How it all Began:
The Strasbourg Theses

Moses Dobruška

The text that follows is being published simultaneously in English and in German, where it will appear in the inaugural issue of Neue illustrierte Berliner Zeitung, a newspaper that, in addition to being sold in Berlin newsstands, will also be pasted to the city’s walls like a Dazibao. 

The animus of the text can be distilled from a consideration of its title. On the one hand, it calls up the mysterious 1961 “Hamburg Theses” composed by Guy Debord, Raoul Vaneigem, and Attila Kotányi over three days during a drunken “drift” across the northern port city following the acrimonious “5th Conference of the Situationist International.” Although never written down, the “Theses” are considered by many (including Debord himself) as a turning point in the group’s history, the moment in which the SI affirmed its commitment to “realize philosophy,” that is, to relaunch the revolutionary movement. If a new beginning was needed, this is because, as Debord later recalled, one could “no longer attribute the least importance to any of the ideas of the revolutionary groups that still survived as heirs of the old social emancipation movement destroyed in the first half of our century.” What was urgently needed was to initiate a new wave of contestation “as soon as possible,” while “revitalizing all the basic starting points.” 

A clear reference can also be heard to Bommi Baumann’s memoir, Wie alles anfing [How it all Began], assembled from interviews taken while Baumann was living as a fugitive of the West German state. Three years prior, in July 1971, Baumann and his friend Georg von Rauch founded the 2nd of June Movement, an anarchist urban guerilla group responsible for a wave of armed robberies, bombings, sabotage, and rioting, as well as the high-profile kidnapping of Peter Lorenz, a right-wing mayoral candidate for Berlin, who was successfully exchanged for the release of various imprisoned comrades. 

By 1974, however, there was “stagnation in the whole movement everywhere…Everyone [was] touched by it.” The time had come, “for those who have been at it for a long time, to reflect once more...” For Baumann, the central question was how an excessively militaristic armed struggle might give way to a constructive phase of antagonism that could “continue to fight, on a different level, in a different arena,” through forms not circumscribed by the question of “extermination.” In short, a new beginning was needed to ensure that the autonomous revolutionary movement does not “get buried in the rubble of the collapsing system.” 

For Dubruska, who speaks from a position of “active conspiracism,” the need for a new beginning has other contours. In our society of rubble, a society ruled by competing fictions concerning the causes of its own collapse, there is a risk that our efforts to escape the catastrophe become the unwitting midwives of an ecological rescue of the capitalist system itself. How, in our efforts to construct and defend places of life, can we avoid unwittingly securing the platform for a newly revamped project of “mobilizing, exploiting, ravaging, massacring, and producing”? 

If we’ve been defeated, there is nothing else to do but to start again from the beginning. Fortunately, the brief interval of rest allowed to us between the close of the first and the beginning of the second act of the movement, gives us time for a truly necessary part of our task: to seek out the causes that both necessitated this most recent uprising, and, at the same time, led to its defeat. —Engels, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany (1851)

1. In its inward collapse, this society has found no better trick to play on its opponents than to snatch from them its new Ersatz morality. In the final stretches of nihilism, oppression will thus be expressed in the language of ecology, feminism and anti-racism. Fascists, in turn, have an easier time portraying themselves as the true advocates of freedom, democracy, counter-hegemonic alternatives and, ultimately, revolution.

2. These are the days of Barbie feminism and the Pfizer left, pro-censorship anarchists and pro-NATO autonomists, authoritarian horizontalism, green nuclear power and vaccine Stalinism, bombing for LGBTQIA+ rights and the anti-pope — the pope who, when it comes to migrants, ecology, criticism of capitalism, war or hierarchy, returns leftism to its inanity by returning it to its origin.

3. Nothing is more serious, and more seriously contemporary, than theology. The ignorance of theology is what enables theology to perpetuate its reign, under the guise of politics, economics, science, philosophy, literature and even everyday life. To overcome theology, we must overcome our ignorance of it. Atheists, one more effort if you wish to be revolutionaries!

4. "We're witnessing a veritable mania for the consecration of feminism, with society going so far as to adopt an attitude of promotion... The modes are multiple and devious, and while we don't want to, we run the risk of falling into them and becoming trapped. Women's particular need for recognition is stimulated by a climate of interest and practical opportunities. Society has come to accept the premises of feminism without grasping the evolution that clarifies these very premises. It sees feminism as an ideology, in other words, as power, and as such respects it because it confirms — rather than places into crisis — what we on the other hand want to subvert" (Carla Lonzi, Ecrits, voix d'Italie, 1977).

