) was written in the first few years of the SI’s existence, 2) was written by a situationist (Asger Jorn) who resigned from the group, once again in the first few years of the group’s existence, and 3) was denounced by the other members of the group (see Guy Debord’s letters to Yves Le Manach dated 23 December 1972 and 4 November 1973).

[23] Since the SI disbanded in 1972, it is impossible that “they” (the situationists) did any such thing. Perhaps the author is referring to the members of the Encyclopedia of Nuisances group and Jacques Camatte? In any case, the 1970s (and the early 1980s) were not periods of counter-revolution: important revolutionary uprisings took place in Portugal and Poland.

[24] The United Nations Conference on Trade & Development.

[25] See Rene Riesel’s interview with Le Monde, 3-4 February 2001.

[26] English in original.

[27] We are not sure what the author means by this phrase; but we have defined it for ourselves in a review of one of the books by Raoul Vaneigem.

[28] Appended to the end of this text, there is the following message: “On the same subject, we can usefully refer to the theses on radical democratism from the journal Theorie Communiste (Roland Simon, B.P. 17, 84300, Les Vigneres) and to the text On Genetically Modified Organisms and the Citizen signed by “Several Enemies of the Best of Transgenic Worlds” (c/o ACNM, B.P> 178, 75967 Paris Cedex 20). See also First edition by “Waiting. . . ” 5, rue du Four, 54000 Nancy.”

(Published anonymously April 2001. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! September 2007. All footnotes and phrases [in brackets] by the translator.)

El impasse ciudadanista. Contribución a la crítica del ciudadanismo.
Folletos Etcétera, nº 23, 2001, 48p.

Translated from French version of 2001, by NOTBORED, – ISSN 1084-7340.
Snail mail: POB 1115,
Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998

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