Raoul Vaneigem, along with Guy Debord, was one of the principal theoreticians of the Situationist movement and one of the architects of the May 1968 uprisings in Paris. He was one of the longest-standing Situationist International members and frequently edited the journal Internationale Situationniste. Vaneigem is the author of several books, including the seminal The Revolution of Everyday Life. Curator and art critic Hans Ulrich Obrist spoke with Vaneigem about activism past and present.
HUO: Today, more than 40 years after May 1968, how do you feel life and society have evolved?
RV: We are witnessing the collapse of financial capitalism. This was easily predictable. Even among economists, where one finds even more idiots than in the political sphere, a number had been sounding the alarm for a decade or so. Our situation is paradoxical: never in Europe have the forces of repression been so weakened, yet never have the exploited masses been so passive. Still, insurrectional consciousness always sleeps with one eye open. The arrogance, incompetence and powerlessness of the governing classes will eventually rouse it from its slumber, as will the progression in hearts and minds of what was most radical about May 1968.
HUO: Could you tell me about the freeness principle?
RV: Freeness is the only absolute weapon capable of shattering the mighty self-destruction machine set in motion by consumer society, whose implosion is still releasing, like a deadly gas, bottom-line mentality, cupidity, financial gain, profit and predation. Museums and culture should be free, for sure, but so should public services, currently prey to the scamming multinationals and states. Free trains, buses, subways, free healthcare, free schools, free water, air, electricity, free power – all through alternative networks to be set up. As freeness spreads, new solidarity networks will eradicate the stranglehold of the commodity.
HUO: What are the current conditions for dialogue? Is there a way out of this system of isolation?
RV: Dialogue with power is neither possible nor desirable. Power has always acted unilaterally: by organizing chaos, by spreading fear, by forcing individuals and communities into selfish and blind withdrawal. As a matter of course, we will invent new solidarity networks and new intervention councils for the well-being of all of us and each of us, overriding the fiats of the state and its mafioso-political hierarchies. The voice of lived poetry will sweep away the last remaining echoes of a discourse in which words are in profit’s pay.
HUO: Last but not least, Rilke wrote that wonderful little book of advice to a young poet. What would your advice be to a young philosopher-writer?
RV: To apply to his own life the creativity he displays in his work. To follow the path of the heart, of what is most alive in him.
For a longer version of this interview, see the May 2009, Journal #6 edition of e-flux, e-flux.com.