5. "The great danger would be to replace the myth of the working classes as the bearers of future values with that of environmental protection and safeguarding the biosphere, which could just as easily take on an entirely totalizing, totalitarian character. […] Industry would love nothing more than to harness the ecology movement in the same way it harnessed the trade union movement to structure its own society. […] Therefore, in my opinion, the ecological movement should first worry about its own social and mental ecology" (Félix Guattari, Chimères n° 28, 1991-1992).

6. The labor movement was defeated by criticizing bourgeois society in its own language — that of economics. Today, we have cranks who claim to challenge cybernetic society in its own language — that of ecology. If society casts such a benevolent eye over these activists, it's only because they intend to lead us to an equivalent defeat.

7. Environmentalist science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson recently declared: "I meet a lot of technocrats, and there are some who would like to see a lot more activism.  (...) Between technocrats, activists and mass citizen actions, synergy and alliances are possible." No one allies himself with someone stronger than him without becoming, whether consciously or not, his vassal. To act, while governed by one’s unconscious, has never served as an excuse.

8. Ecological activists deplete the last remaining subjective resources by mobilizing them uselessly against those who "deplete natural resources.” Like their “enemies," they give little thought to how such precious resources — resources of courage, enthusiasm, confidence, know-how — are formed and replenished. It is as extractivists in their own way that they aspire to be recognized as equal interlocutors by the other extr/activist mafias.

9. Ecology is the name of a problem, by no means that of a solution. When what is collapsing is an entire civilization, when it is the very way that we pose our problems that has itself become problematic, there's no "solution" to be found. "Ecologists teach us why and how man's future is at stake. But it is up to man, not the ecologist, to decide his future" (Georges Canguilhem, “The Question of Ecology,” 1973).

10. The discourse of progress enabled Capital to overcome any inner resistance to the devastation wrought by modernization. Its function had less to do with legitimization than disinhibition. It was employed less for external than for internal conviction. Today it yields nothing, where it is not purely counterproductive. Judging by its results, no one can believe in progress any longer. Paradoxically, it is ecological discourse that has stepped in to take over. With its bioeconomy and its green new deal, Capital now turns to ecology to find the strength to continue doing what it has always done — mobilizing, exploiting, ravaging, massacring, and producing. Ecological rhetoric is not that in spite of which everything proceeds as before, but that which authorizes the continuation of business as usual and the deepening of the disaster. Therefore, it is in the name of ecology that we will see biotechnologies, nuclear power and geo-engineering in the future.

11. The latest way this society has found to silence women is to allow them to speak only as "we women." Anti-feminism is achieved as feminism in precisely the same way that anti-ecologism is achieved as ecologism.

12. The current state of society is a hallucinatory one. Psychopathological categories have become the most fitting categories for political analysis; to locate them, we must simply look beyond the DSM. The ubiquitous reign of truly Orwellian lies is not an evil, but a disease.

12bis. Contemporary nihilism is the existential expression of an ordinary material condition, namely, that of an omnilateral dependency on the infrastructures of Capital. It is an unsound thing to allow your life to rest, day after day, in the hands of your executioner.

13. The symptom is the outcome of a state of suffering with no way out. When you cannot find, in the History you’re offered, any thread leading back to the world you’re born into, you can’t find the thread of your own life. "The fathers have eaten sour grapes; but it is the children’s teeth that have become blunt.”

14. There are those who make history, and those who tell it. Those who make history know that those who tell it lie, but this lie is also the condition, for them, of being able to continue making it, unhindered.

15. "It was military servicemen in Soviet Russia who taught the Germans the tactics of tank warfare by which they submerged France during the Second World War; likewise, it was Soviet cadres that trained the first German assault pilots, who proved to be such a surprise at the start of the same conflict" (Franz Jung, The Way Down). In August 1936, that is, after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the entire Central Committee of the Italian Communist Party signed an appeal "for the salvation of Italy and the reconciliation of the Italian people." It reads: "The Communists adopt the Fascist program of 1919, which is a program of peace, freedom, and defense of the interests of the workers, and say to you: let us fight together for the realization of this program." Good luck making sense of that!

16. Never have so few spoken in their own name as in our society of generalized narcissism. It's through the ego that social magic grasps hold of you. To operate beyond the ego is not a moral injunction, but a precondition of strategy.

