Key Dates: 1957-1972
They originated in a small band of avante-garde artists and intellectuals influenced by Dada, Surrealism and Lettrism. The post-war Lettrist International, which sought to fuse poetry and music and transform the urban landscape, was a direct forerunner of the group who founded the magazine ‘Situationiste Internationale’ in 1957. At first, they were principally concerned with the “suppression of art”, that is to say, they wished like the Dadaists and the Surrealists before them to supersede the categorization of art and culture as separate activities and to transform them into part of everyday life.
At first, the movement was mainly made up of artists, of whom Asger Jorn was the most prominent. From 1962, the Situationists increasingly applied their critique not only in culture but to all aspects of capitalist society. Guy Debord emerged as the most important figure.
The Situationists rediscovered the history of the anarchist movement, particularly during the period of the First International, and drew inspiration from Spain, Kronstadt, and the Makhnovists. They described the USSR as a capitalist bureaucracy, and advocated workers’ councils. But they were not entirely anarchist in orientation and retained elements of Marxism, especially through Henri Lefebvre’s critique of the alienation of everyday life. They believed that the revolutionary movement in advanced capitalist countries should be led by an “enlarged proletariat” which would include the majority of waged laborers. In addition, although they claimed to want neither disciples nor a leadership, they remained an elitist vanguard group who dealt with differences by expelling the dissenting minority. They looked to a world-wide proletarian revolution to bring about the maximum pleasure.
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