Regis Debray (b. 1941)

�In themselves, the barricades in the Latin Quarter were a joke. It was their concrete connection with a symbolic period (May 1968), with an economic situation and with the struggles of the workers, which made them politically decisive.�

Another revolutionnaire of the 60�s who has been influencial within the cultural turn to the post-modern. Debray�s credentials include 3 years imprisonment for fighting alongside Che Guevara in Bolivia. The notes below come from a time where his position could be described as something like a Leninist Althusserianism -- however they should not be taken to be indicative of Debray's later increasingly institutional politics.

Notes on his theoretical writings in prison. (Found in Prison writings; The time of Politics, written May 1969.)

This essay could be described as a concrete appraisal of Althusser�s conception of political overdetermination, or crisis and transition. The are heavily involved with the Leninist idea of intervention at a particular point in the crisis of the system. In the time of revolution, which is a kind of condensed or exaggerated time, the correct gesture is that which operates in view of the future development of the objective state of affairs. The slogan �peace, bread, land� not really a simple abstraction, it is rendered possible in this kind of straightforward message by the highest degree of complexity provided by analysis of the concrete terms of the political situation.

Debray regards that the revolution will always only happen in a time of crisis. However, this does not mean that all times of crisis are necessarily bound to be revolutionary. In his charged critique of the Hegelian speculative histories of pre-destination, Debray targets reformism. The latter is fundamentally eschatological � �In this business like wait for the end, for the great evening, which may be nearer or further away but which is always certain to come finally, what we are seeing is the old religious attitude, though hidden beneath the most profane, the most �scientific� of apparatus.� (93) The goal is prefixed, time is understood mechanistically. Loss of votes, electgoral gains are seen as set- backs or advances.� It is further the definite determination of the kind of economic processes, that make the time of labour fixed by the imperative of accumulation. This kind of homogeneous time is reflected in reformist political work, �so victory will result from political work as it mounts up over a longer or shorter period, in the form of the Party�s experience, the way it becomes gradually more established, the number of people voting for it, the solidity of its infrastructure and so on, the sum total of which constitutes a kind of fixed capital: what the movement has accumulated since its origins.�

So the first conception of the ideological opiate of historical time consists of this practical conclusion that nothing is irrecoverable.

�The second supposition runs thus: the movement of history is determined by its end; in other words the end is seen as fulfilling the role of the classic goal; the notion of the goal is the cause of what is really happening, providing unity and coherence efor thousands of local movements, with the advances, the interruptions and the imperceptible gains through which the general movement is concretely embodied�In other words, this self creating totalisation necessarily relates to an ideal totality, which we consider as� though it already existed, and which functions as the supporting guarantee of the totalisation now in progress�The ideal totality, or the idea of totality, ensures the infallibility of the empirical process of totalisation. No one then (leaders, activists, even the masses) can fail in any radical way or rather, failure can only be by default. A political mistake has no special positive effect, only a negative one. It may slow down the process, hamper it, set it off course perhaps, but it cannot affect its nature. Any error made is always something inessential. The practical conclusion from this is that nothing is irredeemable�I sum up in brief, and in necessarily philosophical terms, the postulates of our common attitude � our minimal dose, if you like, of opium � the political force of what may be called reformism, which remains persistent in spite of everything, weighs heavily upon our attitude and its weakness. �Reformism� is an irresistible temptation, arising out of our cowardice.� (96)

Much of what follows is rather tedious historicisation of these elements, discussion of periods of crisis and the role of social democracy.


Interview with Regis Debray by Wired with comments on the book Mediology.

Regis Debray's homepage (In French)

Excerpts from Revolution in the revolution