17. At bottom, all activism is essentially therapeutic. Leaving aside the temporary media uproar it can occasionally solicit, its true purpose is to enable activists to "feel better about themselves," to give them the distinctive feeling of not being "like everyone else" — that passive mass of anesthetized morons and bastards. For the activist, pretending to act "for others," "for the planet," or "for the common good" is merely a cunning modality of narcissism and universal self-promotion. Through this trade in indulgences, one strives, under the cover of generic and generous motives, for one’s own individual moral advancement.

18. It was through game theory that the peculiar mixture of cooperation and competition, information and dissimulation, pacification and war, bounded rationality and sheer insanity, rugged individualism and social injunctions that weave the present imperial society was engineered. It’s not without reason that the site in California where this theory was developed is the same spot where all the individualized cybernetic devices for which it constitutes the base code were subsequently developed. To the question, "What do applications apply?", the response is simple: game theory.

19. In the 1950s, in the cafeteria of the Rand Corporation where they worked, the founders of game theory used to play a board game of their own invention, entitled "Fuck your buddy!” “Fuck your buddy" forms the implicit moral code of all current social relationships, whether emotional or professional, casual or commercial, virtual or everyday. There's nothing less playful than universal gamification. Once even the number of one’s "friends" becomes a field of competition, sympathy becomes merely a moment within the generalized hostility.

20. Social fictions are by nature effective. In the old fiction, man was presented as the owner of his labor power, who then sold it to the owner of the means of production. The classical subject remains sovereign even at the moment he alienates his time and forces by selling them to another. His dignity and integrity were established for all eternity, even if they were violated on a daily basis. This was the subject of classical humanism, about whom jurists and trade-unionists never speak without a tinge of nostalgia, even if they remain unwilling to acknowledge its complete obsolescence as a social fiction. The prevailing fiction today is that of human capital. The subject of human capital is defined as the aggregate of his or her social capital, his health capital, relational capital, cultural capital, hair capital and so on. In no case is he the owner of the capital that he is. He is his social capital, his health capital, his relational capital, his cultural capital, his reputational capital, his hair capital, and so on. These aren’t things he can rent out, alienate, or make available to others without losing them thereby, without losing himself. As such, he is all the more jealous of them. Nor are they things that exist in themselves, outside of the social interactions that bring them into being, and which must for that matter be multiplied as much as possible. 

Just as there are expiring currencies, these are expiring capitals: they must be activated, maintained, accumulated, cherished, maximized, in short: produced at every moment and through every interaction — protected against their own tendential devaluation. The subject of human capital, servant of the capital that he is far more than master of himself, entrepreneur of himself far more than serene owner of his person, therefore knows only strategic interactions whose outcome must be optimized. Game theory — for which no feint, lie, or betrayal is too extreme in the service of its ends — is the theory of this "subject" marked by absolute precarity, programmed obsolescence, and such extreme inconsistency that it can be canceled at the slightest misstep according to the unpredictable movements of opinion and the codes of the day. To have transformed the human animal into this frantic, anguished, and empty information processor: this is the anthropological mutation crowned by social networks.

21. A particularly jealous mistress, this society welcomes as a heartfelt token of loyalty every occasion where one of its members agrees to betray a friend, a loved one, or a relative, for its own sake and that of its misguided "values." What is emerging, behind the media ritual of public confession, is a society of betrayal — a society in which mutual betrayal, and its possibility at each and every moment, serves as a new social pact. The parrhesia spilling out into the public is the same one that never appeared in the very relationships it calls into question, whose definitive spectrality is only further confirmed through this groveling.

22. The imperative ideological alignment required of citizens during Operation Covid — followed by Operation Ukraine, Operation Climate and Operation Palestine — was the occasion for the sort of revolt of the mediocre that always accompanies the fascization of societies.

23. Fascism already won when everyone renounced the task of thinking through the "Covid episode." We all saw just what "culture" was worth, and how all these "critical intellectuals" were in fact more attached to their social status than to their own thought. By its complicit silence, this zombified Left already displayed its contempt for culture and intelligence, long before the fascists came to trample it underfoot.

24. Those who pretend that there exists somewhere a constituted force, a given movement on which to base the possibility of a revolution, or even simply to counter the actions of the government, are not only misleading and deceiving themselves. By occupying the terrain in this way, they block the emergence of something new, something capable of grasping ahold of the epoch and wringing its neck.

25. The need to hallucinate the existence of a movement stems from the fact that, for a certain number of ambitious losers, this fiction provides some sort of social consistency: they would be “part of it.” When you don't know what you want, it’s common to want to exist — and then, inevitably, to fail, since existence can never be the result of a will. Clearly, some people believe that we can apply the "fake it until you make it" principle, so successful in the start-up economy, to the revolution.

26. Just as social networks have captured the essence of social existence and the value attached to it, so radical activists have gradually been reduced to a marginal sub-sector of these networks, which has all but subsumed them. The impossibility — and ultimate superfluity — of having an effective strategy follows logically from this. Henceforth, social movements are primarily there as a support for the individual existence of activists on social networks. If these movements lead nowhere, if it matters so little whether they result in victory or defeat, it's because they already amply fulfill this sufficient function.

27. For the activist, the raison d'être of action is only relative to the images that can be produced of it, and even more so to the political exploitation of these images. As such, there's no need to be scandalized by the strategic aberration or tactical who-fucking-cares attitude of these actions. The true efficacy of the act lies outside itself, in the media spin-offs it is designed to facilitate. From this point of view, a serious casualty is not necessarily a loss, and a crushing defeat can just as easily become a resounding success, provided we are not too sensitive to the suffering of the martyrs.

28. Misplaced triumphalism, followed by silence about defeat once it is assured, counts among the most perverse forms of the left's love of defeat, for activists and trade unionists alike. The celebration of non-existent victories conveniently masks the final retreat or, more often than not, the complete absence of strategy altogether. It's no real paradox to consider that the real defeatists are those who, always positive, never stop applauding and congratulating themselves. Whereas it is those who unapologetically criticize "the movement" who most clearly demonstrate their refusal to be foolishly defeated, and thus their determination to win.

29. There are those who want to win, and there are those who wish to be recognized — that is, those who consider it a victory to be recognized. True victory is not about the enemy, but about the possibility, in the wake of tactical success, of deploying one's own plans. For this, you have to have plans.

30. The way in which, during the coup du monde occasioned by the Covid syndemic, there was suddenly no one left to confront the government supports this hypothesis: that everyone is somewhere else.

31. Political conscience affords no privilege. No one has proved more deluded in recent years than those who believe themselves to be "politicized." No one has acted more stupidly than the "cultured." It's everywhere else than among the "politicized" that we must seek out those with whom we’ll make the revolution — they have too much social capital to lose not to be stupid and cowardly.

32. You won't hear from us again, or only by accident. We're deserting your public space. We're moving to the side of the real construction of forces, and of forms. We're moving to the side of conspiracy, to the side of active conspiracism. We are "exiting the vampire's castle." See you on the outside!

33. Believe enough in what you think not to say it. Believe enough in what we do not to publicize it. Leave it to the Christians and the leftists to enjoy the martyr’s taste for publicity.

34. There will only be what we build. It's precisely because there's no one to save that a revolution is so necessary. The central political question of the 21st century is how to construct collective realities not based on sacrifice.

35. "It is from here that we want to contribute to creating, as a collective front arriving in waves, the conditions for an ethical cultural change that allows us to escape the trap of the current cultural cohabitation, centered as it is on relations of mistrust and control, domination and competition specific to the patriarchal-matriarchal culture that we maintain practically all over the planet" (Humberto Maturana & Ximena Davila, Habitar Humano).

36. Those who have won the war speak only of "peace." Those who have appropriated everything speak only of inclusiveness. Those who are driven by the latest cynicism never forget to call for “benevolence.” They have even managed the miracle of converting just about every leftist in the world to these "values." This is how they have managed to suppress even the possibility of revolution. And indeed, the victors are well placed to know that there is no such thing as an inclusive revolution, since it consists minimally in their violent exclusion. Nor is there such a thing as a benevolent or ecological revolution — unless you consider that burning palaces, confronting armed forces, or sabotaging major infrastructures would be such. "Where violence reigns, only violence helps," Brecht said. For the victors, peace is but the eternity of their victory.

37. Assholes deploy every possible humanitarian ideology in order to outlaw any clear-cut divide within humanity, which would obviously be to their disadvantage. We're partisans of a world without assholes. This seems to us a minimal, coherent, and satisfying program.

38. Learning to recognize assholes, even admitting their existence for a start, lies at the origins of our strength: illiteracy and indifference in ethical matters obviously only benefits assholes.

39. The Party is strengthened by purging itself of its opportunist, nihilist, skeptical, Covidist, malignant, narcissistic, and postmodernist (etc.) elements.

40. True collective power can only be built with those who have ceased to fear being alone.

November 2023

Translated from the French by Ill Will

Images: Erwin Olaf